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Savitri: Summaries (Part II Books IV - VIII)

Part 1 was, after the two introductory cantos which set up the central conflict of Savitri, the story of Aswapati, the Traveller of the Worlds, who explores all the levels of Consciousness and beyond, and calls down the Missioned Soul, Savitri.

In Part 2, we return to earth. We are shown the birth and life of the young girl Savitri, up until the death of her husband, Satyavan. This Part follows most closely the story line of the original tale of Savitri in the Mahabharata.

The following are the canto-wise summaries by Will Moss. All summaries upto the canto being read currently are listed.

Book IV: The Book of Birth and Quest

Book IV is the story of the birth and childhood of the princess Savitri, and her quest to find the true mate for her Soul.

Canto 1: The Birth and Childhood of the Flame

Tue, 21 Jan 1997
Canto 1 opens bringing us gently but firmly back to Earth, building a vivid and sensuous picture of the yearly cycle of the seasons in the homeland of Savitri, with hints of the Fire to come which is being prepared. And then,

"In this high signal moment of the gods
Answering earth's yearning and her cry for bliss,
A greatness from our other countries came."

Now it is clear that something new, something marvellous, has come:

"...The seed grew into a delicate marvellous bud,
The bud disclosed a great and heavenly bloom.
At once she seemed to found a mightier race.
For with a greater Nature she was one.
As from the soil sprang glory of branch and flower,
As from the animal's life rose thinking man,
A new epiphany appeared in her.
A mind of light, a life of rhythmic force,
A body instinct with hidden divinity
Prepared an image of the coming god
The body that held this greatness seemed almost
An image made of heaven's transparent light.
Its charm recalled things seen in vision's hours,
A golden bridge spanning a faery flood,
A moon-touched palm-tree single by a lake
Companion of the wide and glimmering peace"

[Book Four: The Book of Birth and Quest] [Table of Contents]

Book IV:Canto 2 The Growth of the Flame

Wed, 5 Feb 1997
The Flame-child grows, and begins to imbibe the Wisdom of earth's past, the highest and noblest humankind's culture had to offer. The Arts - sculpture and painting, music, dance, architecture - as well as Ethics and philosophies, Literature and poetry and more nourished the growing being, but could not fully satisfy her towering spirit:

"Earth made a stepping-stone to heaven,
The soul saw beyond heaven's limiting boundaries,
Met a great light from the Unknowable
And dreamed of a transcendent action's sphere."

Only a few were able to respond to her call. And these companions, drawn to her, found yet that they were unable to fully meet, to match her greatness. Some strong souls

"... felt the screened divinity
And strove to mate its godhead with their own"

Others, less apt to reach her heights of knowledge, will, and spiritual strength, gave what limited response they were capable of. Yet all were forced to respond.

But none of these could call her equal and mate:

"Her greater self lived sole, unclaimed, within.
Among the many who came drawn to her
Nowhere she found her partner of high tasks,
The comrade of her soul, her other self
Who was made with her, like God and Nature, one."

In time, her name became known among the people, as her greatness and divinity was told of. But still none came forth to join her:

"Whoever is too great must lonely live.
Thus was it for a while with Savitri.
All worshipped marvellingly, none dared to claim."

[Book Four: The Book of Birth and Quest] [Table of Contents]

Book IV:Canto 3 The Call to the Quest

Fri, 14 Feb 1997
King Aswapati, seen now in his outer role as ruler and father, recieves a message from the inner worlds, urging him:

"To cross the dangerous spaces of the soul
And touch the mighty Mother stark awake
And meet the Omnipotent in this house of flesh
And make of life the million-bodied One."

As if in answer, he looks out over the courtyard, and sees his daughter, the lovely Savitri, coming towards him. An inner Sight opens, and he sees her revealed for what she is:

"This intimation of the world's delight,
This wonder of the divine Artist's make
Carved like a nectar-cup for thirsty gods,
This breathing Scripture of the Eternal's joy,
This net of sweetness woven of aureate fire."

Speaking to Her, he is prompted by an inner urge from the Heights to deliver a fated Word:

"Depart where love and destiny call your charm.
Venture through the deep world to find thy mate.
For somewhere on the longing breast of earth,
Thy unknown lover waits for thee the unknown.
Thy soul has strength and needs no other guide
Than One who burns within thy bosom's powers.
There shall draw near to meet thy approaching steps
The second self for whom they nature asks..."

These words fall on Savitri's ear like the yogic Mantra, awakening the depths of her soul. Night passes, and by daybreak, she has departed on her Quest.

[Book Four: The Book of Birth and Quest] [Table of Contents]

Book IV:Canto 4 The Quest

Mon, 24 Feb 1997
Following the prompting of her father, Savitri enters upon the world-ways on her quest to find her true mate.

At first, all is new and strange. But soon, "A deeper consciousness welled up in her:" She becomes aware of her oneness with all the many peoples, and meets old comrades and lost selves from previous existences.

Hidden spirits guide her chariot's wheels on its course. Fate makes itself known through our acts, but is itself guided by "A prescient architect of Fate and Chance \\ Who builds our lives on a foreseen design."

At first her path leads through cities and towns, and she spends her nights, "At rest in the slumbering palaces of kings." But soon she turns to less crowded spaces, "Not yet perturbed by human joys and fears." Here, among the "Imperial acres of the eternal sower \\ And wind-stirred grass-lands winking in the sun:" she finds a more welcoming environment, where

"...large immune entangled silences
Absorbed her into emerald secrecy
And slow hushed wizard nets of fiery bloom
Environed with their coloured snare her wheels."

Here the mind could find peace, the weary soul could find wideness and rest in the earth's wide spaces.

"The bosom of our mother kept for us still
Her austere regions and her musing depths,
Her impersonal reaches lonely and inspired
And the mightinesses of her rapture haunts.
Muse-lipped she nursed her symbol mysteries
And guarded for her pure-eyed sacraments
The valley clefts between her breasts of joy,
Her mountain altars for the fires of dawn
And nuptial beaches where the ocean couched
And the huge chanting of her prophet woods."

This soothing Spirit called to her a "... few and fit inhabitants... to share the glad communion of her peace;

The strong king-sages from their labour done,
Freed from the warrior tension of their task,
Came to her serene sessions in these wilds;
The strife was over, the respite lay in front."


"Nameless the austere ascetics without home
Abandoning speech and motion and desire
Aloof from creatures sat absorbed, alone,
Immaculate in tranquil heights of self"

Around them gathered

"Young grave disciples fashioned by their touch,
Trained to the simple act and conscious word,
Greatened within and grew to meet their heights."

These great souls grew to silent heights and widenesses, nurtured by the peaceful woods and fields.

And Savitri passed among them,

"Arriving in a peaceful hermit grove
She rested drawing round her like a cloak
Its spirit of patient muse and potent prayer.
But morn broke in reminding her of her quest
And from low rustic couch or mat she rose
And went impelled on her unfinished way...

[Book Four: The Book of Birth and Quest] [Table of Contents]

Book V: The Book of Love

This brief Book tells the tale of the fateful meeting of the two lovers, Savitri and Satyavan; and introduces us to Satyavan, of whom Sri Aurobindo says,
"Satyavan is the soul carrying the divine truth of being within itself but descended into the grip of death and ignorance"
In him, Savitri finds her match and mate.

Canto 1: The Destined Meeting Place

Fri, 7 Mar 1997
At last Savitri's Quest draws to a close. Nature sets the stage for this momentous but brief event, in
"A highland grove of free and green delight
Where spring and summer lay together and strove
In indolent and amicable debate,
Inarmed, disputing with laughter who should rule."

Here, in this destined meeting ground, "Love in the wilderness met Savitri."

[Book Five: The Book of Love] [Table of Contents]

Book V:Canto 2 Satyavan

Wed, 12 Mar 1997
At last, the fateful meeting.

Standing in the peaceful glade in Canto 1, is Satyavan:

"As if a weapon of the living Light,
Erect and lofty like a spear of God
His figure led the splendour of the morn.
Noble and clear as the broad peaceful heavens
A tablet of young wisdom was his brow;
Freedom's imperious beauty curved his limbs,
The joy of life was on his open face."

Savitri, at first, only glanced at this peaceful scene and, like the others before it, prepared to move on without a second thought.

"So might she have passed by on chance ignorant roads
Missing the call of Heaven, losing life's aim,
But the god touched in time her conscious soul."

Seeing at first only Satyavan's outward beauty,

"...suddenly her heart looked out at him,
The passionate seeing used thought cannot match,
And knew one nearer than its own close strings."


"And Satyavan looked out from his soul's doors
And felt the enchantment of her liquid voice
Fill his youth's purple ambience and endured
The haunting miracle of a perfect face.
Marvelling he came across the golden sward:
Gaze met close gaze and clung in sight's embrace."

We are not truly strangers when we meet, one with another. "The soul can recognise its answering soul Across dividing Time":

"There is a Power within that that knows beyond
Our knowings: we are greater than our thoughts,
And sometimes earth unveils that vision here.
To live, to love are signs of infinite things,
Love is a glory from eternity's spheres.
Abased, disfigured, mocked by baser mights
That steal his name and shape and ecstasy,
He is still the godhead by which all can change."

So too these souls "made ready through a thousand years", in the bodies which "summed the drift of numberless births,":

"Attracted as in heaven star by star,
They wondered at each other and rejoiced
And wove affinity in a silent gaze.
A moment passed that was eternity's ray,
An hour began, the matrix of new Time."

[Book Five: The Book of Love] [Table of Contents]

Book V:Canto 3 Satyavan and Savitri

Sat, 29 Mar 1997
Satyavan, seeing the eyes and hearing the cry of the one who is closer to him than his own heart, speaks first: What is the name by whom you are known, and whence do you come? I know that there are gods of power and beauty that come to earth, and participate in the lives of men. But reassure me that you are not one of these, even though to my heart you are their equal, so that I may know that you are mortal, and can be happy with the little things of mortal life. "Let thy journey cease, come down to us." Join me in the simple life in "my father's creepered hermitage ... There let me lead thee into an opulent life".

Breaking the charm of his voice, Savitri replies: " 'I am Savitri, Princess of Madra. Who art thou? What name Musical on earth expresses thee to men?'"

And Satyavan replies, speaking of his father, King Dyumatsena, losing his sight and his kingdom, and their subsequent life in the forest. He retells how he has grown in the arms of the earth mother, brother to all creatures. He tells of his growth too in the spirit, slowly coming aware of the depths hidden in nature's silences, but never able to grasp the body of the One.

"'But thou hast come and all will surely change:
I shall feel the World-Mother in thy golden limbs
And hear her wisdom in thy sacred voice.
The child of the Void shall be reborn in God,
My matter shall evade the Inconscient's trance.' "
Savitri replies:
" 'Speak more to me, speak more, O Satyavan,
Speak of theyself and all thou art within' "

Satyavan responds "like a replying harp To the insistent calling of a flute", telling more deeply still the growth into Spirit that has led to this moment, which until now has been yet unfulfilled, but the promise of fulfillment has burst in on him with the arrival of the golden Savitri, who only replies:

"'O Satyavan, I have heard thee and I know;
I know that thou and only thou art he.' "
At this, she descends from her carven chariot and, weaving the simple flowers of the field into a wedding garland, she goes to him and offers herself in union. He in turn gathers her into his embrace, and in that endless moment, a new world is begun. Satyavan leads his bride into his sylvan home. She tells him she must go and give the news to her family, but will return shortly after, never to leave again. And so she retraces her journey, but retains within the vivid memory of Satyavan and his peaceful life in the forest.

[Book Five: The Book of Love] [Table of Contents]

Book VI: The Book of Fate

In this Book, the heavenly seer Narad comes to the court of Madra, just as Savitri returns from her quest and discovery of Satyavan in a lonely forest glade.

Narad proclaims Satyavan's doom, but Savitri is unyielding in her determination to return to him. Savitri's mother, the Queen, bitterly questions Heaven and fate, and Narad responds with a thorough plumbing of the mystery of Destiny, Fate, and pain. He pays particular attention to the role played by fate and pain in the path of the World-Redeemer.

Book VI:Canto 1 The Word of Fate

Wed, 9 Apr 1997
Narad, "the heavenly sage from Paradise", chanting praise of God's creation, descends "from the immortals' happy paths To a world of toil and quest and grief and hope", until he arrives in the court of King Aswapati of Madra. In company with the yogi-King is his wife:

"...a creature beautiful, passionate, wise,
Aspiring like a sacrificial flame
Skyward from its earth-seat through luminous air,
Queen-browed, the human mother of Savitri."

The two pause in their common duties, and lean to hear the songs of the heavenly seer, singing of "the toils of men and what the gods Strive for on earth, ... the lotus-heart of love With all its thousand buds of truth".


"... as he sang and rapture stole through earth-time
And caught the heavens, came with a call of hooves,
As of her swift heart hastening, Savitri"

Narad, the seer, knows at once where she has been, and the import of her return, as well as the Destiny that awaits, but at first withholds his knowledge, greeting her with praise for her heavenly beauty and greatness of soul. But Aswapati catches the reservation in his words, and asks - also reservedly - for confirmation from the sage:

" 'Of sorrow's songs we have enough: bid once
Her glad and griefless days bring heaven here.
Or must fire always test the great of soul?' "

To which Narad answers not. But rather, feigning ignorance, Narad asks upon what mission this young woman has been on,

"Whence came she with this glory in her heart
And Paradise made visible in her eyes?
What sudden God has met, what face supreme?"

Her father explains Savitri's quest, and asks, " 'Whom hast thou chosen, kingliest among men?' "

Savitri replies,

" 'Father and king, I have carried out thy will.
The son of Dyumatsena , Satyavan,
I have met on the wild forest's lonely verge.
My father, I have chosen. This is done.' "

In the stunned silence that follows, Aswapati looks within and sees: "A heavy shadow float above the name \\ Chased by a sudden and stupendous light"

He commends his daughter, and gives her his wisdom on the place of darkness and Death on our road to immortality. He then quickly stays the speech of the sage, Narad, asking that he not seal the fate of the young couple with his words. Narad keeps his silence, but now the Queen is alarmed by Aswapati's words, and begs the heavenly seer to tell them what he sees. At first he holds back, but she insists:

" 'What stealthy doom has crept across her path
Emerging from the dark forest's sullen heart,
What evil thing stood smiling by the way
And wore the beauty of the Shalwa boy?
All pathos and all sufferings we make ours;
We have sorrow for a greatness passed away
And feel the touch of tears in mortal things.
Even a stranger's anguish rends my heart,
And this, O Narad, is my well-loved child.
Hide not from us our doom, if doom is ours.' "

And so Narad speaks, unleashing the Fate that loomed over Savitri and her beloved:
" 'The truth thou hast claimed; I give to thee the truth.' "

Satyavan, he says, is "a marvel":

" 'His figure is the front of Nature's march,
His single being excels the works of Time.
Heaven's greatness came, but was too great to stay.
Twelve swift-winged months are given to him and her;
This day returning Satyavan must die.' "

At this, the Queen cries out at the mockery that Heaven makes of us, and calls upon Savitri to reject this doomed love, and go again in search of happiness, this time one that can endure.

But Savitri replies:

" 'Once my heart chose and chooses not again
If death take him, I too know how to die.
Let Fate do with me what she will or can;
I am stronger than death and greater than my fate;
Fate's law may change, but not my spirit's will.' "

At this, despair wakes in the Queen. She pleads with Savitri, with all the passion of a Mother's broken heart, if she will not find another to love, then to foreswear the doomed Satyavan, and follow a path of peaceful spiritual pursuit.

"But Savitri replied with steadfast eyes:
My will is part of the eternal Will,
My fate is what my spirit's strength can make,
My fate is what my spirit's strength can bear;
My strength is not the Titan's; it is God's.
I have found the deep unchanging soul of love.
Then how shall I desire a lonely good
Only now for my soul in Satyavan
I treasure the rich occasion of my birth
For I know now why my spirit came on earth
And who I am and who he is I love.
I have looked at him from my immortal Self,
I have seen God smile at me in Satyavan;
I have seen the Eternal in a human face.'
Then none could answer to her words. Silent
They sat and looked into the eyes of Fate."

[Book Six: The Book of Fate] [Table of Contents]

Book VI:Canto 2 The Word of Fate and the Problem of Pain

Part I: Sat, 17 May 1997
Savitri's declaration of her Will to meet her destiny with Satyavan has left "a chill close to life and hope" in her mother's breast. The Queen, losing her hard-won inner quietude and poise of spiritual Knowledge, falls to the human mental level, and gives voice to "the surface soul on earth", its suffering and revolt against man's ignorant fate.

In her plaint, the Queen touches on the questions of all those who have asked themselves why the world seems so unfair, so perverse as to reward the bad and punish the good:

" 'By what pitiless adverse Necessity
Or what cold freak of a Creator's will,
By what random accident or governed Chance
That shaped a rule out of fortuitous steps,
Made destiny from an hour's emotion, came
Into the unreadable mystery of Time
The direr mystery of grief and pain?' "
She speculates on the source of this apparent perversity:
" 'Is it thy God who made this cruel law?
Or some disastrous Power has marred his work
And he stands helpless to defend or save?
A fatal seed was sown in life's false start
When evil twinned with good on earthly soil.' "
And proceeds to lay out the ways in which Fate and pain besiege the human Soul:
" 'Our life was born in pain and with a cry.
This is the sign and stamp of our humanity.
A grisly company of maladies
Come, licensed lodgers, into man's bodily house,
Purveyors of death and torturers of life.
Live is a marvel missed, an art gone wry;
On Nature's gifts to man a curse was laid:
All walks inarmed by its own opposites,
Error is the comrade of our mortal thought
And falsehood lurks in the deep bosom of truth,
Sin poisons with its vivid flowers of joy
Or leaves a red scar burnt across the soul;
Virtue is a grey bondage and a gaol.' "

And finishes with a further speculation on the Source of this perversity - Who, she asks, could have created a world such as this? Or if there is no creator, then is it "a great Illusion", and if so, where is the security of the soul? Or is the soul itself only a dream, " 'Eternal self a fiction sensed in trance.' "

Here, in summary form, Sri Aurobindo lays out through the voice of the Queen, the picture of humanity's dilemma that he has been building throughout the work so far [and will continue in the Debate between Love and Death].

She, a yogini herself and conquerer of mighty calms and wisdom, finds the limit of her 'samata' [peace and poise] when confronted by the awful Fate confronting her only and much beloved daughter. As she said in the previous canto, it's one thing to face one's own fate and suffering, but we humans are born with the capacity to share the suffering of a total stranger. How much more so the suffering shared of a beloved child by her mother?

And so the wisdom and lessons learned over a lifetime turns in an instant into a dried skeleton, devoid of life and warmth, unable to comfort and nourish in this time of dire need. Instead, Narad's wise teachings seem cold and heartless. Old views of the Divine Creator, or impersonal Source of things, instead of inspiring hope and joy and Peace turn bitter in the mouth. One asks, What is the point of all this, if all can fall to ashes at one's feet in a moment?

And when one such as she questions old articles of faith and even deep experiences of Truth and divinity, the deepest questions of philosophy and cosmology are raised: What is Fate? Why is suffering seemingly such an everpresent Fact of existence? Is there such a thing as Destiny? If so, who established such things? Is there a Creator? And if so, why do we not see Him/Her in action in this world? If not, how has this world come into existence, and why?

This, then, is the stage set for Narad's deep and powerful response.

Part II: Thu, 22 May 1997

[Narad replies: 'The World-Redeemer'] Then a silence falls, and in that silence, Narad 'tunes his lips to earthly sounds' and speaks.

"His forehead shone with vision solemnised,
Turned to a tablet of supernal thoughts
As if characters of an unwritten tongue
Had left in its breadth the inscriptions of the gods."
And his speech responds, not only to the person of the Queen, but to the entire range of human doubt and pain and ignorance expressed in her cry:
" 'Was then the sun a dream because there is night?
Hidden in the mortal's heart the Eternal lives:
He lives secret in the chamber of the soul,
A Light shines there nor pain nor grief can cross.
A darkness stands between thyself and him,
Thou canst not hear of feel the marvellous Guest,
Thou canst not see the beatific sun.' "
The divine Sage goes on to reveal the hidden cause and Divine Purpose for pain:
" 'Pain was the first-born of the Inconscience
Which was thy body's dumb original base;
In one caul with joy came forth the dreadful Power.
In life's breast it was born hiding its twin;
But pain came first, then only joy could be.
Pain ploughed the first hard ground of the world-drowse.
By pain a spirit started from the clod,
By pain Life stirred in the subliminal deep.
Pain is the hammer of the Gods to break
A dead resistance in the mortal's heart,
His slow inertia as of living stone.' "
Narad continues, painting the portrait of the Path of the World-Redeemer:
" '...He who would save the race must share its pain:
This he shall know who obeys that grandiose urge.
The Son of God born as the Son of man
Has drunk the bitter cup, owned Godhead's debt,
The debt the Eternal owes to the fallen kind
His will has bound to death and struggling life
That yearns in vain for rest and endless peace.
Now is the debt paid, wiped off the original score.
The Eternal suffers in a human form
But though to the outward eye no sign appears
And peace is given to our torn human hearts,
The struggle is there and paid the unseen price
His march is a battle and a pilgrimage.
Life's evil smites, he is stricken with the world's pain:
A million wounds gape in his secret heart.
A dreadful cord of sympathy can tie
All suffering into his single grief and make
All agony in all the worlds his own.
An adversary Force was born of old:
A power opposed to the eternal will
Diverts the messages of the infallible Word,
Contorts the contours of the cosmic plan:
This all must conquer who would bring down God's peace.
This hidden foe lodged in the human breast
Man must overcome or miss his higher fate.
This is the inner war without escape.' "
Narad continues, with a subtle and prophetic vision of "the world-redeemer's heavy task":
" 'The world itself becomes his adversary,
Those he would save are his antagonists
Although Light grows on earth and Night recedes,
Yet till the evil is slain in its own home
And Light invades the world's inconscient base
And perished has the adversary Force,
He still must labor on, his work half done.' "
and foreseeing the outcome of this Divine Worker's task:
" 'One may yet come armoured, invincible;
His will immobile meets the mobile hour;
The world's blows cannot bend that victor head;
He has broken into the Inconscient's depths
That veil themselves even from their own regard
It's somnolence founded the universe,
Its obscure waking makes the world seem vain.
He must call light into its dark abysms,
Else never can Truth conquer Matter's sleep
And all earth look into the eyes of God.
Then shall be ended here the Law of Pain.
Earth shall be made a home of Heaven's light,
A seer heaven-born shall lodge in human breasts;
The superconscient beam shall touch men's eyes
And the truth-conscious world come down to earth
Invading Matter with the Spirit's ray
Then shall the world-redeemer's task be done.' "
[Book Six: The Book of Fate] [Table of Contents]

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Last modified on May 25, 1997