Twentieth century India was rich in recreating the legends of the Mahabharata with a contemporaneous thrust. Among them, Sri Aurobindo's epic, Savitri stands as a unique document. Born on August 15, 1872, Sri Aurobindo was educated in England and served in Baroda and Calcutta as a professor. He was also one of the major architects of the Bande Mataram Movement in the first decade of the twentieth century, was jailed for a year and acquitted in the Alipore Bomb Case. He retired to Pondicherry to practise yoga, wrote extensively on philosophy, literature and sociology.
Before he attained Mahasamadhi on December 5, 1950, he had also written an epic in English based on the Pativrata Upakhyana in the Mahabharata. Sri Aurobindo's veneration for Vyasa's tale was immense.
"There have been plenty of poets who could have given us imaginative and passionate pictures of Love struggling with Death, but there has been only one who could give us a Savitri."
"Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol" was begun when Sri Aurobindo was a Professor at Baroda (1893-1905). But his imprisonment scattered his papers and books and this version has been lost. However, the legend remained in his creative forge down the years and by 1950 had grown into a sumptuous length of more than 24,000 lines of crystalline blank verse in English. The original legend of Vyasa was expanded into a human document, which gives a major thrust to yoga. Vyasa writes about a tapasya of 18 years, (reported as one of fasting and praying) undertaken by Aswapati, the king of Madra, for getting a daughter. This has been transformed into Aswapati's yoga which takes us through many worlds of yogic experience. Sometimes we voyage through Utopian worlds of human unity:
"None was apart, none lived for himself alone,
Each lived for God in him and God in all,
Each soleness inexpressibly held the whole.
There Oneness was not tied to monotone;
It showed a thousand aspects of itself... "
Such perfect unity in a tremendous diversity!
Aswapati's yoga is directed to gaining from the Divine Mother the boon of an incarnation to save mankind, and so Savitri is born. She chooses Satyavan for her husband though Rishi Narad prophesies his death in a year.
The strength within
Like Vyasa's Savitri who had strengthened herself by performing a tri-rattra vrata, Sri Aurobindo's Savitri takes to yoga and recognises her strength within. She is thus able to argue with Death (unlike Vyasa's Savitri) and chase him away from her presence by sheer will power crowned by Divine grace. This will power, again, is but a facet of her universal love, for ultimately it is love that redeems mankind, says Savitri to the rishi in the forest.
At a time when terrorism stalks the world in the name of religion, we have need to give our meditative attention to Sri Aurobindo's epic poem which reaffirms the value of love and calls for a rising above the compartmentalisation imposed by religion into the region of spiritual unity.
In his message to the nation broadcast over the Tiruchi All India Radio on August 15, 1947, Aurobindo called for human unity that could be attained by rising above the mental consciousness that divides mankind. He called it his final dream, but a Mahayogi's dream never fails to become a reality:
"The final dream was a step in evolution which would raise man to a higher and larger consciousness and begin the solution of the problems which have perplexed and vexed him since he first began to think and to dream of individual perfection and a perfect society. This is still a personal hope and an idea, an ideal which has begun to take hold both in India and in the West on forward looking minds. The difficulties in the way are more formidable than in any other field of endeavour, but difficulties were made to be overcome and if the Supreme Will is there, they will be overcome. Here too, if this evolution is to take place, since it must proceed through a growth of the spirit and the inner consciousness, the initiative can come from India and, although the scope must be universal, the central movement may be hers.
Such is the content which I put into this date of India's liberation; whether or how far this hope will be justified depends upon the new and free India."