Thinker, spiritual leader, mystic, poet and nationalist, Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) was perhaps modern India’s most fascinating and enigmatic leader. Educated in Cambridge, where he was a brilliant Classics scholar, he refused a career in the civil service and returned home to India to become a fiery revolutionary. In jail, where he was imprisoned for sedition, Sri Aurobindo turned to meditation and, finding refuge in the French enclave of Pondicherry, perfected there the practice of yoga. His ashram in Pondicherry continues today, with a large international following.
Sri Aurobindo was a prolific writer in English, and his writings cover spiritual discourse, philosophy, cultural history, poetry, linguistics and literary criticism.”
In 1915, he began work on an epic poem, that would occupy him for the remaining thirty five years of his life. The subject of the poem was the love story of Savitri and Satyavan. Eventually, Savitri became a poetic chronicle of his yoga, of equal importance in the corpus of his works to The Life Divine, or The Synthesis of Yoga. It was, moreover, not merely a record of his sadhana (quest), but a part of it. “I used Savitri as a means of ascension”, he wrote in a letter in 1936. “In fact Savitri has not been regarded by me as a poem to be written and finished, but as a field of experimentation to see how far poetry could be written from one’s own yogic consciousness and how that could be made creative.”
The composition of Savitri was an endeavour to come in contact with the ‘overhead planes’ that are the native home of the mantra, and to give body to the language and vision of those planes in revelatory speech.
In its final form, published in two volumes in 1950 and (posthumously) in 1951, Savitri extends to almost 24,000 lines. In Sri Aurobindo’s telling of the story, the girl Savitri, granted as a boon to the childless sage Aswapathy, is regarded as an incarnation of the Divine Mother. Aswapathy is a yogin aspiring ‘for a universal realisation and a new creation’. His upward quest is a metaphor for the process of ‘ascent’ in yoga. Sri Aurobindo’s poetical description of the realms through which Aswapathy must pass constitutes his most detailed account of the geography of the inner worlds.
But he did not create Savitri simply as a chart for the use of future explorers. He meant it as a rhythmical embodiment of his experiences that could awaken sympathetic vibrations in those who read it.
Extracted from Peter Heehs, Sri Aurobindo: A Brief Biography.