In an early letter to his younger brother Barin, Sri Aurobindo disclosed that he was engaged in a “severe and painful work”. Barin didn’t pursue it and request him to elaborate on the nature of that severe and painful work he was engaged in. But, much later, Sri Aurobindo gave some hints of this first in his narrative poem A God’s Labour and in some more details in Savitri.
What was the problem Sri Aurobindo was dealing with? But before we could see it, we will have to recognize the splendid imperative of the arrival of the Avatar who alone, and not human tapasya howsoever powerful it might be, could handle it. He will have to go into the domain of darkness, which is the birthplace of the antagonist Death. Thus the Yogin of Savitri enters the ashen abysses of creation to discover this wide world-failure’s cause. In terms of specific details we may say that this started happening around 1935. If we have an early suggestion of it, of this date, in A God’s Labour, its fuller account in the nature of the journey of the Traveller of the Worlds is given in Cantos Seven and Eight of Book Two of Savitri. If we have to get an idea of the kind of dark forces that are raging over the world, we might just read, for instance, Macbeth. It’s vivid with portentous signs and apt metaphors. Lady Macbeth is scared of the screaming and hooting of the owls and of the shrill cries of the crickets. Soon Lennox is alarmed by the ominous night bird that is the owl itself:
The night has been unruly: where we lay, Our chimneys were blown down; and as they say, Lamenting heard i’the air; strange screams of death. And prophesying with accents terrible Of dire combustion and confus’d events New hatch’d to the woeful time. The obscure bird Clamour’d the liveling night: some say the earth Was feverous and did shake.
Ghastlier than this feverous earth of the subconscient world, more ferocious than the “three weird sisters”, are the creatures living in the inconscient depths. Indeed, “terrible agencies the spirit allows” and the task is to overpower them, nay, is rather to eliminate them altogether by knocking off the base on which they stand. It is in that context that we have to see the purpose of the visit of Yogin into the depths of the unviewing and unviewed darkness of the Night.
The Poet of Savitri is sufficiently expressive to reveal to us what had transpired when he entered into this primordial darkness that prevails in the Non-being’s Void. Much more might have happened than is indicated, but even that little only goes to show the enormity of the “terrible Inane” defying the Spirit’s interminable Truth. We have in The Descent into Night a few action steps as follows:
He turned to find that wide world-failure’s cause. He sent his gaze into the formidable Infinity asleep. He saw the fount of the world’s lasting pain. He saw the body and visage of the dark Unseen. He followed the dim steps returning to the night. He passed the no-man’s-land without debate. He came into an armoured fierce domain. He witnessed the shadow depths of Life. His vision discovered Hell’s trade-mark. He wrestled with powers that snatched from mind its light. He entered a gaunt spiritual blank. He strove to shield his spirit from despair. His spirit became an empty listening gulf. His being from its own vision disappeared. His body was lapped by a tenebrous tongue. He must bear all this with hope of heaven estranged. He endured all, stilled the vain terror. He mastered the tides of Nature with a look. He met with his bare spirit naked Hell.
It will be rewarding to know the chronology as to how exactly the corresponding passages through the various drafts of Savitri developed. But as these are spiritual experiences in the nature of a poetic record we will have to observe some caution also; their sequence cannot be taken strictly as that of an event-by-event account. Yet an archival approach in dating these can shed interesting light vis-à-vis the yogic accomplishments. It seems that the prime seeds of these consequential developments had just started sprouting during the late ’20s and early ’30s. We may briefly trace these as follows.
The present version of The Descent into Night consisting of 609 lines essentially belongs to the 1942 draft which was revised and enlarged in the double column copy-text of 1944. But of the total number of lines of Canto Seven and Canto Eight put together there were hardly 60-70 lines present in the earlier draft of 1935-36 and of these scarcely a couple of lines existed prior to this. But then around this time the symbolic as against the legendary character of the epic had just started emerging more and more prominently. It became more experiential and pinpointed towards the transformative objective during the ’40s. Previous to this ‘first draft’ there was practically nothing in Savitri to indicate the grimness of the Night’s sway over the creation. This first draft—and A God’s Labour—therefore forms the first recorded statement of the Yogin’s stifling Assignation with the Night. In 1938 he had a rendezvous with her and, carrying God’s deathless light in his breast, he had gone there to woo her dark and dangerous heart; but he had no definite idea of how he would win her over. He, however, had the conviction that his celestial Friend is there always with him to help him and that his determined engagement with the Night would pave the path towards Immortality.
When the Avatar puts his foot on the soil of the Night, it indeed marks the beginning of the Everlasting Day. In Sri Aurobindo’s yoga-tapasya it means the first decisive step towards integral transformation. In its sequel great things happen,—including the upsurge of terrible forces. That this business with the jeopardous Night should have coincided with the Second World War when the Regiments of Darkness had heavily precipitated therefore does not come as a surprise. The fate of the evolutionary creation was hanging in the balance. But he came out victorious. Savitri informs us about that aspect of occult history. Here the symbol has certainly gone far ahead of the traditional legend.
Yet if we go into the deep past we have certain clues about the attempts which were made earlier. In this respect we have a very perceptive comment from David Frawley:
“It seems that the urge to transform the Earth consciousness was stronger in the earlier ages of light. It fell away during the worst of Kali Yuga, when it was enough for a few individuals to gain liberation and the collectivity was too caught in tamas. As we move back towards the ages of light it is arising again. The Rig Vedic Rishis were at the dawn of this cycle of civilisation and were mainly concerned with setting forth the seeds of the upcoming culture, particularly on a spiritual level, but also as the social order. It is hard to say whether physical transformation as Sri Aurobindo envisioned it was part of their yoga but we do have the tradition that many Rishis lived for long periods of time (which could have been done by various methods occult, tantric, yogic, ayurvedic). They seem to have included the idea of transforming physical matter as part of their long-term aspiration for humanity, but they were also aware of Asuric forces in the material world that are very difficult to overcome.”
Frawley further adds:
“The Rishis' pursuit of physical and spiritual rejuvenation is reflected in the Vedic knowledge of Soma. There were many types of Somas both external (prepared with herbs) and internal (produced through yogic practices like Pranayama) for rejuvenating body and mind and for gaining immorality on various levels. The Bhrigus were particularly known for their knowledge of rejuvenation. Even Brihaspati of the Angirasas sent his son Kacha to gain this knowledge from Shukra of the Bhrigus. Yet it is hard to tell whether the Rishis ever tried to, or were in a position to, create a naturally divine body such as Sri Aurobindo envisioned. This would require the most powerful form of Soma. It would be, as it were, a body naturally made of pure Soma, matter with the capacity of perpetually rejuvenating itself. Yet there is no reason to think that they were not aware of the possibility, given their pursuit of Soma on all levels. We could also describe this as bringing the Soma of Mahar Loka into the genetic matrix of physical matter. Of course the Asuras would try to prevent this as much as possible as this would mean the end of them.” But with the descent of Mahar itself in the earth-consciousness this cannot happen. Asuras are helpless against it. That was the truth seen by Sri Aurobindo and he worked towards it and firmly established it in the earth’s subtle-physical. Things now will happen in the dynamism of the Truth-consciousness itself.
In one of the Vedic Riks we have the description of Agastya digging into the darkness of the Night, khanan as it says. But the Rishi found it difficult to deal with the physical nature. He could not bring light to it. His body was afflicted with a triple poison and could not bear the sunlight. It was like an unbaked clay-pot, atapta tanu. Similarly, Rishi Vamadeva could live here in a divine body, divya tanu, only for sixteen years. These ancient Rishis certainly knew what could bring about the physical transformation, the Mahar or Supermind, but they did not know its full modus operandi. The attainment of immortality in the luminous worlds or divyaloka is one thing and its knowledge in mrityuloka is another. The aspect of dynamic immortality in the physical is the work of the executive Force and unless her incarnation takes place it cannot be accomplished. Though the intuition of her descent to bring about materially the transformation was there,—and that is what the significant legend of Savitri narrates,—the field, the necessary resplendent spiritual support, ādhāra, for its universal action was not yet ready then. The eighteen-year arduous tapasya of Aswapati, that is to say Sri Aurobindo, was exactly for preparing the ground for her transformative action. In that respect we see the importance of the radical step that was taken by him. In fact what he achieved he achieved precisely because Savitri that is the Mother in her full energetic splendour also accompanied him. This was not so earlier. Cycles of evolution had to be silently worked out to arrive at this point.
In this context we may also recall the great Vedic revelation in which we see Yama and our illustrious forefathers having together an ambrosial drink under Supalash Vriksha. The mention of supalāsha in the Rik is extraordinarily striking, particularly in association with Yama whom we take as the God of Death. The reference to a cluster of palāsha trees by Vyasa in his Savitri-narrative lifts up that narrative itself to another level of symbolism embodying in its richness a whole world of bright future possibilities. The botanical name of this tree is Butea Frondosa, which is popularly known as the Flame of the Forest. But the spiritual significance of it is far deeper than we can discern even from its poetic nomenclature. The Mother sees palāsha as the Beginning of the Supramental Realisation. That Yama should be linked up with it, enjoying the drink of immortality under its rich branches in the happy company of our forefathers and other gods, only indicates the centrality of his role in the entire process of supramentalisation of the physical. Here is the kind and gracious God who bestows on this creation the desirable boons of a glorious life in the splendours of the spirit. Yama shall thus fulfil himself terrestrially also.
That lends another meaning to the Savitri-legend itself. Savitri’s winning back the soul of Satyavan from Yama therefore acquires another sense that points towards this marvellous realisation. But in order that this should happen the dark sombre veil which has been worn by Yama must be removed. Radiant Savitri, the daughter of the Sun-God, alone can do that. In fact Yama has put on a double veil, the veil of the incorrigible Antagonist and the veil of the luminous Inveigler. Behind him is indeed present the loving Supreme himself. It was the removal of this double veil, this double transformation which was accomplished by Savitri. Thus behind the darkness of this creation she meets her bright father to receive authentic boons of divine life upon earth. The yoga-tapasya of Aswapati has thus borne the fruits of godly felicity.
Such possibly should be viewed as the Avataric action. Such possibly is the connotation of the Mother’s declaration dated 14 February 1961: “What Sri Aurobindo represents in the world’s history is not a teaching, not even a revelation; it is a decisive action direct from the Supreme.” ~ RYD Reply