Spanning out the Book of Death in Savitri by Dr. R. Y. Deshpande

Narad makes an absolutely firm declaration in the palace hall about the death of Satyavan exactly one year from that day.

In one brief year when this bright hour flies back

And perches careless on a branch of Time,

This sovereign glory ends heaven lent to earth,

This splendour vanishes from the mortal’s sky:

Heaven’s greatness came, but was too great to stay. ||106.145||

Twelve swift-winged months are given to him and her;

This day returning Satyavan must die. ||106.146||

There is the purposeful specificity of “this bright hour”, “twelve swift-winged months”, “this day returning”. With that instant is associated “greatness came”, that greatness showing itself metrically as a great forceful cretic, supported by a spondee towards the end, one of the rarities in poetic movements in Savitri, giving extraordinary force to the utterance:

Heav+en’s|great+ness came,| but was} too great| to stay|

The “t”-alliteration has a tone of credible emphasis. In the line the first two feet could be trochee-cretic, even quantitatively spondee-cretic, or cretic-iamb which is not that smooth and convincing. But in the force of such a tremendous credibility Savitri gets up early in the morning and worships Goddess Durga, the Remover of all Obstacles and the Giver of Victory.

The whole year in a swift and eddying race

Of memories swept through her and fled away

Into the irrecoverable past. ||133.3||

Then silently she rose and, service done,

Bowed down to the great goddess simply carved

By Satyavan upon a forest stone. ||133.4||

What prayer she breathed her soul and Doorga knew. ||133.5||

But Savitri has already decided to accompany her husband to the forest where he goes for his daily work. He would not be allowed to go alone on that fated day, “fated” which she alone knew there. She seeks permission from her mother-in-law:

Now has a strong desire seized all my heart

To go with Satyavan holding his hand

Into the life that he has loved and touch

Herbs he has trod and know the forest flowers

And hear at ease the birds and the scurrying life

That starts and ceases, rich far rustle of boughs

And all the mystic whispering of the woods. ||133.10||

Release me now and let my heart have rest. ||133.11||

Then the doomed husband and the woman who knew went hands with linked hands into that solemn world where beauty and grandeur and unspoken dream, where Nature’s mystic silence could be felt communing with the secrecy of God.

It is a masterstroke of the original poet to have devised this basis for the inevitable death of Satyavan, foreknown only to Savitri. And this death has to occur only where there no human intervention or human interference is present. How calamitous it would have been for Savitri’s occult work had it occurred in the living hermitage with all the dwellers of the neighbourhood crowding the place! It is an extremely significant psycho-occult factor to which the story-teller is very alert.

And while working in the forest Satyavan wielded a joyous axe.

He sang high snatches of a sage’s chant

That pealed of conquered death and demons slain … . ||133.23||

But as he worked, his doom upon him came. ||133.24||

He cried out in a clinging last despair,

“Savitri, Savitri, O Savitri,

Lean down, my soul, and kiss me while I die.” ||133.34||

And even as she leaned down his pallid lips failed. Savitri grew aware that they were no more alone. Something had come there conscious, vast and dire.

Near her she felt a silent shade immense

Chilling the noon with darkness for its back. ||133.37||

An awful hush had fallen upon the place:

There was no cry of birds, no voice of beasts. ||133.38||

A terror and an anguish filled the world,

As if annihilation’s mystery

Had taken a sensible form. A cosmic mind

Looked out on all from formidable eyes

Contemning all with his unbearable gaze … ||133.39||

She knew that visible Death was standing there

And Satyavan had passed from her embrace. ||133.40||

As he would die did Satyavan give consent to die? Was it that when he asked Savitri to lean down and kiss him?

A question was asked to the Mother: “Sometimes when people are dying, they know that they are about to die. Why don’t they tell the spirit to go away?” She answered:

“Ah! well, that depends upon the people. Two things are necessary. First of all, nothing in your being, no part of your being should want to die. That does not happen often. You have always a defeatist in you somewhere: something that is tired, something that is disgusted, something that has had enough of it, something that is lazy, something that does not want to struggle and says: “Well! Ah! Let it be finished, so much the better.” That is sufficient, you are dead.”

There was absolutely no question of the second thing in the case of Satyavan, of he being a “defeatist”. A youth full of radiant hope and optimism he was looking for things in life that will bring greater fulfilling satisfaction to it. He is positively in search a solution that will dissolve the dichotomy, the antagonism between Spirit and Matter. What nobody had ever discovered it, he was yearning to get down to its truth. In his youthful gusto and zealous life that knows no tragic death there is the healthy enthusiasm sparkling in his person:

I caught for some eternal eye the sudden

Kingfisher flashing to a darkling pool;

A slow swan silvering the azure lake,

A shape of magic whiteness, sailed through dream;

Leaves trembling with the passion of the wind

And wandering wings nearing from infinity

Lived on the tablets of my inner sight;

Mountains and trees stood there like thoughts from God. ||103.36||

The last line — trochee-iamb-trochee-iamb-iamb — is so much assuringly charged with the thoughts from God that is in life these thoughts from God carry the day and the life, without the least thought of mortal fatality. This can never be so if he was living under the known shadow of unavoidable death.

“But it is a fact: if nothing, absolutely nothing in you consents to die, you will not die. For someone to die, there is always a second, perhaps the hundredth part of a second when he gives his consent. If there is not this second of consent, he does not die.”

Yet somewhere deep within him there was the unuttered sense of willingness to die. The Mother is very emphatic: “if nothing, absolutely nothing in you consents to die, you will not die.” Wasn’t that unspoken consent there in Satyavan? In the depths of that psyche he surely wanted to die, but of course wanted to die in the lap of Savitri where all safety is present, where comes all self-actualisation and unperturbed joy. In fact, he had on his dying lips the magic formula “Savitri, Savitri, O Savitri”, the triple cry that glowingly speeds through all the three worlds, the mortal world, the intermediate world, and the transcendental. He may not know the prophecy that was made by Narad, but surely he wanted to die to the ungainly dark brutish Past so that in the unfolding Future there will be the everlasting of the eternal Sun, of the Truth-conscient delight. Had Savitri disclosed Narad’s prophecy to Satyavan? He would have accepted it, accepted his death willingly for a superior purpose carried out by her. He knew she was someone exceptional and certainly she would do what most appropriate could be done. He had that soul’s confidence in her, self-assurance born of pure love, its power that can win every victory, love that conquers every evil.

“I knew people who should have really died according to all physical and vital laws; and they refused. They said: “No, I will not die”, and they lived. There are others who do not need at all to die, but they are of that kind and say: “Ah! Well! Yes, so much the better, it will be finished”, and it is finished. Even that much, even nothing more than that: you need not have a persistent wish, you have only to say: “Well, yes, I have had enough!” and it is finished. So it is truly like that. As you say, you may have death standing by your bedside and tell him: “I do not want you, go away”, and it will be obliged to go away.

“But usually one gives way, for one must struggle, one must be strong, one must be very courageous and enduring, must have a great faith in the importance of life; like someone, for example, who feels very strongly that he has still something to do and he must absolutely do it. But who is sure he has not within him the least bit of a defeatist, somewhere, who just yields and says: “It is all right”?… It is here, the necessity of unifying oneself.

“Whatever the way we follow, the subject we study, we always arrive at the same result. The most important thing for an individual is to unify himself around his divine centre; in that way he becomes a true individual, master of himself and his destiny. Otherwise, he is a plaything of forces that toss him about like a piece of cork on a river. He goes where he does not want to go, he is made to do things he does not want to do, and finally he falls into a hole without having the strength to hold on. But if you are consciously organised, unified around the divine centre, ruled and directed by it, you are master of your destiny. That is worth the trouble of attempting…. In any case, I find it preferable to be the master rather than the slave. It is a rather unpleasant sensation to feel yourself pulled by the strings and made to do things whether you want to or not — it makes no difference — but to be compelled to act because something pulls you by the strings, something which you do not even see — that is exasperating. However, I do not know, but I found it very annoying, even when I was a little child. At five, it began to seem to me quite intolerable and I sought for a way so that it might be otherwise — without people getting a chance to scold me. For I knew nobody who could help me and I did not have the chance that you have, someone who can tell you: “This is what you have to do!” There was nobody to tell me that. I had to find it out all by myself. And I found it. I started at five. And you, you were five long ago…. Voilà” [Questions and Answers, 1 July 1953]

Satyavan had gathered up himself, very consciously, very dynamically, “around his divine centre”, that is, around and within Savitri. In it he had gained his truest individuality. The beauty is, Satyavan’s death is intimately connected with his marriage only to Savitri, Savitri and Savitri alone, leaving wide room to suspect it would not have been there had it been with someone else. A higher power of determinism has entered into well-designed play, more important than the usual consent by the dying person to die. Satyavan has to die, and in it is all.

Here is an instructive letter from Sri Aurobindo to Nirodbaran:

‘The conquest of Death would mean the conquest of illness and of the psychological and functional necessity of death of the body — that is one of the ideals of the Yoga, but it can be accomplished only if and when the supramental has driven its roots into Matter. All that has been acting here up to now is an Overmind force which is getting gradually supramentalised in parts – the utmost that it can do in this respect is to keep death at a distance and that is what has been done. The absence of death in the Ashram for so many years has been due to that. But it is not impossible -especially when death is accepted. In 8’s case there was a 5 percent chance of his survival on certain conditions, but he himself knew the difficulty in his case and had prepared himself for his departure from the body. ‘ [25 March 1935: Correspondence]

Here Sri Aurobindo is speaking mostly about the Vedic gods, but not exclusively nor in a very definite way. At any rate these gods are higher than the gods of the Puranas. [15 August 1958]

Be wide in me, O Varuna;

be mighty in me, O Indra;

O Sun, be very bright and luminous;

O Moon, be full of charm and sweetness.

Be fierce and terrible, O Rudra;

be impetuous and swift, O Maruts;

be strong and bold, O Aryama;

be voluptuous and pleasurable, O Bhaga;

be tender and kind and loving and passionate, O Mitra.

Be bright and revealing, O Dawn;

O Night, be solemn and pregnant.

O Life, be full, ready and buoyant;

O Death, lead my steps from mansion to mansion.

Harmonise all these, O Brahmanaspati.

Let me not be subject to these gods, O Kali.

So Sri Aurobindo makes divine Kali “the great liberating power who ardently impels you towards progress and leaves no ties within you which would hinder you from progressing.” [Thoughts and Aphorisms, SABCL, Vol. 17, p. 85]

In the presence and action of divine Kali is certainly the victory of the Divine, and there is in invoking her grace and protection on the fated morning the whole merit of Savitri’s readiness.

What prayer she breathed her soul and Doorga knew.

What pray+er| she breathed| her soul| and Door|+ga knew.|amphibrach-iamb–iamb-iamb-iamb.

That settles everything,

God of Death himself in the morning watching and noticing this worship even before the appointed moment of his seizing the soul of Satyavan at noon.

Things turn ominous when one sees “the elite legions of Death wearing the death’s head on their caps. Falsehood, Darkness, Death and Suffering — the four powers are at the basis of our evolutionary universe, capable of multiplying themselves in cascades of lesser emanations, of lesser demons. They are also the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the four powers of hell. Death — all things will pass away, nothing will remain but death and the glory of his deeds.”

But nothing matters when divine Kali is there, she “turbulent in will and terrible in love”.

Sri Aurobindo in a sonnet titled The Iron Dictators wrote about these dreadful Four:

I looked for Thee alone, but met my glance

The iron dreadful Four who rule our breath,

Masters of falsehood, Kings of ignorance,

High sovereign Lords of suffering and death.

Whence came these formidable autarchies,

From what inconscient blind Infinity, —

Cold propagandists of a million lies,

Dictators of a world of agony?

Or was it Thou who bor’st the fourfold mask?

Enveloping Thy timeless heart in Time,

Thou hast bound the spirit to its cosmic task,

To find Thee veiled in this tremendous mime.

Thou, only Thou, canst raise the invincible siege,

O Light, O deathless Joy, O rapturous Peace!

And he also wrote in another piece:

A seed of blood on the soil, a flower of blood in the skies.

We march to make of earth a hell and call it heaven.

The heart of mankind we have smitten with the whip of the sorrows seven;

The Mother of God lies bleeding in our black and gold sunrise.

But let us move on and quickly look into the aspects of the composition of the Book of Death, Book Eight of Savitri. There are issues which need to be comprehended in their important contexts. It is also said that, though incorporated in the final text of published Savitri, this is just an early draft which in the end had remained unfinalised, this Book and the Epilogue.

The Book of Death as we have now is basically a 1916-18 Arya-version which was very lightly revised during the forties. The first fair copy has just 133 lines of which 108 are identical to what they are now. Presently, we have 177 lines with 25 lines altered and 44 added by dictation. On a page belonging to this manuscript Sri Aurobindo also dictated “Book of Death / III / Death in the Forest”. Regarding this nomenclature of “III” some doubt has arisen whether it can be taken as Canto III of the present Book of Death with the first two cantos having remained unwritten, or that it is simply a third part of the earlier version of the epic that belongs to the Arya-period.

Added to the Book of Death there is a footnote in the 1954-edition of Savitri which runs as follows: “This Book was not completed. This Canto which the author named Canto III was compiled by him from an earlier version and rewritten at places.” A further clarification was presented in the footnote of the 1972-edition: “This Canto was compiled by the poet from an early version of Savitri in which it had been called Canto Three. It was the third Canto of that poem, not the third Canto of any particular Book. When, after being rewritten at places, it was included in the present version, its number remained unchanged.” But this statement seems to be misrepresentative of the available facts.

The 1993 Revised Edition prepared by the Ashram Archives is more explicit: “The Book of Death was taken from Canto Three of an early version of Savitri which had only six cantos and an epilogue. It was slightly revised at a later stage and a number of new lines were added, but it was never fully worked into the final version of the poem. Its original designation, `Canto Three’, has been retained as a reminder of this.”

But while attending to the Book of Death in 1946 Sri Aurobindo dictated, in three rows, “Book of Death / III / Death in the Forest” and hence all in Nirodbaran’s hand; this was done on a page of the earlier draft that was taken for revising. There is also a double tick mark at this place.

To reiterate: from the facsimile of this page it is clear that all this forms a revised draft prepared on the original manuscript page. Seeing the abruptness of “III” at this place, in the absence of “I” and “II” anywhere, perhaps a doubt had arisen in the mind of the typist, Nolini Kanta Gupta, and he must have sought clarification from Sri Aurobindo. The double tick mark is undoubtedly a confirmation of what Sri Aurobindo had originally dictated to Nirodbaran, that it is meant to be the third canto of the present Book and not something belonging to the earlier version. Being a provisional revision of the draft we should take the existing Book of Death as incomplete.

Apropos of this situation the Archives tell us this: “At the place in the manuscript where the present Book Eight begins, a roman numeral III was written by the scribe under the heading Book of Death, as if Death in the Forest was meant to be the third canto of that Book. It is possible that when Sri Aurobindo revised this manuscript, he had begun to envisage a description of the Yoga of Savitri, but had not yet conceived of The Book of Yoga as a separate Book. The Book of Death would then have become an expanded version of the whole of the old canto entitled ‘Death’, and would have been numbered Book Seven. Its first canto might have been similar to the present Book Seven, Canto One. The second canto could have been an account of Savitri’s Yoga much shorter than what was eventually written, while Death in the Forest would have been the third canto. But this explanation is purely speculative.”

The cautious approach in this note is commendable. But we should also remember what Sri Aurobindo had told Nirodbaran when the final revision of the Book of Fate was completed. This was during the last session of his work on Savitri in mid-November 1950. Sri Aurobindo had asked Nirodbaran if there was still something to be revised. When told about the Book of Death and Epilogue, he said: “We shall see about that later on.”

That perhaps adds significance to the abruptness of number “III” of the Canto; it definitely shows that this Book would have had considerable additional matter had Sri Aurobindo attended to it.We can be reasonably certain that Sri Aurobindo intended to expand the 1916-18 draft later. This may even imply that he would disclose in the epic some other occult aspects connected with the role of Death in this creation. These aspects could possibly indicate the difficulties of transformation of the physical nature governed by decay, disintegration and death, difficulties at the cellular level itself. From the point of view of composition we need not therefore necessarily tie this ‘III / Death in the Forest’ with the Book of Yoga which was practically not present in any earlier draft, as is clear from a couple of letters from Sri Aurobindo.

He writes to Amal Kiran in 1946 and summarises the position of the two Books concerned: “The Book of Yoga and the Book of Death have still to be written, though a part needs only a thorough recasting.”

At this point of time the Book of Yoga, as we have already seen, did not exist and as there was an early draft of the Book of Death, this “thorough recasting” only indicates the latter which Sri Aurobindo wanted to take up again at a suitable stage afterwards. But this didn’t happen. Perhaps that disclosure would have been too early to be understood.

There seems to be another hieratic logic behind the sudden appearance of this as Canto Three. If we consider that the poem is specifically a spiritual tale of Savitri, then we have at the end of the first canto— the Symbol Dawn—an announcement about the inevitability of her husband Satyavan’s death. The second canto—the Issue— speaks of the awakening of the great World-Mother in Savitri, an awakening which is to happen on the fated day as foretold by Narad. The central theme of the narrative has thus already been introduced by now, in these two Cantos. The long intervening description in the next thirty-eight cantos, about 19,000 lines, then forms a kind of necessary interlude in the story, a desirable digression. With that the announced death occurs in the third canto of the Book of Death. From this point onward the story, of death, runs in direct relationship with the theme. There is thus an inner consistency in the entire scheme, making it very appealing to the aesthetic sense of superior poetry. But this could be a fatuous view. [Consult Perspectives of Savitri, Vol. 1, Edited by RY Deshpande]

“Let us go back to Savitri,” said Sri Aurobindo to Nirodbaran towards the end of their Savitri-sessions, in November 1950. In his Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo Nirodbaran writes:

‘His whole attention seemed to be focused on Savitri, but again, the work had to be suspended owing to the pressure of various extraneous demands. They swelled up to such an extent that he was obliged to remark, “I find no more time for my real work.” When the path was fairly clear and I was wondering what his next choice would be, he said in a distant voice, “Take up Savitri. I want to finish it soon.” This must have been about two months before his departure. The last part of the utterance startled me, though it was said in a subdued tone. We took up the same two Cantos [Book of Fate] that had proved so intractable. The work progressed slowly; once a punctuation had to be changed four or five times. When the last revision was made and the Cantos were wound up, I said, “It is finished now.” An impersonal smile of satisfaction greeted me, and he said, “Ah, it is finished?” His next query was “What is left now?” “The Book of Death and The Epilogue.” “Oh, that? We shall see about that later on.” That “later on” never came and was not meant to come. Having taken the decision to leave the body, he must have been waiting for the right moment to go, and for reasons known to himself he left the two last-mentioned Books almost as they were. Thus on Savitri was put the seal of incomplete completion about two weeks before the Darshan of November 24th. Other literary works too came to an end.’

Occultly what is loaded is “Oh, that? We shall see about that later on.” That “later on” was not meant to come. For some inscrutable reasons the Book of Death and the Epilogue were left practically unrevised.

The Book of Death contains three old versions—all called Canto III; the final version is constructed from one of these and from another version some lines are taken to be inserted into The Book of Eternal Night. … About The Epilogue, except for a few additions, it almost reproduces the single old version.

Mysterious is this “later on”, and perhaps we may make our own stupid imprudent conjectures about it. These may not have any value or sense, yet here let us go.

Things were becoming serious. As early as in 1946, immediately after the Second World War, there was a significant distinct possibility of the Mother of Love and Ananda descending on earth. This is what the Mother tells in one of her early Playground sessions. This pertains to the following quotations from the little Masterpiece The Mother: [Questions and Answers, 25 August 1954]

‘There are other great Personalities of the Divine Mother, but they were more difficult to bring down and have not stood out in front with so much prominence in the evolution of the earth-spirit. There are among them Presences indispensable for the supramentalrealisation, — most of all one who is her Personality of that mysterious and powerful ecstasy and Ananda which flows from a supreme divine Love, the Ananda that alone can heal the gulf between the highest heights of the supramental spirit and the lowest abysses of Matter, the Ananda that holds the key of a wonderful divinest Life and even now supports from its secrecies the work of all the other Powers of the universe.’

The Mother was asked: “what Personality is this and when will she manifest?” She answered:

 “She has come, bringing with her a splendour of power and love, an intensity of divine joy unknown to the earth so far. The physical atmosphere was completely changed by it, saturated with new and marvellous possibilities.

“But for her to be able to settle and act down here, she needed to meet with at least a minimum of receptivity, … a kind of super-Parsifal endowed with a spontaneous and integral purity, but at the same time having a strong and balanced body in order to bear the intensity of the Ananda she had brought without giving way.

“Till now she has not obtained what was necessary. … So, at times, she thinks of withdrawing, finding that the world is not ready to receive her. And this would be a cruel loss. … Indeed, the cells which are able to vibrate to the contact of divine joy, to receive and preserve it, are regenerated cells on the way to becoming immortal.”

“Till now she has not obtained what was necessary. … So, at times, she thinks of withdrawing.” That is a serious matter.

About this withdrawing we have in Savitri, prior to 1944, the withdrawal of the divine Ambassadress coming and going back:

Only a little the God-light can stay:

Spiritual beauty illumining human sight

Lines with its passion and mystery Matter’s mask

And squanders eternity on a beat of Time. ||1.39||

The message ceased and waned the messenger. ||1.41||

The single Call, the uncompanioned Power,

Drew back into some far-off secret world … .||1.42||

The excess of beauty natural to God-kind

Could not uphold its claim on time-born eyes;

Too mystic-real for space-tenancy

Her body of glory was expunged from heaven:

The rarity and wonder lived no more. ||1.43||

That becomes a serious matter, and the Mother has her work to do. She refers to what Sri Aurobindo had told her in 1949:

“We had some conversations on precisely this subject, because we saw that … the prevailing conditions were such that I told him I would leave this body and melt into him with no regret or difficulty; I told him this in words, not just in thought. And he also replied to me in words: Your body is indispensable for the Work. Without your body the Work cannot be done. After that, I said no more. It was no longer my concern, and that was the end of it. This was said in … 1949, just a little more than a year before he left. And that’s really how it is.” [15 July 1961]

“Your body is indispensable for the Work.” This in the course of her Conversations she narrated on a number of occasions. That “later on” vis-à-vis the final revision of the Book of Death of Savitri is certainly tied up with this decision of his to withdraw. That “later on” has occurred in the Mother’s Agenda. What he did not put himself in Savitri he has put it through her in it. Maybe we could see some of these aspects in the following.

What happened at the moment of Sri Aurobindo’s passing away midnight 5 December 1950? There was absolutely no question of his giving ‘consent’ to die. It was a luminously willed action, fully conscious and deliberate, with the divinest intention in it. He wanted to withdraw and he withdrew. Nirodbaran attending on him at the time describes it to me very convincingly.

“It was about 1 AM and the Mother was standing by the side of Sri Aurobindo’s bed, and they were looking into each other’s eyes for a long time, for 20 minutes. Then, with the wink of his eyes, he signaled her to go. How could he withdraw she standing there? impossible, occultly and spiritually? The Mother knew he was withdrawing and she went away to her room.”

Soon there was the sounding bell, struck by Purani. All was over. The deed was done. The transformative miracle has taken place.

In her Conversations the Mother narrates the splendidest event on a number of occasions. It is absolutely certain that a new era has begun in it, the era of Truth-Light and Truth-Force in Truth-Joy. That is what gives completeness to the Book of Death.

In fact completeness of the Book of Death began in 1949 itself when a decision had to be taken that one of them had to go. He knew he had to go. In anticipation, in preparation of it he gave consent to the Mother to write for every Darshan an article for the newly started Bulletin of Physical Education by her, eight articles during 1949-1950, absolutely the last set of his prose writings. These were later put together under the title The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth and published as a book.

The key phrase in the book is the Mind of Light as “an instrumentality of the supermind, a part of it or a projection from it, a stepping beyond humanity into the superhumanity of the supramental principle”.

This Mind of Light is the physical’s Mind, the body-mind, directly opening to the supramental Light and Force. Sri Aurobindo had already established it in him, the beginning that was made on 8 August 1938, and it is this which was passed on to the Mother at the time of his withdrawal, when they were looking into each other’s eye for a long time.

Here are a few of the Mother’s revelations of it.

4 December 1962

The body always used to let itself be carried along. It was one in consciousness with Sri Aurobindo’s presence… . I was standing facing his body, you know, and I materially felt the friction as his will entered into me (his knowledge and his will): “You will accomplish my Work.” He said to this body: “You will accomplish my Work.” It’s the one thing that kept me alive.What he is now striving to give this body is the consciousness of Permanence, of Immortality, of the Certitude of absolute security— in Matter, in Life, in every moment’s action.

14 June 1967

There was the case of Sri Aurobindo. I cannot say he was dead! He wasn’t at all dead, it was perfectly obvious. For the first three days, I remained standing there, near his bed, and in an absolutely … well, to me, it was absolutely visible — all the organized consciousness that was in his body DELIBERATELY came out of it and into mine. And I not only saw it but felt the FRICTION of its entry. All that supramental power he had attracted into and organized in his body little by little came into me METHODICALLY.

16 September 1967

And when he left, there was a whole part — the most material part of the descent of the supramental body up to the mind — that visibly came out of his body and entered mine, and it was so concrete that I felt the FRICTION of forces passing through the pores of the skin.

17 May 1969

When Sri Aurobindo left, I was standing near his bed (later on, when he was alone, when there was no one left), and all the supramental force he had concentrated in his body (what was left in his body), he passed on to me. I stood near his bed; he had been declared “dead,” but all that supramental consciousness which was there came out of his body, slowly, and directly entered mine. It was so material that I felt the friction of the force everywhere, all over.

20 December 1972

Sri Aurobindo had accumulated a great deal of supramental force in his body, and as soon as he left he … He was on his bed, you see, and I was standing beside him, and all the supramental force that was in him passed quite concretely from his body into mine— so concretely that I thought it was visible. I could feel the friction of the passage. It was extraordinary—extraordinary! It was an extraordinary experience. It went on for a long, long time. I was standing beside his bed, and it passed into me.

Almost physical—it was a physical sensation. It lasted a long time. That’s all I know.

He himself—he himself has a greater action, a greater power or action now than when he was in his body. Besides, that’s why he left—because it had to be done that way. It’s very tangible, you know. His action has become very tangible.

We can justifiably say that all these experiences narrated by the Mother, experiences over a period of time, about 25 years, belong to the final Book of Death.

Nirodbaran concludes his account of the composition of Savitri:

‘The work progressed slowly; words, ideas, images seemed to be repeated; the verses themselves appeared to flow with reluctance. Once a punctuation had to be changed four or five times. When the last revision was made and the Cantos were wound up, I said, “It is finished now.” An impersonal smile of satisfaction greeted me, and he said, “Ah, it is finished?” How well I remember that flicker of a smile which all of us craved for so long! “What is left now?” was his next query. “The Book of Death and The Epilogue.” “Oh, that? We shall see about that later on.” That “later on” never came and was not meant to come. Having taken the decision to leave the body, he must have been waiting for the right moment to go, and for reasons known to himself he left the two last-mentioned Books almost as they were. Thus on Savitri was put the seal of incomplete completion about two weeks before the Darshan of November 24th. Other literary works too came to an end.’

The tempo of the work was subsequently speeded up and it proceeded smoothly without break till the seal of incomplete completion was put about two weeks before the November Darshan of 1950. Very probably he had taken the decision to withdraw from this world of the sad music of humanity and leave in compensation his divine music of Savitri. A curious incident has stuck in my memory.

Nirodbaran with his first hand knowledge of details speaks twice about the “seal of incomplete completion”. Yet a question arises if Sri Aurobindo really leave his Savitri incomplete. The Mother would retort: How do you know that? that he had put the seal of incomplete completion? He just wanted to keep things as they are, and that’s all. True, indeed.

The fact is, a pointed reference was made to him about the “Book of Death / III / Death in the Forest” when Sri Aurobindo had dictated it. The double tick mark maintains it so. He just wanted to leave it at that, and there is no ambiguity about it.

This is because the aspects of complete completion were being taken care of in another way. We have those in the Mother’s Agenda. Savitri is carried forward in it. It is after all the Mother who is going to complete Savitri, its proclamations, its experiences and its realisations. Savitri and Essential Agenda move onward to complete the work.

We must also recognise the fact that there is a telling difference between “experience” and “realisation”. Experience becomes a truth-fact elsewhere, in the higher realm. For instance, the Mother’s experience of materialisation of the psychic being, experience of 1 July 1970:

I found it very interesting, that being seemed to tell me, “You’re wondering what the supramental being will be—here it is! Here it is, this is it.” And it was there. It was her psychic being. Then one understands: the psychic being will materialize … and it gives a continuity to evolution.

This experience has yet to become a realisation, enter into manifestation. That is the agenda of the Agenda.


About the Author: Born on 17 April 1931 RY Deshpande is a professor, philosopher, author, poet and inmate of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. After graduating from Osmania University, Hyderabad, he joined the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai as a research physicist in 1955 and worked in this organization till 1957. In 1957 he joined the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai where he worked till 1981 and headed several Atomic Energy and Space Projects in Advance Technology with Dr. Raja Ramanna. Having received his Ph.D. in nuclear physics in 1964, he worked at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Berkeley, California USA from 1964 to 1965. He has some fifty research papers published in national and international scientific journals. He was also an examiner for a number of Ph.D. theses in the field of Solid State Physics. In 1981 Deshpande joined Sri Aurobindo Ashram of Pondicherry. For thirty years, he taught physics and a few other subjects such as Astrophysics, Savitri, The Future Poetry, Science and Society at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. For eight years he was the associate Editor of Mother India, a Monthly Review of Culture, published by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. During 2007-2008 Deshpande was the editor of a web-magazine titled Science-Culture-Integral Yoga founded in Los Angeles. His published works in prose and poetry include titles like Sri Aurobindo and the New Millennium, Vyasa’s Savitri, The Ancient Tale of Savitri, “Satyavan Must Die”, All Life is Yoga, Nagin-bhai Tells Me, The Rhododendron Valley, All is Dream-Blaze, Under the Raintree, Paging the Unknown, The Wager of Ambrosia, Savitri: Notes and Comments, Elements and Evolution, Sri Aurobindo’s Narad, The Birth of the Sun-God, Hymns to Becoming, These Mountains, The Secret Knowledge, Savitri Talks: The Symbol Dawn, Islam’s Contribution to Science, Big Science and India, Running Through Savitri, A Look at the Symbol Dawn: Observations-Comments-Discussions, Savitri: The Poetry of Immortality,  and Sanatana Dharma: An Aurobindonian Perspective to name a few. He has also edited the following books: Nirodbaran: Poet and Sadhak, Amal Kiran: Poet and Critic and Perspectives of Savitri

7 Replies to “Spanning out the Book of Death in Savitri by Dr. R. Y. Deshpande

  1. Absolutely revealing …Absolutely gripping .. Absolutely riveting …what else more one could ask for from our very learned professor Dr Deshpande- ji who is expert in ” Savitri Lore “- Deshpande- ji in sage -like manner writes with luminous intelligence – it is not an ordianry monograph by any measure –
    We are offered here with an infinite patience , with infinite wisdom an extended understanding of the awesome / wondrous passages at a critical juncture in a most significant / eventful episode of
    ” Savitri ” – Surendra s chouhan SAICE’ 69

  2. Absolutely illustrative as well as path shower article…teaches us the real interpretation of Death and how one can win over it in its true sense…”if nothing, absolutely nothing in you consents to die, you will not die. For someone to die, there is always a second, perhaps the hundredth part of a second when he gives his consent. If there is not this second of consent, he does not die” indeed makes one think deeply ! it also shows us a way in the subsequent discussion : “important thing for an individual is to unify himself around his divine centre; in that way he becomes a true individual, master of himself and his destiny. Otherwise, he is a plaything of forces that toss him about like a piece of cork on a river. He goes where he does not want to go, he is made to do things he does not want to do, and finally he falls into a hole without having the strength to hold on.”…Consistent adherence to the psychic being is the essential step. The efforts, determination and dedication by respected R Y Deshpande is the real lighthouse for all of us to progress…’Satyawan Must Die’ is another publication from him worth a deep consideration !

  3. Multimillion thanks, Sir Anurag jee, for this great inspirational story of R.Y.Deshpande…… A brilliant devotee who researched deep in to archives, and brought forth valuable info…

    Om Namo Bhagawate Shree Arvindaay!!!

  4. Dear Anurag Babu,


    Thank you very much for collecting and sharing with us, such gems.

    Looking for ward to more such gems in the future.

    With love and regards

    Hrushikesh Acharya

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