Sri Aurobindo’s Earliest Draft of Savitri (1916): Third Installment

Dear Friends,

Sri Aurobindo had started working on the earliest draft of Savitri in August 1916. Nirodbaran, who has portrayed how Savitri reached its final form in his Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo, writes about this draft:

“The draft exists in two sections. The first comprising Book I and a few pages of Book II… Book I is complete, Book II unfinished. The spelling of the three chief characters is: Savithri, Uswapathy, Suthyavan. In the first Book, after a short description of Night and Dawn, there is a very brief account of the Yoga done by Uswapathy, then Savithri is born, grows up and goes out, at Uswapathy’s prompting, to find her mate. She finds Suthyavan. In the meantime Narad comes down to earth and visits Uswapathy’s palace. There is a talk between the two; Savithri returns from her quest and discovery, and a talk takes place among the three.” (pp. 173-174, 1995 edition)

We are happy to announce that Overman Foundation has received permission from Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust to publish the earliest draft of Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri in its online forum. We are extremely grateful to Shri Manoj Das Gupta, Managing Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, for giving us the said permission.

The first and second installments of the earliest draft of Savitri were published in the online forum of Overman Foundation on 4 April and 9 April 2013 respectively. The third installment of the epic is published here.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee

Overman Foundation.





But now to a Nature more remote, self-hidden
From all but its own vision deep and wild,
Attracted by the forest’s sombre call
Her chariot hastened, skirting prouder glades
Where the green stragglers lingered in the light
Behind immenser seas of foliage, rear
Of a tremendous solitude of trees.
Here in a lifting of the vast secrecy
Where plunged a narrow cleft, a track ran hewn
To screened infinities from a farewell space
Of sunlight, she beheld kingly youth
Magnificent in the morning of his force,
Clad in a rough robe sewn of forest bark,
Taming a wild horse to his gentle hand.
Still by its inner musings sealed from life,
Aware of Nature, vague as yet to man,
Her wandering gaze the splendid beast admired,
Not yet the master creature. Then it woke.
Half-turned to her over its tangled mane
She saw, she knew, as if oft seen before,
Eyes and a face rich, noble, high and swift
Like the gods’ morning. She cried out like a bird
Who hears her mate upon a distant bough
And by her musical bidding seized and stilled,
Hooves trampling fast and crashing chariot ceased,
The unwilling horses pawing yet for speed.
But Suthyavân who heard the liquid voice
Wedding the summer air stood marvelling:
Himself, his task, his victory forgot,
He left the rapid creature to its will.
It seemed to him vaguely as if the sweet call
Were to the chariot-horses of his life
Turning their speed towards a glorious goal.
He came, they met, wide wondering eyes gazed close
Into bright eyes and deep, their comrade orbs.
Touched by the warning finger of sweet love
The soul can recognise its answering soul
Across dividing Time. Upon life’s ways
Absorbed wrapped traveller, turning, it recovers
Familiar splendours in an unknown face
And thrills again to the old immortal love
Wearing a new sweet body for delight.
But the mind only thinks, “Behold the one
For whom my life has waited long unfilled!
Behold the sudden sovereign of my days.”
Love dwells in us like an unopened flower.
Roaming in his charmed sleep mid thoughts and things
The child-god is at play; but through it all
He lingers for the touch that he shall know
And when it comes, wakes blindly to a voice,
A look, a smile, the meaning of a face.
He seizes on some sign of outward charm
To guide him by the groping mind obscured,
Desires the image for the godhead’s sake
And takes the body for the sculptured soul.
Her heart unveiled, his now to meet her turned.
Attracted as in heaven star by star
They wondered at each other and rejoiced.

First Suthyavân: “Who art thou, virgin bright?
My mind might dream perhaps and my heart fear,
Risen on a morning of the gods thou drivest
Thy horses from the Thunderer’s luminous worlds.
For they have wandered in the silent hours
And lingered in the slumbrous noonday woods
And know that gods from heaven walk abroad.
If such thou art, pause once before thou fade
Like a bright thought too glorious for our hold.
But if thy heart was made for human love,
My eyes grow glad to know and my bosom rejoices
That mortal sweetness smiles between thy lids,
Thy heart can beat beneath a human gaze,
This golden body dally with fatigue
And the sweet taste and joy of earthly food
Attract thee. From thy journey cease; come down.
Close is my father’s woodland hermitage.
There follow me. Though rude and poor our life,
The woods are round it and the heavens above
Look down at a rich secrecy and hush.
The forest gods have taken it in their arms
And brightly apparelled it in green and gold.”
And the girl, musing, “I am Sâvithrî,
Princess of Madra. Who art thou? what name
Musical on earth? What trunk of ancient kings
Has flowered in thee upon its happy branch?
Why is thy dwelling in the pathless wood
Far from the deeds thy glorious youth demands?”
And he: “King Dyumathsen in Shalwa reigned
Through all the tract that from beyond these tops
Turns looking back towards the southern heavens.
But the bright gods recalled the gifts they gave,
Took from his eyes their glad and helping ray
And led the uncertain goddess from his side.
He sojourns in the deep and solemn woods.
Son of that king, I, Suthyavân, have lived
In their huge vital murmur kin to me,
Nursed by their vastness; Chitrâshwa too they name me;
For the early child-god took my hand to limn
The bright and bounding swiftnesses that stray
Wind-maned in our pastures. So my mind approached
Before I lived in its wide natural haunts
The dumb great animal consciousness of earth
Now grown so close. Gold princess Sâvithrî,
High is my life and happy I find my state
Possessing royally the earth and skies;
But I have seen thee; these seem not enough:
New rich deep things felicitous I desire;
And heaven and earth are in a moment changed.
O, if thou art the source, draw nearer yet
Down on this sward disdaining not our soil,
For here are spaces emerald to thy tread,
Descend, O happiness. Let thy golden feet
Enrich the rough floors on whose earth we dwell.”
She said: “My heart turns to my father’s house
And yet will stay here on this forest verge.
Now of more wandering it has no need.”
Down came she with a soft, bright, faltering haste,
Her gleaming feet upon the green-gold sward,
And like pale brilliant wandering moths her hands
Claimed from the sylvan verge’s sunlit arms
Bright comrades of the summer and the breeze
And twined a natural garland deep and pure
Fit for their love. This with glad unshamed eyes
Upraised in hands that trembled with delight
Lingering around the neck of him she chose,
She hung,—such the fair symbol of those days,—
Upon his bosom coveted by her love.
Nor with that equal bond ceased satisfied
Her heart, but as before a sudden god
She bowed down to his feet and touched the hem
Of his coarse raiment with her worshipping hands.
He took them in his own; the sweet first touch
Of all their closeness through long intimate years
Feeling each other for the soul behind,
Joined them for bliss upon his bosom. They parted,
She to her father’s rich and sculptured halls,
He to the cottage rude she hoped for, thatched
With leaves, built of hewn forest-boughs, where lingered
In toil and penury of their fallen state
His parents bearing patiently their days.
Thus were they wedded and the knot was bound.

Attracted by the golden summer earth
Nârad the heavenly sage from Paradise
Came harping through the quivering lustrous air.
Rapturous and drunken with the wine of God
He poured upon the world his mighty chant
Casting the harmonies of his heaven-born voice
Unwearied. By the sweetness of his song
Earth the dumb sufferer was awhile appeased
And all heaven’s kindled regions shook, alight
With his heart’s ceaseless joy. He sang the name
Of Vishnu and the secret of the stars
And the beginnings of the conscious world.
He hymned Delight and Love that knows not death:
He sang the rapture of the Heart divine
That calls our spirits and of discords healed
And pleasure that shall die in a white bliss
And sin delivered from itself by love
And immortality surprising earth.
And as he sang, the demons wept with joy:
They dreamed of the defeat for which they hope
When with their chosen dreadful labour done
They shall return to him who sent them forth.
So harping, singing came the man divine
To men obscured on earth. The glory down
Like a persistent streak of lightning fell,
Nearing, until the rapt eyes of the sage
Looked forth from luminous cloud and, strangely limned,
His face, a beautiful mask of antique joy,
Appeared from light, descending where arose
King Uswapathy’s palace to the winds
In Madra, flowering up in delicate stone.
There welcomed by the strong and thoughtful king
Who ceased from common life and care and sat
Inclining to the high and rhythmic voice,
Seated on sacred grass the heavenly seer
Spoke of the toils of men and what the gods
Strive for on earth, and joy that throbs behind
The marvel and the mystery of pain.
He sang to him of the lotus heart of love
With all its thousand luminous buds of truth
That quivering sleeps veiled by apparent things.
It trembles at every touch, it strives to wake
And one day it shall hear a blissful voice
And in the garden of the spouse shall bloom
When she is seized by her discovered lord.
Even as he sang, came with a voice of hooves
As of her swift heart hastening, Sâvithrî.
Changed with the halo of her love she came,
Her radiant tread glimmering across the floor,
A happy wonder in her fathomless eyes.
And happily her stately head she bowed
Before her father and her shining gaze
Saw like a rose of wonder and adored
Sweetness and glory of that Son of Heaven.
But Nârad casting on her from his eyes
Celestial the unwounded light of heaven
Griefless, “From what wild border, Sâvithrî,
Turns back thy wheels’ far quest with wonderful earth
Satisfied, singing of sweet haste to bliss
As one who brings hushed treasure for his soul,
Rapt burdens and rich secrets from some shrine
Where sits a godhead mystic in the stone?
What divine floods bathed pure thy pilgrim limbs
And burdened heart? or as from marvellous lands,
Verges of wonder and horizons strange,
Landscapes of mystery, rivers of delight,
Flew once the Bird who from the flaming kings
Of pain ravished the ambrosia for the gods,
Exultantly—so fleest thou bright-winged back
Rejoicing with some flushed and heavenly fruit
Seized in the dangerous woodlands of desire?
Such light is seen beneath thy mortal lids.”
Then Uswapathy, “An unknown face one seeks
Among the indifferent visages of earth,
Known to the secret sense our clay conceals:
And when it opens, even such light can dawn!
For we are seekers of our hidden suns.
To find its own lord since to her through earth
He came not yet, this sweetness ventured forth.
Now she brings back her dedicated soul.
Reveal, my child, the name thy heart has learned.”
Shining she answered, “Suthyavân, an exile
In the huge and desolate forests, is my lord.
My father, I have chosen, this is done.”
And Uswapathy wordless for a space
Answered his child, “What thou hast chosen and done,
The silent god within thee shall approve.
In the rich commerce of this mystic world
Where all things given wonderfully return,
Life for its offering, bare of every claim
The heart has prostrated before the adored
Satisfied with its privilege to love.
Dimly it knows, descended from the skies,
Its sweet lost fortune by that gift restored,
Deep price at which the costly worlds were born
Self-giving the great merchandise of God.”
Sâvithrî answered not. Her happy eyes
Hooded with light from an immortal source
And finding hidden glories on the earth
Smiled at thought whispering, confident of bliss.

But Nârad now, the seer, lifted his voice
That sang the first thoughts of the new-born gods,
Turning on her the rapt celestial eyes
Bare to whose gaze Time toils, his unseen works
Detected: “Wilder-sweet thy curves, O life,
Following the stream of Time through the unknown
Than sealed thought dreams of! Wandering soul, thy wings
Strike hidden goals. A god’s tremendous touch
Seems pain unbearable to mortal nerves,
But high that agony climbs, the flower of flame
In whose fierce seed is the sweet tree of heaven.
Endurance first the ethereal kings trod out
Pacing the measures of the dateless road;
Serene rose next equality from the stars
Weaving her vast and rhythmed walk; thrilling
Their large third rapturous stride discovered bliss.
But blind and swift the great-maned life of earth
Alarmed by grief swerved from their dreadful path.
She dulled the pang to her children, heeding not
In the fond passion of her mother mind
That they who toil self-given into the hands
Of her great sorrows and arise grow gods,
Possessors of the eternal joys unseen,
The master souls who are for ever glad.
By pain there works a spirit from the clod;
By pain eternal Night gave forth the suns;
By pain the wise Immortals knew and chose
The leaders of the dark and mighty march,
The swift and radiant who shall help the world.
From sojourn in some high preparing skies,
From rapture in the worlds of flame and light
Obscured they come, down on the yearning earth,
Conscious of their lost heavens. Soul who hast lived
Guarded in thy sweet happy heavenly self
From life’s great hands,—but now the gods have touched,—
Awake by sorrow, daughter of the sun.”
But high the King cried back to the bright seer,
“Ominous thy thoughts are, Nârad, to our hearts
Which only ask brief joy for their brief life.
Flame not too high beyond the mortal’s ken.
What soul aspires to grief or uncompelled
Would taste of torture? If from joy to joy
Chanting man climbed, then might we grow to gods.
Too endless is the sad and stern ascent,
Too slippery and precipitous the path.
Rather if the thought silent in the wise
That knows its wisdom vain to help mankind
Close not thy lips, our blinded will succour,
That it may see the pitfall and the escape.
Because to our footsteps light has been denied,
Like children travelling to an unseen goal
In night-hung paths in forest or morass
We fearfully retrace some happy steps,
We call to each other at some doubtful bend
Guarding from winds some flickering torch of hope.
We wander. If the mist could once be rent,—
Chased never by the reason’s pallid light,—
Which from the first was settled round our way,
The dire immortal bows that ring our walk
Stringless would fall and Fate to Will be bound.
O Will is God concealed and Fate his bride.
But now in her immense and passionate mind
Shaping unruled the cycles of the stars,
With thoughts eternal, violent, large of pace,
She takes the little centuries in her stride
And holds him hooded in her mighty hands.
She knows without him all her strength were vain.
Two powers toil and meet in every field,
She clasps him bound lest he desert her arms,
She hides him in her breast to guide the suns.”
But Nârad still with that celestial gaze:
“Why vainly must thou ask for light in front?
Safe doors cry opening, but the doomed pass on.
None can renounce the chain his soul desires
Until a will eternal has been done.
Man by his nature to great grief is drawn;
For a mysterious Power compels his steps
And Life is stronger than the trembling mind.”
With troubled heart King Uswapathy heard;
He reined his rearing thoughts to make reply:
“Still must man seek for light and quest in front,
Chained to his passion on the labouring earth.
Yearning to clasp an enemy of her heart
Is cruellest grief for woman’s subject life,
A bitter think to love! Or two may cling
United yet some natural fault in him
Turn even their close daily tenderness
A cherished suffering and a tortured joy.
Which of these swords shall pierce my child, O sage?”
But Nârad smiling with immortal lips:
“Fear not such coarser trembling shall be struck
From spirits who are harps the gods have made.
Gentle as the soft bud the spring desires,
Pure like a stream that kisses lonely banks,
Like a hill high-gazing where a fruited grove
Has made a murmuring nest for southern winds,
Calm and delightful is young Suthyavân.
The Happy in their sweet ether have not hearts
More wide and blissful than this forest boy’s.
His nature deep and true lives with the god
In common things and that large-eyed communion
Has learned by which man’s veilless mind wakes free,
Griefless, uplifted; its wonderful domains
Grow luminous fields thronged with the tread of gods.
Alas, if death into the elements
From which his gracious envelope was built,
Shatter this vase before it breathe its sweets,
As if earth could not keep a divine thing!
In one brief year when this bright hour flies back
Through Time, the shrouded night surrounds his soul.”

(To be continued)


4 Replies to “Sri Aurobindo’s Earliest Draft of Savitri (1916): Third Installment

  1. Amal Kiran’s notes on the aforesaid lines of “Savitri” are as follows:

    • Line 254: “her” as variant for “its”.
    In line 256, the original adjective for “glades” was “wilder”: below it appears “shaggier”, which is also scratched out. In line 164 one is not sure that “a kingly” is the last intention: “high-eyed a” is written above the end of the line. Perhaps “high-eyed a kingly youth” was intended, but then we should have an alexandrine. As the original “a” before “kingly” is cancelled, even without “high-eyed” the reading may be “kingly a youth.” In line 266, the original version is kept in spite of a scratch over “Taming”, for it is difficult to guess what new version was intended when above this line we read: “He filled with strenuous play his golden tame”—and in the line itself what looks like “And tamed”. Line 277 had originally “hurtling” for “crashing”: later variants are “hurrying” and “haste-filled”.

    • Line 308 has the variant “find” for “meet”.
    • Line 321 is uncertain in its beginning, and there seems to be a variant for its ending—something like “my veins rejoice.”

    • From the middle of line 349 we have another version up to the middle of line 351:

    but because my hand
    The bright and bounding swiftnesses described
    That hurl our straining chariots to the goal
    They name Chitrâshwa.

    The original version took off from the end-part of line 348 and was shorter:

    who am named
    Chitrâshwa because my yet childish hands
    Painted the bounding swiftnesses that foam
    In our strong chariots.

    In line 350 “stray” has the variant “roam”.

    • In line 447, “eyes” has a variant: “gaze”. There seems to be another version of this line, which would do away with the need of the next and join up directly with line 444. This version is:

    But Narad casting on her face his look

    • In line 461, “here” is a variant for “back”, and in line 463 “Found” for “Seized”.

    The whole passage, lines 447-461, has been considerably redone, but not perhaps with utter finality. The original version was:

    Then Nârad: “From what wild border, Sâvithrî,
    Speeds back thy wheels’ far quest, with wonderful earth
    Satisfied? Bring’st thou then urned in thy rich soul
    Secret of rapt devotion from some shine
    Where sits a godhead mystic in the stone?
    In sacred city or under musing hill
    What divine flood washed pure thy pilgrim limbs
    And burdened heart? Or from thy journey’s end,—
    As once the Bird who from the flaming kings
    Of Pain ravished the ambrosia for the gods,
    Wounded,—so, happier, fleest thou bright-winged back

    Here, in line 6, “under musing hill” is varied with “by divine hill” and, in line 7, “divine flood” by “holy river”.

    Line 475 has “dread” as variant for “huge”. Line 481 has the alternative:

    Where each thing given wonderfully returns,

    Originally, in place of lines 482 and 483, the manuscript read:

    The heart casts all down before one desired

    and had “lays” as variant for “casts”, and “life” for “all”. The next line read “the” instead of “its”.

    • Line 492: “inly” as variant for “whispering”.

    • Line 529: “replied” for “cried back”. Line 532: “sight” for “ken,” and perhaps “thus” for “too”.

    • The earliest version, from line 538, goes:

    But if the Power that is silent in the wise
    Close not thy lips, our straining will enlighten,
    O sage, to see the pitfall and the escape.
    For not by fate alone our steps are moved
    But fate and will together are the world;
    Here hope has blinded, passion lamed the will
    And only by our darkness fate is lord.”

    A variant from line 543 runs:

    As those who travel to a far-off goal
    In night-hung paths in forest and morass,
    Such are we, but if the veil could once be rent,
    If man had sight, if his blind steps were led
    By brighter fires than pallid reason lights
    And other than the flickering torch of hope

    After line 543, there is another version:

    On night-hung paths in forest and morass,
    We wander. If the mist could once be rent,—
    Chased never by the reason’s pallid light,
    Pierced never by the flickering torch of hope,—
    Which from the first was settled round our way

    • After line 552 a different sequel has been noted:

    But now in her immense and passionate mind
    With thoughts eternal, violent, large of pace,
    Shaping unruled the cycles of the stars,
    Taking the little centuries in her stride,
    She holds him hooded in her mighty hands.
    Yet not by Fate alone our paths are hewn
    Two are the powers that rule the mortal’s acts,
    And Fate and Will together watch the world.

    A very early version after line 565 runs:

    None can escape his nature and its fruits,
    None can put off the chain his soul desires
    Nor Sâvithrî do other loving too well
    Than call to her anguish for her nights and morns.”

    Of course the phrase “loving too well” must be understood as having a comma preceding and succeeding it. Uswapathy’s reply, beginning with line 573 now, began at one time:

    “In all the passion of the labouring earth
    For a woman’s subject life this is worst grief,
    Yearning to choose an enemy of her heart.

    • Line 577: “for” instead of “to”. Line 580: “To” and “to” for “A” and “a”. Line 581: “find” for “pierce”. Another version of lines 577-581 has been attempted, but it is not clear, for changes are made again and again. One reading is:

    A bitter thing to love! Or else some evil
    In him shall, coiled around her wounded thoughts,
    Make even of close daily tenderness
    Her cherished suffering and her tortured joy.
    Even such pain brief earth has for her sons.

    Two lines decipherable are:

    Or oft the evil in him coils around
    Her wounded thoughts, her woman’s soul disarmed.

    Another snatch is:

    Has she then found
    The torturor of her heart in Suthyavân?

  2. Thank you so much for the publication of this priceless text! There seems to be a misprint in the line: Because to our footsteps light has bee denied – Probably, has beeN.

    1. Dear Friend,

      Thank you very much for pointing out the error. Sincerest apologies for this typing error. I have rectified it.

      With warm regards,
      Anurag Banerjee

  3. Dear Anurag,
    Namaste! It is indeed amazing to see, a century minus 3 yeas after, the first draft of Savitri on the computer screen.

    A lovely stir of melodious adoration surges and mounts from the deeps of the heart for that skyey spirit who belongs to humanity.

    It is always an absolutely unshakable conviction that speaks:
    “…………………my footprints’ track shall be
    A pathway towards Immortality.”

    Thank you Anurag for building this bridge of the century. It makes me feel standing at the center point of the present and
    stretching my arms on both sides, the century past and the approaching future. It is an EXPERIENCE.
    Dhanyavaad ad infinitum.


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