The Outstretched Hand Mangesh V. Nadkarni J Y O T I An Informational and Cultural Quarterly published by The Sri Aurobindo Center of Los Angeles * The East-West Cultural Center *
Vol. One, Number 1, February 21, 1999
The act of writing of Savitri seems to have been an event of great significance to mankind and to the earth-consciousness. The first half of the twentieth century was the period during which the leaders of thought, particularly in the West, were moving from dogmatic materialism to an absolute, stark nihilism, which saw mankind as a species "swept from darkness to darkness, like a straw on a torrent by a ruthless, mysterious and ignoble force". That was an age of the loss of faith, of spiritual desolation, of intellectual despair and metaphysical sickness, of Auden's 'Age of Anxiety' and of T. S. Eliot's 'Waste Land'. During those years, mankind was passing through a very critical phase of evolution when many thinkers wondered whether humanity, having reached such depths of despair, can even have the will to live. The scientific and philosophical revolutions of the preceding four centuries had succeeded in creating the impression that man is no more than an accidental product of creation and a pawn in the play of vast forces entirely beyond his control.
Sri Aurobindo rejects this nihilistic world-view and its despair and gloom about mankind and its future; his great contribution to human thought is that he makes it possible for us to believe that this creation and man in it are neither a purposeless illusion nor a fortuitous accident, and that they have an important meaning. This world is not an unfortunate accident; it is in fact a miracle that is gradually unfolding itself. Our mind may find this process too baffling, but that is because it is still an imperfect instrument groping after true knowledge. In Savitri, he reveals to us in many places that the present appearance of our terrestrial existence is a veiled and partial figure, and that to limit ourselves to the present formula of an imperfect humanity and to regard that as an abiding truth for all times is to disregard the evolutionary nature of this world. This tone of optimism and hope is central to the grand music of Savitri.
Take, for example, Book II, Canto 4 of Savitri. Here the poet is describing the struggle of consciousness in the early phases of its terrestrial evolution through the lower levels of the vital plane, when "the need to exist, the instinct to survive" is paramount and unseeing desire is the only instrument for growth available to this consciousness. At that point, it looked like
a vain unnecessary world
Whose will to be poor and sad results
And meaningless suffering and a grey unease
Nothing seemed worth the labour to become
But the poet perceives this wasteful-seeming effort in another perspective and describes even this as a heavenly process which aims "To release the Glory of God in Nature's mud".
A heavenly process donned this grey disguise,
A fallen ignorance in its covert night
Laboured to achieve its dumb unseemly work,
A camouflage of the Inconscient's need
To release the glory of God in Nature's mud. (page 138)
Savitri has many such passages. In fact, by writing passages such as this Sri Aurobindo seems to have virtually inundated the earth atmosphere with vibrations of hope and optimism about man and his terrestrial future. This has a parallel in his writing of The Life Divine. It is not just a fortuitous co-incidence that he wrote it and published it serially in The Arya as the First World War was waging, and he took up its revision as the Second World War erupted. It was as though he was countering the Asuric attacks on mankind by strengthening the forces of the Divine in an occult and spiritual way. The same may be said about the writing of Savitri. By writing this great epic, Sri Aurobindo seems to have countered the dark forces which were seeking to engulf mankind with a feeling of despair and defeatism about its own future.