May 08, 2007

The God of Death in Sri Aurobindo’s legend is the quintessential Adversary

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Before I conclude, I would like to comment briefly on this episode of the four boons, or the choices given to Savitri four times and her responses to these. In the original Mahabharata story as narrated by Vyasa, during the colloquy between Yama and Savitri, Yama is greatly impressed by Savitri’s knowledge of Dharma, her cultured manner of speaking and her language, even her polished diction. So pleased is he with Savitri for these extraordinary accomplishments of hers that he urges Savitri to seek from him a boon asking for anything she wants except Satyavan’s life. Savitri asks for the restoration of the eye-sight for the father of Satyavan, Dyumatsena. Yama grants this but he is not satisfied. He asks her to seek from him another boon, and then another and then another, until he ends up giving her four boons. For a second boon, Savitri asks that Dyumatsena’s lost kingdom be restored to him. By the third boon, she asks that her sonless father be granted a hundred valiant sons. Then Yama encourages her to ask for a fourth boon. Savitri then says: “By our union, mine with Satyavan, let there be a hundred sons, noble and heroic in deed, well-born, extending the glory of the house.” Then when Yama realises that Savitri cannot have the sons he had bestowed on her by his fourth boon, except through Satyavan, he bestows on her the fifth boon – that of Satyavan’s life. And with that Satyavan is restored to life.
Unlike Yama in Vyasa’s Mahabharata story, the God of Death in Sri Aurobindo’s legend is the quintessential Adversary. His aim is to thwart Savitri’s enterprise, so, as we have seen, he keeps opposing Savitri with all his power and with all the intellectual resources he can muster. But he is finally vanquished by Savitri, and he disappears and his place is taken by the enchanting figure of the Supreme God. When arguments and persuasion fail to have any effect on Savitri, he tries to win her over to his side by offering these four boons we discussed in this instalment. Savitri doesn’t ask for these boons, the God offers this choice. In the Mahabharata story, it is Yama’s feeling that Savitri might go back satisfied with what he has to offer her as his boons. Besides, he genuinely likes her and admires her for her learning and for her virtuousness and understanding of Dharma. He wouldn’t like to send her back empty-handed. But in Sri Aurobindo’s legend, these boons represent one last attempt to persuade Savitri to give up her commitment to earth and to bringing Divine perfection to it.
It is but natural that the God should offer her what until now has been regarded as the highest rewards of a spiritual life – Nirvana and the blessings that go with it. These are peace, oneness (the annihilation of the sense of the other), energy and bliss. These are no doubt spiritual felicities but with one built-in drawback to them. They make you escape from life. Savitri would, like to retain these spiritual felicities but turn them to good use in ushering in the age of new consciousness or what Sri Aurobindo has called the Supramental consciousness. If that is done, then these very features will be seen as the features characterising the supramental consciousness.
(Mangesh Nadkarni retired as professor of Linguistics a few years ago. He enjoys sharing with
as many people as possible what he receives from his study of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother)

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