Tuesday, October 31, 2006

SRI AUROBINDO'S SAVITRI

Book Review: Professor O.P.Mathur


R. K. SINGH : Sri Aurobindo’s SAVITRI: Essays on Love, Life and Death. Published by Prakash Book Depot, Bara Bazar, Bareilly 243003, India. 2005, Pages 130+40 (extracts from Savitri). Price Rs.250/- . ISBN 81-7977-140-7


Prof. R. K. Singh is not only a known poet but also a literary critic whose full-length
book on Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri is an important study of this immortal work. R. K. Singh later published a number of papers examining Savitri from different perspectives. In fact, the facets of Savitri are numerous, and it is a daunting task to do full justice to them in one book. The book under review, therefore, rightly attempts to explore a few significant ones with the object of supplementing, as he rather unpretentiously says in the Preface, “what a researcher or student already knows about Savitri as an epic or Sri Aurobindo as a poet”. But Dr. Singh has achieved much more than what he humbly claims to have attempted. The book with its fresh approaches and analysis is useful for teachers and Aurobindo scholars alike.

The opening essay of the book studies Savitri as a romance, but with a difference, as a spiritual romance, for it shows Savitri encompassing “all levels of outer and inner world” blending “the poetic and the philosophical, the emotional and the rational”. The next essay is a fairly lucid and fresh analysis of Sri Aurobindo’s ‘Yoga’ and of the descent of the Divine in the garb of “the growth of new collective values” with “the seeker acting in inaction … to divinise the society”. Sri Aurobindo had himself hinted at the relation of his concept of ‘Yoga’ with ‘Karmayoga’ in The Ideal of the Karmayogin (1945) and Dr. Singh has well analysed the relationship leading to a ‘collective value-system’, an inspiring ideal for the whole world.

Remarkable touches of originality of approach can also be discovered in the essay on Sri Aurobindo’s poetics in which Dr. Singh, suggesting the similarity of Sri Aurobindo’s poetry to ‘Mantra’ or ‘incantation’, “a rhythmic revelation of Reality” embodying a harmony of ‘dhvani’ (‘suggestion’), ‘Rasa’ (or ‘Ananda’) and ‘vision’. They all together embody “a development of an archetypal aesthetics” which seem to be a comprehensive approach to ancient poetics.

Besides these valuable general essays, the book also contains some perceptive insights into a few issues not earlier noticed or discussed at length. They include, among others, the discovery of one of the parallels between the mythic tales of the East and the West – the confrontation with Death and its ultimate conquest by Savitri and that of the devoted wife Isis laboriously ensuring the resurrection of Osiris in a Greek legend. The essential commonality of the global imagination can also be traced in many other tales of devoted wives like those of Sita and Penelope. Dr. Singh through his study has stressed on this global direction of Aurobindo studies. Similarly, a universal grammar of metaphysics, epic traditions and styles has been discovered in the three essays that follow-- in Emily Dickinson, the British Romantic poets and the varied traditions of the hoary genre of the epic – all in relation to Sri Aurobindo’s multifaceted poetry. Dr. Singh establishes Savitri as an epic sui generis - a culmination in “a spiritual culture beyond reason and religion”, depicting in Sri Aurobindo’s own words, “a harmonious unity of the life of man with the spirit of Nature and the spirit of the universe.” The concluding essay on the texture of Savitri explores the originality and the orchestration of the various elements of its ‘texture’, treating the term as a multi-coloured umbrella covering not only the originality of the celebration of its epic form as a traditionally unepical ‘quietism’ of the spiritual experience but also the originality and spiritual symbolism of its characters and events, the rhythmical scheme of its blank verse and its superb blending with its spiritual message.

Dr. Singh’s perspectives as revealed in this book are both microscopic and telescopic, the minutiae growing into a mountain, the worldly transcended into the spiritual. In examining many of the integrants of the book, Dr. Singh has, perhaps unconsciously elevated this collection of his essays into a sort of discourse on the immensity of the work and of the personality of Sri Aurobindo, a poet, critic, saint, philosopher, prophet rolled into one – highlighting the fact the whole can sometimes be greater than the sum of its parts, which tend to fuse together into a complex, as indicated in the sub-title of the book itself. This long overdue collection of Dr. Singh’s essays on Savitri is a notable contribution to the study of this spiritual epic, an inner odyssey, as also, in the words of Sisir Kumar Ghose, a “poetry of vision, prayer, totality, poetry as a factor in the human becoming”, unique in world literature.


O.P.Mathur, Former Professor and Head, Dept of English, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi 221005, India
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The review first appeared in The Journal of Indian Writing in English, Vol.34, No. 2, July 2006, pp. 94-96
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