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Whence this mess?
An answer from Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem “Savitri”
King Aswapati had instructed his daughter Savitri to “venture through the deep world” to find her mate. (Savitri, Sri Aurobindo explains, is the Divine Word, daughter of the Sun, goddess of the supreme Truth who comes down and is born to save; Aswapati, her human father, is the Lord of Tapasya, the concentrated energy of spiritual endeavour that helps us to rise from the mortal to the immortal planes.) These were his words:
“O spirit, traveller of eternity, Who cam’st from the immortal spaces here Armed for the splendid hazard of thy life To set thy conquering foot on Chance and Time, The moon shut in her halo dreams like thee. A mighty Presence still defends thy frame. Perhaps the heavens guard thee for some great soul, Thy fate, thy work are kept somewhere afar. Thy spirit came not down a star alone. O living inscription of the beauty of love Missalled in aureate virginity, What message of heavenly strength and bliss in thee Is written with the Eternal’s sun-white script, One shall discover and greaten with it his life To whom thou loosenest thy heart’s jewelled strings. O rubies of silence, lips from which there stole Low laughter, music of tranquillity, Star-lustrous eyes awake in sweet large night And limbs like fine-linked poems made of gold Stanzaed to glimmering curves by artist gods, Depart where love and destiny call your charm. Venture through the deep world to find thy mate. For somewhere on the longing breast of earth, Thy unknown lover waits for thee the unknown. Thy soul has strength and needs no other guide Than One who burns within thy bosom’s powers. There shall draw near to meet thy approaching steps The second self for whom thy nature asks, He who shall walk until thy body’s end A close-bound traveller pacing with thy pace, The lyrist of thy soul’s most intimate chords Who shall give voice to what in thee is mute. [373–74]
A year later, Narad, the heavenly sage, pays a visit to Aswapati and his queen, the human mother of Savitri.
There for an hour untouched by the earth’s siege They ceased from common life and care and sat Inclining to the high and rhythmic voice, While in his measured chant 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. 
Just then, Savitri returns from her quest.
Even as he sang and rapture stole through earth-time And caught the heavens, came with a call of hooves, As of her swift heart hastening, Savitri; Her radiant tread glimmered across the floor. A happy wonder in her fathomless gaze, Changed by the halo of her love she came.... He [Narad] flung on her his vast immortal look; His inner gaze surrounded her with its light And reining back knowledge from his immortal lips He cried to her, “Who is this that comes, the bride, The flame-born, and round her illumined head Pouring their lights her hymeneal pomps Move flashing about her? From what green glimmer of glades Retreating into dewy silences Or half-seen verge of waters moon-betrayed Bringst thou this glory of enchanted eyes?” 
Eventually, though, Narad’s speech turns darker.
“O thou who hast come to this great perilous world Now only seen through the splendour of thy dreams, Where hardly love and beauty can live safe, Thyself a being dangerously great, A soul alone in a golden house of thought Has lived walled in by the safety of thy dreams. On heights of happiness leaving doom asleep Who hunts unseen the unconscious lives of men, If thy heart could live locked in the ideal’s gold, As high, as happy might thy waking be! If for all time doom could be left to sleep!” [418–20]
Aswapati, alarmed, pleads for heaven’s leniency. Narad doesn’t oblige:
But Narad answered not; silent he sat, Knowing that words are vain and Fate is lord. He looked into the unseen with seeing eyes, Then, dallying with the mortal’s ignorance Like one who knows not, questioning, he cried: “On what high mission went her hastening wheels? Whence came she with this glory in her heart And Paradise made visible in her eyes? What sudden God has met, what face supreme?” To whom the king, “The red asoca watched Her going forth which now sees her return. Arisen into an air of flaming dawn Like a bright bird tired of her lonely branch, To find her own lord, since to her on earth He came not yet, this sweetness wandered forth Cleaving her way with the beat of her rapid wings. Led by a distant call her vague swift flight Threaded the summer morns and sunlit lands. The happy rest her burdened lashes keep And these charmed guardian lips hold treasured still. Virgin who comest perfected by joy, Reveal the name thy sudden heart-beats learned. Whom hast thou chosen, kingliest among men?” And Savitri answered with her still calm voice As one who speaks beneath the eyes of Fate: “Father and king, I have carried out thy will. One whom I sought I found in distant lands; I have obeyed my heart, I have heard its call. On the borders of a dreaming wilderness Mid Shalwa’s giant hills and brooding woods In his thatched hermitage Dyumatsena dwells, Blind, exiled, outcast, once a mighty king. The son of Dyumatsena, Satyavan, I have met on the wild forest’s lonely verge. My father, I have chosen. This is done.” [423–24]
Satyavan, Sri Aurobindo explains, is the soul carrying the divine truth of being within itself but descended into the grip of death and ignorance; Dyumatsena, father of Satyavan, is the Divine Mind here fallen blind, losing its celestial kingdom of vision, and through that loss its kingdom of glory. And this, Sri Aurobindo adds, “is not a mere allegory, the characters are not personified qualities, but incarnations or emanations of living and conscious Forces with whom we can enter into concrete touch and they take human bodies in order to help man and show him the way from his mortal state to a divine consciousness and immortal life.”
“Well hast thou done and I approve thy choice. If this is all, then all is surely well; If there is more, then all can still be well. Whether it seem good or evil to men’s eyes, Only for good the secret Will can work. Our destiny is written in double terms: Through Nature’s contraries we draw nearer God; Out of the darkness we still grow to light. Death is our road to immortality. ‘Cry woe, cry woe,’ the world’s lost voices wail, Yet conquers the eternal Good at last.” [424–25]
But Aswapati isn’t ready to face the truth:
Then might the sage have spoken, but the king In haste broke out and stayed the dangerous word: “O singer of the ultimate ecstasy, Lend not a dangerous vision to the blind Because by native right thou hast seen clear. Impose not on the mortal’s tremulous breast The dire ordeal that foreknowledge brings; Demand not now the Godhead in our acts.” 
But now the queen raises her voice:
“A single spirit in a multitude, Happy is Satyavan mid earthly men Whom Savitri has chosen for her mate, And fortunate the forest hermitage Where leaving her palace and riches and a throne My Savitri will dwell and bring in heaven. Then let thy blessing put the immortals’ seal On these bright lives’ unstained felicity Pushing the ominous Shadow from their days.... Or if crouches unseen a panther doom, If wings of Evil brood above that house, Then also speak, that we may turn aside And rescue our lives from hazard of wayside doom And chance entanglement of an alien fate.”
“What help is in prevision to the driven? Safe doors cry opening near, the doomed pass on. A future knowledge is an added pain, A torturing burden and a fruitless light On the enormous scene that Fate has built.... None can refuse what the stark Force demands: Her eyes are fixed upon her mighty aim; No cry or prayer can turn her from her path. She has leaped an arrow from the bow of God.” His words were theirs who live unforced to grieve And help by calm the swaying wheels of life And the long restlessness of transient things And the trouble and passion of the unquiet world. As though her own bosom were pierced the mother saw The ancient human sentence strike her child, Her sweetness that deserved another fate Only a larger measure given of tears. Aspiring to the nature of the gods, A mind proof-armoured mailed in mighty thoughts, A will entire couchant behind wisdom’s shield, Though to still heavens of knowledge she had risen, Though calm and wise and Aswapati’s queen, Human was she still and opened her doors to grief; The stony-eyed injustice she accused Of the marble godhead of inflexible Law, Nor sought the strength extreme adversity brings To lives that stand erect and front the World-Power: Her heart appealed against the impartial judge, Taxed with perversity the impersonal One. Her tranquil spirit she called not to her aid, But as a common man beneath his load Grows faint and breathes his pain in ignorant words, So now she arraigned the world’s impassive will: “What stealthy doom has crept across her path Emerging from the dark forest’s sullen heart, What evil thing stood smiling by the way And wore the beauty of the Shalwa boy? Perhaps he came an enemy from her past Armed with a hidden force of ancient wrongs, Himself unknowing, and seized her unknown. Here dreadfully entangled love and hate Meet us blind wanderers mid the perils of Time.... Strength have I my own punishment to bear, Knowing it just, but on this earth perplexed, Smitten in the sorrow of scourged and helpless things, Often it faints to meet other suffering eyes. We are not as the gods who know not grief And look impassive on a suffering world, Calm they gaze down on the little human scene And the short-lived passion crossing mortal hearts.... Even a stranger’s anguish rends my heart, And this, O Narad, is my well-loved child. Hide not from us our doom, if doom is ours. This is the worst, an unknown face of Fate, A terror ominous, mute, felt more than seen Behind our seat by day, our couch by night, A Fate lurking in the shadow of our hearts, The anguish of the unseen that waits to strike. To know is best, however hard to bear.” Then cried the sage piercing the mother’s heart, Forcing to steel the will of Savitri, His words set free the spring of cosmic Fate.... “The truth thou hast claimed; I give to thee the truth. A marvel of the meeting earth and heavens Is he whom Savitri has chosen mid men, His figure is the front of Nature’s march, His single being excels the works of Time.... His strength is like a tower built to reach heaven, A godhead quarried from the stones of life. O loss, if death into its elements Of which his gracious envelope was built, Shatter this vase before it breathes its sweets, As if earth could not keep too long from heaven A treasure thus unique loaned by the gods, A being so rare, of so divine a make! 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. Twelve swift-winged months are given to him and her; This day returning Satyavan must die.” But the queen cried: “Vain then can be heaven’s grace! Heaven mocks us with the brilliance of its gifts, For Death is a cupbearer of the wine Of too brief joy held up to mortal lips For a passionate moment by the careless gods. But I reject the grace and the mockery. Mounting thy car go forth, O Savitri, And travel once more through the peopled lands.... A choice less rare may call a happier fate.” But Savitri answered from her violent heart,— Her voice was calm, her face was fixed like steel: “Once my heart chose and chooses not again. The word I have spoken can never be erased, It is written in the record book of God. The truth once uttered, from the earth’s air effaced, By mind forgotten, sounds immortally For ever in the memory of Time.... Those who shall part who have grown one being within? Death’s grip can break our bodies, not our souls; If death take him, I too know how to die. Let Fate do with me what she will or can; I am stronger than death and greater than my fate; My love shall outlast the world, doom falls from me Helpless against my immortality. Fate’s law may change, but not my spirit’s will.” [426–32]
The queen once more tries to dissuade her daughter, but to no avail.
“My will is part of the eternal Will, My fate is what my spirit’s strength can make, My fate is what my spirit’s strength can bear; My strength is not the Titan’s; it is God’s. I have discovered my glad reality Beyond my body in another’s being: I have found the deep unchanging soul of love. Then how shall I desire a lonely good, Or slay, aspiring to white vacant peace, The endless hope that made my soul spring forth Out of its infinite solitude and sleep? My spirit has glimpsed the glory for which it came, The beating of one vast heart in the flame of things, My eternity clasped by his eternity And, tireless of the sweet abysms of Time, Deep possibility always to love. This, this is first, last joy and to its throb The riches of a thousand fortunate years Are poverty. Nothing to me are death and grief Or ordinary lives and happy days. And what to me are common souls of men Or eyes and lips that are not Satyavan’s? I have no need to draw back from his arms And the discovered paradise of his love And journey into a still infinity. Only now for my soul in Satyavan I treasure the rich occasion of my birth: In sunlight and a dream of emerald ways I shall walk with him like gods in Paradise. If for a year, that year is all my life. And yet I know this is not all my fate Only to live and love awhile and die. For I know now why my spirit came on earth And who I am and who he is I love. I have looked at him from my immortal Self, I have seen God smile at me in Satyavan; I have seen the Eternal in a human face.” Then none could answer to her words. Silent They sat and looked into the eyes of Fate. [435–36]
Thus ends the first canto of The Book of Fate. The second canto begins with these words:
A silence sealed the irrevocable decree, The word of Fate that fell from heavenly lips Fixing a doom no power could ever reverse Unless heaven’s will itself could change its course. Or so it seemed: yet from the silence rose One voice that questioned changeless destiny, A will that strove against the immutable Will. A mother’s heart had heard the fateful speech That rang like a sanction to the call of death And came like a chill close to life and hope. Yet hope sank down like an extinguished fire. She felt the leaden inevitable hand Invade the secrecy of her guarded soul And smite with sudden pain its still content And the empire of her hard-won quietude. Awhile she fell to the level of human mind, A field of mortal grief and Nature’s law; She shared, she bore the common lot of men And felt what common hearts endure in Time. Voicing earth’s question to the inscrutable power The queen now turned to the still immobile seer: Assailed by the discontent in Nature’s depths, Partner in the agony of dumb driven things And all the misery, all the ignorant cry, Passionate like sorrow questioning heaven she spoke. Lending her speech to the surface soul on earth She uttered the suffering in the world’s dumb heart And man’s revolt against his ignorant fate. 
Having patiently listened to the queen’s jeremiad, Narad replies:
“Was then the sun a dream because there is night? Hidden in the mortal’s heart the Eternal lives: He lives secret in the chamber of thy soul, A Light shines there nor pain nor grief can cross. A darkness stands between thyself and him, Thou canst not hear or feel the marvellous Guest, Thou canst not see the beatific sun. O queen, thy thought is a light of the Ignorance, Its brilliant curtain hides from thee God’s face. It illumes a world born from the Inconscience But hides the Immortal’s meaning in the world. Thy mind’s light hides from thee the Eternal’s thought, Thy heart’s hopes hide from thee the Eternal’s will, Earth’s joys shut from thee the Immortal’s bliss. Thence rose the need of a dark intruding god, The world’s dread teacher, the creator, pain. Where Ignorance is, there suffering too must come; Thy grief is a cry of darkness to the Light; Pain was the first-born of the Inconscience Which was thy body’s dumb original base; Already slept there pain’s subconscient shape: A shadow in a shadowy tenebrous womb, Till life shall move, it waits to wake and be. In one caul with joy came forth the dreadful Power. In life’s breast it was born hiding its twin; But pain came first, then only joy could be. Pain ploughed the first hard ground of the world-drowse. By pain a spirit started from the clod, By pain Life stirred in the subliminal deep. Interned, submerged, hidden in Matter’s trance Awoke to itself the dreamer, sleeping Mind; It made a visible realm out of its dreams, It drew its shapes from the subconscient depths, Then turned to look upon the world it had made. By pain and joy, the bright and tenebrous twins, The inanimate world perceived its sentient soul, Else had the Inconscient never suffered change. Pain is the hammer of the Gods to break A dead resistance in the mortal’s heart, His slow inertia as of living stone. If the heart were not forced to want and weep, His soul would have lain down content, at ease, And never thought to exceed the human start And never learned to climb towards the Sun.... Pain is the hand of Nature sculpturing men To greatness: an inspired labour chisels With heavenly cruelty an unwilling mould. Implacable in the passion of their will, Lifting the hammers of titanic toil The demiurges of the universe work; They shape with giant strokes their own; their sons Are marked with their enormous stamp of fire. Although the shaping god’s tremendous touch Is torture unbearable to mortal nerves, The fiery spirit grows in strength within And feels a joy in every titan pang.... A power is in thee that thou knowest not; Thou art a vessel of the imprisoned spark. It seeks relief from Time’s envelopment, And while thou shutst it in, the seal is pain: Bliss is the Godhead’s crown, eternal, free, Unburdened by life’s blind mystery of pain: Pain is the signature of the Ignorance Attesting the secret god denied by life: Until life finds him pain can never end. Calm is self’s victory overcoming fate. Bear; thou shalt find at last thy road to bliss. Bliss is the secret stuff of all that lives, Even pain and grief are garbs of world-delight, It hides behind thy sorrow and thy cry. Because thy strength is a part and not God’s whole, Because afflicted by the little self Thy consciousness forgets to be divine As it walks in the vague penumbra of the flesh And cannot bear the world’s tremendous touch, Thou criest out and sayst that there is pain. Indifference, pain and joy, a triple disguise, Attire of the rapturous Dancer in the ways, Withhold from thee the body of God’s bliss. Thy spirit’s strength shall make thee one with God, Thy agony shall change to ecstasy, Indifference deepen into infinity’s calm And joy laugh nude on the peaks of the Absolute.” [437–54]
And here, at last, is the promised explanation for the mess in which we find ourselves:
O mortal who complainst of death and fate, Accuse none of the harms thyself hast called; This troubled world thou hast chosen for thy home, Thou art thyself the author of thy pain. Once in the immortal boundlessness of Self, In a vast of Truth and Consciousness and Light The soul looked out from its felicity. It felt the Spirit’s interminable bliss, It knew itself deathless, timeless, spaceless, one, It saw the Eternal, lived in the Infinite. Then, curious of a shadow thrown by Truth, It strained towards some otherness of self, It was drawn to an unknown Face peering through night. It sensed a negative infinity, A void supernal whose immense excess Imitating God and everlasting Time Offered a ground for Nature’s adverse birth And Matter’s rigid hard unconsciousness Harbouring the brilliance of a transient soul That lights up birth and death and ignorant life. A Mind arose that stared at Nothingness Till figures formed of what could never be; It housed the contrary of all that is. A Nought appeared as Being’s huge sealed cause, Its dumb support in a blank infinite, In whose abysm spirit must disappear: A darkened Nature lived and held the seed Of Spirit hidden and feigning not to be. Eternal Consciousness became a freak Of an unsouled almighty Inconscient And, breathed no more as spirit’s native air, Bliss was an incident of a mortal hour, A stranger in the insentient universe. As one drawn by the grandeur of the Void The soul attracted leaned to the Abyss: It longed for the adventure of Ignorance And the marvel and surprise of the Unknown And the endless possibility that lurked In the womb of Chaos and in Nothing’s gulf Or looked from the unfathomed eyes of Chance. It tired of its unchanging happiness, It turned away from immortality: It was drawn to hazard’s call and danger’s charm, It yearned to the pathos of grief, the drama of pain, Perdition’s peril, the wounded bare escape, The music of ruin and its glamour and crash, The savour of pity and the gamble of love And passion and the ambiguous face of Fate. A world of hard endeavour and difficult toil, And battle on extinction’s perilous verge, A clash of forces, a vast incertitude, The joy of creation out of Nothingness, Strange meetings on the roads of Ignorance And the companionship of half-known souls Or the solitary greatness and lonely force Of a separate being conquering its world, Called it from its too safe eternity. A huge descent began, a giant fall: For what the spirit sees, creates a truth And what the soul imagines is made a world. A Thought that leaped from the Timeless can become, Indicator of cosmic consequence And the itinerary of the gods, A cyclic movement in eternal Time. Thus came, born from a blind tremendous choice, This great perplexed and discontented world, This haunt of Ignorance, this home of Pain: There are pitched desire’s tents, grief’s headquarters. A vast disguise conceals the Eternal’s bliss.