Facsimiles of Sri Aurobindo’s “Savitri” (1916-1946)

Dear Friends,

Sri Aurobindo had started working on his epic poem Savitri in August 1916 and continued to revise and enlarge it till November 1950. In its earliest form, the poem was a narrative of about two thousand lines and by the time the ‘seal of incomplete completion’ (to quote the words of Nirodbaran, Sri Aurobindo’s scribe to whom he had dictated his revisions of Savitri) was put to it, it consisted of nearly twenty-four thousand lines of marvellous poetry.

For the benefit of interested researchers, some facsimiles of the various drafts of Savitri (obtained courtesy Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry and Dr. R. Y. Deshpande) covering a period of three decades have been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Founder,
Overman Foundation.

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7Earliest draft of Savitri, circa: 1916. Please note that in the first draft, the poem was simply titled Savithri.

8. Book II---Love (1918-1920)Book II, “Love”, (1918-1920)

Canto II (c. 1918) with dictated revision (c. 1945)Canto II (circa: 1918) with dictated revision (c. 1945)

Canto III, Death (c. 1918) with dictated revision (c. 1946)Canto III, “Death”, (circa: 1918) with dictated revision (c. 1945)

Canto V, Twilight (c. 1918) with dictated revision (1946-47)Canto V, “Twilight”, (circa: 1918) with dictated revision (c. 1945)

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The second version of the poem was titled Savithri, A Tale and a Vision. ‘Apparently it was meant to be in more than one part, because before Book I, we have the general title: Earth. Book I is called Quest.’ (Nirodbaran, Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo, p. 174, 1995 edition)

mid 1920s Savithri A Tale and a Vision

mid 1920s-Savithri A Tale and a Vision.jpg (1)Nirodbaran continues: ‘The third version is also called by the same general name and its first part is Earth, and Book I is Quest… In the fourth version we get for the first time the spelling Savitri though Uswapathy persists. There is no indication of a division into Part I and Part II. Book I is there, called Quest. In the fifth version we have a mention of Part I, but it is not called by any name. We also have Book I, unnamed…The spelling Uswapathy persists, Book II is entitled Love. In the sixth version there are no parts again, but the Book I is called Quest. The seventh version has: I Quest… In the eighth version we have everything as in the seventh except that the spelling Aswapathy comes in. Book II is there entitled Love.’ (Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo, pp. 174-176, 1995 edition)

Book I, Quest (late 1920s)Book I, Quest (1927)

Facsimiles of Book I, Quest (late 1920s)

Nirodbaran continues: ‘The ninth version has the same opening arrangement. The tenth version stands: Savitri Part I, Earth. Book I, The Book of Birth. Aswapathy continues, but there is now Sathyavan.’ (Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo, p. 176, 1995 edition)

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DFacsimile of Book II: The Book of the Traveller of the Worlds

Page of Book of Birth (early 1930s)

The Book of Birth (early 1930s)Facsimiles of The Book of Birth (early 1930s)

The Book of Love (early 1930s)Facsimile of The Book of Love (early 1930s)

Nirodbaran further continues: ‘In each succeeding version after the first, there is a growing expansion in which old lines are taken up into a new framework. The development into separate Books from what was originally all contained within Book I and Book II takes place after the second or third version of the opening matter. This matter now becomes The Book of Quest, followed by The Book of Love, The Book of Fate, The Book of Death. Thus Part I, Earth, is completed. Then starts Part II, Beyond, with The Books of Night, Twilight, Day and The Epilogue.’ (Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo, p. 176, 1995 edition)

opening canto of Night (1940s)Facsimile of the opening of “Night” (circa: 1940s)

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opening passage of savitri 1942Facsimile of the opening passage of Savitri (1942 version)

The Book of Beginnings (1942 version)Facsimile of the Book of Beginnings contd. (1942 version)

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Book Two, Canto 4 (1943)Book Two, Canto 4 (1943) Book Two, Canto 4 (1943).jpg (2)Facsimiles of Book II, Canto IV (1943 version)

1st page of 1944 manuscriptFacsimile of the first page of Savitri (1944 version)

A column of the 1944 manuscript of Part 1

penultimate draft of 1944 manuscript

penultimate draft of 1944 manuscript.jpg (2)penultimate draft of 1944 manuscript.jpg (3)Facsimiles of the 1944 version of Savitri

last manuscript of the opening of Savitri (c. 1945)Facsimile of the first page of Savitri (1945 version)

chit pad pages 1945-46

later manuscripts

large_z16Facsimile of Sri Aurobindo’s last manuscripts of Savitri (1945-46)

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7 Comments

  1. Anurag Banerjee said,

    March 15, 2015 at 11:19 am

    Dr. Nirodbaran Talukdar, Sri Aurobindo’s scribe, recalls in his book Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo the task of revising Savitri:

    ‘I had no access to the work or to any of his other writings till that year. Though all the works must have been lying on the table or in the drawers, I had to curb my strong impulse to have a peep into the legend of Savitri. For we were in his room for a different purpose and it would have been a breach of trust on our part to lay hands on his sacred private property. The chance came in 1940, first only to. place the requisite manuscripts before him, then gradually to work as a scribe. I still distinctly remember the day when, sitting on the bed with the table in front of him, he remarked: “You will find in the drawers long exercise books with coloured covers. Bring them.” I think I went wrong in the first attempt, the second one met with his smiling approval. What he actually did with them, I cannot say, for he was working all alone, and we were sitting behind. I guess that he must have been giving a first reading to all the versions, for there were quite a number. He had already written to us before his accident that he had recast the first Book about ten times. Perhaps he was going through these and making a selection of the lines and passages for the final version. Then a few months after – and at this time he was sitting in the morning in a chair – he told me that he needed some exercise books. Without informing the Mother about it, I at once ran to the market and bought two or three exercise books from Manikachetty. He accepted them with a smile and I was happy to find that he used them for copying Savitri. At the end of one of the books he has written: “Last draft of Savitri, Sep.6, 1942.” In another exercise book, containing matter up to the end of The Book of the Divine Mother, only at the end of Canto V of Book I, the date written is: April 24, 1944. (This, as you see, was the morning of the Darshan day). From these two dates we can surmise that from 1940, the year in which we presume he took up the work on Savitri, to 1944, he continued working on the first three Books. Now, how much new material did he add to them? We know from his letter to Amal [Kiran] that Book II at any rate, The Book of the Traveller of the Worlds, was just a small passage. Here now we find the fully lengthened and developed Book running into 15 Cantos. The third Book, The Book of the Divine Mother, was also written probably for the first time, for he wrote to Amal in 1946: “… there is also a third sufficiently long Book, The Book of the Divine Mother.”

    ‘The next step in the development was his re-copying the entire three Books on big white sheets of paper, in two columns in fine handwriting. There is one date at the end of The Book of the Divine Mother: May 7, 1944, which suggests that the copying of the entire three Books had taken about a year. When this was completed I was called in. Perhaps because his eye-sight was getting dim, I was asked to read to him this final copy. Now began alterations and additions in my hand on the manuscript itself. I regret to say that they marred the clean beauty of the original, and I realise now that it was a brutal act of sacrilege on my part, tantamount to desecration of the carved images on the temple wall. But I cannot imagine either how else I could have inserted so many corrections and additions, one line, one word here, two there, more elsewhere, throughout the entire length. We know how prodigious were the corrections and revisions in so far as Savitri was concerned. One is simply amazed at the enormous pains he has taken to raise Savitri to his ideal of perfection. I wonder if any other poet can be compared with him in this respect. He gave me the example of Virgil who, it seems, wrote six lines in the morning, and went on correcting them during the rest of the day. Even so, his Aeneid runs not even half the length of the first three Books of Savitri. Along with all these revisions, Sri Aurobindo added, on separate small sheets of paper, long passages written in his own hand up to the Canto, The Kingdom of the Greater Mind, Book II. All this work was completed, I believe, by the end of 1944.

    The next step was to make a fair copy of the entire revised work. I don’t know why it was not given straightaway for typing. There was a talk between the Mother and Sri Aurobindo about it; Sri Aurobindo might have said that because of copious additions, typing by another person would not be possible. He himself could not make a fair copy. Then the Mother suggested my name and brought a thick blue ledgerlike book for the purpose. I needed two or three reminders from the Mother before I took up the work in right earnest. Every morning I used to sit on the floor behind the head of the bed, and leaning against the wall, start copying like a student of our old Sanskrit tols. Sri Aurobindo’s footstool would serve as my table. The Mother would not fail to cast a glance at my good studentship. Though much of the poetry passed over my head, quite often the solar plexus would thrill at the sheer beauty of the images and expressions. The very first line made me gape with wonder. I don’t remember if the copying and revision with Sri Aurobindo proceeded at the same time, or revision followed the entire copying. The Mother would make inquiries from time to time either, I thought, to make me abandon my jog-trot manner or because the newly started Press was clamouring for some publication from Sri Aurobindo. Especially now that people had come to know that after The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo was busy with Savitri, they were eagerly waiting for it. But they had to wait quite a long time, for after the revision, when the whole book was handed to the Mother, it was passed on to Nolini for being typed out. Then another revision of the typescript before it was ready for the Press! Again, I cannot swear if the typing was completed first before its revision or both went on at the same time. At any rate, the whole process went very slowly, since Sri Aurobindo would not be satisfied with Savitri done less than perfectly. Neither could we give much time to it, not, I think, more than an hour a day, sometimes even less. The Press began to bring it out in fascicules by Cantos from 1946. At all stages of revision, even on Press proofs, alterations, additions never stopped. It may be mentioned that the very first appearance of anything from Savitri in public was in the form of passages quoted in the essay “Sri Aurobindo: A New Age of Mystical Poetry” by Amal [Kiran], published in the Bombay Circle and later included as Part III in Amal’s book: The Poetic Genius of Sri Aurobindo.’ (Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo, pp. 177-181)

  2. Anurag Banerjee said,

    March 15, 2015 at 11:20 am

    Nirodbaran continues with his description of the revision of Savitri:

    ‘Now we can go into the detailed working procedure of all these later Books. I had to take now a more and more prominent part as scribe, for after the completion of the fourth Book, The Book of Birth and Quest, from 1944 or so, Sri Aurobindo’s eyesight began to grow dim and he didn’t want to strain his eyes by going through all the old manuscripts with their faint, small handwriting. So I was asked to bring out these old versions from the drawer; I now had access to all the manuscripts. Most of them were in loose sheets of notebook size written on one side. Unfortunately no dates were given to suggest when they were written. I was asked to read aloud Book by Book before him, but I don’t remember by what method we proceeded. Did we give a general reading to all the Books before we started with the actual working on them individually? Or did we go about systematically finishing one Book after another? Perhaps the latter. Taking this procedure to be probable, I was asked when there were more than one version of a Book, to read them, sometimes all, sometimes one or two and selecting out of them the best one, he indicated the lines to be marked in the margin for inclusion; sometimes lines or passages were taken from other versions too. As I have shown, and as Sri Aurobindo’s dictated letter has already hinted, all these Books were either thoroughly revised or almost entirely rewritten.

    ‘…As far as I remember, we worked on these drafts in the evening for an hour or so after all the correspondence work was over. He would sit in a small straight- backed armchair where the big armchair now stands, and listen to my reading. The work proceeded very slowly to start with, and for a long time, either because he didn’t seem to be in a hurry or because there was not much time left after attending to the miscellaneous correspondence I have mentioned elsewhere. Later on, the time was changed to the morning. After the selections had been made from one or two versions of a Book, let us say The Book of Fate, we were occupied with it. Never was any Book, except The Book of Death and The Epilogue, taken intact. He would dictate line after line, and ask me to add selected lines and passages in their proper places, but which were not always kept in their old order. I wonder how he could go on dictating lines of poetry in this way, as if a tap had been turned on and the water flowed, not in a jet, of course, but slowly, very slowly indeed. Passages sometimes had to be reread in order to get the link or sequence, but when the turn came of The Book of Yoga and The Book of Everlasting Day, line after line began to flow from his lips like a smooth and gentle stream and it was on the next day that a revision was done to get the link for further continuation. In the morning he himself would write out new lines on small notebooks called ‘bloc’ notes which were incorporated in the text. This was more true as regards The Book of Fate. Sometimes there were two or even three versions of a passage. As his sight began to fail, the letters also became gradually indistinct, and I had to decipher and read them all before him. I had a good sight and, more than that, the gift of deciphering his “hieroglyphics”, thanks to the preparatory training I had received during my voluminous correspondence with him before the accident. At times when I got stuck he would help me out, but there were occasions when both of us failed. Then he would say, “Give it to me, let me try.” Taking a big magnifying glass, he would focus his eyes but only to exclaim, “No, can’t make out!”

    “When a Book was completed and copied out, it went to Nolini [Kanta Gupta] for typing. On the typescript again, fresh lines were added or the order changed. In this respect The Book of Fate gave us a great deal of trouble. Though Sri Aurobindo says in his letter to Amal in 1946 that the Book was almost finished, it was again taken up at the end, and many changes were introduced which contained prophetic hints of his leaving the body very probably after he had taken his decision to do so.” (Nirodbaran, Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo, pp. 183-186)

  3. Dayanand Jamalabad said,

    March 15, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    God’s Labour.

  4. Prema Nandakumar said,

    March 15, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    Dear Anurag
    Thank you for this shower of Grace.
    Prema

  5. dr param professor of law said,

    March 15, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    Dear Anurag
    I am very happy to read this post.
    Have been enjoying all of your posts.
    It is Sri Aurobindo’s Grace to see these documents.
    Thanks once again.
    With Love
    Dr Param

  6. surendra s chouhan said,

    March 17, 2015 at 11:26 am

    Thank you , Anurag for this divine plenitude ..indeed God’s labour

    Surendra s chouhan

  7. Kailashnath Joshi said,

    April 12, 2015 at 5:56 am

    IT IS VERY INTERESTING .IT BEARS THE BEST TESTOMONY OF THE GOD’S LOBOUR. THANKS FOR REVEALING THE HISTORICAL FECT. !


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