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On Savitri

On Savitri
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Item Code: NAZ530
Author: Nolini Kanta Gupta
Publisher: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
Language: English
Edition: 2001
ISBN: 9788170586289
Pages: 42
Other Details: 9.00 X 6.00 inch
weight of the book: 0.09 kg
About the Author

Dreamer and revolutionary, linguist, scholar, critic, poet, philosopher and man of deep spiritual realisation, Nolini Kanta Gupta stands foremost among the men of this century who are destined to leave their mark on generations to come. Born on 13 January 1889 of a cultured and well-to-do family in Bengal, he came early in his teens under the influence of Sri Aurobindo, the revolutionary par excellence, and ‘‘a mighty prophet of Indian Nationalism’’ of the age. After having spent a year in jail as an under-trial prisoner in the historic Alipore Bomb Case, he was taken in hand by Sri Aurobindo and with him he remained ever since. He passed away at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram on 7 February 1984.


Nolini Kanta Gupta’s Collected Works in English (1970) is a veritable treasure of seminal ideas, insights, and flashes of intuitive perception that illumine like flares in the nightly sky many a recondite terrain of intellectual discourse. In his writings we come across a sweep and a depth of thinking which has a freshness and wholesomeness unusual to the mental stratosphere. At the same time they have a texture of thought more finely woven than is possible on the loom of the human intellect. The word ‘‘global’’ most aptly characterises his thought. It is global in the sense of not being the view from a single angle or from a few closely related angles. The mental standpoint aspects only one side of the object in view, and to our anti-spiritual age this one-track mentality itself seems to be its greatest virtue. The global view which is the hallmark of a mind illumined by spiritual consciousness transcends this one-trackedness of the intellect. It gets behind all opposing views and standpoints and tries to see what is the underlying truth that seeks to manifest in each. Thus in Nolini Kanta Gupta’s writings we very often stumble upon that dynamic truth which at the mental level manifests itself in multiple standpoints and modes and angles of vision.

Nolinida, as Nolini Kanta Gupta was universally known in his life-time, had that rare gift of getting at the heart of a problem and of seizing immediately the truth of things. As Deshpande puts it (in his ‘‘Nolini Kanta Gupta’s Perceptions of Poetry’’ in Tributes to Nolini Kanta Gupta, Sri Mira Trust, Pondicherry, 1988): ‘‘There is a catholicity of outlook, a way of seeing God’s world in its many moods of joy, an intimacy, even an identity, with the hidden divinity in the grain and in the star, an appreciation leaping over all conventionality, of the bright as well as the obscure, but it is always with the lamp of the spirit that he moves around.’’

Nevertheless, he respected the demands and norms of the age in which he was writing. He expresses the truth that he has perceived in cogent intellectual terms and not dogmatically. As a result, no matter what the topic is, whether it be the still-vexing problem of Hindu-Muslim unity in India, or the meaning of Indian culture, or Modernist poetry, or Shakespeare or T.S. Eliot, or Sartrean Freedom, or the bypaths of the spiritual journey or the interpretation of the Veda or the Upanishads, I have never taken a dip into his writings without being able to come up with a dazzling diamond of an idea or a viewpoint.

It is unfortunate, however, that the work of Nolinida, 10 volumes in Bengali and 8 volumes in English, has remained comparatively inaccessible and unknown to the intelligentsia of this country. This can be attributed to two reasons. First, most of what he wrote was published in the journals of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram or of related institutions; this effectively put him out of bounds for academia since we live in an age in which the so- called custodians of our intellectual realm have little under- standing of or sympathy for things spiritual. They have yet to realise that genuine spirituality is not anti-intellectual but 1s marked, in Sri Aurobindo’s words, by a fearless will that dares to erase ‘‘The lines of safety reason draws that bar / Mind’s soar, soul’s dive into the Infinite.’’ (Savitri: page 26) And in this respect, things have not changed much, at least in India, although elsewhere in the world there is a greater opening for and receptivity to matters spiritual. We in India still seem to be living in a period marked by a hangover from the antiquated anti- spiritual intellectual phase.

The second reason why Nolinida’s writings are not as widely known as they deserve to be is that he lived too close to Sr Aurobindo, the blazing sun who made it difficult for the other stars in the firmament to be noticed. But that does not make these writings either redundant or entirely derivative. His writings are not a mere exegesis or elucidation of his Master’s works, and even when he takes a seed-idea from Sri Aurobindo, he develops it in his own way. For in a truly spiritual relationship, the Guru never takes away from any disciple his real individuality. Spiritual discipleship only enhances it. Like an ill-hewn block of marble that comes under the chisel of an inspired sculptor, the disciple’s individuality becomes more well-defined, for, after all, spirituality is the sculpture of one’s inner being. Nolinida was a creative thinker in his own right and the corpus of his writings (in English and Bengali) is one of the finest produced by any writer in our age. His writings on Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga and on Savitri are some of the most lucid on these subjects.

On Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga, Nolinida was undoubtedly one of the most perceptive writers as can be seen from his extensive writings on the subject. (Yoga of Sri Aurobindo, which is in 12 parts. See Collected Works, Vols. 3 and 4.) Even as a practitioner of this Yoga, his pre-eminence was universally acknowledged. As regards Savitri, his association with the book was very intimate. He came to be associated with it even as it was being composed and getting ready for publication. ‘"Until the mid- 1940s, Sri Aurobindo continued to write out version after version of Savitri in his own hand, tirelessly expanding and perfecting it. But when he began to prepare the poem for publication, he could no longer do all the work unaided. He took the assistance of two disciples, one of whom, Nirodbaran, made the final hand-written copies and the other, Nolini Kanta Gupta, the typescripts."’ (Editor’s Note: Supplement to the Revised edition of Savitri.) It is these typescripts which Nolinida had prepared that used to go to the press and the proofs of which were again read out to Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo took this opportunity to look once more at the text and add lines or change lines or punctuation marks. Again, when Nolinida started editing the Advent, he brought out many cantos of Savitri for the first time in this journal. During the period 1946-51, parts of Savitri came out in the Pathmandir Annuals under the advice or guidance of Nolinida. He also translated Savitri into Bengali. As Nirodbaran puts it, ‘‘As Savitri was Sri Aurobindo’s last composition, its translation was Nolinida’s last composition. And I can affirm that the masterly translation has added a large dimension to the Bengali language.’

I am happy that the Sri Aurobindo Aurobindo Ashram is bringing out, in this slender volume, six of his essays on Savitri. These are by no means the only writings of his which have a bearing on Savitri; there are many more which are a great aid to the student of the poem, although the reference to the epic is not central to these other essays. I would have loved to see at least his essay entitled ‘‘Mystic Poetry’’ (Collected Works of Nolini Kanta Gupta: Vol. II, pp. 64-81) included in this volume, for it clarifies the distinction between different kinds of mystic poetry and also the distinction between mystic poetry, spiritual poetry, philo- sophic poetry and religious poetry. This is a distinction very much needed today, since a failure to perceive it has led to a lot of confusion among the critics of Indian writing in English. For one thing, some of them tend to lump together as spiritual poetry all outpourings in verse on any "‘spiritual’’ theme or topic. Thus, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Ramatirtha, Swami Shivanand, J. Krishnamurthy, Rabindranath Tagore and Sri Aurobindo, are all categorised as ‘‘spiritual’’ poets by virtue of the themes of their poetic compositions. The epithet ‘‘spiritual’’ in the term "‘spiri- tual poetry’’, as Nolinida uses it, does not refer to the theme of the composition but to the plane of inspiration from which the poem has been derived, and to the quality of poetry in it. And secondly, such a distinction enables us to see a number of puzzling sections of a poem like Savitri in a new light; we begin to see that in many of these sections we have spiritual poetry where the Spirit speaks its own language, describes a direct vision or a revelation.

Book's Contents and Sample Pages

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