Ritam "The Word in the Rig-Veda and in Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri"
The inspired poetic Word was the means of passing on knowledge and experience by the Vedic Seers and by Sri Aurobindo, especially in his epic Savitri. What do the Vedic seers and Sri Aurobindo in their poetic creations themselves tell us about the Word, its nature and usage?
At the outset it must be said that this study is not exhaustive and does not intend to cover all relevant passages either from the Veda or from Savitri. Its central idea is simply to make potential readers more conscious of the great value of these mantric texts and point out a possible way to approach these divine gifts to aspiring humanity. In regard to the Veda it must be said right from the outset that there exists the special barrier of the Sanskrit language in general and the multi-layer meaning of Vedic terms in particular. In addition there is the all-pervasive Vedic symbolism. Sri Aurobindo often calls the Vedic Rishis “symbologists” and refers back to the period of the composition of the Vedic hymns both as the age of symbolism and the age of intuition. In fact Sri Aurobindo also makes much use of symbolism. In this study we will see that the Veda and Savitri shed light on each other in their symbolism.
But let us first ask the general question: what do the Veda and Savitri have in common? They are both mystic mantric poetry of the highest order. Sri Aurobindo refers to the Veda – certainly among Indian literature and scriptures, and perhaps even beyond – as “our supreme poetry”. They both bring forth an integral vision of reality and transmit it as revelatory knowledge and verifiable experience (and that does not exhaust the subject.)
What is the basic difference between them? Savitri, in its outer form, is one single epic poem written by one sole author, whereas the Rig-Veda consists of a collection (samhita) of more than one thousand hymns (Suktas, meaning perfect utterances) of many different seers, spanning a time of at least several centuries. Even though some of the Suktas are made up of a considerable number of verses or stanzas they generally do not reach the length of any of the cantos which we find in the twelve books of Savitri. From that point of view one could say, with a few exceptions, that the Vedic hymns are even more concise than any paragraph in Savitri. Still, all Vedic hymns presume a common background, and many of them are related to the same theme but present it from different standpoints, a practice which we also find within the different books of Savitri.
It is a known fact that Sri Aurobindo in Savitri makes abundant use of Vedic imagery as the carrier of his knowledge and experience. It might be worthwhile to remember in this context that in the period from 1912 up to perhaps 1920 Sri Aurobindo was studying and writing on the Veda on an almost daily basis, and also translated hundreds of its hymns into English. Among other reasons, it could have as well been due to this preoccupation with the Book of Mantra (the traditional name given to the Veda) that Sri Aurobindo conceived the idea to do something of the kind – even though in a different form – for the present age in the much more easily accessible English language. At the same time we should not forget the fact that already before this period Sri Aurobindo was an accomplished poet and seer. But, knowing on one hand how central is the usage (and its constant mentioning in hymn after hymn) of the inspired Word to the Vedic seers, and on the other hand how much and in detail Sri Aurobindo writes about this fact in The Secret of the Veda, one could still dare the thought that it might have inspired him to do something similar.
The common vision in the Veda and in Savitri of the transcendent origin and creative power of the Word.
Let us begin now with some practical comparisons in regard to the transcendent origin of the Word as mentioned in the Veda and in Savitri. In Rig-Veda I.164 we read:
- In the imperishable (place) of the illumining Word in the Transcendent Ether, all the Gods have taken their seat. Who does not know this (place), what can he do with the illumining Word (of the Veda)? But they, who know it, they sit here together in union. (39)
- The radiant One has expressed herself in the forming of the flowing Waters. From one plane (of existence) she has manifested herself in two, in four, in eight, in nine planes. She is the imperishable with thousand (syllables) in the Transcendent Ether. (41)
- From her flow out the oceans; by that live the four directions. From that moves the unmoving; by that lives the universe. (42)
In Savitri we find the following lines:
- A glimpse was caught of things for ever unknown:
- The letters stood out of the unmoving Word:
- In the immutable nameless Origin
- Was seen emerging as from fathomless seas
- The trail of the Ideas that made the world …
Each of these lines of Savitri can be related in many ways to one or other image of the above lines of the Rig-Veda; for example, we meet in all three verses the term “akshara”, which can be translated as unmoving, immutable, or imperishable. That is why we can relate “The letters stood out of the unmoving Word” as well as “In the immutable nameless Origin” to the above “imperishable (place) of the illumining Word in the Transcendent Ether” and to the “imperishable with thousand syllables”. Another correlation can be seen between “Was seen emerging as from fathomless seas / The trail of the Ideas that made the world” and the above “From her flow out the oceans ... From that moves the unmoving; by that lives the universe”.
From all this we can also deduct that on the transcendent plane or the superconscient we find an infinite potentiality of sound-forms, of which, in the context of human language, only a limited selection can be expressed through the organ of speech. Furthermore, in this context it is interesting to note that “akshara” is, in the later tradition, not only one of the names for the sacred syllable OM, but also the general name for all syllables of the Sanskrit alphabet, perhaps so as to suggest that each of its sounds is still connected with its imperishable origin, “the unmoving Word”. Then it is no surprise that in the Tantra all Sanskrit syllables are called “matrikas”, meaning little mothers.
Here are more lines from Savitri:
- In a sublimer and more daring soar
- To the wide summit of the triple stairs
- Bare steps climbed up like flaming rocks of gold
- Burning their way to a pure absolute sky.
- August and few the sovereign Kings of Thought
- Have made of Space their wide all-seeing gaze
- Surveying the enormous work of Time:
- A breadth of all-containing Consciousness
- Supported Being in a still embrace.
- Intercessors with a luminous Unseen,
- They capt in the long passage to the world
- The imperatives of the creator Self
- Obeyed by unknowing earth, by conscious heaven;
- Their thoughts are partners in its vast control.
- A great all-ruling Consciousness is there
- And Mind unwitting serves a higher Power;
- It is a channel, not the source of all.
- The cosmos is no accident in Time;
- There is a meaning in each play of Chance,
- There is a freedom in each face of Fate.
- A Wisdom knows and guides the mysteried world;
- A Truth-gaze shapes its beings and events;
- A Word self-born upon creation’s heights,
- Voice of the Eternal in the temporal spheres,
- Prophet of the seeings of the Absolute,
- Sows the Idea’s significance in Form
- And from that seed the growths of Time arise.
- Onward he passed to a diviner sphere:
- There, joined in a common greatness, light and bliss,
- All high and beautiful and desirable powers
- Forgetting their difference and their separate reign
- Become a single multitudinous whole.
- Above the parting of the roads of Time,
- Above the Silence and its thousandfold Word,
- In the immutable and inviolate Truth
- For ever united and inseparable,
- The radiant children of Eternity dwell
- On the wide spirit height where all are one.
- The body’s rules bound not the spirit’s powers:
- When life had stopped its beats, death broke not in;
- He dared to live when breath and thought were still.
- Thus could he step into that magic place
- Which few can even glimpse with hurried glance
- Lifted for a moment from mind’s laboured works
- And the poverty of Nature’s earthly sight.
- All that the Gods have learned is there self-known.
- There in a hidden chamber closed and mute
- Are kept the record graphs of the cosmic scribe,
- And there the tables of the sacred Law,
- There is the Book of Being’s index page;
- The text and glossary of the Vedic truth
- Are there; the rhythms and metres of the stars
- Significant of the movements of our fate:
- The symbol powers of number and of form,
- And the secret code of the history of the world
- And Nature’s correspondence with the soul
- Are written in the mystic heart of Life.
Let us now look at three verses from a hymn to Agni, where we see how the Vedic seers seek after the higher planes of the Word. The translation is by Sri Aurobindo (in Hymns to the Mystic Fire).
- To thee men illumined come with their thinkings for the conquest, to thee the imperishable One [comes] with her thousands. (VII.15.9)
- Let him become the father of the Father in the womb of the Mother; let him break out into lightnings in the Imperishable, let him take his seat in the native home of the Truth.
- O wide-seeing Fire, God who knowest all births that are, bring us the Word with its issue, the Word whose light shines in Heaven. (VI.16,35,36)
The different levels of the Word
With these last lines we come now to another most important aspect of the Divine Word, namely its manifestation on different levels of consciousness. The “imperishable One” (Akshara in fem. gender) means here the Divine Mother in “the native home of the Truth”, which most likely relates to the transcendent and supramental level of the Word. In this context let us come to another quote from Rig-Veda I.164:
- The Word has been measured/out in four planes. The possessors of the Word of the soul, who have the intuitive intelligence, know them. Three are hidden in the secret cave and give (outwardly) no sign; the fourth (material) plane of the Word speak the humans. (45)
In The Secret of the Veda Sri Aurobindo refers to the creative aspect of the Word and to the “secret cave”:
- In the system of the Mystics, which has partially survived in the schools of Indian Yoga, the Word is a power, the Word creates. For all creation is expression, everything exists already in the secret abode of the Infinite, guhā hitam, and has only to be brought out here in apparent form by the active consciousness. Certain schools of Vedic thought even suppose the worlds to have been created by the goddess Word with sound as the first etheric vibration to have preceded formation. In the Veda itself there are passages which treat the poetic measures of the sacred mantras, — anuṣṭubh, triṣṭubh, jagatī, gāyatrī, — as symbolic of the rhythms in which the universal movement of things is cast. (p. 270-71)
It is in the later Tantric tradition that the four planes of the Word have been systematized into the following categories:
- Parā-vāk, the supreme or transcendent Word;
- Paśyantī-vāk, the seeing or illumining Word;
- Madhyamā-vāk, the middle or connecting Word;
- Vaikharī-vāk, the material or spoken Word.
Sri Aurobindo refers in The Future Poetry to these different planes of the Word, and especially to Paśyantī-vāk as the highest and most desirable form and goal of poetry:
- The words which we use in our speech seem to be, if we look only at their external formation, mere physical sounds which a device of the mind has made to represent certain objects and ideas and perceptions,—a machinery nervous perhaps in origin, but developed for a constantly finer and more intricate use by the growing intelligence; but if we look at them in their inmost psychological and not solely at their more external aspect, we shall see that what constitutes speech and gives it its life and appeal and significance is a subtle conscious force which informs and is the soul of the body of sound: it is a superconscient Nature-Force raising its material out of our subconscience but growingly conscious in its operations in the human mind that develops itself in one fundamental way and yet variously in language. It is this Force, this Shakti to which the old Vedic thinkers gave the name of Vak, the goddess of creative Speech, and the Tantric psychists supposed that this Power acts in us through different subtle nervous centres on higher and higher levels of its force and that thus the word has a graduation of its expressive powers of truth and vision. One may accept as a clue of great utility this idea of different degrees of the force of speech, each separately characteristic and distinguishable, and recognise one of the grades of the Tantric classification, Pashyanti the seeing word, as the description of that degree of power to which the poetic mind is called to elevate itself and which is original and native to its manner of expression. The degree of word-force characteristic of prose speech avails ordinarily to distinguish and state things to the conceptual intelligence; the word of the poet sees and presents in its body and image to a subtle visual perception in the mind awakened by an inner rhythmic audition truth of soul and thought experience and truth of sense and life, the spiritual and living actuality of idea and object. The prosaist may bring to his aid more or less of the seeing power, the poet dilute his vision with intellectual observation and statement, but the fundamental difference remains that ordinary speech proceeds from and appeals to the conceiving intelligence while it is the seeing mind that is the master of poetic utterance.
Here is a passage from Savitri on the divine Inspiration that may give us a description of Paśyantī-vāk or the Seeing Speech in its purest form:
- Oft inspiration with her lightning feet,
- A sudden messenger from the all-seeing tops,
- Traversed the soundless corridors of his mind
- Bringing her rhythmic sense of hidden things.
- A music spoke transcending mortal speech.
- As if from a golden phial of the All-Bliss,
- A joy of light, a joy of sudden sight,
- A rapture of the thrilled undying Word
- Poured into his heart as into an empty cup,
- A repetition of God’s first delight
- Creating in a young and virgin Time.
- In a brief moment caught, a little space,
- All-Knowledge packed into great wordless thoughts
- Lodged in the expectant stillness of his depths
- A crystal of the ultimate Absolute,
- A portion of the inexpressible Truth
- Revealed by silence to the silent soul.
- The intense creatrix in his stillness wrought;
- Her power fallen speechless grew more intimate;
- She looked upon the seen and the unforeseen,
- Unguessed domains she made her native field.
- All-vision gathered into a single ray,
- As when the eyes stare at an invisible point
- Till through the intensity of one luminous spot
- An apocalypse of a world of images
- Enters into the kingdom of the seer.
- A great nude arm of splendour suddenly rose;
- It rent the gauze opaque of Nescience:
- Her lifted finger’s keen unthinkable tip
- Bared with a stab of flame the closed Beyond.
- An eye awake in voiceless heights of trance,
- A mind plucking at the unimaginable,
- Overleaping with a sole and perilous bound
- The high black wall hiding superconscience,
- She broke in with inspired speech for scythe
- And plundered the Unknowable’s vast estate.
- A gleaner of infinitesimal grains of Truth,
- A sheaf-binder of infinite experience,
- She pierced the guarded mysteries of World-Force
- And her magic methods wrapped in a thousand veils;
- Or she gathered the lost secrets dropped by Time
- In the dust and crannies of his mounting route
- Mid old forsaken dreams of hastening Mind
- And buried remnants of forgotten space.
- A traveller between summit and abyss,
- She joined the distant ends, the viewless deeps,
- Or streaked along the roads of Heaven and Hell
- Pursuing all knowledge like a questing hound.
- A reporter and scribe of hidden wisdom talk,
- Her shining minutes of celestial speech,
- Passed through the masked office of the occult mind,
- Transmitting gave to prophet and to seer
- The inspired body of the mystic Truth.
- A recorder of the inquiry of the gods,
- Spokesman of the silent seeings of the Supreme,
- She brought immortal words to mortal men.
In some of these lines one is reminded of verses from the Hymn X.125 where Vak, the Goddess of the Word, herself speaks:
- I am the shining queen, the gatherer of the luminous treasures, the original Consciousness-force of all powers that take part in the sacrifice. The gods established me widely at many places as the one who enters multiply and is present manifold. (3)
- … Whom I desire, I make him strong; I make him the possessor of the Word of the soul, a seer, one wise of understanding. (5)
- On the head of this (manifestation) I bring forth the Father; my birth-place is in the Waters within the Ocean. From there I spread out along all the worlds of becoming and with my top touch the transcendent Heaven. (7)
- Verily, I blow like the Wind and take into my rapturous grasp all the worlds and their beings. I have become manifest in a measure of greatness that is beyond this earth and beyond heaven. (8)
Besides the emphasis on the “Seeing Speech”, The Future Poetry also mentions the formation of the Word as the Mantra:
- What would be the ideal spirit of poetry in an age of the increasingly intuitive mind: that is the question which arises from all that has gone before and to which we may attempt some kind of answer. I have spoken in the beginning of the Mantra as the highest and intensest revealing form of poetic thought and expression. What the Vedic poets meant by the Mantra was an inspired and revealed seeing and visioned thinking, attended by a realisation, to use the ponderous but necessary modern word, of some inmost truth of God and self and man and Nature and cosmos and life and thing and thought and experience and deed. It was a thinking that came on the wings of a great soul rhythm, chandas. For the seeing could not be separated from the hearing; it was one act. Nor could the living of the truth in oneself which we mean by realisation, be separated from either, for the presence of it in the soul and its possession of the mind must precede or accompany in the creator or human channel that expression of the inner sight and hearing which takes the shape of the luminous word. The Mantra is born through the heart and shaped or massed by the thinking mind into a chariot of that godhead of the Eternal of whom the truth seen is a face or a form. And in the mind too of the fit outward hearer who listens to the word of the poet-seer, these three must come together, if our word is a real Mantra; the sight of the inmost truth must accompany the hearing, the possession of the inmost spirit of it by the mind and its coming home to the soul must accompany or follow immediately upon the rhythmic message of the Word and the mind’s sight of the Truth. That may sound a rather mystic account of the matter, but substantially there could hardly be a more complete description of the birth and effect of the inspired and revealing word, and it might be applied, though usually on a more lowered scale than was intended by the Vedic Rishis, to all the highest outbursts of a really great poetry. But poetry is the Mantra only when it is the voice of the inmost truth and is couched in the highest power of the very rhythm and speech of that truth. And the ancient poets of the Veda and Upanishads claimed to be uttering the Mantra because always it was this inmost and almost occult truth of things which they strove to see and hear and speak and because they believed themselves to be using or finding its innate soul rhythms and the sacrificial speech of it cast up by the divine Agni, the sacred Fire in the heart of man. The Mantra in other words is a direct and most heightened, an intensest and most divinely burdened rhythmic word which embodies an intuitive and revelatory inspiration and ensouls the mind with the sight and the presence of the very self, the inmost reality of things and with its truth and with the divine soul-forms of it, the Godheads which are born from the living Truth. Or, let us say, it is a supreme rhythmic language which seizes hold upon all that is finite and brings into each the light and voice of its own infinite.
To understand better the above description of the Mantra, let us have a look at a relevant passage from The Secret of the Veda, in which we find perhaps more distinctively a first clue for our own approach to both the Veda and Savitri:
- The mantra, though it expresses thought in mind, is not in its essential part a creation of the intellect. To be the sacred and effective word, it must have come as an inspiration from the supra-mental plane, termed in Veda, Ritam, the Truth, and have been received into the superficial consciousness either through the heart or by the luminous intelligence, manīṣā. The heart in Vedic psychology is not restricted to the seat of the emotions; it includes all that large tract of spontaneous mentality, nearest to the subconscient in us, out of which rise the sensations, emotions, instincts, impulses and all those intuitions and inspirations that travel through these agencies before they arrive at form in the intelligence. This is the “heart” of Veda and Vedanta, hṛdaya, hṛd, or brahman. There in the present state of mankind the Purusha is supposed to be seated centrally. Nearer to the vastness of the subconscient, it is there that, in ordinary mankind,—man not yet exalted to a higher plane where the contact with the Infinite is luminous, intimate and direct,—the inspirations of the Universal Soul can most easily enter in and most swiftly take possession of the individual soul. It is therefore by the power of the heart that the mantra takes form. But it has to be received and held in the thought of the intelligence as well as in the perceptions of the heart; for not till the intelligence has accepted and even brooded upon it, can that truth of thought which the truth of the Word expresses be firmly possessed or normally effective. Fashioned by the heart, it is confirmed by the mind.
This double aspect of the Mantra we find time and again mentioned in the Rig-Veda.
- The thought (from the heart, mati) approaches the seven-rayed Lord of the Word (Brihaspati), the wise in understanding with the intuition of the Truth …With intense longing my affirming words go as messengers to the Divine Mind (Indra), – my yearning perfect soul-thoughts (sumati), that touch the heart and are spoken through the mind … (X.47.6,7)
In this context we may recall some lines from Savitri:
- In the heart’s profound audition they can catch
- The murmurs lost by Life’s uncaring ear,
- A prophet-speech in Thought’s omniscient trance.
- A Voice in the heart uttered the unspoken Name…
In regard to the important term "Brahman" – which is so central in the Veda, and which later in the Upanishads has become the word for the supreme reality itself – we find in The Secret of the Veda yet another passage where Sri Aurobindo goes more into detail:
- Brahman in the Veda signifies ordinarily the Vedic Word or mantra in its profoundest aspect as the expression of the intuition arising out of the depths of the soul or being. It is a voice of the rhythm which has created the worlds and creates perpetually. All world is expression or manifestation, creation by the Word. Conscious Being luminously manifesting its contents in itself, of itself, tmanā, is the superconscient; holding its contents obscurely in itself it is the subconscient. The higher, the self-luminous descends into the obscure, into the night, into darkness concealed in darkness, tamas tamasā gūḍham, where all is hidden in formless being owing to fragmentation of consciousness, tucchyenābhvapithitam. It arises again out of the Night by the Word to reconstitute in the conscient its vast unity, tanmahinājāyataikam. This vast Being, this all-containing and all-formulating consciousness is Brahman. It is the Soul that emerges out of the subconscient in Man and rises towards the superconscient. And the word of creative Power welling upward out of the soul is also brahman. The Divine, the Deva, manifests itself as conscious Power of the soul, creates the worlds by the Word out of the waters of the subconscient, apraketaṃ salilaṃ sarvam,—the inconscient ocean that was this all, as it is plainly termed in the great Hymn of Creation. This power of the Deva is Brahma, the stress in the name falling more upon the conscious soul-power than upon the Word which expresses it. The manifestation of the different world-planes in the conscient human being culminates in the manifestation of the superconscient, the Truth and the Bliss, and this is the office of the supreme Word or Veda. Of this supreme word Brihaspati is the master, the stress in this name falling upon the potency of the Word rather than upon the thought of the general soul-power which is behind it. Brihaspati gives the Word of knowledge, the rhythm of expression of the superconscient, to the gods and especially to Indra, the lord of Mind, when they work in man as “Aryan” powers for the great consummation. It is easy to see how these conceptions came to be specialised in the broader, but less subtle and profound Puranic symbolism into Brahma, the Creator, and Brihaspati, the teacher of the gods. In the name, Brahmanaspati, the two varying stresses are unified and equalised. It is the link-name between the general and the special aspects of the same deity.
Here are the opening verses of Rig-Veda IV.50 to Brihaspati, which bring us right into the heart of our theme:
- O Brihaspati, they (the ancient seers) who take delight in the perfect perception and vibrate (with its flow) have (here) extended it for us – variously overflowing, streaming forward, wide and unquenchable. O Lord of the Word, protect its place of birth (the origin of its rising).
Here is an illuminating passage from Sri Aurobindo’s commentary on this hymn:
- … the Rishis, meditating on the intuitions that rise up from the soul with the cry of Brihaspati in the sacred and enlightening Word, holding them firmly in the thought, became illuminated in mind, open to the full inflow of the superconscient. They were thus able to bring into the front of the conscious being that activity of the soul-thoughts which works usually in the background, veiled, and to make it the leading activity of their nature … The ancient Rishis attained to the most rapid vibration of the movement; the most full and swift streaming of the flux of consciousness which constitutes our active existence, no longer obscure as in the subconscient, but full of the joy of perfected consciousness,—not apraketam like the Ocean described in the Hymn of Creation, but supraketam … With this attainment of the full rapidity of the activities of consciousness unified with its full light and bliss in the human mentality they have woven for the race by the web of these rapid, luminous and joyous perceptions the Truth-consciousness, Ritam Brihat, which is the womb or birth-place of this conscient being. For it is out of the superconscient that existence descends into the subconscient and carries with it that which emerges here as the individual human being, the conscious soul …
What the Vedic seer is describing in the above verses, we could also apply to our own studying of the Veda in general, as well as to the reading of Savitri in particular. For there, Sri Aurobindo also has brought for us into expression the supreme Word or “cry” of Brihaspati and when we meditate on those intuitions that arose from his soul, we can also get illumined by them, meaning we can get in touch with their light and power and awake to a new and higher perception of ourselves and everything else and allow it to mould our life. And through that we are also participating in the extension of a higher knowledge and power of existence here on the Earth-plane.
In this light we can see the following verses from the same hymn not only as part of some creation-myth but as a psycho-spiritual fact, which can be actualised at any given moment in time and especially in the present beginning of a new age, where such knowledge and power is anew revealed to a larger portion of awakening humanity than perhaps ever before.
- The Lord of the Word, born first from the great Light in the supreme (transcendent) Ether, with seven rays, multiply manifested, with seven mouths – with his cry he scattered the darknesses. (4)
- With the host of his soul-powers who have the illumining word and the perfect affirmation he, by his cry, has broken apart the concealing power (of the subconscient). The Lord of the Word, shouting loudly, drove upwards the answering Herds of the Light, who make effective our offerings. (5)
Sri Aurobindo explains here the cry of Brihaspati as “the voice of the superconscient knowledge” and the answering lights of our souls (which are veiled by the power of the subconscient and released by the greater power of the illumined speech, the Mantra, a constant theme of the Veda) as “the response of the conscious intuition”.
Let us see now how Sri Aurobindo uses this imagery in Savitri:
- The inspiring goddess entered a mortal’s breast,
- Made there her study of divining thought
- And sanctuary of prophetic speech
- And sat upon the tripod seat of mind:
- All was made wide above, all lit below.
- In darkness’ core she dug out wells of light,
- On the undiscovered depths imposed a form,
- Lent a vibrant cry to the unuttered vasts,
- And through great shoreless, voiceless, starless breadths
- Bore earthward fragments of revealing thought
- Hewn from the silence of the Ineffable.
- A Voice in the heart uttered the unspoken Name,
- A dream of seeking Thought wandering through Space
- Entered the invisible and forbidden house:
- The treasure was found of a supernal Day.
- In the deep subconscient glowed her jewel lamp;
- Lifted, it showed the riches of the Cave
- Where, by the miser traffickers of sense
- Unused, guarded beneath Night’s dragon paws,
- In folds of velvet darkness draped they sleep
- Whose priceless value could have saved the world.
- A darkness carrying morning in its breast
- Looked for the eternal wide returning gleam,
- Waiting the advent of a larger ray
- And rescue of the lost herds of the Sun.
“The miser traffickers of sense” is Sri Aurobindo’s own exact description of the Vedic Panis. Here is just one verse taken from The Secret of the Veda (p. 181) where they figure:
- They who travel towards the goal and attain that treasure of the Panis, the supreme treasure hidden in the secret cave, they, having the knowledge and perceiving the falsehoods, rise up again thither whence they came and enter into that world. (II.24.6)
The above line “Waiting the advent of a larger ray” we might relate to the Vedic term “Arka”, which may mean the illumining Word, or a ray of light or the sun itself. In this connection here is another image from Savitri:
- A gold supernal sun of timeless Truth
- Poured down the mystery of the eternal Ray
- Through a silence quivering with the word of Light
- On an endless ocean of discovery.
In the following verses from another hymn to Brihaspati-Brahmanaspati (not translated by Sri Aurobindo), which describe further the importance of the inspired Word, we meet Arka, the illumining Ray or Word:
- Him, the eldest (greatest divine power), the blissful Lord of the Word of the soul (Brahmanaspati) I express with surrender and offerings (of all actions). May the vast divine rhythm (of the highest inspired Word) attach itself to the Divine Mind (Indra), who is the king of the divinely created Word of the soul (Brahman). The immortals, who were born before, have established for our immortality this cherished illumining Word (or, ray of light, arka). We invoke Brihaspati, the unobstructible, the pure-sounding sacrificial power of all dwelling-places (of the soul). (5)
- He indeed is the pure One who seeks the purity, who with hundred wings and a golden shaft (of light) swiftly conquers the Sun-world. The Lord of the Word, sublime, he fully enters (the heart) and most creates for his friends a multiple sublimated (delightful) energy. (7)
- Heaven and Earth, the two divine mothers of him the divine, have made Brihaspati grow by their (increased) might. O Friends, discern him, the Discerning one. May he create for the Word of the soul (Brahman) perfect passages (beyond) that are easy to cross. (VII.97.3,5,7,8)
Here are a few verses from another hymn where again we meet the two universal powers most needed for the efficacy of the Mantra. In the last verse is expressed in a most beautiful way how the presence of the Divine soul can increase in this world of darkness and ignorance.
- Sincere in their thoughts and expressing the Truth the sons of Heaven, the heroes of the Almighty, - the Angirasas, establishing the plane of the illumined seer (the Sun), have held in their thoughts the original abode of the sacrifice.
- With a true mind seeking the Herds of Light they approached with their thoughts the Lord of the Herds of Light (Indra). And the Lord of the Word (Brihaspati) with his self-yoked powers that protect each other from all lack of expression released upward the rays of illumination.
- When he has conquered the plenitude in its universal form and has ascended Heaven with its highest seats, they make to grow the Lord of the Word, the fertilizing spirit, wherever they are, (for) they carry the Light in their mouth. (X.67.2,8,10)
To conclude this study, here are some more lines from Savitri and the Rig-Veda which might be seen as mutually-illuminating.
- Even now great thoughts are here that walk alone:
- Armed they have come with the infallible word
- In an investiture of intuitive light
- That is a sanction from the eyes of God;
- Announcers of a distant Truth they flame
- Arriving from the rim of eternity.
- A fire shall come out of the infinitudes,
- A greater Gnosis shall regard the world
- Crossing out of some far omniscience
- On lustrous seas from the still rapt Alone
- To illumine the deep heart of self and things.
- A timeless knowledge it shall bring to Mind,
- Its aim to life, to Ignorance its close.
- A soulful thought (mati) spoken from the heart and shaped into an affirming hymn moves towards the Divine Mind its Lord. When it is expressed it remains awake in the finding of knowledge. O Divine Mind, acknowledge what now comes into birth for you. Ancient (and supreme) it indeed comes into birth from Heaven. Being expressed it remains fully awake in the finding of knowledge, - dressing itself in happy white robes. This is the ancient-born intuitive thought (dhi) of the Fathers. (III.39.1,2)
- It is hoped that the content of this study might act among other things also as a catalyst for some readers to learn the Sanskrit language themselves, in order to have direct access to the Vedic mantric poetry.
- In this context it is also necessary to mention the fact – of which hardly anyone even in India seems to be aware today – that besides the so-called Vedic chanting (which most likely was developed millennia ago to simply preserve the text and allow a single human being to retain by heart without distortions thousands of verses) these ancient hymns could also be read as metrical poetry. That Sri Aurobindo knew this – and even implied this fact when time and again he refers to the Veda in his work The Future Poetry – can be ascertained by his mentioning the need to restore the metre of some verses while he worked on their translation. And also Western academic scholarship – even though until today it is not able to appreciate the esoteric meaning of these inspired hymns – has recognized this from the 19th century onwards and in recent years has created the website "The Rigveda Metrically Restored Text".
- 1 For example: “To turn thought and word into form and expression of the superconscient Truth which is hidden beyond the division and duality of the mental and physical existence was the central idea of the Vedic discipline and the foundation of its mysteries.” (CWSA 15:433 fn)