Sri Aurobindo: The Poet of Nature & Other Writings on Savitri - Asoka K. Ganguli

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A former teacher of English literature at university and post-graduate levels, the author of this critical study presents several important aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual poetry in his epic Savitri. In the first section the author highlights the often-neglected subject of Sri Aurobindo as a poet of Nature. He points out how Sri Aurobindo’s concept of Nature differs from that of other poets and then shows the workings of Nature in Inconscience, in Ignorance, and in the Transcendental plane as portrayed in Savitri. The second section deals with how Sri Aurobindo uses imagery, similes, and metaphors, while in the third section he explains Sri Aurobindo’s new concept and vision of Death. The final section describes the treatment of science and evolution in Savitri as representative of Sri Aurobindo’s embrace of all aspects of knowledge and thought in his integrated vision of life and spirit.

REVIEW

There is a growing movement to ensure that Sri Aurobindo studies soon take their rightful place as topics for graduate and postgraduate research in Indian universities. The writings of Dr. Asoka K. Ganguli will undoubtedly prove of great value in this movement, particularly in the field of literary studies. His first book, Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri: An Adventure of Consciousness, published by the Sri Aurobindo Society in 2002, had for its stated purpose to help students and general readers to gain some sort of understanding of Savitri as an epic poem, and towards this end deals first with Sri Aurobindo’s concept of the poetry of the future, then with the form, design, structure and technique of Savitri, along with its thematic scheme.

Dr. Ganguli is well qualified to offer this assistance, by his more than forty years as a teacher of English poetry to postgraduate students, first at the University of Agra and then at the University of Delhi, and by his deep devotion to Sri Aurobindo’s poetry over more than fifty years.

According to the author, his second book has been inspired by his experience as a teacher of English poetry to postgraduate students over four decades. He notes that certain fields in poetry seemed to hold a special interest for his students. Taking this as a guiding principle, he has explored four such topics in relation to Sri Aurobindo’s masterwork. The four sections of his book deal with Nature poetry, and the concept of Nature in poetry; imagery and figures of speech; the theme of death; and lastly the treatment of science. Each of these topics is first introduced in the context of English poetry in general, before the special characteristics of Sri Aurobindo’s treatment of them in Savitri are explored. While these essays are scrupulously referenced for the use of the serious student, at the same time the book is presented in a way that is accessible and interesting for the general reader.

Like his first book, this one too is far more than a literary guidebook. What is remarkable is the way in which Professor Ganguli, in each of these sections, introduces his readers to an important aspect of Sri Aurobindo’s vision by a combination of lucid explanation and illuminating quotations from the poem. In the first of the essays, for example, which focuses on the treatment of Nature in Savitri, he points out that there are three distinct stages in the Yoga of Nature: Nature in the Inconscience, Nature in the Ignorance, and Nature on the Transcendental plane. Exemplifying these three stages by relevant quotations, he takes us on a wonderful journey through the poem, while enhancing our grasp of the theme.

Similarly in the second section, whose topic is imagery and figures of speech in Savitri, he points out that Sri Aurobindo creates imagery from different planes in the ascending scale of consciousness, and gives examples from various planes. He also gives examples of images connected with important movements in Sri Aurobindo’s integral Yoga. In this way he illuminates our understanding not only of the literary form of the poem, but also of its content and intention.

The third section, entitled “Sri Aurobindo: His Vision and Concept of Death in Savitri” is the longest, 140 Seiten of profound exploration of one of the key themes of the poem, worth reading and re-reading repeatedly.

The fourth, dealing with the poet’s treatment of science in his masterwork, covers different aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s integrated view of science.

Going into these thematic explorations, one is impressed by several things: first, the way in which Dr. Ganguli succeeds in bringing out the unparalleled breadth, depth and height of Sri Aurobindo’s vision when set alongside more familiar world views; then, Sri Aurobindo’s extraordinary powers of poetic expression which bring these breadths and depths and heights so wonderfully close to our own view and grasp. But also we cannot help but be impressed by the breadth and depth of Dr. Ganguli’s own grasp of his material and by the clarity of exposition with which he guides us through its richness and complexities. Sensitive poetry-lovers will surely be inspired by the splendours which he opens up to view and encouraged to delve deeper into the inexhaustible ocean of riches which is Savitri. This achievement bears witness not only to his skills as a researcher, teacher and writer, but also to his deep love for Savitri and his immersion in it over so many years.

The value of this book is also enhanced by its foreword, a masterly essay by Dr. Mangesh Nadkarni, which highlights the contemporary academic perspective in which Dr. Ganguli’s work gains a special value and significance.

All who are interested in a deeper understanding and appreciation of Sri Aurobindo’s revelatory epic can be grateful to the author, and to SACAR, the Verlag, for bringing out this important work.

— Shraddhavan (Shraddhavan, a long-time resident of Auroville, coordinates the activities at Savitri Bhavan and edits its journal Invocation.)

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