16 Nov 2012

Ashram Trustees Criticise the Republication of the First Edition of Savitri – by Sridharan

A letter of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust has recently been published in the All India Magazine of Sri Aurobindo Society in the issue of November 2012, strongly criticising the republication of the first edition of Savitri by Helios Books. Not only the letter is written in extremely bad taste, but totally irrelevant and misleading comparisons and statistics regarding the various editions of Savitri have been quoted in it to impress the lay reader without actually touching upon the central issue.

What is the central issue? The editors of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives with the full support of the Ashram Trustees have been accused of tampering the original works of Sri Aurobindo. This has caused great distress among not only devotees but intellectuals and scholars who have written lengthy letters to the Ashram Trust pointing out the editorial deficiencies in the editing of Sri Aurobindo’s works, especially the 1993 edition of Savitri. (Jugal Kishore Mukherji’s letter to Amal Kiran on the subject runs to 50 pages, single-spaced and closely typed.) This has led to filing of numerous court cases against the Ashram Trust by exasperated disciples causing a tremendous waste of energy and financial resources to the Ashram. All this could have been easily avoided by a little transparency and open-mindedness in the public  domain by making the manuscripts available to one and all instead of sitting on them and firing salvos from the safety of the Archives Cold Storage. A public discussion could have at least released the pent-up pressure if not improved upon the last edition of Savitri and other works of Sri Aurobindo. But no! The Ashram Trustees think that there are no other scholars in the whole wide world except the four editors who finalised the 1993 edition of Savitri. Even in this exercise, Jugal Kishore Mukherji (former in-charge of the Higher Course of the Ashram School) was sidelined and not allowed to study the original manuscripts of Savitri. Dr. R.Y. Deshpande’s request for the same was also time and again turned down. What does this suggest? That there are things to hide and that the decisions of the editors could easily be challenged and even proved wrong. This is the central issue and the context of the Savitri controversy which has dogged the Ashram Trust for more than a decade now! This is the core issue that has not been addressed in the above mentioned letter which has been dutifully published by the Society purely out of extraneous considerations and threat! If the advertisement of the first edition of Savitri was released against payment from Helios Books, then the views and statement of the Ashram Trustees ought to have been released as an advertisement as well and against payment! However, the spineless Chairman of Sri Aurobindo Society and the equally inept and incompetent Management Committee of SAS chose to prostrate themselves in front of the Ashram Trustees, not out of genuine academic consideration but out of fear of losing petty privileges granted to them by the Ashram Trustees!  

Why should therefore the Ashram Trustees write such an uncouth letter and force the servile and intellectually incompetent Chairman of the Sri Aurobindo Society to publish it in a magazine dedicated to the spreading of Sri Aurobindo’s works? The Chairman also lets the Ashram Trust backstab Helios Books after being paid for the advertisement in the magazine. This is simply not fair! If he really did not believe in the first edition of Savitri, he should not have allowed the advertisement in the first place! But why allow such nasty and spiteful objections after the advertisement has been printed? Or did he yield to this demeaning act because the members of the Society will be deprived of food in the Ashram Dining Room or cinema in the Ashram Playground? I would not be surprised at all if these were the actual mundane considerations which made him allow such a vicious attack! And to think that, in the early days of the Ashram, the first disciples left everything (wife, children, property, name and fame, position and power) for the sake of the spirit! Times have surely changed!

Now that the central issue has been amply discussed, let us take up some of the irrelevant issues raised by the letter written by the Ashram Trustees. First of all, why do the Ashram Trustees snub Helios Books on using the term “priceless edition” to describe the first edition of Savitri? Don’t they equally value the first edition or do they only value the 1993 allegedly tampered edition? If the implication is that the Archives editors perfected Sri Aurobindo’s poetry in the 1993 edition, then so be it – self-deception and vanity are in plenty everywhere, both outside and inside the Ashram! That is precisely why Helios Books has published the first edition of Savitri fulfilling a long-standing public demand.

There have been 4 earlier editions of Savitri: the 1950-51 edition, the 1954 edition, the 1970 edition also known as SABCL edition, and the 1993 edition. It would be pertinent to note that 99.75 % of the text in all the editions has remained the same. (Letter of Ashram Trustees)

What is the pertinence of the above statement? Does it mean that making new editions does not make any difference to the reader because 99.75 % of the text has remained the same? If so, why “impertinently” produce a “revised version”? And why object to the first edition at all?

There are numerous instances where the text of the “republication” of the “priceless original edition of Savitri (1950-51)” differs from all the existing editions of Savitri, including the text of the 1950-51 edition. (Letter of Ashram Trustees)

Only obvious typographical errors have been corrected in the republished first edition. If this is termed objectionable, then why object to the objections made to the priceless “revised edition” which nobody wants to now buy or read? As for the overall confusion created by the differences between the four editions, the only way out is to go back to the first edition and restart on a sounder basis instead of composing a priceless “revised version” for the creative satisfaction of the editors. I would advise the conceited editors to write their own poetry instead of tweaking the poetry of the Master!

The so-called “republication” of Savitri contains some text which differs from the 1950-51 edition, but is in agreement with all the three subsequent editions of Savitri, although the advertisement specifically induces the reader to believe that the text is entirely in agreement with the 1950-51 edition. (Letter of Ashram Trustees)

Which publisher will be foolish enough to mention insignificant editorial details of his book in an advertisement? The editorial note inside the republication of the first edition clearly mentions the correction of “obvious typographical errors”. By the way, the pages have been renumbered to make one series in a single volume, which does not tally with the page numbers of the two volumes of the first edition. I suppose even this unavoidable difference deserves serious reprobation from the editors of the “revised version”! 

There are other instances in which the text in the “republication” agrees only with the 1993 edition of Savitri, and not with that of any other edition prior to the 1993 edition. (Letter of Ashram Trustees)

The editors of the 1993 edition should be therefore immensely pleased because in some instances the republication of the first edition agrees with the 1993 edition. But what about the other instances where they don’t match?

Finally, it is not the number of verbal changes that matters as much as the importance of these verbal changes from the point of view of substance and meaning. If “last” can be made “lust” without batting an eyelid by the Archives editors and the Ashram Trustees, the result is of course Peter Heehs! Who can trust him or his editorial team after his infamous Lives of Sri Aurobindo?  In retrospect, all that they have laid their hands upon becomes suspect! The only way then to move forward is to make all the original manuscripts of Savitri available in the public domain and let the reader decide for himself!

Thus, the “republication” of the “original edition” of Savitri advertised on page 40 of the August 2012 issue of AIM fails to measure up to its advertised claim. (Letter of Ashram Trustees)

Helios Books only claimed that the book has been “beautifully produced as a limited collector’s edition in hardbound cover”! If anybody denies the beautiful getup of this edition, he should be sent to Timbuktu or to the coal mines of Jharkhand! As for the “priceless original  edition of 1950-51”, it only shows the respect and veneration that Helios Books has for Sri Aurobindo unlike the Archives team of editors who have always tried to pick out faults in Sri Aurobindo’s works and have even succeeded in finding faults where there are none. Even his Yoga, philosophy and personal character have not been spared by them!

It really does not matter if someone buys this expensive book as long as the purchase is based on an informed choice and not induced by any misleading advertisement. (Letter of Ashram Trustees)

Good paper and printing is expensive nowadays. Publishers have to make both ends meet even if they don’t want to make profits unlike the highly subsidised editions of the Ashram Trust which floats irresponsibly on the donations of thousands of devotees and disciples of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. If these devotees knew the way things function in Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Sri Aurobindo Society, they would be shocked and stop all further donations. In any case, a copy of the first edition of Savitri published by Helios Books costs only Rs 1200/=, which is not much by prevalent standards, considering the hardbound cover, the aesthetic getup and quality of the paper and printing.

Finally, who is misleading whom? The judgment should be left to the reader cum potential buyer of Savitri with one prime consideration in mind. Which edition would he or she prefer – the one published or finalised during Sri Aurobindo’s lifetime or the 1993 edition which was finalised after 20 years of scholarly or unscholarly arguments and poring through endless number of drafts and versions of a symbolic epic poem which goes above the heads of most people, including the editors themselves? If the reader chooses the 1993 edition disregarding the controversy surrounding it, the edition is readily available in the bookshops of the Ashram Trust. But what if he decides to read the first edition and cannot find it anywhere? It is in fulfilling this demand of a growing section of conscious readers that Helios Books has truly played a commendable role by making the first edition available once again after 60 years.

The reader should also be informed that the copyright of Savitri has expired and the Ashram Trust no longer controls its publication. If the beautiful edition brought out by Helios Books has so much ruffled the feathers of the Archives editors and the Ashram Trustees, it only shows how desperate they are to re-establish their lost credentials. It is high time they realise that they cannot monopolise Sri Aurobindo as if he is their personal property and concede the ground to other publishers who can play valuable roles in the publication of his works.


  1. Comment by an Ashramite:

    Has the Chairman of the Society lost his senses? It seems so. May I please know when did the last change in the members of the Managing Committee and its Chairman occur? Are they enjoying some eternal divine right to hold such official positions?

  2. Anonymous Response:

    All those who seem to be hardly fit to do divine work seem to be enjoying "divine rights", especially in holding official positions which give them power. This applies to both the Ashram Trustees and the Board members of the Sri Aurobindo Society.

  3. What is wrong with Sri Aurobindo Society? Is it also going the Sri Aurobindo Ashram way? When will the Office Bearers of Society be changed? They should step down immediately for supporting the denigration of Sri Aurobindo.

  4. The Chairman of the SAS has proved once again that he cannot be trusted. He conveniently hunts with the hounds and runs with the hares. When it suits him he pretends to sympathises with all of us whose feelings have been hurt by PH and MDG. Although his announcement against the book was wishy washy, at least there was hope that deep down he shared our concerns. But then when the tide turns he also turns around and stabs us in the back. Such shamelessness will always the SAS trouble.

  5. Sir,

    Thank you for putting my comment. But I am now thinking that Sri Aurobindo Society is worse than Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The Ashram has stuck to its denigrating, stupid stand (it will realise the mistake one day perhaps), but the Society seems to be playing a double game. Senior members of Society are singing different tunes. How is this possible? Are they changing their colours like chameleons and going whichever way the wind blows? Just because Ashram has managed to fool the general public and important people, should Sri Aurobindo Society abandon the path of truth and deviate from the true goal?

  6. Comment by Ritwik Banerjee:

    Dear Chairman,
    (of Sri Aurobindo Society, Puducherry)

    Please refer to your letter in AIM – November 2012 on the subject. We have still the memory of the Society’s lukewarm rebuttal of Peter Heehs’ biography of Sri Aurobindo. Now as we see on the Internet one Mr. Sridharan’s rejoinder to your tacit support to the 1993 edition of Savitri in the backdrop of the so-called “misleading” advertisement of the first edition of Savitri in AIM, would you not like to have an honest relook on the whole issue? Nothing will be better for you than to go on the Internet and other modes of public information at your disposal to let all Aurobindonians and the whole world know the truth of the matter.

    To begin with, the word “republication” cannot be deemed as a misnomer simply because Helios Books have corrected some “typographical errors” in the first edition of Savitri – the errors cannot be attributed to Sri Aurobindo. That cannot be called editing since nobody except Sri Aurobindo can edit Savitri, strictly speaking. As he is not there physically with us now, one has to see whether Helios Books or any other publishers have done it rightly or not by going back to Sri Aurobindo’s final draft of Savitri. One needs to be sure if he really wrote the word “last” or “lust” in it, as Sridharan points out, and so on and so forth.

    Secondly, if “99.75% of the text in all the editions has remained the same”, we still have the onus of making it impeccably 100% pure. The 0.25% variance works out to be something like 60 lines in Savitri which can be anything near 500 words! What should we do, then, truly speaking?

    Assuming that the Chairman (of SAS) & Managing Trustee (of SAA) are honestly taking care of the “priceless” heritage of the Mother and the Master, one would simply expect them to exemplify their whole-hearted dedication and harmonious co-ordination in this kind of endeavour by subduing all kinds of hostile intentions, internal and external, by transparent means since there is nothing confidential in such matters. The documents have to be made public for the sake of truth. But, sadly, just the opposite is being enacted on the real stage of life in an Ashram consecrated to the ideals of the Master and the Mother.


    Ritwik Banerjee

  7. Comment by Ritwik Bannerji:

    Mr. K.C.Anand,
    Editor, AIM, Pducherry.

    Dear Mr. Anand,

    Editing a magazine whose aim is perfection taught by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, you are helping everybody. Hope you have forwarded my earlier email to the Chairman which needs to be addressed urgently and which remains still unattended by him. You may kindly apprise us with your own opinions in the matter.


  8. Comment by Ritwik Bannerji:

    I am not getting any picture of this whole business from any authorised people connected with Yoga. Yet my overall view is in favour of the "priceless original edition of Savitri (1950-51)" "republished" by Helios Books. They have tried to restore some typographical errors only in their republication debut and shown no audacity to edit a work of supreme significance by Sri Aurobindo, which has been done by Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust. Adherents of Integral Yoga would love only the original works of the Master and not the edited ones posthumously done by others (even if they be with "99.75%" similarities) with their scholarly arrogance that has messed up things in a business of falsehood. There is enough room to appreciate the efforts of Helios Books in this direction. Maybe some more typographical errors need rectifications. That's all.

  9. <>

    This statement in the post calls for some elucidation. Let me first say that “last” has not been changed to “lust” in the Revised Edition of Savitri brought out in 1993, [page 719]. There was the proposal in the Archives & Research periodical, Vol. 10, December 1986, that the Centenary Reading “last” should be corrected to “lust” [p. 234], considering that “last” would not make any sense; but finally this was not done. The Supplement to the Revised Edition of Savitri issued in 1994 does not have this entry at all in its Table of Emendations. We have therefore throughout, in all the printed editions of Savitri from 1951 to 1993, “last”. In other words, “last” was not tampered with in the Revised Edition.

    However, we have to understand why the A&R December 1986 suggested “lust” in place of the original “last”. This was discussed in the Savitri-monitoring committee, possibly in 1988, when the original MS was also brought for checking. The Archives argument was, the “a” of “last” in the MS could be taken as “u” and as “last” does not make any sense—according to A&R—we could have the “corrected reading as “lust”. In the committee this was strongly opposed and Amal was good enough to see the point. The final decision was to retain “last”. I was personally witness to this.

    1. I don't know why the statement within the brackets has not appeared at the beginning of the comment. The reference is to the following:

      If “last” can be made “lust” without batting an eyelid by the Archives editors and the Ashram Trustees, the result is of course Peter Heehs!

  10. In the context of the general discussion regarding the First Edition of Savitri, let me also inform the readers its publication by Savitri Foundation. The Publishers give the following description about it.

    Savitri First Edition
    The first edition of Savitri came out nearly during the lifetime of Sri Aurobindo himself. Part One was published in September 1950 just before his withdrawal in December of that year, and Part Two and Part Three together within months of this date.

    This original edition, the First Edition, was subsequently reissued on three major occasions carrying a number of revisions and departures, in 1954 (University Edition), 1972 (Centenary Edition), and 1993 (Revised Edition). It is said that this was done after thoroughly checking the texts against the various drafts of the composition. But in the process a number of subjective elements have also entered into these.
    In the absence of complete details about the editorial selections including emendations a doubt about the validity of changes lingers in the minds of conscientious readers and scholars of Savitri. Besides, there is too much of intellectualization in the preparation of the Revised Edition which distances itself considerably from the pristine First Edition which actually bears the stamp of the presence of the Author. It is that which is more precious than any other scholastic editorial work.

    Keeping in view this sanctity and significance Savitri Foundation has now brought out the First Edition in a convenient format as a single volume. The size of the book is user-friendly and easy to handle. The light golden colour of the text is much more pleasant to the eye and the mind than the usual dark black. The well formatted text with proper spacing makes the reading smooth and convenient. Its unique feature is the virtual line-break after each sentence which gives some kind of visual pause for the reader before moving on to the next one. We would like to emphasize that this is a definite aid for him to get into the spirit of the text, even as the thought links and thought structures stand out in a distinct manner. But, more importantly, it has the power to make the reader move in the rhythm of the poem itself, the swings of inspiration, something which is psychologically-spiritually valuable.

  11. Comment by Ritwik Banerji:

    Mr. Sridharan is requested to provide for our information all his references of how and where a word “last” is/was changed into “lust”.

    Chairman of Sri Aurobindo Society has considered Helios Books’ “republication” of the original Savitri as a new (fifth?) edition after the 1993 edition published by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Department, Puducherry-605002. Unwittingly he has given also his support to the Ashram trustees, maybe somewhat under duress. But that is not my point here. Unless a hypocrite, he owes an honest answer, without playing with words, to the Aurobindonian world on the whole issue of Savitri via-a-vis the advertisement AIM – August 2012 and his letter in AIM – November 2012 in the context of Savtri.

    Truly speaking, Savitri has to appear in a yet new print to be 100% real as Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri, unedited and untampered. Who has now the honesty to undertake this task? No doubt a taxi-driver in USA who later was made chief editor of Sri Aurobindo’s entire Works in the Ashram and who came to be publicised as a historian and scholar of sorts, did play his game in it, but that is all over for good now. One has to turn now to nothing but the last final original MSS of Sri Aurobindo. A meticulous proof-reading thus from those MSS becomes an imperative now. Helios Books deserve all the praise for initiating this great task in a right spirit and can be assisted whole-heartedly. Ashram trustees better give their rigid dog-in-the-manger policy to cure themselves of a syndrome of severe psychosis mixed with hypocrisy. Their callousness only demonstrates the how and why of a situation that made India suffer all along in the course of her history and culture despite a brilliant heritage of enlightenment and sound knowledge.

    Hence the need is urgent and pressing for restoring all remaining typographical errors (of words, phrases and punctuations) in the 1950-51 edition of Savitri. A few instances may be noted in this context e.g.,

    1) Words “response” and “content,” in lines 3 and 4 at page 29 (in 1950-51 edition) may be corrected as “response,” and “content” respectively.

    2) The phrase “hide and seek” in line 29 at page 61 should not be hyphenated like “hide-and-seek” in the 1993 edition. It is Sri Aurobindo’s own choice for the sake of metre in his poetry.

    3) Words “monumental, lone” in line 7 at page 288 are to be corrected as “monumental, lone,” by comparison with original MS.

    4) Words “the souls close” in line 37 at page 103 and “sun-light eyed,” in line 24 at page 142 (in Part II of 1950-51 edition) similarly should be compared and corrected as the case may be.

    This is what we suggest in the present situation.

  12. Comment by "Ritwik Bannerji:

    It is sheer audacity to revise the Master's spiritual poetry. I feel all joy in these lines of Savitri:

    Heaven's touch fulfils but cancels not our earth:
    Our bodies need each other in the same last;
    (SABCL, Vol. 29, p. 719)

    They vibrate so beautifully in substance and the peak of integral purity ( with "same" as noun and "last" as an adverb). Fortunately they are retained in Savitri.. Poor guys like PH/RH only can think of putting their "lust" into them. God save us.