Introduction

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She chose a noble young man for her husband.

She knew he had only a year to live, but yet she married him. Even the God of Death bowed to her love and devotion and restored her husband to life.

Can the dead come back to life? Very strange, if they do isn’t it?

There is a legend in our country of a wife who brought her dead husband back to life by her spiritual power.

She was a princess and was undaunted by troubles. She lived happily with his poor husband in a forest. She faced Yama, the God of Death, and won back the husband’s life. She was Savithri.

The Blessings Of Goddess Savithri

Goddess-Savitri

This happened long long ago. Ashwapathi was the king of Madradesha. He was just and noble. His wife was Malavi. They had only one sorrow; otherwise, they were perfectly happy.

They had no children. They performed religious rites to get children. They worshipped Goddess Savithri. A year passed, two years passed. The Goddess did not answer their prayers. Yet the couple did not give up their attempt. They continued their religious rites. Eighteen years passed.

Goddess Savithri was pleased with them. The couple praised the Goddess in many ways. Ashwapathi said,

“Mother, I have everything. I am happy with my wife. My subjects love me and my courtiers serve me with love. But I have no children. After me, there is no one to protect this country. Mother, I want children to continue my dynasty.”

Goddess Savithri said, “O king nothing can happen which is not willed by Lord Brahma. You will have radiant daughter, that is Brahma’s will.” The Goddess blessed the king and disappeared.

Some time passed. Ashwapathi’s wife gave birth to a daughter. She was Goddess Savithri’s gift and so she was named after the Goddess Herself.

‘Choose A Husband Worthy Of You’

Savitri goes in search of a bride (1)

Savithri grew up. She was a maiden of charming modesty and matchless virtue. She was lovely and bright as a goddess. She was to be married.

Many youths sought her hand – strong men and brave men and good and modest men. But every prince who saw her at once felt humble; he felt he was not worthy of her and withdrew.

Ashwapathi was full of admiration for Savithri’s words and conduct. She was the center of his life. He had offered ‘tapas’ (deep meditation and prayer) for eighteen years for this daughter and her radiant liveliness filled his heart with joy.

But he grew more and more troubled as days passed and no prince, however, handsome and brave, came forward to marry her.

Ashwapathi called his daughter and said,

“Savithri, my child, it is time for you to marry. Go where you will and choose a husband worthy of you.”

He made all arrangements for her journey.

Satyavan

Savithri’s servants and companions went with her. Ashwapahi sent his old minister with her.

They visited many kingdoms. They visited sages, bowed to them, and received their blessings.

Savithri gave alms and made generous gifts at holy places. But she did not meet any young man who won her heart.

Savithri began the journey back home. On the way, they came to a forest. They saw an old couple under a tree. Near them was a young man absorbed in work. He was peeling fruits and offering them to the old couple.

Sastyavan looking after his Parents

Savithri watched them. The young man’s face was gentle, but of arresting brightness. Savithri gazed with wide-open eyes. She lost her heart to the radiant handsome youth.

Savithri’s curiosity was now aroused. She called the old minister and said, “Sir, look at the old couple and the young man under the tree.

Pray to find out who they are?”

So the old minister went up to the youth. He asked him, “who are you? Who are these old persons? Why are you in this forest?” The youth answered,

“My name is Satyavan, and these are my parents. My father was once the king of Salvadesha. His name is Dyumathesna. My father lost both his eyes. His enemies who were just waiting for an opportune-moment attacked the kingdom. My blind father was easily defeated so we all came to the forest.

The minister went back to Savithri and reported what he had learned.

The youth’s dignity and brave look had impressed Savithri at the very first glance. When she heard the minister’s words he concluded that Satyavan was a good and noble youth, and decided to marry him.

Her task was done and the choice made, and so she returned to Madradesha.

Fate Is Against Him

By the time Savithri returned to the palace Narada (who is one of the 24 avatars of Vishnu) arrived. Narada was a great sage. He could understand the past and foretell the future.

He knew everything because he wandered in all the three worlds – earth, heaven, and the lower world.

Ashwapathi welcomed Narada with great respect. He washed Narada’s feet with devotion and worshipped him. Just then Savithri returned to the palace. She bowed down to sage Narada and Ashwapathi.

Narada blessed her. Then he turned to Ashwapathi and said, “Maharaja, where had your daughter gone? You are fortunate to have such a daughter. Have you thought of her marriage?”

Ashwapathi explained everything to Narada and said, “I sent her to choose a husband.” He turned to Savithri and said, “My child, tell me, who has won your heart?” Savithri – Holy Sir, I visited all countries. But nowhere did I find a man who won my heart.

At last, we came to a forest. There I saw a Young man called Satyavan. His father is Dyumathsena. He was the King of Salvadesha. Now he has lost his two eyes and his kingdom, too, and is in the forest. I have lost my heart to Satyavan.

Narada was a great sage and a seer. Ashwapathi looked at Narada and waited for his reply. He wanted to know the opinion of Narada about his daughter’s choice.

Sage Narada sat for a while, with his eyes closed. Then he said,

“O King, your daughter’s choice is excellent. This young man always speaks the truth and therefore he is called Satyavan. From his childhood, he has loved horses. So he has another name also – Chithrashwa. He is radiant, like the sun, intelligent, most handsome and more patient than the earth, generous and valiant, friendly and free from envy,”

Ashwapathi – Holy Sir, I am very glad to hear your words. You are a wise man. You have told me only of what is commendable in Satyavan. Sir, I beg of you to tell me if there is anything against this match. Narada grew grave. Looking at his grave face, Ashwapathi was disturbed.

“Great sage, forgive me if I have spoken amiss.

I beg of you, sir, to tell me of any drawback you see.” He said.

Narada – Ashwapathi, Satyavan has no shortcomings. He is a mine of virtues. But fate is against him. He has a short life. His life will come to an end exactly after a year from this day. Not knowing this Savithri has given away her heart to Satyavan.

On the one hand, Ashwapathi was unhappy not knowing how to deny his daughter’s wishes, and on the other hand, he was very much disturbed by the words of Narada. He did not know what to do.

‘No One But He’

Ashwapathi turned to his daughter and said,

“My child, Savithri, your choice is excellent. The man you have chosen, Satyavan, is a wise man and an intelligent one, too. But, my child, he has a short span of life. Knowing this how can I give you in marriage to him? Choose some other man. I shall gladly give you in marriage to him.”

Savithri looked at Narada once again and then at her father. Narada was looking at Savithri, waiting for an answer. Her father’s face was disturbed by sad thoughts.

Savithri – Father, I have made my choice.

Whether Satyavan is short-lived or has a long life, none but he can be my husband. Ashwapathi – Savithri you are still very young. Do not be hasty. Think for a while. What terrible sorrow awaits you after a year!

Savithri – Father, do not think that I am disobedient. Long-lived or short-lived, Satyavan alone is my husband. I will not change my mind.

Ashwapathi – Holy Sir, I beg you to advise my daughter. Please turn her mind away from Satyavan.

Narada –Ashwapathi, your daughter has made up her mind. Besides, no one has so many virtues as Satyavan has. In every way, he is worthy of our daughter. Let this marriage be celebrated. All will end well.

Ashwapathi did not want to go against the wishes of his daughter. And the blessings of Narada gave him some courage.

Husband And Wife

On an auspicious day, Ashwapathi traveled to the hermitage of Dyumathsena with some of his courtiers. He met Dyumathsena and enquired about his welfare. He called his daughter and said to Dyumathsena, “She is my daughter Savithri. I beg you to accept her as your daughter-in-law.”

Dyumathsena – Maharaja, we have lost our kingdom and are in the forest. How can this tender Savithri face the troubles of life in the forest? Can she live in a forest? Can she live on the roots and vegetables we collect in the forest?

Ashwapthi – Sir, please grant my payer and make my daughter your daughter-in-law. Under your protection and love, she will forget all troubles. I am sure that my daughter will prove worthy of your affection.

Dyumathsena – Even before you came I wished for this match. But we had lost our kingdom and we are in a forest. How could I speak about this marriage?

Satyavan and Savitri marriage (1)

The marriage of Satyavan and Savithri was celebrated. They became husband and wife. Savithri rejoiced that she could marry the man who had won her heart. Satyavan was supremely happy that he had such a lovely and good and noble wife.

Ashwapthi had spent eighteen long years in prayers, to be blessed with Savithri for his daughter. It was not easy for him to beat separation from her. He returned to his kingdom with a heavy heart.

Sorrow Amidst Happiness

Savithri wore a dress made of the bark of trees. She removed all her sparkling jewels. She served her father-in-law and mother-in-law quite gladly. Ever smiling and cheerful, she won the hearts of all. She became the beloved wife of Satyavan.

But she could not forget the words of Narada even for a moment. All the time they were like a live coal in her heart. She could not forget even in her dream, that Satyavan had a short span of life. Her mind was always chained to Narada’s words. One day passed, two days, three days – so she kept count of the passing days.

Ten months passed! As the days flew. She grew more and more terrified. Though her heart was heavy with sorrow she did not miss any part of her work. And she showed no outward trace of her distress.

Only Four Days Remain

Time’s wheel kept rolling. One month, two months – So even the eleventh month passed.

Only a month remained! It was now a matter of days!

Savitri observing religious rites - Edited

Days, too, glided by. Only four days of life were left to Sathyvantha! Savithri spent three days in religious rites of the most rigorous kind. She fasted for three days. She was determined not to drink even a drop of water. She worshipped Goddess Savithri, day and night. She begged the Goddess who had blessed her father, to protect her husband.

She would not listen to anybody. Dyumathsena said, “My daughter Savithri, Why have you undertaken such rigorous rites? It is not difficult for you to fast for three days?”

Savithri – Father, please bless me that my religious rites may conclude without any obstacle.

I beg of you, please do not ask me to give them up.

The Nerve Shattering Day

The last three days, too, passed. To Savithri those three days were like three moments. The day which she feared most, the day the very thought of which made her soul shiver, dawned!

The previous night her agony knew no bounds.

She could not be in one place but kept moving restlessly. There was a mine of anguish in her heart.

Morning came!

Words cannot describe her agony. But Savithri did not forget her daily duties. She assisted the elders in the worship of the family deities. She served her father-in-law and mother-in-law. She gave them food. She bowed down to elders and touched their feet. They blessed Savithri saying,

“May you live long with your husband!’ Savithri felt that the words of the great sages would never be falsified, for they are men of truth. She hoped and prayed that their blessings would come true.

Satyavan’s death was so close. There were but a few moments left to count!

I Will Also Come With You

As usual, Satyavan started for the forest to hew trees and collect firewood. But on that day Savithri could not bear the separation from him. But she did not want to ask him to stay with her and thus come in the way of his work.

Suppose he asked, ‘Why?’ What reply could she give? Could she say, ‘Your death is approaching!’ But how could she send him alone? Her heart trembled at the mere thought of what would happen.

Savithri went up to Satyavan and said,

“My lord, I wish to come to the forest with you today. I want to see the beauty of the forest and I wish to help you in your work. I will also come with you. Please do not say ‘no’.” Satyavan was surprised. He said, “My dear, I shall be delighted if you come with me.

But after three days of strict religious rites, you are tired and weak. You have not yet eaten anything. It is not easy to walk in the forest. You will be tired. Why only today? You can come with me after your rites are over.”

Savithri – It will be no trouble at all. I want to see the flowers blossoming in the forest. I want to hear the song of birds. I will come today.

Satyavan – Savithri, I do not wish to hurt you. If it gives you delight, I will not come in your way. I will also be happy if you are with me.

Go and tell your parents-in-law and have their permission.

Savithri went with her husband to the forest with her elder’s permission. She spoke cheerfully. But her heart ached within her. Satyavan was delighted because Savithri was with him. He walked with greater liveliness than ever before and pointed out the beauty of the forest.

Though Savithri’s mind was like a volcano within she added her words to her husband’s and made him happy.

Together they collected flowers for worship of God. They gathered fruits. Satyavan made Savithri sit under a tree and started hewing the wood. Wide-eyed, without bringing her eyelids together even once, Savitri gazed on him. She thought, ‘the terrible moment which Narada had foretold is approaching,’ and her heart shivered. She was in unbearable anguish.

‘I Am Yama’

All of a sudden Satyavan perspired. His head ached as if it would be shattered into a thousand pieces. “Savithri…” he called out. Savithri sprang to her feet and raced to him.

Satyavan – Savithri, I have a dreadful headache, which I Cannot bear. My body is perspiring and I feel as if my head is about to burst.

Savithri – My lord, you are too tired. You have been cutting the wood. Your headache will be gone if you rest for a while. Lie down with your head in my lap and sleep for some time.

Savithri took her husband’s head in her lap.

Yama comes to take Satyavan after death (1)

The next moment there appeared a dark, mighty figure near the feet of Satyavan. He was Yamadahrmaraja, the God of Death.

Savithri laid her husband’s head on the ground and stood up. She bowed down to that figure.

With great reverence, she asked, “Lord who are you? Why have you come here?” Yamadharmaraja, the God of Death, is not visible to the eyes of ordinary persons. But Savithri was deeply devoted to her husband and she had performed many rigorous religious rites. Therefore she could see Yama.

Yama told Savithri the truth.

Yama: – My daughter! Today your husband’s life has come to an end. I am Yama. I have come here to take away his life. I am visible to your eyes and I have answered your question because of your spiritual power.

Yamadharmaraja tied up the life of Satyavan in his leash. At once Satyavan’s life left his body. Yama went southward. He traveled a short distance and looked back.

‘I Won’t Give Up Dharma’

Savithri was following him!

Yama was astonished. He and his followers had taken away millions of lives with them. But no one had followed the dead. He admired the courage of this woman who had followed him.

But without showing admiration, Yama stopped. He said, “Savithri, you have followed your husband as far as possible. You were like his shadow when he was alive. Now turn back.

Your ties with him have snapped. Go and do the last rites to his body.”

Savithri – It is said if we walk seven steps with a person he becomes a friend. I have come with you all this distance. Therefore, now you are my friend. So I want to speak to you. For knowledge and dharma, people perform taps in a forest.

Good men say that dharma (Sacred duty) is greater than anything else. It is my dharma to be with my husband. I cannot give up my dharma.

‘Ask For A Boon’

Yama was pleased with the words of Savithri.

But was it right to give back the life of one who was already dead?

Yama – Savithri, your words have pleased me immensely. Ask for any boon except your husband’s life. I will grant it.

Savithri – Dharmaraja, You have indeed blessed me. I will not ask for anything for myself.

By your grace, may my father-in-law regain his eyes! May be regaining his power!

Yama was very much pleased to see that Savithri had such great affection for her husband’s parents. He said, “Your wishes will be fulfilled.

Now go back. You are tired.”

Savithri – Lord, how can I feel tired when I am near my husband? I shall be there where he is.

A single meeting with good persons makes him a life-long friend. Good men’s company is every fruitful. Therefore, one should seek the company of good persons.

Her wisdom filled Yama with admiration.

Savitri follows Yama (1)

What then? He could not give back the life of Satyavan!

Yama – My daughter, your words give me great joy. I am immensely pleased. Ask for some other boon; but only, do not ask for your husband’s life.

Savithri – My Lord, you are pleased with me.

My prayer is that my father-in-law may get back his kingdom and that once again he may rule justly and well.

Yama – So be it. Now go back and do your duty.

Savithri – Yamadharmaraja, you bind every-one with a single uniform law. You do your duty, never going against that law. So you are called Dharmaraja (the Lord of Righteousness). I pray you, listen to me. One should not deceive anyone in thought, word or deed. Instead, one should help others. This is Dharma, which sustains the world. The good are kind even to their enemies. This is my faith.

Yama – My daughter, your words are like nectar. My joy knows no bounds. Ask for any boon except Satyavan’s life.

Savithri – My Lord, grant that my father may have valiant sons so that his dynasty may continue. Let my father’s home be brightened.

Yama – As you wish. Your father will have good sons. You have followed me very far. Now go back. Savithri – It is not at all far for me when I am near my husband. My mind moves even farther than this.

I pray you, listen to just another word. You are very strong. You are serene and you do what is right, and so you are Dhramaraja, the Lord of Righteousness. All people seek the love of the good. They yearn for their friendship.

Such friendship brings trust. I have great faith in you, for you are good. I know you will do me no harm.

Even Yama Was Defeated

Yama – My child, I have not heard such words from anyone except you. Ask for a boon except for your husband’s life. I will give you.

Savithri – My Lord, you have shown me much kindness. I am fortunate. I pray that Satyavan and I may have children who are strong and who will bring fame to our dynasty.

Yama – So be it! You are too tired. Return my child.

Savithri – My lord, pray listen to my words.

The good always walks the path of righteousness. They will not give up the truth whatever be the difficulties. They never do what is unrighteous. They help others expecting nothing in return. The earth is sustained by the good and by their tapas. If they are pleased nothing evil can happen.

Yama – My child, your words are noble. They have profound meaning. As I listen to you, my regard for you deepens. Ask for a great boon.

Savithri – My lord, I beg of you, may your boons be fulfilled in a virtuous way, righteously. So I am praying that my husband may come back to life. I am dead without him?

I do not want heaven or wealth without my husband. May your words come true! This is the boon I beg for.

Yamadharmaraja was defeated by Savithri’s arguments.

Yama – My daughter, I will give back your husband’s life. He will be healthy and strong.

He will live for four hundred years and will walk the path of virtue. You and your husband will live happily with your children. Your children will come to be known as Savithri’s, after you.

Your father also will have sons, and they will be known as Malavas, after your mother. By your devotion, by your religious rites and your dead husband back to life. No one can equal you. Now return my child.

Savithri’s mind blossomed like a flower. She bowed to Yama and said, “My lord, our mercy is boundless, you have blessed me.” Yama returned to his kingdom.

‘How I Have slept!’

Savithri came to the place where Satyavan lay on the ground. She took his head in her lap as before. Life returned to Satyavan. Joy flooded Savithri’s heart as life returned to her dead husband and he sat up. He was her life and she lived for him.

Satyavan woke up!

Satyavan sat up full of wonder. He said,

“How is this? When I fell asleep there was daylight. Now it has become dark? Have I slept so long! How could I do it? I have forgotten my world! I have been asleep!”

He turned to Savithri and said, “My dear, I have slept along time. I slept, as I had never done before. Where is that dark figure whom I saw in my sleep? Have you seen him?”

Savithri – Dearest, it is true that you have slept a long time. That dark figure you saw was none but Yamadharmaraja. All living creatures obey him. He has gone. Now you have rested. If you can walk let us go back to our hermitage.

Satyavan – I felt that a dark figure carried me away with him. Was it so? Or was it only a dream? Tell me, Savithri what you do know.

Savithri – Me dear, it is so dark that our eyes cannot make out anything. I will tell you everything tomorrow. We came to the forest to collect fuel. We have not returned home though night has fallen.

By this time your father and mother will be worried about us. This is the time when rakshasas walk. You can hear the rustle of dry leaves as wild animals move about. The darkness fills me with fear. Come, let us go home.

Satyavan – It is so dark I cannot see the way. How can we find the way back home? How can we reach our hermitage?

Back To The Hermitage

A fire had broken out in the forest. Savithri was able to light some firewood. Satyavan was thinking of his parents. He was disturbed and said,

“Savithri, I have never before stayed away from home at odd hours. Even when I go out of the hermitage in the day my parents used to be worried. They used to come in search of me.

One day, with tears in their eyes, they said, ‘Child, we cannot live a moment without you. You are the staff of your blind parents.’ I do not know what has happened to them today! If anything happens to them I cannot live. All this anxiety is because of my wretched sleep!”

Savithri consoled her husband with soft words. She remembered the gods. In her heart, she bowed to them and prayed: ‘If I have always beloved in Dharma (virtue) if I have never uttered a lie, may my husband’s parents be safe from harm! May this be a night of good fortune!

May the parents of Satyavan live by the power of my truthful life!’

Satyavan – Let us join my father and mother before anything untoward happens. If you love me, come now let us reach our hermitage most nearly.

Savithri rose at once eagerly. She took her husband’s hand and helped him to stand up. She hooked the basket of fruits to the branch of a tree. She thought that the axe might be of use and put it on her shoulder. They left the forest for the hermitage.

Satyavan – Savithri, it is not difficult to walk here. It is a familiar path. Savithri, look here, we came by this way. It is here we collected the fruits, here we culled the flowers. Look, our path lies through this grove. There is a fork, and the northern path leads to our hermitage. So saying, and at the same time thinking of his parents, Satyavan walked fast. And Savithri kept pace with him.

An Auspicious Night

In the meanwhile, in the hermitage, Dyumathsena was anxious and alarmed the Sahyavantha had not yet returned. But all of a sudden his sight was restored; he could see clearly. And so, brightness had come back to his life, too, which had grown dark.

His joy knew no bounds. But at that glad moment, he was worried that his Satyavan had not yet returned. Husband and wife were filled with fears for their beloved daughter-in-law, Savithri; they asked again and again, in fear and misery, why Satyavan had not yet come back.

They went to every hermitage nearby. The slightest sound made them look up eagerly, hoping that their son and his wife were back.

They searched every pool and stream. Their feet grew bloodstained as they stepped on stone and thorn.

The elders in the hermitage tried to comfort them with words of hope and good cheer. And even as their hearts were flooded with fear, Savithri; smiling and radiant, entered with her husband. Everyone, there was filled excited delight when the young couple came. ‘

Why so late? – that was the question on everyone’s lips.

Satyavan – I was splitting the wood in the forest. All of a sudden I had a severe splitting headache. So I had to lay down. When I woke up it was midnight. Though it was dark we came here; we knew you would all be worried and unhappy.

There was an elderly man by name Gauthama in the assembly. He said,

“Satyavan, your father had got back his eyes. There must be some other reason for your delay. Savithri may know the reason. My child, Savithri, tells us what happened if it is what you may tell others. Your face is radiant.”

Savithri – Holy Sir, what you are saying is true.

There is nothing secret in this. I will tell you what happened.

“Sage Narada told me a year back that my husband’s life would come to an end today.

But by then I had lost my heart to Satyavan. Without the slightest hesitation, I married him. That is why today I went to the forest with Satyavan. Satyavan lay down because of an unbearable headache. Then Yama snatched away the life of Satyavan and left the place.

I followed Yama. I praised him with words of truth. Yama graciously granted me five boons.

Two boons were that my father-in-law would regain his eyes and his kingdom. The other two boons were that my father would have sons and I, too, would have sons. The fifth boon was the both Satyavan and I would live to be four hundred.

“I have been performing religious rites for three days. I performed the rites that my husband might overcome death. All my sorrows have vanished and happiness had dawned. The danger was averted with the blessings of Goddess Savithri and of all of you, my elders.”

When they learned from Savithri all that had happened, her parents-in-law were filled with amazement. Their joy knew no bounds. With a heart overflowing with joy and admiration they blessed Savithri. They were astounded and full of praise for Savithri. They honored her as the savior of her father-in-law’s family, a great and pure woman, a wife of perfect devotion.

What might have been a sorrowful night turned into an auspicious and joyful night?

Slowly the night passed and the sun rose. All of them were churning the memories of the gladness of the night. And then they saw a big crowd at a distance. Leading the crowd was a man on horseback.

They were all filled with curiosity.

As he approached, the rider descended from the horse and bowed down to Dyumathsena with great respect. He had been Dyumathsens’s minister.

The minister said,

“My lord, I have brought joyful news to you. I defeated your enemy in a war. Your subjects all say, “Let Dyumathsena be our king; even if he has lost his eyes, the eyes of his mind are open.’ I beg of you, Sir, to fulfill our wishes.”

Dyumathsena – My subject’s wish is my wish.

Service to my people is my joy, too. By God’s grace and by the spiritual power of Savithri I have got back my eyes. Let us make preparations to return to our capital. Let us start at once.

Dyumathsena traveled to his capital with all royal Honours. Dyumathsena became the maharaja (the king), and Satyavan became the Yuvaraja(the crown prince). Savithri saved herself from dire distress and saved her husband, from catastrophe, and also her parents and her husband’s parents.

Single-minded devotion, deep love of her husband, rock-like determination and a will of steel – all these were blended in Savithri. The story of Savithri is the story of the love triumphing over death and the story of the strength that dwells in a woman though she is usually considered weak; the story of Savithri is a story that enshrines India’s respect for womanhood.

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