Savitri and Satyavan
The oldest known version of the story of Savitri and Satyavan is found in "The Book of the Forest" of the Mahabharata.
The story occurs as a multiple embedded narratives in the Mahabharata as told by Markandeya. When Yudhisthira asks Markandeya whether there has ever been a woman whose devotion matched Draupadi’s, Markandeya replies by relating this story:
The childless king of Madra, Asvapati, lives ascetically for many years and offers oblations to Sun God Savitr. His consort is Malavi. He wishes to have a son for his lineage. Finally, pleased by the prayers, God Savitr appears to him and grants him a boon: he will soon have a daughter. The king is joyful at the prospect of a child. She is born and named Savitri in honor of the god. Savitri is born out of devotion and asceticism, traits she will herself practice.
Savitri is so beautiful and pure, she intimidates all the men in the vicinity. When she reaches the age of marriage, no man asks for her hand, so her father tells her to find a husband on her own. She sets out on a pilgrimage for this purpose and finds Satyavan, the son of a blind king named Dyumatsena, who after he had lost everything including his sight, lives in exile as a forest-dweller.
Savitri returns to find her father speaking with Sage Narada who announces that Savitri has made a bad choice: although perfect in every way, Satyavan is destined to die one year from that day. In response to her father’s pleas to choose a more suitable husband, Savitri insists that she will choose her husband but once. After Narada announces his agreement with Savitri, Ashwapati acquiesces.
Savitri and Satyavan are married, and she goes to live in the forest. Immediately after the marriage, Savitri wears the clothing of a hermit and lives in perfect obedience and respect to her new parents-in-law and husband.
Three days before the foreseen death of Satyavan, Savitri takes a vow of fasting and vigil. Her father-in-law tells her she has taken on too harsh a regimen, but Savitri replies that she has taken an oath to perform these austerities, at which Dyumatsena offers his support.
The morning of Satyavan’s predicted death, Savitri asks for her father-in-law’s permission to accompany her husband into the forest. Since she has never asked for anything during the entire year she has spent at the hermitage, Dyumatsena grants her wish.
They go and while Satyavan is splitting wood, he suddenly becomes weak and lays his head in Savitri’s lap. Yama himself, the god of Death, comes to claim the soul of Satyavan. Savitri follows Yama as he carries the soul away. When he tries to convince her to turn back, she offers successive formulas of wisdom. First she praises obedience to Dharma, then friendship with the strict, then Yama himself for his just rule, then Yama as King of Dharma, and finally noble conduct with no expectation of return. Impressed at each speech, Yama praises both the content and style of her words and offers any boon, except the life of Satyavan. She first asks for eyesight and restoration of the kingdom for her father-in-law, then a hundred sons for her father, and then a hundred sons for herself and Satyavan. The last wish creates a dilemma for Yama, as it would indirectly grant the life of Satyavan. However, impressed by Savitri's dedication and purity, he offers one more time for her to choose any boon, but this time omitting "except for the life of Satyavan". Savitri instantly asks for Satyavan to return to life. Yama grants life to Satyavan and blesses Savitri's life with eternal happiness.
Satyavan awakens as though he has been in a deep sleep and returns to his parents along with his wife. Meanwhile at their home, Dyumatsena regains his eyesight before Savitri and Satyavan return. Since Satyavan still does not know what happened, Savitri relays the story to her parents-in-law, husband, and the gathered ascetics. As they praise her, Dyumatsena’s ministers arrive with news of the death of his usurper. Joyfully, the king and his entourage return to his kingdom.
In India, many woman are named "Savithri". There are many films made in South India with the story. In Telugu language films are made from the beginning of Talkies in 1933, 1957, 1977 and 1981.
In Odisha, married woman observe Savitri Brata on the Amavasya day in the month of Jyestha every year. This is performed for the well-being and long life of their husbands. A treatise named Savirti Brata Katha in Oriya language is read out by women while performing the puja.
It is believed that Savithri got her husband back on the first day of Tamil month "Panguni". So, this day is celebrated as "Karadayan Nonbu" in Tamil Nadu. On this day, married women and young girls wear yellow robes and pray to Hindu goddesses for long lives for their husbands. Girls start this practice very young; they wear a yellow robe on this day from the time they are just one year old so they will find a good husband in the future.
- Head, Raymond, "Holst and India (III)" (September 1988). Tempo (New Ser.), 166: pp. 35–40
- The Mahabharata vol. 2, tr. J.A.B. van Buitenen (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975)
- The Savitri Brata Katha in Oriya