Savitri and Satyavan

Regan O'Callaghan Savitri spine, pastel, gold leaf on paper, satyavan"The childless king of Madra, Ashwapati, 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 of 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 aksed for anything during the entire year she has spent at the hermitage, Dyumaysena grants her wish.Regan O'Callaghan Satyavan's visit, oil painting, koru, altar piece

They go and while Satyavan is splitting wood, he suddenly becomes weak and lays his head in Savitri's lap. Yama himself, the 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.

Dancing with Death

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."

The story of Savitri and Satyavan is found in "The Book of the Forest" of the Mahabharata. Article from Wikipedia 2010.

Titles of art workSavitri's SpineSatyavan's VisitDancing with Death