The story of Savitri or An Indian “love” story

There was once a great king who was without issue. The spent a long time in prayer and austerities to the sun (Savitr – Lord of Creation) and was finally granted a daughter, she was Savitri. She was so remarkable that she intimidated most young men. When the time came for her to marry, her father was surprised to find that no one sought her hand despite her great qualities and striking beauty. He granted Savitri to choose her own husband and she left on pilgrimage to do just that. On her travels she met a young prince named Satyavan who lived in the forest and chose him. She returned to her father’s kingdom only to learn from the sage Narada that Satyavan was destined to die exactly one year from the day he marries. He father tried to dissuade her but Savitri replied that she would only choose once. She married Satyavan and lived for one year in the forest.

Satyavan and SavitriA few days prior to the one year anniversary, Savitri began rigorous fasting and prayer. On the morning of the anniversary, she asked her father-in-law’s permission to accompany Satyavan into the forest. Though surprised, he consented because she had never asked for anything in the year that she had lived with them. In the forest, while splitting wood, Satyavan felt very tired and weak. He laid his head on Savitri’s lap and there expired. Soon Yama, the Lord of Death, appeared on the scene to collect the body of the deceased. She converses with Yama who tells her that she cannot come as she is still living. She politely replies that she goes where her husband goes! Yama takes up the body and begins his arduous trek to the underworld. The determined Savitri follows them for days over hard terrain with little food, water or rest. Yama, seeing the girl following, tries several times to dissuade her from her project and send her back. He explains that it was simply not possible to go with them. She again converses with Yama and he, very impressed with her wisdom, determination and efforts grants her a boon. His only condition is that she cannot ask for her husband back. SAVITRIShe thinks for a moment and then asks for one hundred sons. Yama immediately grants her wish and with a grim, she asks him how she can have one hundred sons without a husband. Caught by his boon, Yama relinquishes Satyavan, who wakes up like after a deep sleep.

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Savitri is one of the most famous female names in India and her story is equally famous. It is found in the abundant wealth of the epic Mahabharata. I have heard it said that love is universal but romantic love is a Western concept. This is a tale more about fidelity and dedication than romance.  There are numerous heroes and mahatmas who, through their efforts, were able to decide when or how they would die. But they still had to die; this is the law of the universe, he who is born must die. The clever Savitri is the only person in Indian lore (that I know of) that cheated Death of his prize.

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