How purity can even win death
This beautiful story shows how purity of heart allows us to win all fears and even, as in this case, to face and win the illusion of death.
I want to remind you that in Indian tradition, it is common to believe in “reincarnation“, i.e. the soul, after death of the body, comes back to earth in another body. In other words, we can say that our existence spans over many lives and not only one.
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 narrative in the Mahabharata told by the saint Markandeya. When the king Yudhisthira asks Markandeya whether there has ever been a woman whose devotion matched Draupadi’s (Yudhisthira’s wife) Markandeya replies by relating this story:
As the King of Madra, Ashwapati, could not have children, held an ascetic life for a few years, offering oblations to the god of the Sun, Savitr. Pleased by this true devotion, Savitr finally decided to grant a boon to the king: “Very soon you will have a wonderful daughter”. Ashwapati rejoiced at the news and as the daughter was born, named her Savitri in honour of the merciful god.
Savitri was wonderfully growing and acquiring mastery in many arts, she was very lovely and wise. She was deeply devoted to her parents and could have never imagined to leave them one day.
But, alas, the day came that she was on age for marriage and she had to resign and leave her beloved family. Only she asked for a favour: the chance to choose her husband by herself.
Her father granted her this favour as he knew she was very wise and virtuous and could not fail in making the right choice.
So, Savitri left for her pilgrimage with an entourage of faithful servants and councillors. They went across many of the neighbouring reigns and met many young noble men, but none of them looked satisfying the young princess.
Until a day, heading towards a close kingdom, along the way she catched a glimpse of a young and poor hermit. Immediately she felt her heart shivering of joy and nothing else could fulfill her mind any more but the memory of that young man. Savitri ardently desired to meet him again coming back from the mission. And so happened.
Again, on the way back, the young man appeared at her sight and at this point the young princess could not keep herself from exulting and declaring that he was the man she wanted to marry.
You can easily imagine the surprise of everyone, included her father!
She was a princess and excluded without hesitation every noble man to marry a young, poor guy!
So innocent and pure was the girl that she could only be attracted by an equally pure and innocent soul.
Actually, the young man was Satyavan, the son of an exiled king, Dyumatsena, who had completely lost his sight and because of that his kingdom, at the hands of one of his brothers who sent the poor man in exile.
His son, Satyavan, was noble and pure at heart and was spending his days lovely caring his parents.
Just in those days, the sage Narada turned up in the court of Madra (mind: sages always arrive at the right moment!) and predicted that worse choice could have not been done, because that the young Satyavan was destined to die just one year after that day.
In spite of this dreadful omen, there was no way to discourage the brave Savitri and wedding was quickly tied.
So, Savitri let behind her the sweet memories and the luxury of the court to live in poverty in the forest with her adored husband, devoutly taking care of the parents-in-law just like they were her own parents.
As time was passing, even if blissfully enjoying every moment with Satyavan, the dreaded day was getting closer and three days before it, Savitri decided to fast for keeping herself alert and ready to the event.
As the fatal day arrived, Savitri asked her father-in-law to be allowed to follow her husband in the forest and, as she never asked anything so far, Dyumatsena acquiesced.
Savitri and Satyavan advanced in the forest and as they went forward step by step, a feeling of anxiety was spreading in her heart. At a certain point, while splitting wood, Satyavan put his hand on his chest and fell down on the floor lifeless.
Not time for regret and sorrow, Yama, the god of death, was there ready ot take the soul of the man and no plea of Savitri was capable to move the god and stop him from his duty.
Yama took Savitri’s soul and moved forward on his way, without realizing immediately that Savitri was following him. As he realized that he tried to convince her to turn back, but she replied offering successive formulas of wisdom. First she praised 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 praised both the content and style of her words and offered any boon, except the life of Satyavan.
So she started asking first 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 her and Satyavan. The last wish created a dilemma for Yama, as it would indirectly have granted the life of Satyavan. However, impressed by Savitri’s dedication and purity, he offered one more chance for her to choose any boon, but this time omitting “except for the life of Satyavan”. So Savitri instantly asked for Satyavan to return to life.
And finally Yama granted life to Satyavan and blessed Savitri’s life with eternal happiness.
As she returned to her husband, he got up like awaking from a sleep and had no memory of the happenings.
In the meanwhile, Dyumatsena got back his eyesight and, as a minister came and announced the death of the usurper, he could return back to his reign with his family and they all lived long in joy and prosperity.