Mahābhārata – Episode 42 – The Story of Sāvitrī (Part 2)

This article is part 42 of 44 in the series Mahābhārata

The couple gathered fruits and put them together in a bundle. As Satyavān was working on the logs, his body began sweating all over. He had a tremendous headache. He immediately stopped his work, went to Sāvitrī, and said, “Sāvitrī! My limbs, head, and the entire body is aching. There is some pain in my chest too. I feels like a spear has pierced my head. I don’t seem to be keeping well. I'm not able to stand on my feet and feel like lying down.” Sāvitrī rested his head on her lap and let him spread out on the ground. She recalled Nārada’s words. In a fraction of a second, she saw someone standing by the side of Satyavān. He appeared like the dazzling sun and was of an attractive build. He wore a crown and carried a noose in his hand. His body was dark, eyes red and his entire appearance was scary. As soon as Sāvitrī saw him, she got up, after softly placing her husband’s head on the ground. Her heart was beating fast. She said with folded hands – "Svāmī! You must be a Devatā! You don’t seem to be a human. Who are you? Tell me why you are here!" He said "Sāvitrī! You are a pativratā and a tapasvinī. I will thus tell you the truth. I am Yama. The lifespan of your husband is nearing its end. I have come here to take him away with him. I will bind him with my noose and pull him away from you. He is of dhārmic conduct, is good looking, and possesses great virtues. I came here myself; I felt that it would not be fair to ask my subordinates to come here to bring him." With these words, he pulled out the thumb-sized ‘life’ out of Satyavān’s body using his noose. He tied him up and started hearding towards the South. Sāvitrī, overcome with tremendous grief followed him. Sāvitrī was a pious lady, a pativratā, and of great qualities. She was able to follow him only because of these virtues she possessed. Looking at her, Yama said, “Turn back and return to your place. You will need to perform appropriate rites for the departed being. You have followed your husband everywhere possible and you have traversed the maximum distance behind him. You have are now free of your debt to him!”

Sāvitrī – I would like to go wherever my husband goes, rather, follow him to all the places he is taken to. That is my dharma too. My unrelenting performance of my duties, the blessings of my elders, my husband’s affection for me, and your blessing – all these come together to my aid and will remove any obstacles from my path. Moreover, a person who walks the seven steps with another will become a friend for life, they say. As you are now my friend by this logic, I will tell you a couple of words. Listen to me! A person meditates and performs tapas in the forest for self-realisation. What comes out of that realization is the understanding of dharma and its practise; that is why the learned hail dharma as the supreme. According to them, dharma alone has helped them achieve great heights. Thus, I do not have any inkling towards anything other than dharma.

Yama – Sāvitrī! I am happy listening to your words. Every letter you have spoken and the way you have explained yourself are exceedingly beautiful. I shall give you anything that you want except for his life. Please ask for a boon!

Sāvitrī – In that case, let my father-in-law, who has lost his kingdom and his eyes get back his sight and physical strength.

Yama – So be it! It seems like you are tired having walked this far. Please go back.

Sāvitrī – When I am by my husband, there is no space for tiredness to engulf me! I will need to be at the place my husband is. I will come to the place where you are heading with my husband. Kindly hear my words. Once you fall into the company of the good, it is said that they will turn out to be your friends. Moreover, good company will never go fruitless; thus, one must always be in the company of the virtuous.

Yama – Your words are pleasing to my mind and kindles my thoughts. You may ask for yet another boon except for the life of your husband.

Sāvitrī – I would like my father-in-law to get back the kingdom he has lost and lead a dhārmic life.

Yama – So be it! Leave now. You are tired already.

Sāvitrī – Deva! You have bound all living beings by your rule. You follow the rule that you have put forth and not through your own whims and fancies. That is why you have got the name ‘Yama’. I would like to add something more to this. Pray, hear me out; one must not cheat the other either in thought, words, or in action. We must always serve the other and help the needy. This is sanātana-dharma. The world exists and survives only because of the adherence to these principles. Man is weak by nature. A virtuous person is compassionate about the people who take refuge in him.

Yama – O pious one! Your words are like water that quench the thirst of the needy. You may ask me for one more boon, except for the life of Satyavān.

Sāvitrī – My father does not have male progeny; may he have a hundred sons and may his family and lineage flourish!

Yama – So be it! You father will beget a hundred children who will uphold his values and continue his lineage. Your wishes are now fulfilled. Turn back! You have come too far already!

Sāvitrī – No distance is long when I am beside my husband. My mind is running much more farther ahead than this. As you walk, continue paying attention to what I say.  You are the son of Vivasvān and are called Vaivasvata. Because you look after the peace and well-being of people, you are also dharma-rāja. A person does not have as much faith in himself as he has in a virtuous person. It is for this reason that everyone looks forward to the company of the good. Faith in another person grows only through intimate and intense friendship. People tend to develop faith in the good natured ones.

Yama – O mother! I had never heard such soothing words from anyone else before. This has gladdened my heart; you may ask me for one more boon except for his life. You have to turn back at any cost thereafter.

Sāvitrī – May I beget a hundred sons who are of noble character and who will help safeguard my family values. I would like to have the sons through Satyavān.

Yama – So be it! You must be really tired now. Go back!

Sāvitrī – The good always tread the path of dharma. They never look back or repent for their actions. The company of the good always bears great fruits. The virtuous ones are the cause for the Sun to shine; they uphold the earth through their intense penance. Whatever happened in the past and whatever is coming up in the future is all because of the good deed of those noble souls.  There is nothing wanting in the company of such people. They help the needy without expecting anything in return. This is the path that the great men, Āryas always followed. The grace of the pious never fails. Their grace will make sure that there is no loss of material or spiritual wealth. It is for this reason that the virtuous ones are considered to be the foundation for the world.

Yama – O mother! You have spoken words that are filled with dharma and are pleasing to the mind. I seemed to have developed devotion in you after having heard you this far. Thus, I would like to grant you one last boon. Please ask without any hesitation.

Sāvitrī – The boons that you have already granted me should come to me through righteous means. I, thus, request you to bring Satyavān back to life. Without him, I am as good as dead. I would not like to have any pleasures being separated from my husband. I don’t desire to go to the heaven that is devoid of my husband. I do not wish to live without my husband! You have granted me the boon of begetting a hundred children through Satyavān. Still, you seem to be taking my husband away from me. Please bring him back to life! This is the ultimate boon I ask for. Only by this will your words become true.

Listening to these words, Yama said “So be it”. With that, he let go of the noose and said “O revered lady, look here, I am releasing your husband. He will be healthy hereafter. You may take him with you. He will live with you for hundreds of years. He will perform great austerities and will gain great fame around the world. You will beget a hundred children through him. Those sons and their lineage will be named after you and will be known as ‘Sāvitras’. Your mother Mālavī will also give birth to a hundred children through your father. Their lineage will be known as the ‘Mālavas’!” With this, he sent Sāvitrī back and headed towards his abode.

To be continued…

This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Vacanabhārata by Arjun Bharadwaj and Hari Ravikumar published in a serialized form. Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh for his review and astute feedback.

Author(s)

About:

Prof. A R Krishna Sastri was a journalist, scholar, polyglot, and a pioneer of the modern Kannada renaissance, who founded the literary journal Prabuddha Karnāṭaka. His Vacana-bhārata and Kathāmṛta are classics of Kannada literature while his Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka and Bankimacandra are of unrivalled scholarship.

Translator(s)

About:

Arjun is a poet, translator, engineer, and musician. He is a polyglot, well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi, English, Greek, and German. He is currently serves as Assistant Professor at Amrita Darshanam - International Centre for Spiritual Studies at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Bangalore. He research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature.

About:

Hari is an author, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Hindu scriptures, Carnatic music, education pedagogy design, and literature. He has worked on books like The New Bhagavad-Gita, Your Dharma and Mine, Srishti, and Foggy Fool's Farrago.