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Savitri and Satyavan

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Title: Savitri and Satyavan  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Salwa Kingdom, Savitri Brata, Savitri, Savitri (opera), Bartaman Bharat
Collection: Characters in the Mahabharata, Indian Folklore, Mahabharata, People in Hindu Mythology
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Savitri and Satyavan

Satyavan Savitri

The oldest known version of the story of Savitri and Satyavan is found in Vana Parva ("The Book of the Forest") of the Mahabharata.

The story occurs as multiple embedded narratives in the Mahabharata as told by sage Markandeya. When Yudhisthira asks Markandeya whether there has ever been a woman whose devotion matched Draupadi’s, Markandeya replies by relating this story.[1]


  • Story 1
  • In popular culture 2
  • References 3
  • Further reading 4


Savitri begs Yama for Satyavan's life.

The childless king of Madra Kingdom, 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.[1] 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 of Salwa Kingdom, who, after he 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, to 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.[2][3]

In popular culture

Yama and Savitri, by Nandalal Bose, 1913

In Odisha, married women observe Savitri Brata on the Amavasya (new moon) 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 the Odia language is read out by women while performing the puja. In Western India, the holy day is observed on the Purnima (full moon) of the month as Vat Purnima.

It is believed that Savitri got her husband back on the first day of the 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.

In 1950 and 1951, Sri Aurobindo published his epic poem in blank verse titled Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol.[4]

In England, Gustav Holst composed a chamber opera in one act in 1916, his Opus 25, named Savitri based on this story.[5]

There were about thirty-four versions of the Savitri Satyavan films made. One of the earliest was the silent film, J. J. Madan produced by Madan Theatres Ltd. and Cines.[7] Savitri (1933) was the first film produced by East India Film Company. Directed by C. Pullaiah, it received an Honorary Certificate at the Venice Film Festival.[8] In India, many women are named "Savitri". Many films made in South India center on this story. In the Telugu language film versions of this story have been made since the beginning of talkies, in 1933, 1957, 1977 and 1981. Sati Savitri (1932) was the second talkie Gujarati film.

The Husband-Wife New Age Group 2002 released an Album inspired by the story of Savitri and Satyavan in 1995.


  1. ^ a b "XVIII: Vana Parva: Wife's Devotion and Satyavana". Vyasa's Mahabharatam. Academic Publishers. 2008. pp. 329–336.  
  2. ^ Savitri
  3. ^ Shanta Rameshwar Rao (1 January 1986). In Worship of Shiva. Orient Longman. pp. 29–.  
  4. ^ Mangesh V. Nadkarni. Savitri – The Golden Bridge, the Wonderful Fire: An introduction to Sri Aurobindo's epic. Auro e-Books. pp. 25–.  
  5. ^ Head, Raymond, "Holst and India (III)" (September 1988). Tempo (New Ser.), 166: pp. 35–40
  6. ^ "Savitri Films List". Alan Goble. Retrieved 18 April 2015. 
  7. ^ "Savitri 1923". Alan Goble. Retrieved 18 April 2015. 
  8. ^ Ponram P (1 December 2014). Life in India: Culture. Ponram P. pp. 153–. GGKEY:43NZKK4BRBF. Retrieved 18 April 2015. 

Further reading

  • The Mahabharata vol. 2, tr. J.A.B. van Buitenen (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975)
  • The Savitri Brata Katha in Oriya
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