Vatasavitri is a vowed religious observance performed by married women on the full moon day (pournima) of the Hindu lunar month of Jyeshtha, to prolong their wifehood. Deity Brahma along with Savitri (another name of Sarasvati) is the main Deity, while Satyavan, Savitri, Narada and Yama are the subordinate Deities in this vowed religious observance. Among the famous, chaste women (pativratas) in India, Savitri is considered the ideal. She is also considered the symbol of eternal wifehood.
The story of Sati Savitri has been mentioned in the Mahabharat. While the Pandavas were in exile, Jayadratha abducted Draupadi. After the Pandavs freed her and returned, they were all sitting with some sages. At that time, Sage Markandeya narrated story of Savitri. The importance of Savitri can be understood now as her story was told to Draupadi, who is included among the five great women of virtue of India.
Once, Devarshi Narad came to King Ashwapati’s court. He was felicitated by the king and they started conversing. Soon after that, the king’s daughter Savitri came in. She greeted her father and Sage Narad. On seeing her Sage Narad asked as to why she was still unmarried? To this the king answered that Savitri had been sent to find and chose her own husband. During this there had been an incident. On being asked Savitri narrated the story. She said, “Once there was a famous and righteous king named Dyumatsen in Shalvadesh (the name of his kingdom), who became blind. When that happened, his son was still quite young. Thus, a neighbouring king attacked and took over his kingdom. The king, along with his queen and son went to the forest and started leading an ascetic life.
His son is a handsome and kind young man now. I feel that he is ideal and so I have mentally accepted him as my husband.” Upon hearing Satyawan’s qualities Narad commented, “He has been named ‘Satyawan’ as he is the son of righteous and truthful parents. However, there is sorrowful news. One year from today, Satyawan will die.” Savitri remained undisturbed. Noticing this, Narad said, “O king, your daughter Savitri has a lot of resolve. No one can distract her from her decision. Since no one else has the same qualities, I think that you should marry your daughter to Satyawan only.” Thus, the wedding ceremony of Satyawan and Savitri took place. Savitri, emulating her in-laws, stopped wearing her expensive clothes and ornaments. Everyone was impressed by her qualities of humility, service, patience and politeness. She made her husband happy by serving her in-laws. All was well for a while.
Satyawan’s soul discards the body
Savitri had not forgetten Narad’s words. One day she realised that only 4 days were now remaining till the day that Satyawan was fated to die. For the next three days and nights she underwent a vowed religious observance by sitting still the whole day. On the fourth morning, she gave offerings to Agnidevata (Deity of fire). That day when Satyawan went to the forest to fetch firewood and fruits, Savitri accompanied him. While in the forest, Satyawan told her that he was feeling tired and wanted to rest. Savitri sat down next to him and took his head on her lap. Soon she saw a man nearby. He was wearing red clothes, had a crown on his head and had red eyes. He also had a noose in hands. He looked terrifying. She noticed that he was looking at Satyawan. Savitri stood up. Her heart was throbbing. With great sorrow she joined her hands, bowed and said, “You look like a Deity. If you wish, kindly tell me who you are and what you expect to do?” The deity said, “Savitri since you are virtuous, I will speak to you. I am Yama (God of death). Satyawan’s lifespan has ended and since he too was righteous, I myself have come to take his soul.” Saying that, Yama took a thumb-sized man from Satyawan’s body, tied it to his noose and started headed south. Savitri, overwhelmed with sorrow, followed him.
First blessing from Yama
After some distance Yamraj said, “Savitri you must return. Carry out the post-death rites Satyawan. Now you are freed from your husband’s service.” Savitri said, “I should stay with my husband wherever he is. This is the only Sanatan Dharma. No one can stop me due to my worship, devotion towards Guru, love, righteousness and your grace.’ Yama was pleased by her determination and said, “I shall grant you a wish. Ask for anything, except your husband’s life.” At that time, she asked for vision, strength and radiance for her father-in-law. Yamraj granted her the wish and asked her to go back, again. Instead of thinking of herself she had asked for her father-in-law. What a great sacrifice!
Second blessing from Yama
Savitri continued to follow Yamraj and remained firm in her wish to be with her husband. On being asked to go back yet again, she said, “The company of a holy person is beneficial even for a moment and it is even greater to be his friend. It is never unworthy.”
On hearing her auspicious thoughts Yamraj granted her another wish. Again, it was to be anything except her husband’s life. Savitri wished that the lost kingdom of her father-in-law be restored to him and for him to not give up his righteous ways. Yamraj granted this wish also by saying tathaastu (let it happen) and requested Savitri to return. With this wish, Savitri’s loyalty towards righteousness became apparent.
Third blessing from Yama
As they went forward, she said to Yamraj, “You are known as ‘Yama’ because you maintain the equilibrium of all living beings regularly and also grant them their wishes. The Sanatan Dharma of a holy person is to treat all living beings with love through mind, speech and deeds as well as grace them and grant their wishes. Every living being tries to behave lovingly with others according to their capacity however holy men bestow love upon their enemies too.” Yamraj appreciated her words and granted her a third wish. Savitri asked for 100 children for her father because she had realised that her father would not have anyone else to take care of him after she was gone, and she had made a firm resolution to go with Satyawan. A daughter is said to be Duhita as she is a well-wisher of both her parents as well as her in-laws. What an ideal way Savitri found, to carry out her duties to both!
Fourth blessing from Yama
On going further Savitri said, “Due to the company of my husband, I do not feel this distance to be much. My mind runs ahead of me, so please listen to what I say. You are the brave son of Vivaswan (Sun) and hence you’re also called ‘Vaivaswat.’ You are also known as ‘Dharmaraj’ (follower of righteousness) as you give equal justice to friend as well as enemy.” Impressed by these words, Yamraj granted her a fourth wish. This time Savitri asked for a 100 courageous children to amplify her family. Yamraj was pleased to grant this wish and asked her to return as she had come very far. This was the first time she had asked for something for herself.
Yama releases Satyawan’s soul
Savitri continued to follow Yamadharma. She said, “The attitude of Holy men is always righteous. They are never sad or depressed. With the strength of truthfulness and the radiance of worship they can face even the Sun and the Earth. Realising the fact that this eternal righteous conduct is adopted by holy persons, they do their deeds without expecting the outcome.” Hearing this righteous quote, Yamraj agreed to grant her a fifth wish. This time Savitri concluded, “O Dharmaraj, you have already granted my wish to have a 100 children. But this wish cannot be accomplished in the absence of my husband, hence I desire that my husband be granted his life. I do not desire any happiness other than my husband. I don’t even wish heaven. Not only this but I do not even want to be alive without my husband. You have blessed me with many children yet you are taking my husband away. Grant me this wish so that your blessings come true.”
On hearing this, Yamraj was very pleased and said, “Tathaastu.” He released Satyawan’s noose and said, “O noble lady, I have released your husband. From now on he will always be healthy. All his desires will be fulfilled. He will live with you for 400 years. He will follow righteousness and become famous. You will have 100 children with him.” As Yamaraj started leaving, Savitri bowed and offered gratitude to him for his grace. Savitri then returned to Satyawan’s body and put his head on her lap again. Slowly, life spread throughout his body and he woke up. This is how Savitri got her husband back from the dead with her righteous speech.