Savitri's devotion towards her husband Satyavan brings to light the deeper yogic meaning behind the story that now seems to have been lost.
Just like an infection that spreads throughout one’s body, critical ideologies are engulfing us in our present time. Parasites use healthy entities for nourishment but at the cost of the latter. Similarly, we have succumbed to such parasitic ideas. Many well-intentioned ones want to give legitimacy to organic ideas of Bharatiya civilization in an exclusive and determinist climate of academia, media and politics. But the road to hell is often paved with good intentions.
We see the only way of legitimization our conception of deities, rituals and practices are through various western ideologies. Rishi Veda-Vyasa is nowadays referred to as a subaltern. Other such examples include ascribing feminist status to great characters of our heritage. Feminism as an ideology is a mutant strain of cultural Marxism as it deterministically constructs a division in the history of all societies, perpetually, into two blocks of oppressed and the oppressor.
C.A. bond in his book ‘Nemesis’ explains the origin of feminism during the 1960s and 1970s by the efforts of the CIA(Central Intelligence Agency) and various western foundations. The money that flowed determined which culture flourishes, amidst power struggles, in third world countries. When we as an interdependent collective fall to this power hegemony, masquerading as lofty ideologies, disenfranchisement from our cultural realm is a certainty.
The Divine story of Savitri might have fallen to this conspiracy. Let us first understand the profoundness of Savitri.
This is a popular story from the Mahabharata. In a poetic form, it is narrated in Savitri Brata Katha which is sung, today, by married women in traditional Indian homes. The story as per ‘Savitri Brata Katha’ in Odia goes like this. Once King Yudhisthira enquires Bhagavan Krishna about which ritual would entail happiness for married women? Krishna suggests the Savitri Brata or ritual. To explain this He starts narrating the story of Savitri and Satyavan.
Many years ago, in the territory of Madra lived a king named Aswapati and her wife Kaushalya. They were a childless couple. The saints advised them to do Savitri yajna for bearing a child. The king carried on the yajna for 18 long years. On the last offering on the last day of the yajna, Devi Savitri arose from the fire altar and blessed king Aswapati and his wife. Soon the queen gave birth to a baby girl who was named Savitri.
Savitri grew as a beautiful and charming lady. Soon she reached marriageable age. The king arranged ‘swayamvara’ for his daughter. But alas, no prince or king could match the aura of Savitri and left the event feeling ashamed. Mandavya Rishi then prophesied that Savitri would find her partner. For this, an arrangement was made for her journey to find one. She crossed many rivers and mountains and finally reached a small hut in an ashram. She saw a spirited young man and fell in love with him.
She at once asked the charioteer to return to her father. After returning she found Narada Muni at the palace. Narada Muni heard the entire episode from Savitri and became bewildered. He proclaimed Savitri has found her ill-fate instead of a partner. He asked her to wipe out the love for the young man from her mind to avoid the ill fate. The king begged Narada to state things clearly.
Narada explained that a king named Dyumatasena ruled over the Salya kingdom. He lost his eyes and was removed from his kingdom. Since then, Dyumatasena along with his wife and son lived in a hut. Savitri has fallen in love with prince Satyavan, the only son of Dyumatasena. Even though Satyavan is a gentleman but he would meet his death in a year’s time. So Savitri would be widowed if she marries him. Aswapati, on hearing this, begged her daughter to choose anyone else.
But Savitri was unmoved. She had already accepted Satyavan as her husband. Hence it was impossible for her to have the emotions of love towards anyone else. She would not lose her satitva even if widowhood is destined after a year. At once, she ordered for the commencement of the wedding ceremony. She married Satyavan and went to his hut in the forest. The newly married lived their life to the fullest for a year.
Four days before the inauspicious Amavashya night Savitri started meditating, kept a fast, worshipped the Lakshmi-Narayana deity, offered cooked food to Brahmins and gave alms to the poor. On a fateful day, she insisted on accompanying Satyavan to fetch fuel wood from the forest. Satyavan finally took her along into the dreaded forest after initial hesitation. Satyavan climbed a tree and started fetching wood. Soon he climbed down and complained of dizziness. Savitri took him in her lap and the prophecy came true.
Satyavan lay dead on Savitri’s lap in the dark dense forest. Her cry thundered in the forest. Soon a dark shadow came closer. Savitri looked up and it was the lord of death, i.e. Yamaraja. His subordinates usually carried the dead’s soul but they feared coming near the Sati Savitri. So he had come and asked Savitri to release Satyavan’s Atma. She said no as she couldn’t live without Satyavan. Yamaraja gave the age-old knowledge- anyone who is born is bound to die and asked to release his soul.
Yamaraja finally took Satyavan’s Atma and left. Yet Savitri kept following him. So the Yamaraja had to grant multiple boons due to her audacity and dissuade her from following. She asked for the eyes and lost kingdom of her father-in-law Dyumatasena and hundred sons for his father Aswapati. Finally, she asked for a hundred sons for Satyavan and herself. As soon as she tricked Yama to grant this boon, she asked him to release Satyavan as without him it would not be possible for both to have a hundred sons.
The Yamaraja conceded defeat to the Sati and released Satyavan’s Atma. He arose from the lap of Savitri as if he had slept for a long time. Satyavan, not knowing of all that transpired in between, led Savitri out of the forest. They were welcomed with the riches of their people. Dyumatsena also had got back his eyesight. Everyone came to know about the victory over Yamaraja and sang the glory of Savitri, since then.
The hidden truths
Sri Aurobindo’s magnum opus titled ‘Savitri- a Legend and a Symbol’ brings out the hidden truths behind this story. It’s not possible to go to such depths here but let’s try to understand a few things.
So the story starts with Savitri Yajna by Aswapati. Savitri is the Goddess of the Supreme Truth. The Yajna symbolizes the spiritual effort by Aswapati to raise his human consciousness. He experiences every plane of consciousness from the lowest to the highest during the Yajna. The ascent of his consciousness is through the complete surrender of his identity to the Divine Mother, Savitri. In Sri Aurobindo’s words- “Aswapati, the Lord of the Horse, her human father, is the Lord of Tapasya, the concentrated energy of spiritual endeavour that helps us to rise from the mortal to the immortal planes”.
The spiritual endeavour results in the descent of Goddess Savitri from the Supra-mental world to our world. She blesses at the end of Yajna, rising from the fire altar and embodies herself in this world for the welfare of mankind. We see that she reflects a Divine aura from childhood. Many prince and kings fail in the Swayamvara. This means every self is not ready to accept the Divine grace, even if it is offered to them.
The very first yoga sutra of Patanjali says ‘ATHA YOGĀ’ANUŚĀSANAM’. This literally means now the teaching or communication of yoga begins. But this ‘now’ may not be the same for everybody. It takes place when a person has the right spirit of enquiry, right time and right place. Thus the many princes and kings were found adequately lacking for the union with the Divine.
But the Divine Grace of Savitri will find thee Satyavan. The Rishi knows this. The Supreme Power will cross any obstacle for the seeker, just like Savitri crosses many mountains, forests and rivers to find Satyavan. Why Satyavan? Sri Aurobindo says
Satyavan is the soul carrying the divine truth of being within itself but descended into the grip of death and ignorance”.
This can be understood by the Mahaavaakya ‘tat tvam asi’, which literally translates to ‘You are That’. Every being is Divine yet a veil of ignorance separates one from the Divine. Hence, every being is Satyavan, whose restricted identity is the cause of separation from the Supreme Truth. This separation causes longing for the union. The union of Savitri and Satyavan is yoga. Narada Muni by explaining the past and the future, states the apparent nature of the ephemeral world. But Savitri is beyond this apparent nature of reality, where entities exist as well as doesn’t exist.
We also see the Divine in her ‘Embodied Self’ setting a living example for the world to follow. She upholds the utmost virtue of conjugal love. Actions stem from thoughts. Once she accepts Satyavan in her thoughts there is no turning back, even at the fear of death. But her love is not merely born out of the conjugal union. It is the Divine Rasa between the deity and his devotee. The Embodied Divine has to even do austerities. Savitri does that amidst the trials and tribulations of a familial life to attain the Supreme Consciousness. The Supreme consciousness is the knower and the known, the seer and the scene and that shines in the entire cosmos.
She stays firm, strong and unperturbed at the time of calamity. This is the nature of one who has attained the Supreme Consciousness. Satyavan dies in the lap of Savitri, who is the Shakti or the life force. There is bound to be victory over death in the lap of the Supreme Power. The Yamaraja or the Lord of Death is the symbol of the ephemeral world. Here the karmic cycles swing one like a pendulum from pleasures to pain. He is the Lord who maintains the balance of this apparent world, the world of births and deaths in every moment.
His subordinates are the emotions of greed, lust, hunger etc. They have no capacity to go near the Sati Savitri. Even the Lord of Death asks for Satyavan’s Atma from her lap. Here too, the embodied Shakti follows the law of the Prakriti. She didn’t just win over the death or veil of ignorance with a magic wand.
She employs the technique of ‘vasikara’ of cravings. One can use this technique of ‘turning upon itself’ the overpowering cravings of our minds. In this yogic technique, a spiritual practitioner is continuously self-aware of the thoughts or desires in our mind. Desires are the germs of all ignorance or separation. When one is intensely self-aware of the many desires arising in the mind, he finds the source of such ignorance. Thus he is truly an enlightened being or a conqueror. This is the method of turning the ignorance or desires upon themselves.
Savitri teaches us this yogic victory over death as she tricks and tames death through continuous self-awareness. So she follows the Yamaraja or the desire to its root. Satyavan, who represents us, is able to attain the Divine Shakti by complete surrender to her. His resting in the lap of Savitri is symbolic of that total surrender of the ego principle to her- ĪŚVARA PRANIDHĀNĀDVĀ. He is able to achieve victory over death.
When one finishes the story of Savitri, it seems like Krishna is describing himself and his acts through Savitri. Indeed, Krishna is also the Embodiment of the Divine.
Savitri brings happiness to the world. Her way is not that of escapism. Her rituals are observed every year on this day. Sri Aurobindo says-
still this is not a mere allegory, the characters are not personified qualities, but incarnations or emanations of living and conscious Forces with whom we can enter into concrete touch and they take human bodies in order to help man and show him the way from his mortal state to a divine consciousness and immortal life.”
The story of the supreme penance and devotion of Savitri for Satyavan has been turned by feminists in the modern era into the story of a woman rebelling against her father to marry the person of her choosing. While supposedly destabilizing patriarchy and being overly assertive are what feminists seem to take away from this story, the deeper philosophical meaning as stated above is very much lost.
 The story, except for minor differences, is almost similar in various other versions as well.
 Not to be confused with Sri Rama’s mother Kaushalya.
1. Savitri – a Legend and a Symbol by Sri Aurobindo. Volumes 33 and 34- The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust. Pondicherry
2. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali with commentary by Swami Venkatesananda. Motilal Banrasidass Publishers Pvt Ltd. Delhi
3. Odia Savitri Brata Katha
4. Nemesis: The Jouvelian vs the Liberal Model of Human Orders by C.A. Bond. Perth Imperium Press.
5. Lectures by Dr. Alok Pandey on Auro Maa Youtube channel.