Savitri and Satyavan: The legend of the princess who outwitted Death - Iseult Gillespie
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Savitri and Satyavan appear in the eighteenth parva, or book, of the Mahabharata, which is called the Vana Parva (“Book of the Forest”. It contains tales of self-discovery and adventure that occur in the forest. For a full text version of the Vana Parva, visit this site.
The tale has been reimagined in numerous forms, including poetry, children’s books, opera, and art. For paintings of Savitri begging Yamraj for the return of her husband, see here and here. In 1940, the Indian philosopher and poet Sri Aurobindo created an epic poem based on the story and themes of Savitri. For background on this work and to access the full version, visit this site.
The story of Savitri also contains several iconic cultural and religious figures. Narada, the prophet who foretells Satyavan’s untimely death, is a famous sage, travelling musician, and messenger of the Gods. Narada refers to many different persons, who reappear to offer wise aphorisms and advice. Yamraj or Yama, the God of death, is also an important spiritual figure. He is considered the first god to die, and presides over the south (or regions of the dead) as well as the dead’s final resting place under the earth. Learn more about him here.
Although Savitri is not a goddess, her story has inspired an important festival observed by Hindu women. On Vat Savitri, married Hindu women fast and pray for the long lives of their husbands. “Vat” is the Sanskrit word for the Banyan tree – or the tree that shaded Savitri and Satyavan as she cradled her dying husband in her arms.
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