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Savitri and Satyavan: The legend of the princess who outwitted Death - Iseult Gillespie


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Princess Savitri was benevolent, brilliant, and bright. Her grace was known throughout the land, and many princes and merchants flocked to her family’s palace to seek her hand in marriage. But upon witnessing her blinding splendor in person, the men lost their nerve. Unimpressed with these suitors, she determined to find a husband herself. Iseult Gillespie tells the tale of Savitri and Satyavan.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

The tale of Savitri and Satyavan is one of the most romantic and well-known in India. You can read another version, and access many other luscious tales, in Madhur Jaffrey’s Seasons of Splendour. The oldest known version of Savitri’s moving story appear in the Mahabharata, an ancient Indian epic written in Sanskrit. You can see the original Sanskrit version and a translation here.

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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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Iseult Gillespie
  • Director Jagriti Khirwar, Raghav Arumugam
  • Narrator Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Sound Designer Spencer Ward
  • Music Salil Bhayani
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Fact-Checker Joseph Isaac

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