Savitri saving Satyavan from Yama
Savitri saving Satyavan from Yama

In Hinduism, Savitri and Satyavan (Sanskrit: सावित्री Sāvitrī and सत्यवान् Satyavān) are a legendary couple, known for Savitri's love and devotion to her husband Satyavan. According to the legend, princess Savitri marries an exiled prince named Satyavan, who was prophesied to die early. The later part of legend focuses on Savitri's wit and love, which saved her husband from the death god Yama.

The oldest known version of the story of Savitri and Satyavan is found in Vana Parva ("The Book of the Forest") of the Mahabharata.[1][2] The story occurs as a multiply-embedded narrative in the Mahabharata as told by sage Markandeya. When Yudhishthira asks Markandeya whether there has ever been a woman whose devotion matched Draupadi's, Markandeya replies by relating this story.


Savitri pleads with Yama, as Satyavan lies on her lap, lithograph by Raja Ravi Varma
Savitri pleads with Yama, as Satyavan lies on her lap, lithograph by Raja Ravi Varma

The childless king of the Madra Kingdom, Ashwapati, lives ascetically for many years and offers oblations to Sun God Savitr. His consort is Malavika. 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 the Salwa kingdom; Dyumatsena lost everything including his sight and lives in exile as a forest-dweller with his wife and son.

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. Servants of Yama the god of Death come and return without the soul of Satyavan due to Savitri's holiness. Then Yama himself 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 wish, except the life of Satyavan. First, Savitri asks that her father-in-law's sight be restored, then she asks that his kingdom be returned to him. And finally, she asks Yama that she be the mother of a hundred sons. 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 wish, 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 both of them to attain a long life.

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.[3][4]

In popular culture

Married women tie a thread around a banyan tree on the Vat Purnima day.
Married women tie a thread around a banyan tree on the Vat Purnima day.

In Bihar, Jharkhand, and 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 entitled Savitri 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. In India, many women are named "Savitri".

It is believed that Savitri got her husband back on the first day of the Tamil month Panguni. 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 at a very young age; they wear a yellow robe on this day from the time they are a year old so they will find a good husband in future.

In 1950 and 1951, Sri Aurobindo published his epic poem in blank verse titled "Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol".[5]

In England, Gustav Holst composed a chamber opera in one act in 1916, his Opus 25, named Savitri based on this story.[6]

The new age group 2002 released an album inspired by the story of Savitri and Satyavan in 1995.[7]

Films and television

There have been about thirty-four film versions of the Savitri/Satyavan story produced in India.[8] One of the earliest is the Indian silent film, Satyavan Savitri (1914) directed by Dadasaheb Phalke. Other silent-era films include the failed Savitri (1912) by V. P. Divekar, A. P. Karandikar and Shree Nath Patankar, Sukanya Savitri (1922) by Kanjibhai Rathod, Sati Savitri (1927) by Baburao Painter, Sati Savitri (1931) by Bidkar.[9] The 1923 version, Savitri also called Satyavan Savitri, was an Italian co-production directed by Giorgio Mannini and J. J. Madan, produced by Madan Theatres Ltd. and Cines.[10]

Sati Savitri (1932), a sound film, was released in Hindi/Gujarati by Chandulal Shah and was the second talkie Gujarati film. Savitri (1933) was the first film produced by the East India Film Company. Directed by C. Pullaiah, it received an Honorary Certificate at the Venice Film Festival.[11] Bhalji Pendharkar released Savitri (1936) in Marathi. In 1937, Savitri was produced in Hindi directed by Franz Osten.[12] Sathyavaan Savithiri (1933), Savithri (1941) by Y. V. Rao were also made during British rule in India.[9]

Many films, centering on this story, were made after independence (especially in South India) and included: Telugu language film versions of the story in 1957, 1977 and 1981. Satyavan Savitri (1948), Mahasati Savitri (1955) by Ramnik Vaidya, Savitri (1961) by Phani Majumdar, Satyavan Savitri (1963) by Dinesh Rawal, Sati Savitri (1964) by Shantilal Soni, Sati Savitri (1965) by P. R. Kaundinya, Mahasati Savitri (1973) by Chandrakant, Sathyavaan Savithri (1977) by P. G. Viswambharan, Savithri (1978) by T. S. Ranga, Sati Savitri (1982) by Girish Manukant, Savitri (1983) by Murlidhar Kapdi, Maha Sati Savitri (1983) by Sona Mukherjee.[9]

The Tamil-language films Doctor Savithri (1955) and Roja (1992) are contemporary adaptations of the story of Savitri and Satyvan.[13][14]

Savitri - EK Prem Kahani, an Indian television series which aired on Life OK in 2013 is a modern adaptation of the story.[15]

Savitri by Pavan Sadineni and Warrior Savitri (2016) by Param Gill are modern-day adaptations of the tale. The latter was controversial for its depiction of Savitri as a 21st-century woman.

Satyawaan Savitri is a 2022 big budget Marathi TV series airing on Zee Marathi based on this story.

See also


  1. ^ a b "XVIII: Vana Parva: Wife's Devotion and Satyavana". Vyasa's Mahabharatam. Academic Publishers. 2008. pp. 329–336. ISBN 978-81-89781-68-2.
  2. ^ "Section CCLXLI (Pativrata-mahatmya Parva)". Mahabharata Vana Parva. Translated by KM Ganguly. Retrieved 2021-11-23 – via Mahabharata Online.
  3. ^ Savitri
  4. ^ Shanta Rameshwar Rao (1 January 1986). In Worship of Shiva. Orient Longman. pp. 29–. ISBN 978-0-86131-684-7.
  5. ^ Mangesh V. Nadkarni. Savitri – The Golden Bridge, the Wonderful Fire: An introduction to Sri Aurobindo's epic. Auro e-Books. pp. 25–. ISBN 978-93-82474-02-9.
  6. ^ Head, Raymond, "Holst and India (III)" (September 1988). Tempo (New Ser.), 166: pp. 35–40
  7. ^ Savitri.
  8. ^ Heidi R.M. Pauwels (17 December 2007). Indian Literature and Popular Cinema: Recasting Classics. Routledge. p. 80. ISBN 978-1-134-06255-3.
  9. ^ a b c Rajadhyaksha, Ashish; Willemen, Paul (1999). Encyclopaedia of Indian cinema. British Film Institute. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
  10. ^ "Savitri 1923". Alan Goble. Retrieved 18 April 2015.
  11. ^ Ponram P (1 December 2014). Life in India: Culture. Ponram P. pp. 153–. GGKEY:43NZKK4BRBF. Retrieved 18 April 2015.
  12. ^ "Savitri Films List". Alan Goble. Retrieved 18 April 2015.
  13. ^ "Doctor Savithri: 1955". The Hindu. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  14. ^ Rangan, Baradwaj (2012). Conversations with Mani Ratnam. Penguin Books India. p. 126. ISBN 978-0-670-08520-0.
  15. ^ "Life OK's Savitri: What is the show all about?". Bollywood Life. 2013-02-17.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)

Further reading