- 1) mythic princessThe story of Savitri and Satyavan, told in the Mahabharata, is one of the most poignant in Indian literature. The beautiful maiden Savitri falls in love with a hermit’s son, Satyavan, and marries him. Savitri learns from his father that unbeknown to Satyavan the boy has only one year to live. Savitri forebears from telling Satya-van, in order to preserve their precious days of happiness.The pair live in great delight as the bride tries to forget the curse that threatens their love. As the final day approaches Savitri furiously engages in prayers and penances to stave off the inevitable. On the final day she follows her husband closely into the woods where he has gone to fetch wood. Her husband soon collapses as the frightening figure of YAMA, god of death, appears before them with a noose in his hand.Yama removes Satyavan’s soul and heads toward his domain, with Savitri in desperate pur-suit. Yama asks her to turn back, but she insists that she will follow him even to the underworld. Seeing her great devotion, Yama grants her any boon but that of having her husband restored to life. She takes this boon but insists on following farther. She gains two more similar boons but will not relent. Finally, Yama offers her a boon with-out exception and she asks that her husband be restored to life. The boon is granted and Satyavan returns to life.SRI AUROBINDO wrote an elegant and enchant-ing epic poem celebrating this story, in which he outlines his conception of Integral Yoga and the power of the MOTHER to effect the complete supra-mental transformation of the universe.Further reading: Sri Aurobindo, Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol (Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1951); Aaron Shepard with Vera Rosenberry, Savitri: A Tale of Ancient India (Morton Grove, Ill.: A. Whitman, 1992).2) Vedic divinitySavitri is one name for the Vedic god of the Sun. Several gods in the RIG VEDA seem to be associ-ated with the Sun, probably indicating that the Sun had different names at different times of the day or seasons of the year, or for different purposes. Savitri was often used in conjunction with SURYA, and the two may have been inter-changeable.Savitri is used in the famous GAYATRI MANTRA, recited every morning by BRAHMINS and others. In the Rig Veda, Savitri is connected with several important rites. It is said that those who desire heaven should do the AGNICHAYANA, or “building of the fire altar,” ritual for Savitri.The name is derived from the SANSKRIT su (to incite or impel). Savitri thus brings to life or com-pels thoughts and action. This seems only natural for the Sun, who wakens the world and keeps it alive by its life-giving rays.Further reading: Alfred Hillebrandt, Vedic Mythology (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1990); P. Pandit, Aditi and Other Deities in the Veda (Pondicherry: Dipti, 1970); W. J. Wilkins, Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic (Cal-cutta: Rupa, 1973).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.