In the Madras in the old days there lived a princess who was noted for her loveliness and her devotion to her every duty. Sāvitrī was her name. As she grew into maidenhood her father, King Ashvapati, was troubled because she remained unwedded: all his hopes for descendants were in this girl, his only child. But because her loveliness and devotion were so extraordinary none of the princes of the land dared woo her for his wife. Now on a day on which there was a festival, Sāvitrī came into her father's presence: the sacred flowers were in her hands, and when he looked on her and saw her lotus eyes, and her slender waist, and her golden looks, he resolved that he would have her wedded even if he was to permit her to make her own choice of a husband.
So he said to her, "A duty-loving daughter is glad to go from her father's house to the house of a husband. I shall grant a boon to you, Sāvitrī, and it shall be that you shall have liberty to choose a husband for yourself." And when her father said this Sāvitrī begged that he would give her permission to go to the holy places that the hermits lived in so that she might find some sage of princely rank who might become her husband. This permission her father gladly
granted her. Then with her attendants the daughter of King Ashvapati went into the forests and visited hermitage after hermitage. And her beauty and her nobility of word and action made her dear to all whom she came near.
She returned, and she gave alms and fed the hungry around her father's palace, and all the people cried out to her, "May you obtain a fitting husband, and may you never know the widow's state." When she came into his presence, her father smiled on her, and a great sage who was with him smiled on her too. And as she stood with downcast eyes before the elders, the sage, whose name was Nārada, said to the king, "Why has not this maiden gone to a husband's house?" And the king, looking on Sāvitrī, said, "She has come back from making a choice for herself, and I think from her happy looks that we shall hear that she has chosen a fitting husband." Then King Ashvapati said, "Speak, maiden, and tell your father and this sage who the princely youth is whom you would marry." Sāvitrī bowed her head and said, with downcast looks but in happy tones:
"O my father, there was a king whose name and country you know of, who lost the sight of his eyes. And being a blind man he could not protect his kingdom, and a usurper seized upon it and drove him forth with his queen and his little son. Uncomplainingly that king went into the forest: as a lowly hermit he lived there; in the forest he reared a son who is known for all noble qualities. Him I have chosen for my husband. And with him I would live in a hermitage, attending on his father and mother."
And when the princess had said this her father showed that he approved of the choice that she had made. But the sage Nārada asked her in an anxious voice, "Who is this king who lost the sight of his eyes, and what is the name of this noble prince who has grown up in exile in the forest?" Sāvitrī replied, "The prince's name is Satyavant, and he is well named the Truth-speaker."
But Nārada when he heard this said cried out in sorrowful tones, "Well do I know this prince and well do I know his father. And no one living could make a more fitting husband for you, Sāvitrī, were it not for one drawback." "If you know him you cannot say that he has a single drawback. Is he not gentle-hearted? Is he not generous? Is he not versed in the sacred lore? Is he not patient? Is he
not kindly? Is he not duty-loving? Is he not as handsome as one of the Ashvins, the heavenly horsemen? You have to acknowledge that he has all noble qualities." "He has all noble qualities, but you, daughter of King Ashvapati, must not marry him; there is a doom upon Prince Satyavant, and in a little over a year from this day he will be dead."
Then said King Ashvapati, "Unto a husband so short-lived this daughter of mine must not be given. Sāvitrī must make another choice." But the princess looked at her father, and her eyes were as steady as the eyes of the immortals, and she said in a sorrowful but steady voice, "O my father, for me to discover that the One I have chosen for my husband will be dead in a year is the heaviest of afflictions-in so short a time to know widowhood! But I have chosen and I cannot make a second choice. I shall go back into the forest and wed Prince Satyavant there, and dwell with him and his parents and attend upon that old king and queen. And when I lose my husband in a twelvemonth I shall be content with what the Gods have willed." King Ashvapati would have forbidden his daughter to do as she said, but Nārada, that great sage, would have him not forbid her, saying, "Sāvitrī's choice is made, and she can make no other choice. Let her go to her husband's dwelling, and leave what will come of it to the Gods." He blessed the maiden; her father wept over her, and then with her attendants, and riding in her shining chariot, Sāvitrī went into the forest.
And there she put on the red cloth that hermit women wear and covered her fair bosom with the rough bark, and was wedded, and lived in a hermitage with her husband, and dutifully served the blind king and his queen. Sāvitrī was happy there with Prince Satyavant, and her grief was in her knowledge that the days were going by, and that the twelve-month that she had to live with her husband would in a while come to an end.
For always what Nārada the sage told her was in Sāvitrī's heart. And when hungry people whom she brought food to and served would say to her, "May you never know the state of widowhood," she would bow her head and her tears would flow down. When it came near the end of her twelvemonth of married life she prayed to the Gods to grant her power to protect the life of her husband, and as she prayed
she fasted with such severity that the old king, her father-in-law, begged her not to let her life waste away.
But clear-eyed and quiet-spoken was Sāvitrī on the morning that finished the twelvemonth of her marriage with Prince Satyavant. She rose up and served the old king and queen, and when she saw her husband making ready to go into the deep forest she begged permission to go with him. Tenderly Satyavant told her that the ways were rough and that there was danger in the forest for those who did not know how to deal with the creatures of the wild. She begged it as a boon that she might be permitted to go with him. Then the old king and queen said, "Sāvitrī has been here for a year serving us all; never until now has she asked for any boon. Now let what she asks be granted to her." And so Satyavant consented to take Sāvitrī into the deep forest with him.
He gathered blue flowers and made a garland for her, and he showed her the antelope as it fled away from their approach. None of the creatures of the forest would Prince Satyavant kill, and the birds, knowing that no harm would be done to them, sang as the pair went through the ways of the deep forest. Prince Satyavant carried an axe, for he was to cut wood for the fires; also he was going to gather the wild fruits that grew there. He walked with the axe on his shoulder, tall and most princely looking, and beside him went Sāvitrī, strange to the ways of the deep forest, wearing the garland of blue flowers, and in her scanty dress of red cloth looking more like a child than like a bride.
They came to a glade in the deep forest. Then Satyavant began to hew at a tree with his axe; Sāvitrī sat and watched him, praying in her heart. He laid the axe down; he leaned against the tree. "A pain such as I have never had before is in my head," he moaned. She went to him and took his head upon her lap. "O Sāvitrī, pains that are like piercings of thousands of needles are in my head," he said. His eyes closed as his head was laid in her lap.
Then darkness grew around where they were. Sāvitrī saw a great figure standing near. "Who art thou?" she cried. "I am Yama." Then she knew that he who is King of the Dead was beside them. Tall is Yama, Guardian of the Fathers whose abode is in the south; dark blue is Yama like the sky of the dusk, but his eyes are red. Sāvitrī's
heart fainted as she looked upon him and saw that he held in his hand the cord with which he draws forth the particle that is the life of a being.
As he approached, Sāvitrī rose up and faced him. But his presence was so dread-inspiring that she sank down on the ground again; she saw him draw out with his cord the thumb-sized particle that was Satyavant's life. He moved away. But Sāvitrī followed him as he made his way towards the south. "Turn back," the King of the Dead said to her, "your duties now are to attend to the clay that is left on the ground." "A wife's duty is to live where her husband lives, and you who carry the Staff of Justice cannot deny it." "That is so, but turn back, and whatever boon you ask I will grant you." "Then for the elders I ask a boon: grant that the blindness that has afflicted my husband's father will pass from him." "That boon I grant, Sāvitrī."
There was greater darkness now, and Sāvitrī saw the attendants of the King of the Dead: they wore dark apparel, their hair bristled, and their legs, their eyes, and their noses were like the legs, eyes, and noses of crows. "Turn back, Sāvitrī; no farther can any living creature go with Yama." "My life goes with my husband's life, and you who carry the Staff of Justice cannot deny that." "Ask a boon and I will grant it." "The boon must be for the elders; grant that the king, my father-in-law, may regain his kingdom." "That boon I grant."
There was greater darkness where they had gone. And now Sāvitrī saw Yama's four-eyed dogs; they bared their teeth as they looked upon her shadow. "Turn back, Sāvitrī; no living creature has ever come so near to Yama's abode. Ask a boon and I will grant it." "The boon I ask is that my husband be not left without descendants." "I will grant that boon, too, O faithful Sāvitrī." "Then, great Yama, you will have to return the husband to his wife." "That I will do, O faithful one. Go back to the glade where his body is; watch over it, and the life will come back to it."
Sāvitrī left that dark place and went back to the glade from whence she had followed Yama. Satyavant's body lay there. She took his head and pressed it against her breast. Then she laid her lips on his. As she did life came back to his breast. His eyes opened and speech came to him, "O Sāvitrī," he said, "I had a dream of a dark-blue
king who carried me off through the darkness, and I dreamt that you, most dear one, followed and drew me back." "Hush, Satyavant, forget your dream. The day has passed; dusk is coming. Your father and mother will be anxious about us. Arise; let us carry the wood and the wild fruits back to the king and the queen. Listen! there are the stirrings of wild things and soon the ways will be dangerous for us. And there is the red of forest-fires. Come, let us go back to the hermitage."
Then together Sāvitrī and Satyavant went back to the hermitage, and when they came near to it they were met by the old king. He cried out that his blindness had gone from him, and that he could see his son and his daughter-in-law-his daughter-in-law Sāvitrī, whose eyes were like the lotus, whose waist was slender, and whose looks were golden. Joyfully the old king led them to the hermitage; joyfully they ate the hermit's meal, and Sāvitrī waited upon them.
In a while messengers came from the kingdom which Satyavant's father had once ruled over. The usurper had met with his death, and the people asked that their old king take rule again. They went back to that kingdom; soon Satyavant and Sāvitrī were king and queen there. And before Yama took them they had a hundred descendants.