The Tale of Savitri

In the country of fair Madra lived a king in days of old

Faithful to the holy scripture, pure in heart and righteous-souled.

He was loved in town and country, in the court and hermit's den,

Beloved king of all his subjects helper to his brother men.

But this monarch, Aswapati, son or daughter he had none,

Old in years and sunk in anquish, and his days were almost done!

Vows he took and holy penance,and with pious rules conformed

Rid his life of kingly pleasures many sacred rites performed.

Year by year he gathered virtue, rose in merit and in might,

Till the Goddess of Savitri smiled upon his sacred rite,

From the fire upon the altar which a holy radiance flung

In the form of beauteous maiden, Goddess of Savitri sprung!

And she spoke in gentle accents, blessed the monarch good and brave,

Blessed his rites and holy penance and a boon unto him gave:

"Penance and your sacrifices can the Powers Immortal move,

And the pureness of your conduct does your heart's affection prove.

Ask a boon, kind Aswapati, from creation's Ancient Sire,

True to virtue's sacred mandate speak your inmost heart's desire.

"For an offspring brave and kingly," so the saintly king replied,

"Holy rites and sacrifices and this penance I have tried,

If these rites and sacrifices move thy favor and thy grace

Grant me offspring, holy Maiden, worthy of my noble race."

"Have your wish," spake the maiden, "Madra's pious-hearted king

From the highest Lord of Heaven, blessings unto you I bring,

For He hears the mortal's prayer springing from a heart like thine,

And He wills, a noble daughter grace thy famed and royal line.

Aswapati, glad and grateful, take the blessing which I bring,

Part in joy and part in silence, bow unto Creation's King!"

Vanished then the Prayer-Maiden, and the king of world-wide fame,

Aswapati, noble monarch, to his royal city came.

As the moon each night increases chasing darksome nightly gloom

Grew the unborn babe in splendor in its happy mother's womb.

And in fulness of the season came a girl with lotus-eye,

Father's hope and joy of mother, gift of kindly gods on high!
And the king performed its birthrites
with a glad and grateful mind
And the people blessed the dear one
with their wishes good and kind,

As Savitri, divine Maiden, had the beauteous offspring given,

Sages named the child Savitri,holy gift of bounteous Heaven!

Grew the child in brighter beauty like a goddess from above
And each passing season added fresher sweetness, deeper love.

"Daughter," whispered Aswapati,"now, I think,the time has come,

You should choose a princely suitor, grace a royal husband's home,

Choose yourself a noble husband worthy of your noble hand,
Choose a true and upright monarch,
pride and glory of his land.
As you choosest, gentle daughter,
in your loving heart's desire

Blessing and his free permission will bestow your happy sire."

Fair Savitri bowed unto him and for parting blessings prayed,

Then she left her father's palace and in distant regions strayed.

Unto Ashrams and hermitages full of joy she made her way
Far in pleasant woods and jungle
wandered she from day to day.

Oft she stayed in holy rivers washed by sacred limped streams

Food she gave unto the hungry, wealth beyond their fondest dreams.

Many days and months are over, and it once did so befall
When the king and saintly Narada sat within the royal hall,
From her journeys near and distant
and from places known to fame

Fair Savitri with the courtiers to her father's palace came,

Came and saw her royal father, saw Sage Narada by his seat

Bent her head in salutation, bowed unto their holy feet.

"Whence comes she?" so Narada questioned, "Whereto was Savitri led?

Why as yet to a husband has Savitri not been wed?"

"Twas to choose her lord and husband," so the virtuous monarch said,

"That fair Savitri long has wandered and in holy ashrams stayed,

Maiden! speak unto the wise man, and your choice and secret tell,"

Then a blush suffused her forehead, soft and slow her accents fell!

"Listen, father! Salwa's monarch, was of old a king of might

Righteous-hearted, always faithful, But, feeble now and void of sight,

Enemies robbed him of his kingdom when in age he lost his sight,
And from town and spacious empire
was the monarch forced to flight.

With his queen and with his infant did the feeble monarch stray,

And the jungle was his palace, darksome was his weary way,

Holy vows assumed the monarch and in penance passed his life,

In the wild woods nursed his infant and with wild fruits fed his wife,

Years have gone in rigid penance, and that child is now a youth,

Him I choose my lord and husband, Satyavan, the Soul of Truth!"

Thoughtful was the great sage Narada, doleful were the words he said:

"Sad disaster awaits Savitri if this royal youth she wed,

Truth-beloving is his father, truthful is the royal dame,
Truth and virtue rule his actions,
Satyavan his sacred name.

Charmed he lived in days of boyhood always filled with love and joy,

Darling of his aged parents, a golden-hearted, gallant boy,

But O my dear devoted monarch! fair Savitri has in truth

Courted Fate and sad disaster in that noble gallant youth!"

"Tell me," questioned Aswapati, "for I may not guess your thought,

In what way is my daughter's action with such sad disaster fraught,

"Tell me, Swami," said the monarch, "for your sense from me is hidden,

Has this prince some fatal blemish, why this match should be forbidden?"

"Fatal fault!" exclaimed the wise man, "fault that wipes away his grace,

Fault that human power nor penance, nor any effort can erase.

Fatal flaw, a destined sorrow!for it is decreed on high,
Upon this day, one year from now,
the ill-fated prince will die!"

Shook the startled king in terror and in fear and trembling cried:

"Unto short-lived, fated bridegroom never my child shall be allied,

Come, Savitri, dear-loved maiden, choose another happier lord,

Holy Narada speakest wisdom, listen to his sacred word!"
"Father!" answered thus the maiden,
soft and sad her accents fell,
I have heard your honored mandate,
holy Narada counsels well,

Pardon witless maiden's fancy, but beneath the eye of Heaven,

Only once a maiden chooses, twice her word may not be given.

Long his life or be it narrow, and his virtues great or none,

Satyavan is still my husband, he my heart and troth has won,

What a maiden's heart has chosen, that a maiden's lips confess,

True to him your dear Savitri goes into the wilderness!"

"Monarch!" uttered then the wise man, "fixed is she in mind and heart,

From her troth the true Savitri never, never will depart.
More than mortal's share of virtue
unto Satyavan is given,
Let the true maid wed her chosen,
leave the rest to gracious Heaven!"

"Dearest sage and teacher holy!" so the weeping monarch prayed,

"May Heaven avert all future evil, let your mandate be obeyed!"

Narada wished him joy and gladness, blessed the loving youth and maid

Forest hermits on their wedding every fervent blessing laid.

Twelve-months in the darksome forest by her true and chosen lord,

Sweet Savitri served his parents by her thought and deed and word,

Bark of tree supplied her garments draped upon her bosom fair,

Or the red cloth as in ashrams holy women love to wear.

And the aged queen she tended with a fond and filial pride,

Served the old and sightless monarch like a daughter by his side,

And with love and gentle sweetness pleased her husband and her lord,

But in secret, night and morning, pondered still on Narada's word!

Nearer came the fatal morning by the holy Narada told,

Fair Savitri reckoned daily and her heart was still and cold,

Three short days remaining only! and she took a vow severe

To observe three nights' penance, holy fasts and vigils drear.

Of Savitri's rigid penance, heard the king with anxious woe

Spoke to her in loving accents, so the vow she might forgo:

"Hard your penance, gentle daughter, and your woman's limbs are frail

After three nights' fasts and vigils sure your tender health may fail."

"Be not anxious, loving father," meekly thus Savitri prayed,
"This penance I have undertaken,
will unto the gods be made."
Much misdoubting, then the monarch
gave his sad and slow consent,
Pale with fast and unseen tear-drops,
lonesome nights Savitri spent.

Nearer came the fatal morning, and tomorrow he shall die
Dark, lone hours of nightly silence!
Tearless, sleepless is her eye!

"Dawns that dread and fated morning!" said Savitri, pale but brave,
Prayed her fervent prayers in silence,
to the Fire oblations gave,

Bowed unto the forest Brahmans, to the parents kind and good,

Joined her hands in salutation and in reverent silence stood.

With the usual morning blessing, "A widow may you never be,"

Anchorites and aged Brahmans blessed Savitri fervently.
O! that blessing fell upon her
like the rain on thirsty air,

Struggling hope inspired her bosom as she drank those words so fair,

But returned the dark remembrance of Sage Narada's dreaded word,

Pale she watched the creeping sunbeams, and mused upon her fated lord!

"Daughter, now your fast is over," so the loving parents said,

"Take your diet after penance, for your morning prayers are prayed."

"Pardon, father," said Savitri, "let this other day be done,"
Unshed tear-drops filled her eyelids,
glistened in the morning sun!

Satyavan, sedate and stately, ponderous axe on shoulder hung,

For the distant darksome jungle issued forth serene and strong,

But unto him came Savitri and in sweetest accents prayed,

As upon his manly bosom gently she her forehead laid:

"Long I wished to see the jungle where steals not the solar ray,

Take me to the darksome forest, Husband, let me go today!"
"Come not, love," he sweetly answered
with a loving husband's care,

"You are too unused to labor, forest paths you may not dare.

And with recent fasts and vigils pale and bloodless is your face,

And your steps are weak and feeble, jungle paths you may not trace."

"Fasts and vigils make me stronger," said the wife with wifely pride,

Toil I shall not feel nor languor when my lord is by my side,

For I feel a woman's longing with my lord to trace the way,

Grant me, husband ever gracious, with you let me go today!"

Answered then the loving husband, as his hands in hers he wove,

"Ask permission from my parents in the trackless woods to rove."

Then Savitri to the monarch urged her longing strange request

After duteous salutation thus her humble prayer addressed:

"To the jungle goes my husband, fuel, fruit and herbs to seek

I would follow if my mother and my loving father speak,

Twelve-months from this narrow ashram has Savitri stepped nor strayed.

In this cottage true and faithful ever has Savitri stayed,

For the sacrificial fuel wends my lord his lonesome way

Please, my kind and loving parents I would follow him today."

"Never since her wedding morning," so the loving king replied

Wish or thought Savitri whispered, for a boon or object sighed,

Daughter, your request is granted, safely in the forest roam,

Safely with your lord and husband seek again your cottage home."

Bowing to her loving parents did the fair Savitri part,

Smile upon her pallid features, anguish in her inmost heart,

Round her gorgeous greenwoods blossomed beneath a cloudless Indian sky,
Flocks of pea-fowls gorgeous plumaged
before her wondering eye,

Birds of song and beauteous feather trilled a note in every grove

Sweeter accents fell upon her, from her husband's lips of love!

Still with thoughtful eye Savitri watched her dear and fated lord,

Pangs of grief were in her bosom but her pale lips shaped no word,

And she listened to her husband still on anxious thought intent,
Cleft in two, her heart was throbbing,
as in silence still she went!
Gaily with the gathered wild-fruits
did the prince his basket fill

Hewed the interlaced branches with his might and practiced skill,

Till the drops stood on his forehead, weary was his aching head,

Faint he came unto Savitri and in faltering accents said:

"Cruel ache is on my forehead, fond and ever faithful wife,

And I feel a hundred needles piercing inward on my life,

And my feeble footsteps falter and my senses seem to reel,

Fain would I beside you linger for a sleep does o'er me steal."

With a wild and speechless terror, pale Savitri held her lord,
On her lap his head she rested
as she laid him on the sward,

Narada's fatal words remembered as she watched her husband's head,

Burning lip and pallid forehead and the dark and creeping shade,

Clasped him to her beating bosom, kissed his lips with panting breath

Darker grew the lonesome forest, and he slept the sleep of death!

In the bosom of the shadows rose a Vision dark and dread,

Shape of gloom in inky garment and a crown was on his head,

Gleaming form of sable splendor, blood-red was his sparkling eye

And a fatal noose he carried, grim and godlike, dark and high!

And he stood in solemn silence, looked in silence on the dead,

And Savitri on the green turf gently placed her husband's head.

And a tremor shook Savitri, but a woman's love is strong,

With her hands upon her bosom thus she spake with quivering tongue:

"More than mortal is thy glory! If a radient god thou be
Tell me what bright name thou bearest,
what thy message unto me."

"Know me," thus responded Yama, "mighty monarch of the dead,

Mortals leaving earthly mansions to my darksome realms are led.

Since with woman's full affection you have loved your husband dear,

Hence before you faithful woman, Yama does in form appear.
But your husband's days are ended,
and he leaves his faithful wife,

In this noose I bind and carry the spark of his immortal life.

Virtue graced his life and action, spotless was his princely heart,

Hence for him I come in person, princess, let your husband part."

Yama from the prince's body, pale and bloodless, cold and dumb,

Drew the vital spark, purusha, smaller than the human thumb;
In his noose the spark he fastened,
silent went his darksome way

Left the body shorn of lustre to its rigid cold decay,

Southward went the dark-hued Yama with the youth's immortal life,

But, a woman's love abideth, and followed close the faithful wife.

"Turn back Savitri," spake Lord Yama, "for your husband's life is lost.

Do the funeral rites for mortals when their Fate by death is crossed.

Now your wifely duty ceases, follow not in fruitless woe,

And no farther living creature may with monarch Yama go!"

"I have no choice but to follow where thou takest my husband's life,

For Eternal Law divides not loving man and faithful wife,

For a woman's true affection, for a woman's sacred woe,

Grant me in thy godlike mercy farther still with him to go!

Fourfold are our human duties: first to study holy lore,
Then to live as good householders,
feed the hungry at our door,
Then to pass our days in penance,
last to fix our thoughts above,

But the final goal of virtue, is to live in deathless Love!"

"True and holy are your precepts," listening Yama made reply,
"And they fill my heart with gladness
and with pious purpose high,

I would bless you, fair Savitri, but the dead come not to life,

Ask for other boon and blessing, faithful, true, and virtuous wife!"

"Since you so permit me, Yama," so the good Savitri said,

"For my husband's banished father let my dear appeal be made.

Sightless in the darksome forest dwells the monarch faint and weak,

Grant him sight and grant him vigor, Yama, in thy mercy speak!"

"Duteous daughter, "Yama answered, "be your pious wishes given,

And his eyes shall be restored to the cheerful light of heaven.

Turn back, Savitri, faint and weary, follow not in fruitless woe,

And no farther living creature may with monarch Yama go!"

"Faint nor weary is Savitri," so the noble pricess said,
"Since she waits upon her husband,
gracious Monarch of the dead.

What befalls the wedded husband still befalls the faithful wife.

Where he leads she ever follows, be it death or be it life!
And our sacred writ ordaineth
and our pious rishis sing

Meeting with the pure and holy does its countless blessings bring.

Union with the pure and holy is immortal heavenly life

For Eternal Law divides not loving man and faithful wife!"

"Blessed are your words," said Yama, "blessed is your pious thought,

With a higher purer wisdom are your holy lessons fraught.

I would bless you, fair Savitri, but the dead come not to life.

Ask for other boon and blessing, faithful, true, and virtuous wife!"

Since you so permit me, Yama," so the good Savitri said,
"Once more for my husband's father
be my supplication made.

Lost his kingdom, in the forest dwells the monarch faint and weak,

Grant him back his wealth and kingdom, Yama, in they mercy speak!"

"Loving daughter," Yama answered "wealth and kingdom I bestow

Turn, Savitri, living mortal may not with King Yama go!"

Still Savitri, meek and faithful, followed her departed Lord,

Yama still with higher wisdom listened to her saintly word.
And the Sable King was vanquished,
and he turned on her again;

And his words fell on Savitri like the cooling summer rain.

"Noble woman, speak your wishes, name your boon and purpose high.

What the pious mortal asks for, the gods above may not deny!"

"Thou hast," so Savitri answered, "granted father's realm and might,

To his vain and sightless eyelids you have restored their blessed sight.

Grant him that the line of monarchs may not now untimely end

Satyavan may see his kingdom to his royal sons descend!"

"Have your object," answered Yama, "and your lord shall live again.

He shall live to be a father, and his children too shall reign.

For a woman's troth abideth longer than the fleeting breath

And a woman's love abideth higher than the doom of Death!"

Vanished then the Sable Monarch, and Savitri made her way,

Where in dense and darksome forest still her husband lifeless lay.

And she sat upon the green turf by the cold unconscious dead,

On her lap with deeper kindness placed her consort's lifeless head.

And that touch of true affection thrilled him back to waking life,

As returned from distant regions gazed the prince upon his wife.

"Have I lain too long and slumbered, Sweet Savitri, faithful spouse?

But I dreamt a Sable Person took me in a fatal noose."

"Pillowed on this lap," she answered, "long upon the earth you lay,

And the Sable Person, husband, he has come and passed away.

Rise and leave this darksome forest if you feelest light and strong,

For the night is on the jungle and our way is dark and long."

Rising as from happy slumber, looked the young prince on all around,

Saw the wide-extending jungle mantling all the darksome ground.

"Yes," he said, "I now remember, ever loving faithful dame,

We in search of fruit and fuel to this lonesome forest came.

As I hewed the gnarled branches, cruel anguish filled my brain,
And I laid me on the green ground
with a throbbing piercing pain.

Pillowed on your gentle bosom, solaced by your gentle love,
I was soothed, and drowsy slumber
fell on me from skies above.
All was dark and then I witnessed, (was it but a fleeting dream?)
God or Vision, dark and dreadful,
in the deepening shadows gleam.

Was this dream, my fair Savitri, do you of this Vision know?

Tell me, for before my eyesight still the Vision seems to glow!"

"Darkness thickens," said Savitri, "and the evening waxes late,

When tomorrow's light returneth I shall all these scenes narrate.

Now arise, for darkness gathers, deeper grows the gloomy night,

And your loving anxious parents trembling, wait your welcome sight.

Hark the rangers of the forest! How their voices strike the ear,

Prowlers of the darksome jungle! How they fill my breast with fear!

Forest-fire is raging yonder, for I see a distant gleam,

And the rising evening breezes help the red and radiant beam.

Let me fetch a burning faggot and prepare a friendly light,

With these fallen withered branches chase the shadows of the night.

And if feeble still your footsteps long and weary is our way,

By the fire repose, my husband, and return by light of day."

"For my parents, I'm very troubled," Satyavan thus made reply,

"Their anguish pains my bosom, let us to their cottage fly.

When I tarried in the jungle or by day or dewy eve

Stayed awhile the hermitages often did my parents grieve.

And with father's soft reproaches and with mother's loving fears,

Chided me for my lateness, dewed me with their gentle tears.

Think then of my father's sorrow, of my mother's woeful plight

If afar in wood and jungle pass we now the livelong night.

Wife beloved, I may not fathom what mishap or load of care

Unknown dangers, unseen sorrows, even now my parents share!"

Gentle drops of filial sorrow trickled down his manly eye,

Fond Savitri sweetly speaking softly wiped the tear-drops dry:

"Trust me, husband, if Savitri has been faithful in her love,

If she has with pious offerings served the righteous gods above,

If she has a sister's kindness unto brother men performed.

If she has in speech and action unto holy truth conformed,
Unknown blessings, mighty gladness,
trust your ever faithful wife

And not sorrows or disasters wait this eve on our parent's life!"

Then she rose and tied her tresses, gently helped her lord to rise,

Walked with him the pathless jungle, looked with love into his eyes.

On her neck his clasping left arm sweetly winds in soft embrace,

Round his waist Savitri's right arm does as sweetly interlace.

Thus they walked the darksome jungle, silent stars looked from above,

And the hushed and throbbing midnight watched Savitri's deathless love.