“Know me to be perfectly under your influence like to Savitri following her husband Satyavana, the son of Dyumatsena.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 29)
In Vedic lore, Savitri is considered one of the most pious women to have ever lived. Born as a king’s daughter, she single-handedly rescued the life and fame of all her closest relatives. Her dedication to her husband Satyavana is the model by which women raised in the Vedic tradition live by.
The story of Savitri’s life is given in detail in the Mahabharata, the epic composition of Vyasadeva. Literally meaning “Great India”, the Mahabharata is considered the fifth Veda since it covers all aspects of religion and gives a detailed history of events that took place in ancient times. Though the book branches off into different stories and teachings, its main story revolves around the plight of five brothers known as the Pandavas. They were sons to a king named Pandu who had died prematurely. The Pandavas being the rightful heirs to the throne, the kingdom was instead taken over by the sons of Dhritarashtra, known as the Kauravas. Dhritarashtra was Pandu’s younger brother, and he made no objection to the unlawful usurpation of the kingdom by his sons. Due to the actions of the Kauravas, the Pandava brothers were forced to roam the country as nomads for several years. During one part of the story, Yudhishthira, the eldest Pandava brother, is feeling dejected due to some event, so he takes instruction from the sage Markandeya. As part of his teachings to Yudhishthira, the great sage relates the story of Savitri and Satyavana, a summary of which follows.
There once was a very pious king named Ashvapati who had everything in life except for a son. For a kshatriya king, not having an heir to the throne is considered a very bad thing. To remedy the situation, the king performed great austerities and a grand sacrifice to the Goddess Savitri. Being very pleased with him, she granted him the boon of getting a pious and noble daughter. Since the Goddess had granted him the boon, when the child was born, Ashvapati decided to name her Savitri. She was a very beautiful girl and was completely devoted to the rules and regulations of dharma, or religiosity. Everyone who knew her was enamored by her beauty and pious nature.
When she reached an appropriate age, the king contemplated her marriage. The Vedas declare that a girl should be given away in marriage to a suitable husband as soon as she reaches the age of puberty. The intent of this rule is to regulate sense gratification in such a way that both the husband and wife can enjoy a peaceful life without dealing with all the troubles associated with unrestricted sex life. The modern day concept of boys and girls freely intermingling doesn’t exist in the Vedas. Women are to always be given protection, and men are the ones who are to provide it. Ashvapati had a problem in that there were no eligible suitors for Savitri at the time. Since getting her married was a top priority, he gave her the option of seeking out her own husband, something very seldom done. Of course the king would deliberate on her decision, but the impetus was on her to find a boy. Since she was so pious and had an excellent character, Ashvapati had no worries as to the type of husband she would select.
Savitri searched throughout the forest for a suitable mate. In today’s world, we see that women have a tendency to seek out men who are expert in the art of seduction and who willingly violate the rules of priority. These men are commonly referred to as “bad boys”. Savitri, however, searched far and wide for exactly the opposite type of person. She decided on an ascetic man named Satyavana, the son Dyumatsena. Dyumatsena had previously been a great king who, due to his blindness, had his kingdom stolen from him. Forced to live an austere life in the forest with his wife, the king’s son Satyavana was raised an ascetic and had a spotless character. Savitri came back to her father and informed him of her decision. At the time, the great Narada Muni was visiting the kingdom and giving counsel to Ashvapati. Upon hearing Savitri’s choice, Narada lamented saying that she had made a grievous error. Narada explained that Satyavana was in fact a perfect match for Savitri in all respects, except for the fact that Satyavana had only one year to live.
Upon hearing this, Savitri still insisted on marrying him. She said that she had already accepted him as her husband in her mind and that going back on that would be a great sin. In the modern age where love marriages are common, couples often get divorced at the slightest occurrence of disagreement. In the Vedic tradition, a marriage is meant to be a life partnership where both parties equally share in spiritual merits and demerits. A boy and a girl agree to love each other from the very beginning, before they even know each other. There is no question of divorce since marriage is seen as a religious duty and not a vehicle for sense gratification.
Seeing his daughter’s unwavering desire to marry Satyavana, Ashvapati visited the hermitage of Dyumatsena to request him to accept the marriage proposal. The couple was then duly married, with Savitri giving up the royal life she was accustomed to, and instead accepting the garb of a hermit. The couple lived very happily with Satyavana’s parents for a year, but Savitri couldn’t forget what Narada Muni had told her. She was dreading the day of her husband’s impending death. Calculating the precise date of death in her mind, Savitri fasted completely from food for the immediately preceding days in hopes that Providence would change the course of events. When the dreaded day finally arrived, she made sure not to leave her husband’s side. Satyavana decided he would go into the woods to procure supplies for a sacrifice, and Savitri insisted on going with him. While in the woods, Satyavana got an intense headache and was forced to lay on the ground with his head in his wife’s lap. At that time, Yamaraja, the god of death, arrived to take Satyavana’s soul away. According to information found in the Vedas, when a person gives up their body at the time of death, Yamaraja’s associates come and either take the person to heaven or hell depending on their deeds. Residence is not permanent at either destination since a person’s merits or demerits eventually expire, at which point they are given a new body in the material world. In this way, the soul perpetually goes through the cycle of birth and death. The one exception to this rule is for devotees of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Devotees who think of Krishna at the time of death are sent directly to Lord Krishna’s planet, the highest type of heaven. Residence there is permanent and the soul gets to have eternal association with God.
Savitri insisted on following Yamaraja, pleading with Him to restore her husband’s life. She repeatedly put forth beautifully crafted statements on dharma, detailing the duties of man and how they should have association with saintly people. With each statement, Yamaraja granted her any boon she wished, except for the restoration of Satyavana’s life. After receiving three boons, Savitri was still persistent and informed Yamaraja that she would follow her husband wherever he was going. Being pleased, Yamaraja finally relented and asked her to request a fourth boon, this time with no restrictions. Savitri naturally requested for her husband’s life to be restored, which the god of death gladly agreed to. With the three other boons, Savitri’s father was able to procure a multitude of sons, and Dyumatsena’s eyesight and kingdom were restored. In this way, she rescued her entire family through her devotion to dharma.
When Lord Krishna expanded Himself in human form as Lord Rama, He was married to Sita Devi, the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi. Born in the kshatriya order, Lord Rama was to be installed as the new king of Ayodhya by His father Maharaja Dashratha. Rama’s younger brother Bharata was instead chosen to be the new king at the last minute. Accompanying that decision from Dashratha was his order that Rama be banished to live in the woods for fourteen years, having no claim on the kingdom. Lord Rama, being the most pious prince, had no problem with these decisions but He knew His wife wouldn’t take well to them. Informing her of His father’s wishes, the Lord ordered her to remain in the kingdom and not to follow Him. In the spiritual world, Lakshmi serves God’s four-handed form of Lord Narayana. She is ever devoted to His welfare, so naturally she had the same level of devotion to Rama during their pastimes in the material world. Though quiet and shy in nature, Sita vehemently objected to her husband’s request. She insisted on coming with Him, referencing Vedic tenets to support her position.
In the above mentioned passage, Sita makes the comparison to Savitri, who was willing to follow her husband all the way to hell. We can see from Sita’s statement that the story of Savitri and Satyavana was well known even during Lord Rama’s time. The events of the Ramayana took place in the Treta Yuga, the second of the four time periods of creation according to the Vedas. Dharma, or religiosity, was at three- quarters strength during the Treta Yuga, so the general population was still very pious and well versed in the famous historical incidences documented in the Puranas.
Sita had the same devotion to her husband as Savitri did, except it was on an even higher level. Though she was referencing Savitri, in actuality Lakshmi is the standard bearer for devotion. All great women in history follow after her tradition of chastity and dedication. Sita Devi was the goddess of fortune in disguise, so she naturally couldn’t make references to herself. In going to the forest, she would be giving up the same royal life that Savitri was accustomed too. In the story put forth in the Mahabharata, Savitri’s beauty is compared to that of Shri, which is another name for Lakshmi. Thus the similarities between the two are obvious.
Though Lord Rama was set to lose His kingdom and Satyavana set to lose his life, the wives would actually be hardest hit. Rama, being God Himself, was the ultimate renunciate and thus could handle any difficult situation without a problem. Satyavana too was very pious and was surely destined to reach the heavenly planets after death, so meeting death at such a young age wasn’t so horrible for him either. The real hardship belonged to the spouses. Savitri would have to suffer the horrible pain of being a young widow. Sita Devi was born and raised in the kingdom of Maharaja Janaka, the king of Mithila. In her married life, she enjoyed the luxuries that came with her status as the wife of the eldest son of the king. Forest life would mean she would have to renounce all of that. Her husband would be stripped of all his material opulences and would be forced to live a life akin to a homeless person. Loving someone means wanting more for the other person than you want for yourself. Thus it pained Sita more to see bad things happen to Rama than if the situations were reversed.
The lesson we learn from Sita Devi is that we should show the same level of dedication to God as that shown by Savitri towards her husband. We should learn to love Krishna, or God, no matter the circumstance or predicament. This material world is full of miseries. Living entities are constantly hankering after things they want and lamenting over things they don’t have. In our daily affairs, we are guaranteed to suffer loss and hardship. Yet we must learn to persevere and remain on the path of devotional service to Krishna. Freeing ourselves from our attachments to material nature is not an easy thing to do. We are sure to fall down from time to time, breaking the rules and regulations prescribed to us. More importantly, we should never give up the path of devotional service, for there is no loss for our efforts. In material endeavors, if we start a task and don’t see it to its completion, we have wasted our efforts. In spiritual activities, there is no loss on our part because even if we are unsuccessful in purifying our consciousness in this life, in our next life we get to resume our devotional activities from where we left off.
“By virtue of the divine consciousness of his previous life, he (the unsuccessful yogi) automatically becomes attracted to the yogic principles-even without seeking them. Such an inquisitive transcendentalist, striving for yoga, stands always above the ritualistic principles of the scriptures.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.44)
So let us all commit ourselves to loving God just as much as Sita Devi did. Through thick and thin, let us all follow the path of devotional service wherever it may take us. Even if we go to hell, we pray to You Lord that we may always think of Your lotus feet and chant Your holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
Categories: glories of sita devi