Giri gmadras at ENGR.UCDAVIS.EDU
Sat Mar 15 17:28:35 CST 1997

>Can anybody shed light on the significance or symbolism of the Satyavan
>Savitri story.  As I know it, Savitri brought Satyavan back to life.  What
>I am confused about is why does this story place so much emphasis on
>Satyavan's body?  The atman does not die.

        Namaste for your query. I am not well-versed in these subjects,
but I will try to answer this question.

        It is true that atman does not die. That means, we should not
grieve even if a close friend/family member dies. And surely, the wise do
not grieve for the living or the dead (Bhagavad Gita) since they don't see
someone being born to die. Anything born has to die, but Brahman is not
born. And a jnani sees only Brahman everywhere.

However, for a person who is not a jnani (i.e one who has not wiped out
his/her vaasanas which constitute one's perceived avidya), death is real.
[What causes these vaaasanas ?  Desire, selfish work and expectation of
results of the work leads to transmigration (Vivekachudamani)]. Thus,
except for a person who has realized the Self, death/birth/
successes/failures are real. He/she is told not to be enamoured by it and
look upon everything as Brahman to purify the mind (again,
Vivekachudamani) and wipe out avidya.

        In a dream, one is hungry and eats. Only _after waking up_ can the
person say that he need not have eaten in the dream and could have still
survived. So long as one in the dream, one has to follow the rules. Thus,
so long as there is an even slight hint of duality, we have to follow

        We cannot fault Savitri for trying to get back Satyavan. For her,
death was real. She was able to see Yama and walk with him only because
of her penance. She was not, yet, a jnani.

>I am sure there is a deeper meaning that I am not grasping.

        But there is a deeper meaning to the story, nevertheless. When
Yama spots her walking behind him, he gives her a wish (anything other
than satyavan's body), she asks for the health and wealth of her inlaws.
He again gives her one more wish and she asks for the sons for her father.
For the final wish, she asks Yama for children and Yama grants it.
Savitri calmly points out that she cannot beget children without Satyavan
(proof that cloning was not invented at that time :-) and Yama proceeds
to remove the noose from the neck of Satyavan.

        When Yama gave her two wishes, she did not ask anything for
herself when she could have got practically anything she wanted. The same
is the story of Yama and Nachiketa. He also does not ask Yama for
personal benefits. This shows how magnamious she was, it shows a high
maturity if someone asks things for others benefit and shows she is not

        Secondly, what is the jungle and the realm of the dead where all
sort of wild things are mentioned when Savitri follows Yama ?  It is an
allegory.  The wild things were the lust, anger, jealousy ... and when one
follows the Guru/God, he/she is attracted by all these but one who follows
unperturbed is a true yogi. What are the wishes ? Siddhis.  Anyone who
practices yoga to attain siddhis is ignorant, as Patanjali point out.
Thus, though Siddhis are offered/attained, the true purpose of realizing
the Self should never be lost. Like Savitri, who only wanted to get back
Satyavan and nothing else, everything else in the realm of the mind should
be ignored for a higher purpose (liberation). For the final wish, Yama
gave her children i.e happiness. But only a person who has regained
Satyavan (attained liberation) can be happy. So, the end of the story can
be written as

Yama : Ask for anything but Brahma GYAna
Savitri : Give me happiness.
Yama : ok.
Savitri : But I cannot be happy without Brahma GYAna. All other pleasures
are ephemeral.

        How is Brahma GYAna given ? By removing the noose tying Satyavan's
neck. Who is Savitri ? Daughter of Sun God i.e Light. We are all Light,
but have forgotten the purpose of "attaining" Satya (Truth). Because of the
noose. The noose called avidya weaves over Satya as maya and till the
noose is removed the Self is not apparent though it is Here and Now.

        And marriage, according to Hinduism (atleast from what I have
read) is not 'Until death do us apart,..' but continues on to several
births and rebirths. For example, during the kanya dana of the vivaha
(marriage ceremony), the bride's father takes her hands and places them in
the groom's, transferring his responsibility for her to the groom. The
groom assures her father that he will not be false to her in dharma,
artha, or kama. The ritual of agni pradakshina follows, where the bride and
groom walk around the sacrifical fire seven times (why seven ? There is
a legend involving Shiva and Parvati). During the pheras, the bride
stands upon a stone, to signify firmness and that she will be faithful to
her husband always. As Yama says, this can be assumed to last only till
death, but there is certainly no mention of it.

        Therefore, the story of Satyavan and savitri also shows that if
one follows dharma according to the rules strictly, even Yama cannot
escape from the stronghold of dharma.

[Of course, there are other ways to escape Yama, besides following him in
the realms of dead. See Vishnu Purana where Yama mentions people he
wouldn't (or rather cannot) touch].

Since it is only my interpretation of the story, please excuse me for all
mistakes. Hope it atleast partially answered your answers.


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