Savitri : The Mahabharata Story
… Continued …
That evening, returning home after her first encounter with Satyavan and knowing of Satyavan’s blind father’s story, Savitri’s first care was to share with her mother those strange overpowering emotions she had felt for the young Prince and her deeply felt affinity for his old parents, for the sad happenings in the life of the old King who now lived as a hermit in the anchorage she often visited. The queen understood how affected her daughter was and shortly rushed to her husband, the king of Madra, to communicate her own fears.
“Now what is it, my gentle queen, that makes you feel so rushed ?” She told him, between smiles and tears, all she had heard from Savitri. The Madra king sighed and replied, “I fear much, of our daughter’s future, my dear. What are this Satyavan’s family’s antecedents, their belief and values system ? Not knowing aught, can we discuss with them our Savitri’s future ? It is such a delicate matter.”
A few days after, as if to allay the king’s doubts, Narad Muni came to Madra palace. Old and gray but of cheerful countenance, everybody loved to see the gossip gathering and freely spreading son of Great Brahma. Yet Narad Muni’s visit was never without serious significance for the individual or family he visited. The Madra monarch too hoped that he would be benefited by the Muni’s ability to look into the future and by his sage advice.
“Now welcome, welcome, dear old friend ! All hail, and welcome you once again !” Barely were the greetings exchanged when in glided Savitri like a strain of beautiful music, filling the room.
“And who is this bright one, say, whose radiance dispels the chamber’s gloom ? Is she an Apsara or fay ?” The Muni enquired, though he well knew Savitri’s identity.
“No Sire, this is my one, my only child.”
“And… married ?”
“The seasons pass, so make haste, O King,” the Muni remarked with a smile.
“That is the very matter, O Sage, on which I urgently need your wise counsel. Savitri has seen a youth at the hermitage, to whom in very deed her heart inclines.”
“And who is he ?”
“My daughter, tell the Sage his name and family. Speak as to men who best love thee.”
Savitri turned to them her modest face and answered calm and clear, while the sage listened with animated interest.
“Ah, no ! Ah, no,” cried the Muni. “It cannot be. Choose another, my dear !”
“And why should I ? When I have given my heart away, though in thought, how can I take back ? Forbid it, Heavens ! I know no crime in him or his.”
“Believe me, Child, my reasons shall be clear in time. I speak not wildly. Trust me on this.”
“No, I cannot break a plighted faith and I cannot bear a wounded conscience.”
“Oh, forsake this fancy, my dear. Of it spring dark forebodings and my despair.” The Sage was visibly perturbed as he intensely beseeched.
“It may not be…” The King of Madra opined with a faraway look but stopped to hear the speakers by turns, doubt writ large on his face. He tentantively interposed, “O Sage, you mean well. But is this young man, Satyavan, entirely unworthy of my daughter ? Tell me, in some detail.”
“No, I must clarify, Satyavan would be a very capable and worthy groom. He is more godly than mere human but is still not suited for your daughter. The great Soor Sena was his ancestor and no king has been as good and kind as Dyaumat Sena, his blind father. Yet, this relationship between Savitri and Satyavan would bring great misery on her, as their stars are heavily mismatched by the heavens.”
“What exactly, O Muni, is the bar ? Even if his father’s kingdom is lost, even while his family’s wealth is gone, Satyavan’s merit still remains as a shining star. None of their misfortune takes away the greatness instituted in his lineage. I care not for riches, worldly power, or rank of the youth who my daughter finds worthy enough to serve. I will accept him as my son who is well brought up, who is pure, wise and brave. And in this instance, thanks to Fates, I see no hindrance; no, not one.”
“Since you insist, O King, hear the truth, fated and fatal. On this day a year later, the young Prince shall die, leaving the happy child bereaved for the rest of long life. Hence I suggest…”
The monarch was stunned into silence through a long pause in the conversation. But he knew, the future was an open book to Brahma’s son. Sweat broke on his brow as he shuddered at the thought of her widowed daughter. Coming from the great sage himself, the King knew, the jinx was certain to happen. No, he resolved, even the possibility of such a mishap cannot be brought upon his child.
The King of Madra gently took Savitri’s palm into his own and said, almost pleadingly :
“Savitri, my dear, no child can give away her own hand into marraige. A pledge, as you have made, is nought while it remains unsanctionèd. And here, if I correctly understand, there was no pledge at all. It was but a thought, a shadow that barely crossed your mind. You are therefore free to review and reform your view upon hearing our good counsel. What has been on your may hence be clean forgot and cannot be binding in the eyes of the gods.
“And think well you must upon the dreadful curse of widowhood : the vigils, fasts and penances; no life is worse than the hopeless one of a widow. For while it lasts, days follow, one after another, in one long monotonous circle, blank and drear. Less painful would it be to be bound on some bleak rock, without a chance of ever becoming free, with just the ocean’s melancholy voice for company. No, my dear, no ! You must make a different choice amongst the several already before us. If that be a sin, let the sin be upon me.”
Hearing her father speak with weakness out of concern for her fated future, young Savitri stood up to face him with unblanched cheeks and clear eyes, like a statue come alive strong and firm. Even in the meek grace of her virginhood, her words were somewhat austere :
“Father, once and only once do all submit to Destiny. Such is God’s command for us humans and the gods in heaven. Once, and only once, so it is writ, does a woman pledge her faith and hand. Once, and only once, can a sire say unto his beloved daughter in presence of the Great Witness of the Sacred Fire, “I give thee away to this man.”
“Once, and only once, Father, have I given my heart and faith, and it is now past recall. With conscience, none have ever striven without failing, and none may strive without a fall. My vow for Satyavan was not the less solemn because it was not uttered before others and thus remained unheard. And oh! my dear father, my sin will not be less, if I should now deny the feeling I then felt and now feel within. I may remain unwedded to my dying day, my father dear, but I shall not vow for another. It is well, if so thou will. But, say, can a man balk Fate, or break its chain ?
“If Fate so rules, that I should feel the miseries of a widow’s life, can man’s device repeal the doom ? The strife between Humanity and Fate seems unequal : none have on earth what they desire; death comes to all, soon or late. And peace is but a wandering fire; expediency leads the wild astray. What is right must be our guiding star; duty must be our watchword, come what may. Judge for me, Father ! Godfather Narad Muni ! Judge for me the wise course to take.”
Silence descended in the hall after Savitri concluded her thought on the matter. She meekly looked up to both. Her father, though he patiently heard her, still seemed loathe to give his sanction to her pledge for Satyavan. But Narad Muni found the words to exclaim : “Bless thee, my child ! ‘Tis not for us to question the Almighty will, though cloud on cloud loom ominous. In gentle rain they may distil.” At this cue, the monarch too agreeably spoke : “Be it so ! I sanction what my sage friend approves. All praise to Him, whom praise we owe. My child shall wed the youth she loves.”