Twelve-month 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 asrams 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 Narad's word!
Nearer came the fatal morning by the holy Narad told,
Fair Savitri reckoned daily and her heart was still and cold,
Three short days remaining only! and she took a vow severe
Of triratra, three nights' penance, holy fasts and vigils
Of Savitri's rigid penance heard the king with anxious woe,
Spake to her in loving accents, so the vow she might forgo:
"Hard the penance, gentle daughter, and thy woman's limbs are frail,
After three nights' fasts and vigils sure thy tender health may fail,"
"Be not anxious, loving father," meekly this Savitri prayed,
"Penance I have undertaken, will unto the gods be made."
Much misdoubting then the monarch gave his sad and slow assent.
Pale with fast and unseen tear-drops, lonesome nights Savitri spent,
Nearer came the fatal morning, and to-morrow he shall die,
Dark, lone hours of nightly silence! Tearless, sleepless is her eye!
Dawns that dread and fated morning! " said Savitri, bloodless, 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, "Widow may'st thou never be,"
Anchorites and agéd 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 accents fair,
But returned the dark remembrance of the rishi Narad's word,
Pale she watched the creeping sunbeams, mused upon. her fated lord!
"Daughter, now thy fast is over," so the loving parents said,
"Take thy diet after penance, for thy 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 to-day!"
"Come not, love," he sweetly answered with a loving husband's care,
"Thou art all unused to labour, forest paths thou may'st not dare,
And with recent fasts and vigils pale and bloodless is thy face,
And thy steps are weak and feeble, jungle paths thou may'st 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 thee let me go to-day!
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 addrest.
"To the jungle goes my husband, fuel and the fruit to seek,
I would follow if my mother and my loving father speak,
Twelve-month from this narrow ashram hath Savitri stepped nor strayed,
In this cottage true and faithful ever hath Savitri stayed,
For the sacrificial fuel wends my lord his lonesome way,
Please my kind and loving parents, I would follow him to-day."
"Never since her wedding morning," so the loving king replied,
"Wish or thought Savitri whispered, for a boon or object sighed,
Daughter, thy request is granted, safely in the forest roam,
Safely with thy lord and husband seek again thy cottage home."
Bowing to her loving parents did the fair Savitri part,
Smile upon her pallid features, anguish in her inmost heart,
Round her sylvan greenwoods blossomed 'neath a cloudless Indian sky,
Flocks of pea-fowls gorgeous plumaged flew before her wondering eye,
Woodland rills and crystal nullahs gently roll'd o'er rocky bed,
Flower-decked hills in dewy brightness towering glittered overhead,
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,
Flail of grief was 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 throbbing bosom as in silence still she went!
Gaily with the gathered wild-fruits did the prince his basket fill,
Hewed the interlacéd branches with his might and practised 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 pierce me and torment my life,
And my feeble footsteps falter and my senses seem to reel,
Fain would I beside thee linger for a sleep doth 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,
Narad's fatal words remembered as she watched her husband's head,
Burning lip and pallid forehead and the dark and creeping shade,
Clasped him in her beating bosom, kissed his lips with panting breath,
Darker grew the lonesome forest, and he slept the sleep of death!
In the country of fair Madra lived a king in days of old,
Faithful to the holy BRAHMA, pure in heart and righteous-souled,
He was loved in town and country, in the court and hermit's den,
Sacrificer to the bright gods, helper to his brother men,
But the monarch, Aswapati, son or daughter had he none,
Old in years and sunk in anguish, and his days were almost done!
Vows he took and holy penance, and with pious rules conformed,
Spare in diet as brahmahari many sacred rites performed,
Sang the sacred hymn, savitri, to the gods oblations gave,
Through the lifelong day he fasted, uncomplaining, meek and brave!
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 spake in gentle accents, blessed the monarch good and brave
Blessed his rites and holy penance and a boon unto him gave:
"Penance and thy sacrifices can the Powers Immortal move,
And the pureness of thy conduct doth thy heart's affection prove,
Ask thy boon, king Aswapati, from creation's Ancient Sire,
True to virtue's sacred mandate speak thy 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 favour and thy grace,
Grant me offspring, Prayer-Maiden, worthy of my noble race."
"Have thy object," spake the maiden, "Madra's pious-hearted king,
From SWAYMBHU, Self-created, blessings unto thee I bring,
For HE lists to 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 noble fame,
Aswapati, Lord of coursers, to his royal city came,
Days of hope and nights of gladness Madra's happy monarch passed,
Till his queen of noble offspring gladsome promise gave at last!
As the moon each night increaseth chasing darksome nightly gloom,
Grew the unborn babe in splendour 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 birth-rites with a glad and grateful mind,
And the people blessed the dear one with their wishes good and kind,
As Savitri, Prayer-Maiden, had the beauteous offspring given,
Brahmans 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,
Came with youth its lovelier graces, as the buds their leaves unfold,
Slender waist and rounded bosom, image as of burnished gold,
Deva-Kanya! born a goddess, so they said in all the land,
Princely suitors struck with splendour ventured not to seek her hand,
Once upon a time it happened on a bright and festive day,
Fresh from bath the beauteous maiden to the altar came to pray,
And with cakes and pure libations duly fed the Sacred Flame,
Then like SRI in heavenly radiance to her royal father came.
And she bowed to him in silence, sacred flowers beside him laid,
And her hands she folded meekly, sweetly her obeisance made,
With a father's pride, upon her gazed the ruler of the land,
But a strain of sadness lingered, for no suitor claimed her hand.
"Daughter," whispered Aswapati, " now, methinks, the time is come,
Thou shouldst choose a princely suitor, grace a royal husband's home,
Choose thyself a noble husband worthy of thy noble hand,
Choose a true and upright monarch, pride and glory of his land,
As thou choosest, gentle daughter, in thy loving heart's desire,
Blessing and his free permission will bestow thy happy sire.
For our sacred sastras sanction, holy Brahmans oft relate,
That the duty-loving father sees his girl in wedded state,
That the duty-loving husband watches o'er his consort's ways,
That the duty-loving offspring tends his mother's widowed days,
Therefore choose a loving husband, daughter of my house and love,
So thy father earn no censure or from men or gods above."
Fair Savitri bowed unto him and for parting blessings prayed,
Then she left her father's palace and in distant regions strayed,
With her guard and aged courtiers whom her watchful father sent,
Mounted on her golden chariot unto sylvan woodlands went.
Far in pleasant woods and jungle wandered she from day to day,
Unto asrams, hermitages, pious-hearted held her way,
Oft she stayed in holy tirthas washed by sacred limpid 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 rishi Narad 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, rishi Narad by his seat,
Bent her head in salutation, bowed unto their holy feet.
"Whence comes she," so Narad questioned, "whither was Savitri led,
Wherefore to a happy husband hath Savitri not been wed?"
"Nay, to choose her lord and husband," so the virtuous monarch said.
"Fair Savitri long hath wandered and in holy tirthas stayed,
Maiden! speak unto the rishi, and thy 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 Dyumat-sena, feeble now and void of sight,
Foemen 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 rishi Narad, doleful were the words he said:
"Sad disaster waits 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,
Steeds he loved in days of boyhood and to paint them was his joy,
Hence they called him young Chitraswa, art-beloving gallant boy,
But O pious-hearted monarch! fair Savitri hath in sooth
Courted Fate and sad disaster in that noble gallant youth!
Tell me," questioned Aswapati, "for I may not guess thy thought,
Wherefore is my daughter's action with a sad disaster fraught,
Is the youth of noble lustre, gifted in the gifts of art,
Blest with wisdom and with prowess, patient in his dauntless heart?
"SURYA'S lustre in him shineth," so the rishi Narad said,
"BRIHASPATI'S wisdom dwelleth in the youthful prince's head,
Like MAHENDRA in his prowess, and in patience like the Earth,
Yet O king! a sad disaster marks the gentle youth from birth!
"Tell me, rishi, then thy reason," so the anxious monarch cried,
"Why to youth so great and gifted may this maid be not allied,
Is he princely in his bounty, gentle-hearted in his grace,
Duly versed in sacred knowledge, fair in mind and fair in face?
"Free in gifts like Rantideva," so the holy rishi said,
"Versed in lore like monarch Sivi who all ancient monarchs led,
Like Yayati open-hearted and like CHANDRA in his grace,
Like the handsome heavenly ASVINS fair and radiant in his face,
Meek and graced with patient virtue he controls his noble mind,
Modest in his kindly actions, true to friends and ever kind,
And the hermits of the forest praise him for his righteous truth,
Nathless, king, thy daughter may not wed this noble-hearted youth!
"Tell me, rishi," said the monarch, "for thy sense from me is hid,
Has this prince some fatal blemish, wherefore is this match forbid?"
"Fatal fault!" exclaimed the rishi, "fault that wipeth all his grace,
Fault that human power nor effort, rite nor penance can efface,
Fatal fault or destined sorrow! for it is decreed on high,
On this day, a twelve-month later, this ill-fated prince will die!"
Shook the startled king in terror and in fear and trembling cried:
"Unto short-lived, fated bridegroom ne'er my child shall be allied,
Come, Savitri, dear-loved maiden, choose another happier lord,
Rishi Narad speaketh wisdom, list unto his holy word!
Every grace and every virtue is effaced by cruel Fate,
On this day, a twelve-month later, leaves the prince his mortal state!"
"Father!" answered thus the maiden, soft and sad her accents fell,
"I have heard thy honoured mandate, holy Narad counsels well,
Pardon witless maiden's fancy, but beneath the eye of Heaven,
Only once a maiden chooseth, twice her troth 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 hath won,
What a maiden's heart hath chosen that a maiden's lips confess,
True to him thy poor Savitri goes into the wilderness!"
"Monarch!" uttered then the rishi, "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!"
"Rishi and preceptor holy!" so the weeping monarch prayed,
"Heaven avert all future evils, and thy mandate is obeyed!"
Narad wished him joy and gladness, blessed the loving youth and maid,
Forest hermits on their wedding every fervent blessing laid.
Vanished then the Sable Monarch, and Savitri held her way
Where in dense and darksome forest still her husband lifeless lay,
And she sat upon the greensward 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 hath come and passed away,
Rise and leave this darksome forest if thou feelest light and strong,
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 gnarléd branches, cruel anguish filled my brain,
And I laid me on the greensward with a throbbing piercing pain,
Pillowed on thy gentle bosom, solaced by thy 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, dost thou of this Vision know,
Tell me, for before my eyesight still the Vision seems to glow!"
"Darkness thickens," said Savitri, "and the evening waxeth late,
When the morrow's light returneth I shall all these scenes narrate,
Now arise, for darkness gathers, deeper grows the gloomy night,
And thy loving anxious parents trembling wait thy 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 fight,
With these fallen withered branches chase the shadows of the night,
And if feeble still thy footsteps,--long and weary is our way,--
By the fire repose, my husband, and return by light of day."
"For my parents, fondly anxious," Satyavan thus made reply,
"Pains my heart and yearns my bosom, let us to their cottage hie,
When I tarried in the jungle or by day or dewy eve,
Searching in the hermitages often did my parents grieve,
And with father's soft reproaches and with mother's loving fears,
Chid me for my tardy footsteps, 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,
Pond Savitri sweetly speaking softly wiped the tear-drops dry:
"Trust me, husband, if Savitri hath been faithful in her love,
If she hath with pious offerings served the righteous gods above,
If she hath a sister's kindness unto brother men performed,
If she hath in speech and action unto holy truth conformed,
Unknown blessings, mighty gladness, trust thy ever faithful wife,
And not sorrows or disasters wait this eve our parents' 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 doth sweetly interlace,
Thus they walked the darksome jungle, silent stars looked from above,
And the hushed and throbbing midnight watched Savitri's deathless love.
The Bhagavad Gita is a chapter of the epic poem Mahabharata, one of India's most important contributions to the history of universal culture. Like any great work, speaks to all readers at all times.