A large body of traditional narratives’, this is how the culture of Hindus has been regarded in the international arena. Its most distinctive feature is its colossal base which is abode to multiple sects, religions and philosophies. Basically, the Hindu culture is a subset of Nepali and Indian culture, and it is extremely rich in Sanskrit literature notably epics and Puranas. These spiritual texts are encrypted with deeper meanings and various symbolic interpretations.
‘Myth’ in Sanskrit
The word ‘Myth’ is believed to have been derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Mithaka’, while ‘Akhyana’ means ‘Ancient Story’, ‘Legend’ or ‘Myth’. The oldest surviving Akhyanas, about 20 of them composed in verse and dialogue form, are those in the Rig Veda. There are reasons to believe that the dramatic dialogue of the theatre evolved from the narrative element of the Akhyana, written by ‘Akhyanavidas’. Many of these ancient tales have come down to us through professional storytellers like Sutras and Kathakars down the ages.
Two stories are told about the origin of Ananthasayanam temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. According to one legend, there was once a forest where the temple is now located. A peasant couple used to cultivate a paddy field there. One day, the wife heard a cry and saw a beautiful child lying under a tree, crying. Picking up the child, she breast-fed it and went for a dip in the river. On her return, she found a five-hooded cobra sheltering the baby from the sun. Since it was believed that the child was the incarnation of Vishnu, the ruler of the place had a temple built in honor of Vishnu.
Another legend goes that a hermit, Bilwamangal Swami, was offering prayers to a Saligram or sacred black stone when he found that whenever he closed his eyes a child was playing around with his articles of worship. The minute he opened his eyes, the child vanished. So he hit out at the child with his eyes closed. On opening his eyes, he found that the child was Vishnu himself. Later, when the hermit approached the forest of Ananta, he heard the crash of a tree and saw Vishnu lying on a thousand-headed snake. The swami offered worship and prepared an idol of the Lord from the very tree which had earlier fallen and installed it. The temple around the idol came to be called Padmanabha or Anantasayanam.
The Shiva temple at Thiruvannamalai or Arunachala (holy fire hill) has been associated in recent years with Ramana Maharshi. But, ancient legend has a quaint story attached to it. It says that a dispute once arose between Vishnu and Brahma over their superiority. When the argument was at its height a voice from the sky urged the two gods to stop fighting. Following this, Shiva appeared between the two as a vertical column of fire that had no beginning and no end. The flaming light was stretching between earth and heaven, and Shiva asked them to find its root and crown.
Vishnu and Brahma assumed the respective form of a boar and a swan and tried to find the two ends of the column of Brahma, agreeing to reach the crown, flew to an extending height. In his upward flight, he caught hold of a flower of Pandavas falling from Shiva’s crown and requested the flower to bear a false witness that he collected it from Shiva’s crown. Upon knowing this, Lord Shiva cursed Brahma that he would never be worshipped in the temple, and banished Pandavas’ flower from his adornment.
Lord Vishnu took the form of a pig and kept digging down to reach Shiva’s foot; Shiva was really pleased with the humility of Vishnu and took him to his heart.
Considered one of the most auspicious places where liberation or mukti may be attained, Gaya is mentioned in Rig Veda and in the Mahabharata. According to a legend when the big asura (demon) named Gaya, performed penance at Kolahala mount, Vishnu granted him a boon that anyone touching him would go to Vaikuntha (Vishnu’s abode). Because of this boon, more and more people began to go to heaven and Yama’s kingdom – the hell – become sparsely populated. So, to set matters right, Brahma went to the asura and asked him to give his body so that a sacrifice could be performed. Gaya agreed but towards the end of the sacrifice, Gaya’s head began to shake. Although Yama placed the Dharmasila on Gaya’s head, it continued to shake. The head stopped shaking only when Vishnu himself came with his mace and stood on the Dharmasila. For submitting to all the torture, Gaya was granted another boon which was that all gods including Vishnu, would continuously fire. Being unsuccessful in their attempts, they finally prayed to Shiva, who was pleased and turned himself into a linga at the Arunachala. The linga here is known as Tejasalinga.
The two mountains Nara and Narayana Parvat flank a temple in the Badrinath valley on the right bank of the river Alaknanda, 325 km from Haridwar. The belief goes that Adi Shankara built the Badrinarayan temple in the 9th century and installed the image procured from the depths of the Narada Kunda. Sage Vyasa is called Badarayana as he was born in the forest of Badri and had his hermitage at Badrikashram, mentioned in Bhagavata, Mundakopanishad and Matsya Purana. There are five tirthas and four silas around Badrinath and performing sraadha (death rites) here is believed to ensure moksha (liberation) for ancestors.
Once, during a dispute over a game of dice, Gauri insulted Shiva following which Shiva cursed her to turn ugly. But, with Vishnu’s help, she was able to mollify Shiva with a penance under a particular mango tree in Kanchi. By Vishnu’s grace Gauri became Kamakshi or the one with lovely eyes. To test Gauri’s devotion, Shiva released Ganga. Frightened by the sudden rush of water, Gauri clung to the image of Shiva. Seeing her great devotion, Shiva got immensely pleased and agreed to stay under the mango tree. After this episode, Lord Shiva began to be called Ekamranatha (Eka-one, amra-mango). A peetha (seat) of the Shankaracharya at Kanchipuram is called Kamakoti peetam.
The Skanda Purana narrates how Shiva’s penance shines (Kas – to shine) here, hence the name Kashi. It is also known as Avim Uktaka because it is free from sin (avi) and is never deserted by the Lord. As the place is supposed to delight the Lord it is also called Anda Kanana. Finally, it is called Varanasi because it lies between the two rivers Vara and Asi.
Lord Vishwanath (Shiva) is the presiding deity of Kashi. The jyotirlinga here is one of the 12 principal Shaiva shrines and it goes back to the beginning of epic and Puranic times. Besides the Vishwanath temple, there are five important places – Lolarka, Kesava temple at the confluence of Varuna and Asi, Panchganga Ghat, Dashashwamedh Ghat and Mani-Karnika Ghat.
Legend goes that once Vishnu had dug a pit with his chakra (wheel) while he was performing severe penance and the pit got filled with his sweat. Seeing this, Shiva shook his head in admiration and a jewel from his ear fell into the pit, which is today the Mani-Karnika Ghat.
Hindus believe that to die in Kashi means liberation from the cycle of birth and death. For Buddhists, Kashi is sacred because the Buddha preached for the first time at nearby Sarnath, and set in motion the Wheel of Law.
The temple of Kedarnath nestles in the Himalayas at 3,000 m above sea level. The range is called the Rudra Himalaya or Pancha Parvata which stands for five peaks- Rudra Himalaya, Vishnupuri, Brahmapuri, Udgari-Kantha and Swargarohini. Gandhamadana hill is part of Ruchira Himalaya. It was while climbing Swargarohini that the four Pandavas died. Only Yudhishthira survived along with his faithful dog.
It is believed that two sages Nara and Narayana while performing penance at Badrikashram, worshipped Shiva as a linga made of earth. Pleased with their devotion, Shiva agreed to stay at Kedar in the form of a jyotirlinga. Another legend has it that the Pandavas, after the Mahabharata war, came here for mental peace. When Shiva saw the Pandavas, he assumed the form of a male buffalo on the run. When the Pandavas tried to catch him, Shiva dived into the earth and only the hind quarter remained behind at Kedar. The buffalo’s arms fell at Tunganatha, his face at Rudranatha, his belly at Madhyameswara and his tresses at Kalpeswara: the Panchkedar. Kedarnath finds mention in the Mahabharata, Devi Bhagavata Purana, Shiva Purana and the Rig Veda.
Kurukshetra, about 40 km east of Ambala in Haryana has been mentioned in the Vedas, Brahmanas and epics. It is said that King Kuru, son of Sarnvarana, ploughed seven kosas of land which came to be known as Kurukshetra. He persuaded Indra to bless those who died either doing penance or in a battle at Kurukshetra so that they would go to heaven. The Mahabharata war was fought at Kurukshetra and it was here that Lord Krishna explained the message of Bhagavad-Gita to Arjuna. During Vedic times the Saraswati River flowed through Kurukshetra and it has been described in the Rig Veda as the purifier and inspiration of noble deeds.
There are several tirthas (places of pilgrimage) in and around Kurukshetra. Legend goes that Parashurama Lake or Samanta Panchaka was formed after Parashurama’s penance for killing a large number of Kshatriyas when the pools of blood were converted to holy water. It is believed that all celibates who bathe here and worship Parashurama, gain wealth. Varaha tirtha, near Kurukshetra, is the place which is highly admired by Lord Vishnu in Vamana Purana. Again, it is also mentioned in Padma Purana and Mahabharata that Lord Vishnu chose Varaha as his abode during his boar incarnation. At Vyasasthali, Vyasa, who resolved to give up his own life in grief for his dead son Suka, was persuaded by the gods not to do so. Similar tirthas associated with Bhishma and Kartikeya are also present in this land of historical and religious importance.
The legend has it that the city of Madurai was originally a forest called Kadambavanam. Once a farmer named Dhananjaya was crossing the forest where he saw Indra (the king of all gods) himself worshipping a Swayambhu (self created Lingam) beneath the kadamba tree. Dhananjaya without any delay informed about this to Pandya King Kulasekhara. The king initiated the task of building a Shiva temple around the Lingam.
The legend goes further asserting that Lord Shiva himself appeared around the temple in the guise of Sundareswara and the drops of nectar fell from his matted hair on the land. That is how Madurai (madhura – sweetness) got its name. A serpent’s movements marked the boundaries of the town. When the serpent coiled itself, the enclosure made by its tail and mouth was selected as the sanctuary of the temple. It is believed that Meenakshi, who was the incarnation of Parvati, was born to the Pandya King Malayadhwaja. Shiva assumed the form of Sundara and married her.
Palani in the Madurai district of Tamil Nadu is famous for the temple of Subrahmanya, who is also known as Skanda, Kartikeya, Shanmukha, Senani, Kurnara, Guha, Tarakajit, Saravanabhava, Agnibhu and Swami. Once Shiva’s two sons, Subrahmanya and Ganesha, got into a dispute over who could circumscribe the world faster. Subrahmanya set out immediately on his peacock. Ganesha on the other hand, knowing there was no way he could compete with his nimbler brother, revolved around his parents and claimed that since they were his world, he had accomplished the task faster.
Shiva saw the truth in Ganesha’s ingenuity and gave him a pomegranate (fruit of knowledge) as the prize. Subrahmanya returned after his arduous journey round the world and found he had been deprived of the prize. Shiva consoled Subrahmanya saying that he did not need a prize because he was a fruit himself (Palamnee). But, Subrahmanya was unhappy and left Kailasa and settled down in Sivagiri Hill, a creation of Agastya which today is called Palani.
Prayagaraja is the ancient name for Allahabad which is at the confluence of the three holy rivers – Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. The Rig Veda says that those who bathe here go to heaven.
According to a legend, the name is derived from the mahayajna or great sacrifice that was performed by Prajapati (Brahma) here – ‘Pra’ from Prajapati, ‘yaga’ from yajna and ‘raja’ signifies its importance, placing this tirthasthan (holy place) above the others. Prayaga is associated with both the epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. It is at Prayaga that Rama crossed the Ganga and went to Chitrakoot. After the Mahabharata war, Yudhishthira became emperor but he was saddened over the deaths of so many of his brothers. Sage Markandeya advised him to undertake a journey to Prayaga so that he could attain mental peace. It is said that each step taken in Prayaga gives merit equivalent to performing the Aswamedha Yajna or horse sacrifice.
The Kumbha Mela takes place once in 12 years at Prayaga. It is said that Brihaspati, the preceptor of gods, ran away with the pot of nectar as it emerged from the churning of the ocean. He was chased by the rakshasas (demons) and during the chase a few drops of the nectar fell at Prayaga, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar. Hence, bathing at these places during Kumbha Mela is believed to wash away one’s sins. The Akshaya Vata (sacred Banyan) tree is situated in the port of Allahabad. After worshipping the tree, devotees offer certain foods, fruits and vegetables for a healthy and prosperous life.
King Indradyumna of Malwa wanted to locate the Lord’s image and install it on earth. He performed several sacrifices and pujas. One day, Vasudeva, (the world teacher) appeared to him in a dream and directed him to go alone at daybreak to the seashore where he would see a tall firm tree, washed by the waves of the sea. He should cut the tree and carve the Lord’s image out of it. The king obeyed all instructions. He saw the tree, cut it and brought it home.
Vishnu and Vishwakarma came to the king disguised as Brahmins and offered to make the image provided they were left alone. The king agreed and left them to make images of Krishna, Balarama and Subhadra. The Lord again appeared in his dream and reassured him that the images were indeed in his likeness. The king installed them in the temple at Puri at an auspicious hour.
Adi Shankara established a peetha (seat) at Puri now known as Govardhan Peeth. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu the founder of the Vishnubhakti cult was associated with Puri. The annual car festival of the Lord Jagannath brings large crowds to Puri.
Lord Rama reached Rameswaram, the then Gandhamadana hill, during his search for Sita after she had been carried away by Ravana. Since Rama never even sipped water before having a darshan (holy glimpse) of Lord Shiva, he made an earthen image of Shiva, worshipped him and was blessed in return.
After defeating Ravana in war, Rama came back to Gandhamadana hill. He was advised by Sage Agastya and others that he should perform propitiating rites for committing the sin of killing a Brahmin, Ravana. Part of the rites was to establish a jyotirlinga. Hanuman went to Kailasa on Rama’s behalf to request Shiva for an appropriate Linga. Since Hanuman took a long time to return and the auspicious time was drawing to a close, Rama installed a jyotirlinga called Rameswara which Sita made out of sand and then performed the necessary rites. When Hanuman, on his return, saw that a Linga had already been installed, he was upset for all his efforts had gone to waste. When Rama saw this, he placed the Linga brought by Hanuman by the side of Rameswara or Ramanathaswamy and proclaimed that in the future, people would worship the Linga (known as Kashi Viswanath) brought by Hanuman first before worshipping Rameswara. Pouring Ganga water over the idol of Lord Rameswara is considered to be a highly meritorious act and a darshan of Lord Rameswara is believed to wash away all sins.
The ancient Mallikarjuna temple at Srisailam is one of the twelve jyotirlingas. The legend revolves around Chandravati, daughter of a local king of Chandra puram – a kingdom on the banks of the Krishna River. Chandravati was so lovely that her own father fell in love with her. Fearing his evil intentions, she left her home and stayed at Srisailam.
She had a cow which used to let her milk flow over a black stone every day. One night, Lord Shiva appeared to the princess in a dream and told her that he had manifested himself in the same stone (Linga). The princess installed the Shivalinga and constructed a Vishnu with Adisesha temple there. She worshipped the deity with mallika (jasmine flowers) every day and the deity came to be known as Mallikarjuna.
According to legend, a Chola king was afflicted with leprosy which, according to his teacher Haradatta, was due to a curse from his previous birth as a hunter, when he had injured several animals. The guru recommended that he should propitiate the gods by constructing a Shiva temple and installing a Shivalinga brought from Narmada. He told him to build another temple for the goddess Brihannayaki and a Nandi (bull).
The king, along with 64 merchants, went to the Narmada River. When he took the Linga out of the water, it began to grow. Hence, it was named Brihadiswara. The temple was constructed by a craftsman, Soma Verma, over a period of 12 years. The story goes that when the temple was completed the king took a bath in the adjoining tank and was cured of leprosy.
The Venkateswara temple – also called Venkatachalapati or Balaji – at Tirumala lies 849 m above sea level while the town of Tirupati is at the foot of the hill. The undulating Eastern Ghats near Tirupati resemble the serpent, Adisesha, and the seven hills of Tirupati resemble its seven hoods. Hence, Tirumala is also called Seshachala or the abode of Adisesha.
According to the Padma Purana, at a sacrifice performed by Manu, a dispute arose among the scholars as to who amongst the trinity – Shiva, Vishnu or Brahma – was the supreme most. Sage Bhrigu was asked to determine the supremacy. Bhrigu first went to Kailasa and after securing admission found Shiva playing with his consort Parvati. Shiva paid no attention to Bhrigu.
Then Bhrigu went to Brahma, who did not even receive him. The sage then called on Vishnu, who was fast asleep. Enraged, the sage kicked Vishnu on his chest. Lakshmi, who was resting on Vishnu’s chest, also received the kick.
Instead of being enraged at Bhrigu’s impatience, Vishnu apologized to Bhrigu for being asleep. He preserved Bhrigu’s footprint on his chest, as a Srivatsa (mark of Vishnu). Lakshmi, however, could not take Bhrigu’s insult lightly and she left Vaikuntha in disgust.
Unable to bear the separation from Lakshmi, Vishnu came to Seshachala as Adi Varaha, carrying Mother Earth on his tusk after rescuing her from the ocean. After a long time, in order to please a devotee, he assumed the form of Srinivasa with Lakshmi on his chest and thereafter he remained under the earth.
Legend goes that the cows of a local king went grazing and returned with empty udders, having disposed of their milk somewhere. The intrigued king followed and saw the cows squirting milk on a particular spot. He dug up the place and found the form of Srinivasa and built the Tirumala temple over it.
Shantanu and Satyavati
Legend has it that King Shantanu, who ruled ancient Northern India fell for a fisherwoman Satyavati and this forms the basis of the great epic Mahabharata. Once Shantanu was wandering in the desert of river Jamuna and got attracted towards a sweet perfume in the air which he traced to a very beautiful young woman. She disclosed that she was Satyavati, the daughter of a fisherman and her task was to row people across the river. The smitten Shantanu approached Satyavati’s father for her hand in marriage. The girl’s father agreed only on the condition that Satyavati’s son would ascend the throne after Shantanu. The king could not agree to the condition but he brooded about the girl.
When Devavrata (Bhishma Pitamah), the son of Shantanu’s first wife Ganga, came to know the real reason for the king’s gloom he went to Satyavati’s father and asked his daughter’s hand in marriage for King Shantanu. Devavrata even took an oath that he would not lay claim to the throne and that Satyavati’s progeny alone would be heirs.
The fisherman said that while he had faith in Devavrata, he could not say the same for unborn children, for they could claim the throne.
In the presence of several Kshatriyas, Devavrata said that he had already given up his claim to the throne and to ensure that the children of Satyavati and Shantanu succeeded to the throne, he would not marry. Thereupon, the fisherman gave his daughter in marriage to Shantanu. Since Devavrata took such a difficult oath and remained so firm in its implementation, he was known as ‘Bhishma’ the terrible, and later as Bhishma Pitamaha, the grand-sire, in the Mahabharata and other epics and Puranas.
Devavrata (Bhishma Pitamah)
Once when Shantanu, the Kuru king of Hastinapura, was hunting by the Ganga, he saw a woman as beautiful as Goddess Lakshmi. He fell in love with her and proposed marriage. She agreed, on condition that no matter what she did, she should not be questioned and if he ever stopped her from doing what she wanted, she would leave him. The king accepted all her conditions. For a while, they lived happily till the queen gave birth to a son whom she drowned in the Ganga. She did this with seven of her children. When the queen was about to subject the eighth child to the same fate, the hapless king protested. The queen then disclosed that she was Ganga born on earth through Brahma’s curse and the children born to her were the eight Vasus who had also been cursed to be born on earth. By drowning them in the river, she had released them from the curse. She also reminded the king of the conditions she had imposed at the time of marriage and left him taking the eighth child with her.
Once while sitting near the river, the grief-stricken king noticed that the flow had slowed down. He saw a young, bright boy stopping the flow of the river with his arrows. Ganga then appeared and told the king that the boy was his son and that he was well versed in the Shastras (holy books) and the art of war. Handing the boy over to the king, Ganga left. The boy, Devavrata, was taken to the palace. He was later known as Bhishma Pitamah, where ‘Bhishma’ means ‘terrible’ and ‘Pitamah’ means ‘grand-sire’. He maintained celibacy throughout his life so that his father could marry Satyavati, the fisherwoman who wanted her own son to enthrone Shantanu’s kingdom after him. Devavrata’s sacrifice for the sake of his father and step-brothers is a highly commended episode of the great epic Mahabharata. In appreciation of Devavrata’s great sacrifice, Shantanu subsequently blessed his son, enabling him to choose the time of his death.
Janmejaya’s Serpent Sacrifice
King Parikshit of the Kuru dynasty was a learned man, well loved by his subjects. Once while on a hunt, tired and thirsty, he reached the hermitage of Sage Shameek. The king tried to speak to the sage but since the latter was observing a vow of silence (mouna vrata), he did not respond to the king. The king felt insulted and without further thought he picked up a dead snake from the ground with his arrow and threw it around the sage’s neck, and walked out of place.
Shameek’s son, Shringi, also a well-read accomplished, holy man, heard of the insult borne by his father and got extremely infuriated. He cursed the king to death by snakebite within seven days which would instantly reduce him to ashes. When sage Shameek woke up from his trance, Shringi told him what had happened and how he had cursed the king. Shameek felt his son had been unnecessarily harsh on the king. He therefore, called one of his disciples and asked him to go to the king, and apprise him of the curse. On the seventh day of the curse the snake, Takshaka, was on his way to Parikshit’s palace, when he saw the Brahmin, Kashyap, who had the power to bring to life a person killed by snakebite. Takshaka after preventing him from going to the king’s palace slipped in and bit Parikshit. The strong poison soon reduced the king to ashes.
King Parikshit was succeeded by his son, Janmejaya, who was also a righteous king. When he heard of the circumstances of his father’s death, he wanted to exact revenge from Takshaka and sought the advice of learned men on how to punish the snake. He was told to perform snake sacrifice, but he was warned that the sacrifice would be thwarted by a Brahmin.
The sacrifice began on an auspicious day and as the different serpents were called out by name, they came and fell into the sacrificial fire and were destroyed. Thousands of snakes were thus killed. Vasuki, the king of snakes was worried that before long his turn would also come. He therefore called upon his sister to prevail upon her son Usheeka, a learned and holy man, to save the race of snakes. Usheeka assured his uncle that Janmejaya’s serpent sacrifice would soon be ended. Usheeka went to the place where the sacrifice was taking place and praised the ritual, the king and Agni (fire god). The king, most pleased with the young boy, told him to ask for a boon.
At this time, Takshaka had sought lndra’s protection. When the priests performing the sacrifice came to know this, they called upon both Indra and Takshaka to fall into the sacrificial fire. Indra began to run and Takshaka was about to fall into the fire. At this juncture, Usheeka was granted his boon which was that the snake sacrifice should be stopped to keep alive the race of snakes. Takshaka was saved.
Nala was a valorous and virtuous king, but unfortunately gambling was his vice. Damayanti was a princess of Vidarbha, famed for her beauty and goodness. A celestial swan acted as a go-between and they fell in love even before they met. When Damayanti’s swayamvara (marriage by choice) was announced, Nala set out to formally win her hand. On the way, Indra, Varuna, Yama and Agni, on the same errand, asked him to plead their cause. Nala did so but Damayanti prayed to the four to let her marry the man she loved. The gods allowed it to be so and Nala took his bride home. The couple bore two children, but their happiness was destroyed when Nala lost everything he owned in a crooked game of dice with his brother. Turned out of his kingdom, Nala sent his children to Damayanti’s father and wandered barefoot in the jungle with his faithful wife. Depressed, he abandoned her and, in a grotesque guise, served as King Rituparna’s charioteer. But, their reunion after twelve years of separation and hardship was bound to happen, creating one of the milestone legends in the history of Dwapar Yuga, after Mahabharata.
Savitri – Satyavan
King Aswapathi performed a number of sacrifices and was blessed with a daughter, Savitri. When Savitri grew up, the king told her that she was old and wise enough to choose a husband for herself. Accordingly, Savitri accompanied by wise men visited various hermitages. On her return, she informed her father that she had chosen Satyavan, the son of Dyumatsen of Shalwa, whose kingdom had been usurped by a neighboring ruler who had taken advantage of Dyumatsen’s blindness and his son’s youth. Dyumatsen, his wife and Satyavan had been forced to seek shelter in a forest. Sage Narada happened to visit Aswapathi and learnt that Savitri had chosen Satyavan as her husband. Narada told the king that in many aspects Satyavan was not a suitable husband for Savitri, as he had just a year to live. Despite Narada’s warning and her father’s repeated efforts to dissuade her from marrying Satyavan, Savitri remained firm in her decision.
Savitri was thus married to Satyavan. She lived a simple life as befitted her status and served her husband’s parents with great devotion. She was most religious and carried out the duties of a faithful wife. When the end of the momentous year was approaching, Savitri began to practice special rigors after prayers. On the day which marked one year period, Satyavan as usual went to the forest to gather food and firewood and Savitri accompanied him. After chopping wood for a while, Satyavan complained of a headache and went to sleep resting his head on his wife’s lap.
Soon Savitri saw a man with the brilliance of the sun, red eyes, with a rope in hand. Savitri asked him who he was. He replied he was Yama (the god of death) and that he had come to take away Satyavan as his life span on earth had ended. He took the ‘life’ out of Satyavan, tied it with his rope and started back. Savitri followed him, conversing with him all the while. She praised his sense of justice and kindness. She also expressed her desire to be with her husband even after death. Pleased with her devotion, Yama granted her three boons. Savitri first asked for her parents-in-law’s sight to be restored. This was granted. She then asked that they get back their kingdom and riches. This was also granted. Finally Savitri asked to be blessed with a hundred sons. Yama without hesitation agreed to her last request. That was when Savitri asked a valid question – how could she, a faithful wife, get a hundred sons without her husband? Yama was at his wits’ end to think of a solution to this dilemma. He could not withdraw his boon and at the same time Savitri had a valid point. He therefore restored Satyavan his life and granted him 400 years on earth. Satyavan lived once again; his parents got back their sight, kingdom and riches. To this day married Hindu women celebrate Savitri’s triumph over Yama and her feat of retrieving her husband from ‘death’. In Tamil Nadu, the day is celebrated as Karadayan Nombu where women tie a symbolic yellow string around their necks for the longevity of their husbands.