Yudhisthira reacts to the story of Rama 'Maharshi! It is not for myself or my brothers that I feel sad. But feel terrible when I see Draupadi. She is the one who managed to get us released after I had lost everything in gambling. And she had the most terrible experience at the sabha. Then she faced ill treatment, here in this forest, when Jayadratha forcibly dragged her away! I have not seen or heard of any other Pativrata and a woman of good conduct, who had to go through such tough times!' But the great Rishi says 'Yes there is one!' and tells them the story of Savithri.
In Madra desha lived a king Ashwapathi; popular, truthful and a follower of dharma. But alas he had no children. Seeking offspring, he observed very severe holy practices and performed thousands of homa to supplicate goddess Savithri. After eighteen long years the goddess appeared and said 'I have come to you after speaking to god Brahma and he has decided to bless you with the most radiant daughter!' and disappeared.
In good time, the queen gave birth to a daughter and they named her Savithri. She grew up to become the most radiant and beautiful girl possible and shone like a golden doll! People mistook her to be a deva kanya (a goddess!). Perhaps, because of her divine radiance men hesitated to marry her. Her father getting worried tells her 'My dear it is time for you to marry. But no one has come forward seeking for your hand in marriage. I suggest that you go and look for a husband on your own. I will get you married to the man of your choice.'
Savithri leaves home in the company of elderly ministers in a golden chariot. She visits many places and is blessed by many raja rishis and finally she returns home. She meets her father and the sage Narada, who is there on a visit and seeks their blessings. Narada asks the king 'Maharaja! Where did your daughter go and why is she still not married?'. The king replies 'I had sent her for the same reason, let us hear what she has to say, whether she has found anyone to marry!'
Savihri tells them about her efforts to find a husband: 'In Salva desha, king Dhyumyatsena ruled by following dharma. Unfortunately he lost his eyes and his old enemy from the neighbouring state grabbed his kingdom and the blind king went to the forest and began to perform a penance. His son grew up in the forest, his name is Satyavanta (the truthful one!). I like him and I think he is the right match for me!'
Narada appears worried but tells the king that Satyavantha is suitable in all respects, radiant like the sun, wise like the Brihaspati, patient like the earth and valiant like Indra; 'He is also very generous, handsome, a good friend, without jealousy and has all the good qualities, but he has one serious defect. He destined to die exactly one year from now!'
Aghast King Ashwapathi advises his daughter to go and seek another, but the daughter tells him that she has already chosen and does not want to change her mind and is ready to face the consequences. Narada recognising her resolve advises the king that marriage seems to be the only option left and suggests that he get her married to Satyavantha.
Savithri is married and goes to live with her husband and his parents in the forest. She relinquishes her fine clothes and jewellery and is content to wear saffron coloured cotton clothes. She devotes all her time taking care of his parents as a dutiful daughter-in-law and her husband. She is soft spoken and agreeable. While busy with her duties, her mind is constantly preoccupied as she keeps count of the number of days gone by. As the predicted day of death nears and only four days are left, she undertakes the most austere religious practises, which worries her father-in-law due to its severity.
On the day of his forecasted death, she seeks permission to join her husband as he leaves home to collect firewood. It is the first time she has stepped out into the forest and while she manages to appear happy with the walk her mind is full of trepidation. The couple collect some fruits and Satyavantha begins to split wood and starts sweating. Suddenly he is not even able to stand and tells Savithri that he is very tired and he needs to sleep. Savithri supports him and then takes his head on her lap. As she realises that the time has come, she sees a well built man, radiant like the sun, dark skinned and with red eyes standing near her husband and terror strikes her heart. She gently keeps the head of Satyavanta on the ground and springs up with alacrity with her heart palpitating, addresses the man with folded hands 'Swami, you must be a devata. Please tell me who you are and what is your purpose?'
The man replies 'Savithri! You are a Pativrata and a tapaswini. So I will reply. I am Yama. Your husbands duration of life has ended. I have come to take it away. As he is a good man, I have come personally come to collect his जीवा'. He then pulls the thumb sized life from Satyavantha's body and ties it up with a rope. Satyavantha body becomes still as Yama walks towards south with the life tied to the rope.
Savithri follows Yama in despair. She is able to do it as she is a pativrata and because of the merits she acquired through her observations of various rituals. Yama asks her to go back and take care of her husband's last rites and that her obligation as a wife has ended! She replies that it is her dharma to go wherever her husband goes or takes her. And she does not want to reliquish her dharma. She speaks to Yama as if she is talking to a friend and convinces him that she has no other alternative but to follow him. Yama is pleased with her arguments and the way it is presented and asks her seek a boon except her husband's life.
She asks for the restoration of her father-in-law's sight. Yama gives her this boon and tells her that she is looking tired and asks her to return. But Savithri does not go back and continues to engage him in a conversation. Pleased with her ways and her understanding of dharma, he bestows her with many more boons. She thus manages to get her father-in-law's kingdom restored, her father blessed with a hundred sons and also hundred sons for herself. Finally the life of Satyavanta itself and a life with him for four hundred years.
The resurrected Satyavahana and Savithri walk the forest in the night and return home to the worried but happy parents. And in time all the boons bestowed on them come true. Rishi Markendeya concludes the story and tells Yudhithira that 'Draupadi like Savithri will bring you luck and end your troubles!'
Recently I saw a show 'swar kathopanishad' about how Nachiketa meets Yama in Yamalokha and learns the way one can come out of the eternal cycle of birth and rebirth. Now it is about Savithri who mangaes to postpone the inevitable by speaking intelligently and sweetly to Yamaraja.
In the present, we do hear about people who had near death experience! There is no mention of meeting the powerful and the dark god of death, but interesting none the less. Here is what the International Association for Near Death Studies has to say: