Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Mahabharata: The Love of Savitri


(Woman's Love)

TRUE to their word the sons of Pandu went with Draupadi into exile, and passed twelve years in the wilderness; and many were the incidents which checkered their forest life. Krishna, who had stood by Yudhishthir in his prosperity, now came to visit him in his adversity; he consoled Draupadi in her distress, and gave good advice to the brothers. Draupadi with a woman's pride and anger still thought of her wrongs and insults, and urged Yudhishthir to disregard the conditions of exile and recover his kingdom. Bhima too was of the same mind, but Yudhishthir would not be moved from his plighted word.

The great rishi Vyasa came to visit Yudhishthir, and advised Arjun, great archer as he was, to acquire celestial arms by penance and worship. Arjun followed the advice, met the god SIVA in the guise of a hunter, pleased him by his prowess in combat, and obtained his blessings and the pasupata weapon. Arjun then went to INDRA's heaven and obtained other celestial arms.

In the meanwhile Duryodhan, not content with sending his cousins to exile, wished to humiliate them still more by appearing before them in all his regal power and splendour. Matters how ever turned out differently from what he expected, and he became involved in a quarrel with some gandharvas, a class of aerial beings. Duryodhan was taken captive by them, and it was the Pandav brothers who released him from his captivity, and allowed him to return to his kingdom in peace. This act of generosity rankled in his bosom and deepened his hatred.

Jayadratha, king of the Sindhu or Indus country, and a friend and ally of Duryodhan, came to the woods, and in the absence of the Pandav brothers carried off Draupadi. The Pandavs however pursued the king, chastised him for his misconduct, and rescued Draupadi.

Still more interesting than these various incidents are the tales and legends with which this book is replete. Great saints came to see Yudhishthir in his exile, and narrated to him legends of ancient times and of former kings. One of these beautiful episodes, the tale of Nala and Damayanti, has been translated into graceful English verse by Dean Milman, and is known to many English readers. The legend of Agastya who drained the ocean dry; of Parasu-Rama a Brahman who killed the Kshatriyas of the earth; of Bhagiratha who brought down the Ganges from the skies to the earth; of Mann and the universal deluge; of Vishnu and various other gods; of Rama and his deeds which form the subject of the Epic Ramayana;-these and various other legends have been inter woven in the account of the forest-life of the Pandavs, and make it a veritable storehouse of ancient Hindu tales and traditions.

Among these various legends and tales I have selected one which is singular and striking. The great truth proclaimed under the thin guise of an eastern allegory is that a True Woman's Love is not conquered by Death. The story is known by Hindu women high and low, rich and poor, in all parts of India; and on a certain night in the year millions of Hindu women celebrate a rite in honour of the woman whose love was not conquered by death. Legends like these, though they take away from the unity and conciseness of the Epic, impart a moral instruction to the millions of India the value of which cannot be overestimated.

The portion translated in this Book forms Sections ccxcii. And ccxciii., a part of Section ccxciv. and Sections ccxcv. and ccxcvi. of Book iii. of the original text.



In the dark and pathless forest long the Pandav brothers strayed,
In the bosom of the jungle with the fair Draupadi stayed,

And they killed the forest red-deer, hewed the gnarléd forest wood,
From the stream she fetched the water, cooked the humble daily food,

In the mom she swept the cottage, lit the cheerful fire at eve,
But at night in lonesome silence oft her woman's heart would grieve,

Insults rankled in her bosom and her tresses were unbound,--
So she vowed,--till fitting vengeance had the base insulters found!

Oft when evening's shades descended, mantling o'er the wood and lea,
Men Draupadi by the cottage cooked the food beneath the tree,

Rishis came to good Yudhishthir, sat beside his evening fires,
Many olden tales recited, legends of our ancient sires.

Markandeya, holy rishi, once unto Yudhishthir came,
When his heart was sorrow-laden with the memories of his shame,

"Pardon, father! " said Yudhishthir, "if unbidden tears win start,
But the woes of fair Draupadi grieve a banished husband's heart,

By her tears the saintly woman broke my bondage worse than death,
By my sins she suffers exile and misfortune's freezing breath!

Dost thou, sage and saintly rishi, know of wife or woman born,
By such nameless sorrow smitten, by such strange misfortune torn,

Hast thou in thy ancient legends heard of true and faithful wife,
With a stronger wif e's affection, with a sadder woman's life?"

"Listen, monarch!" said the rishi, "to a tale of ancient date,
How Savitri loved and suffered, how she strove and conquered Fate!"



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 Asnvapati, "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 withwisdom 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 win 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,l eaves 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.



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 drear.

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 bosom of the shadows rose a Vision dark and dread,
Shape of gloom in inky garment and a crown was on his head,

Gleaming Form of sable splendour, blood-red was his sparkling eye,
And a fatal noose he carried, grim and godlike, dark and high!

And he stood in solemn silence, looked in silence on the dead,
And Savitri on the greensward gently placed her husband's head,

And a tremor shook Savitri, but a woman's love is strong,
With her hands upon her bosom thus she spake with quivering tongue;

More than mortal is thy glory! If a radiant god thou be,
Tell me what bright name thou bearest, what thy message unto me."

"Know me," thus responded YAMA, " mighty monarch of the dead,
Mortals leaving earthly mansion to my darksome realms are led,

Since with woman's full affection thou hast loved thy husband dear,
Hence before thee, faithful woman, YAMA cloth in form appear,

But his days and loves are ended, and he leaves his faithful wife,
In this noose I bind and carry spark of his immortal life,

Virtue graced his life and action, spotless was his princely heart,
Hence for him I came in person, princess, let thy husband part."

YAMA from the prince's body, pale and bloodless, cold and dumb,
Drew the vital spark, purusha, smaller than the human thumb,

In his noose the spark he fastened, silent went his darksome way,
Left the body shorn of lustre to its rigid cold decay,

Southward went the dark-hued YAMA with the youth's immortal life,
And, for woman's love abideth, followed still the faithful wife.

"Turn, Savitri," outspake YAMA, "for thy husband loved and lost,
Do the rites due unto mortals by their Fate predestined crost,

For thy wifely duty ceases, follow not in fruitless woe,
And no farther living creature may with monarch YAMA go

But I may not choose but follow where thou takest my husband's life,
For Eternal Law divides not loving man and faithful wife,

For a woman's true affection, for a woman's sacred woe,
Grant me in thy godlike mercy farther still with him I go!

Fourfold are our human duties: first to study holy lore,
Then to live as good householders, feed the hungry at our door,

Then to pass our clays in penance, last to fix our thoughts above,
But the final goal of virtue, it is Truth and deathless Love!"

"True and holy are thy precepts," listening YAMA made reply,
"And they fill my heart with gladness and with pious purpose high,

I would bless thee, fair Savitri, but the dead come not to life,
Ask for other boon and blessing, faithful, true and virtuous wife!"

"Since you so permit me, YAMA," so the good Savitri said,
"For my husband's banished father let my dearest suit be made,

Sightless in the darksome forest dwells the monarch faint and weal
Grant him sight and grant him vigour, YAMA, in thy mercy speak!

Duteous daughter," YAMA answered, "be thy pious wishes given,
And his eyes shall be restoréd to the cheerful light of heaven,

Turn, Savitri, faint and weary, follow not in fruitless woe,
And no farther living creature may with monarch YAMA go!"

"Faint nor weary is Savitri," so the noble princess said,
"Since she waits upon her husband, gracious Monarch of the dead,

What befalls the wedded husband still befalls the faithful wife,
Where he leads she ever follows, be it death or be it life!

And our sacred writ ordaineth and our pious rishis sing'
Transient meeting with the holy cloth its countless blessings bring,

Longer friendship with the holy purifies the mortal birth,
Lasting union with the holy is the bright sky on the earth,

Union with the pure and holy is immortal heavenly life,
For Eternal Law divides not loving man and faithful wife!"

"Blesséd are thy words," said YAMA, "blesséd is thy pious thought,
With a higher purer wisdom are thy holy lessons fraught,

I would bless thee, fair Savitri, but the dead come not to life,
Ask for other boon and blessing, faithful, true and virtuous wife!"

"Since you so permit me, YAMA," so the good Savitri said,
Once more for my husband's father be my supplication made,

Lost his kingdom, in the forest dwells the monarch faint and weak,
Grant him back his wealth and kingdom,Y AMA, in thy mercy speak!"

Loving daughter," YAMA answered, " wealth and kingdom I bestow,
Turn, Savitri, living mortal may not with King YAMA go!"

Still Savitri, meek and faithful, followed her departed lord,
YAMA still with higher wisdom listened to her saintly word,

And the Sable King was vanquished, and he turned on her again,
And his words fell on Savitri like the cooling summer rain,

Noble woman, speak thy wishes, name thy boon and purpose high,
What the pious mortal asketh gods in heaven may not deny!"

Thou hast," so Savitri answered, " granted father's realm and might,
To his vain and sightless eyeballs hast restored their blesséd sight,

Grant him that the line of monarchs may not all untimely end,
Satya,van may see his kingdom to his royal sons descend!"

"Have thy object," answered YAMA, "and thy lord shall live again,
He shall live to be a father, and his children too shall reign,

F or a woman's troth abideth longer that the fleeting breath,
And a woman's love abideth higher than the doom of Death!"



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.

From "THE RAMAYANA AND THE MAHABHARATA" Condensed into English Verse By Romesh C. Dutt (1899)

Note: Make a 3-5 pages analysis of the poem. Formulate your topic statement and use an approach in your analysis.
Duedate: One week after prelim exam. (August 6, 2007)
Specifications: Computerized, short bond paper, double spaced, font Arial 12.

Monday, July 9, 2007


Character Profiles

Zeus: Zeus is the ruler of the gods. He has absolute control over the eventual destinies of humans, but other gods can influence Zeus in the short term, or even interfere with his intentions. The will of Zeus always prevails, despite any efforts of the other gods to change it. Zeus favors the Greeks in the battle of the Trojan War, but he makes short-term concessions to the gods that favor the Trojans by making the Greeks' victory occur only after years of fighting and tragic sorrow.

Hera: Hera is Zeus' jealous wife. She is very angry because Zeus has pity on Troy. Hera is the boldest of the gods who challenges Zeus. She manipulates both other gods and mortals in order to try to keep Zeus from destroying Troy. Hera realizes that her attempts are futile, but she tries to bypass Zeus' will that the Trojans have glory as well as the Greeks.

Apollo: Apollo is the god of the sun, and favors the Trojans. In the beginning of the Iliad, it is Apollo who brings a plague to the Greeks, because of Agamemnon's dishonor to one of his human priests. This act becomes significant because it sparks Achilles to leave the fighting, and makes possible the rest of the book.

Aphrodite: Aphrodite is the goddess of love, and she is the patron goddess of Paris, the son of the Trojan king Priam. Aphrodite is one of the more active gods in the Iliad, and she joins the battle on the side of the Trojans and actively fights with them. Unlike Hera, Aphrodite tries to directly influence the outcome of the war by fighting in battle alongside the Trojans, and whisking Paris away from potentially lethal situations many times. Aphrodite also protects Hector, Paris' brother, but has to abandon him during a key battle by edict of Zeus.

Athena: Athena is the goddess of wisdom, and she favors the Greeks. Athena is the goddess who adheres to Zeus' will more strictly than the other gods. She protects the Greeks, specifically Diomedes, Odysseus, and Achilles. Athena is a calming and reasoning influence, and helps to avoid conflict when she calms Achilles after he has threatened Agamemnon because Agamemnon unfairly took Achilles war spoils.

Thetis: Thetis is the mother of Achilles. She is a water nymph, and she does not want her son to fight, because of a prophecy that ensures Achilles' death if he continues to fight. She is a minor god, and so she can only beg Zeus' for mercy on behalf of her son.

The Greeks: Also known as Acheans, Argives and Daanans.

Achilles: Achilles is the Greek's most powerful warrior without question. However, he believes that his superiority of fighting ability gives him the unquestionable right to lead the Greek fighters as a king. When he disagrees with Agamemnon, the legitimate leader of the Greek fighters, Achilles sulks away from the battle, knowing that the Greeks will suffer without him. The main focus of the Iliad is Achilles' internal struggle with leaving the fighting. On one hand, Achilles has been wronged y Agamemnon; also, Achilles remembers the prophecy of his death and must remember that if he fights, he will surely die. On the other hand, by not fighting, Achilles' friends in battle are suffering, and eventually, his best friend Patroclus is killed because of Achilles' refusal to fight.

Agamemnon: Agamemnon is the leader of the Greek forces. He is only a mediocre warrior but he is respected because he is older than Achilles and he has more political power. Agamemnon causes the plague sent by Apollo because he wronged a priest by keeping the daughter of the priest as a concubine. When Agamemnon demands that Achilles give him a replacement concubine, Achilles becomes very upset, and calls Agamemnon on his lack of warrior status, and insults his leadership abilities. This quarrel sets up the framework for the rest of the Iliad.

Menelaus: Brother of Agamemnon. Together the brothers are referred to as the "Sons of Atreus."

Patroclus: Patroclus is Achilles best friend. Patroclus is intensely loyal to Achilles, and so it hurts him when Achilles leaves the fighting, because Patroclus can see the conflict within Achilles. Patroclus is foolishly loyal, and persuades Achilles to lend him his armor so that Patroclus can rally the Greeks in the guise of Achilles, without Achilles actually fighting. However, Patroclus is killed by Hector, the most significant Trojan warrior. Achilles dies in spirit when Patroclus dies, and so he returns to battle, single-minded to destroy Hector and the Trojan army.

Odyssueus: An intelligent and crafty Greek soldier. He is a brave fighter, but his strength lies in his wit and his lack of conscience. Odysseus makes a bold trip into the Trojan camp at night with Diomedes, and kills many and gathers information. This is the same Odysseus featured in Homer's "Odyssey," but here he is much younger and of lesser importance.

Diomedes: Odysseus' best friend, and an excellent fighter.

Nestor of Pylos: Nestor is an older nobleman, and is much like a grandfather to the younger warriors. Nestor functions as a kind of comic relief, and his speeches tend to ramble on for many pages. However, he is significant because of his understanding of the terrible nature of war and his tempered wisdom and views because of his age and experience.

Calchas: Calchas is a prophet. He acts as a mediator between mortals and Gods, and is the one to make Agamemnon aware of Apollo's reason for sending the plague. However, Calchas is rarely listened to, because his news is often unpleasent. His advice and foresight tend to be correct, but he is not respected.

The Trojans: Allied with the Lycians, Illium refers to the city of Troy

Priam: Priam is the king of Troy. He is an old man, and is frail and weak due to the ten-year siege of the Greeks on his city. He knows that his city will fall, and this makes him a broken man, even before he loses his son Hector.

Hector: Hector is the last hope for Troy. He is the Trojans best fighter, and rallies the Trojan army many times. Hector battles Patroclus when Patroclus is in Achilles' armor, and Hector kills him. This dooms Hector, because Achilles becomes intensely wrathful in his desire for retribution. Hector bravely faces Achilles instead of running like his brother Paris often did, and is successful for a short time due to the guarding of Aphrodite. However, to the will of Zeus, she tricks Hector into thinking that he is divinely protected and invincible, and when she abandons him, Achilles is free to kill Hector. Due to Achilles' rage, Hector's body is treated with vicious brutality even after he has died.

Paris: Paris is Priam's son and Hector's brother. He is vain and foolish. He tries to fight a few times, but is always ineffective, and is always rescued by Aphrodite. Paris is the direct cause of the Trojan war, because he sailed to Greece and kidnapped Helen, the most beautiful woman. Paris has no accountability, and it is tragic that he is the cause for many years of suffering and death on both the sides of the Greeks and the Trojans.

Andromache: Andromache is the wife of Hector. She has recently had a son, and she begs Hektor to refrain from fighting on behalf of his son, as well as herself. Hector makes a moving speech, the last time he will see his wife, where he talks about facing destiny and not hiding from it. The love between Andromache and Hector is very strong, but eventually she cannot keep Hector from his destiny.

Top Ten Quotes

The Iliad is sometimes translated into modern English prose, but it some translators try to keep a sense of the metrical structure that the original Greek possessed. A metrical pattern can sometimes be difficult for a modern reader, and there exist various translations of the Iliad that have different metrical, grammatical, and vocabulary structures. Any translation should follow the same plot and character structures, but quotations will look different from translation to translation. Therefore, each quotation will have the book number and approximate line number for reference. Different translations have different spellings for some place names and people names, but they should be similar enough to recognize among any translations.

Book One

1) Invocation and summary of the story of the Illiad:
"Sing, goddess, of Achilles ruinous anger
Which brought ten thousand pains to the Achaeans,
And cast the souls of many stalwart heroes
To Hades, and their bodies to the dogs
And birds of prey." Lines 1-5

2) Zeus, explaining the absolute power of his will to Thetis, the mother of Achilles:
"Nothing can be revoked or said in vain
nor unfulfilled if I should nod my head." Lines 526-527

Book Three

3) Hector, rebuking his brother for lack of honor:
"Paris, you handsome, woman-mad deceiver,
you shouldn't have been born, or killed unmarried.
I wish you had-it would have been far better
Than having you our shame, whom all suspect,
Or having the long-haired Acheans laugh
When you appear as champion-champion beauty-
But have no strength, nor character, nor courage." Lines 40-45

Book Six

4) Hector, saying farewell to his wife:
"No man, against my fate, sends me to Hades'.
And as for fate, I'm sure no man escapes it,
Neither a good nor bad man, once he's born." Lines 487-489

Book Nine

5) Achilles, questioning the motives for the Trojan war as Odysseus tries to bring him back to the fighting:
"But why must the Argives fight
the Trojans? Why did Atreus' son assemble
and bring us? Wasn't it for Helen's sake?
Are Atreus' sons the only men who love their wives?" Lines 336-340

Book Sixteen

6) Patroclus, asking Achilles for permission to join the fighting:
'"Give me your armor to put on your shoulders;
The Trojans might suppose I was you,
Hold back, and give the Acheans' sons a breather,
For breathing spells in war are very few.
Then, with a shout, fresh men might easily
Turn tired men from the ships toward the city."
So, like a fool he begged; for it would be
An evil death and doom for himself he asked.' Lines 40-47

Book Eighteen

7) Achilles' remorse for his hand in Patroclus death:
"I sat by the ships, a useless burden,
though there are better in Assembly-
so may this strife of men and gods be done with." Lines 104-107

Book Twenty-two

8) Achilles, as he kills Hector:
"No more entreating, dog, by knees or parents.
I only wish my fury would compel me
To cut away your flesh and eat it raw
For what you've done. No one can keep the dogs
Off of your head, not if they brought me ransom
Of ten or twenty times as much, or more." Lines 345-350

Book Twenty-Four

9) Priam, King of Troy, begging for Hector's body:
"'Honor the gods, Achilles; pity him.
Think of your father; I'm more pitiful;
I've suffered what no other mortal has,
I've kissed the hand of one who killed my children.'
He spoke, and stirred Achilles' grief to tears;
He gently pushed the old man's hand away.
They both remembered; Priam wept for Hector,
Sitting crouched before Achilles' feet.
Achilles mourned his father, then again
Patroculs, and their mourning stirred the house." Lines 503-513

Achilles: "Don't be angry, Patroclus, if you learn-
even though you're in Hades-I gave Hector back
to his father for a worthy ransom
But I shall give a proper share to you." Lines 592-596

iliad summary and analysis

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Saturday, July 7, 2007


PREVIEW: The princess Savitri must use all her wit and will to save her husband from the god of death.

GENRE: Myths, folktales, legends
CULTURE: Asian Indian (ancient), Hindu
THEME: Heroines, determination
AGES: 7 and up
LENGTH: 1300 words

In India, in the time of legend, there lived a king with many wives but not one child. Morning and evening for eighteen years, he faced the fire on the sacred altar and prayed for the gift of children.

Finally, a shining goddess rose from the flames.

“I am Savitri, child of the Sun. By your prayers, you have won a daughter.”

Within a year, a daughter came to the king and his favorite wife. He named her Savitri, after the goddess.

Beauty and intelligence were the princess Savitri’s, and eyes that shone like the sun. So splendid was she, people thought she herself was a goddess. Yet, when the time came for her to marry, no man asked for her.

Her father told her, “Weak men turn away from radiance like yours. Go out and find a man worthy of you. Then I will arrange the marriage.”

In the company of servants and councilors, Savitri traveled from place to place. After many days, she came upon a hermitage by a river crossing. Here lived many who had left the towns and cities for a life of prayer and study.

Savitri entered the hall of worship and bowed to the eldest teacher. As they spoke, a young man with shining eyes came into the hall. He guided another man, old and blind.

“Who is that young man?” asked Savitri softly.

“That is Prince Satyavan,” said the teacher, with a smile. “He guides his father, a king whose realm was conquered. It is well that Satyavan’s name means ‘Son of Truth,’ for no man is richer in virtue.”

When Savitri returned home, she found her father sitting with the holy seer named Narada.

“Daughter,” said the king, “have you found a man you wish to marry?”

“Yes, father. His name is Satyavan.”

Narada gasped. “Not Satyavan! Princess, no man could be more worthy, but you must not marry him! I know the future. Satyavan will die, one year from today.”

The king said, “Do you hear, daughter? Choose a different husband!”

Savitri trembled but said, “I have chosen Satyavan, and I will not choose another. However long or short his life, I wish to share it.”

Soon the king rode with Savitri to arrange the marriage.

Satyavan was overjoyed to be offered such a bride. But his father, the blind king, asked Savitri, “Can you bear the hard life of the hermitage? Will you wear our simple robe and our coat of matted bark? Will you eat only fruit and plants of the wild?”

Savitri said, “I care nothing about comfort or hardship. In palace or in hermitage, I am content.”

That very day, Savitri and Satyavan walked hand in hand around the sacred fire in the hall of worship. In front of all the priests and hermits, they became husband and wife.

* * *

For a year, they lived happily. But Savitri could never forget that Satyavan’s death drew closer.

Finally, only three days remained. Savitri entered the hall of worship and faced the sacred fire. There she prayed for three days and nights, not eating or sleeping.

“My love,” said Satyavan, “prayer and fasting are good. But why be this hard on yourself?”

Savitri gave no answer.

The sun was just rising when Savitri at last left the hall. She saw Satyavan heading for the forest, an ax on his shoulder.

Savitri rushed to his side. “I will come with you.”

“Stay here, my love,” said Satyavan. “You should eat and rest.”

But Savitri said, “My heart is set on going.”

Hand in hand, Savitri and Satyavan walked over wooded hills. They smelled the blossoms on flowering trees and paused beside clear streams. The cries of peacocks echoed through the woods.

While Savitri rested, Satyavan chopped firewood from a fallen tree. Suddenly, he dropped his ax.

“My head aches.”

Savitri rushed to him. She laid him down in the shade of a tree, his head on her lap.

“My body is burning! What is wrong with me?”

Satyavan’s eyes closed. His breathing slowed.

Savitri looked up. Coming through the woods to meet them was a princely man. He shone, though his skin was darker than the darkest night. His eyes and his robe were the red of blood.

Trembling, Savitri asked, “Who are you?”

A deep, gentle voice replied. “Princess, you see me only by the power of your prayer and fasting. I am Yama, god of death. Now is the time I must take the spirit of Satyavan.”

Yama took a small noose and passed it through Satyavan’s breast, as if through air. He drew out a tiny likeness of Satyavan, no bigger than a thumb.

Satyavan’s breathing stopped.

Yama placed the likeness inside his robe. “Happiness awaits your husband in my kingdom. Satyavan is a man of great virtue.”

Then Yama turned and headed south, back to his domain.

Savitri rose and started after him.

Yama strode smoothly and swiftly through the woods, while Savitri struggled to keep up. At last, he stopped to face her.

“Savitri! You cannot follow to the land of the dead!”

“Lord Yama, I know your duty is to take my husband. But my duty as his wife is to stay beside him.”

“Princess, that duty is at an end. Still, I admire your loyalty. I will grant you a favor—anything but the life of your husband.”

Savitri said, “Please restore my father-in-law’s kingdom and his sight.”

“His sight and his kingdom shall be restored.”

Yama again headed south. Savitri followed.

Along a river bank, thorns and tall sharp grass let Yama pass untouched. But they tore at Savitri’s clothes and skin.

“Savitri! You have come far enough!”

“Lord Yama, I know my husband will find happiness in your kingdom. But you carry away the happiness that is mine!”

“Princess, even love must bend to fate. Still, I admire your devotion. I will grant you another favor—anything but the life of your husband.”

Savitri said, “Grant many more children to my father.”

“Your father shall have many more children.”

Yama once more turned south. Again, Savitri followed.

Up a steep hill Yama glided, while Savitri clambered after him. At the top, he halted.

“Savitri! I forbid you to come farther!”

“Lord Yama, you are respected and revered by all. Yet, no matter what may come, I will remain by Satyavan!”

“Princess, I tell you for the last time, you will not! Still, I can only admire your courage and your firmness. I will grant you one last favor—anything but the life of your husband.”

“Then grant many children to me. And let them be children of Satyavan!”

Yama’s eyes grew wide as he stared at Savitri. “You did not ask for your husband’s life, yet I cannot grant your wish without releasing him. Princess! Your wit is as strong as your will.”

Yama took out the spirit of Satyavan and removed the noose. The spirit flew north, quickly vanishing from sight.

“Return, Savitri. You have won your husband’s life.”

The sun was just setting when Savitri again laid Satyavan’s head in her lap.

His chest rose and fell. His eyes opened.

“Is the day already gone? I have slept long. But what is wrong, my love? You smile and cry at the same time!”

“My love,” said Savitri, “let us return home.”

* * *

Yama was true to all he had promised. Savitri’s father became father to many more. Satyavan’s father regained both sight and kingdom.

In time, Satyavan became king, and Savitri his queen. They lived long and happily, blessed with many children. So they had no fear or tears when Yama came again to carry them to his kingdom.

About the Story

The story of the princess Savitri is one of the best-known and best-loved tales of India. It appears within The Mahabharata, India’s great national epic, which is much like an Old Testament to the Hindus.

This epic, written down at around the time of Christ, had already been passed on orally for centuries. It arises from a time when legends were born—an age of walled cities, of sun and fire worship, and of women far more independent than later Indian culture allowed.

How to Say the Names

Savitri ~ SAH-vit-ree
Satyavan ~ SOT-ya-von
Narada ~ NAR-a-da
Yama ~ YAH-ma (rhymes with “lama”)
Mahabharata ~ MAH-hah-BAR-a-ta

Background of the story

The story of the princess Savitri is one of the best-known and best-loved tales of India. Traditionally, Hindu women celebrate an annual festival in Savitri’s honor to secure a long and happy married life.

The story is found in the Mahabharata, one of the two great ancient epics of India’s Hindus. It appears in Book 3, “The Book of the Forest,” where it is related as an instructive tale to Yudhisthira, one of the epic’s heroes, by the wise hermit Markandeya. It is one of many such independent tales woven into the epic.

The Mahabharata achieved final written form around the time of Christ; but having originated in the oral tradition, it was by then already centuries old. The story of Savitri itself most likely started out as a folktale before its insertion in the epic. Along with the rest of the epic, it then underwent a number of changes and additions over the centuries. In its final version, it shows vestiges of a number of historical periods with very different cultures.

This presents significant problems to the reteller. The first problem is in setting the time and place of the story. On close examination, the tale seems to slip teasingly from one century to another. Major story elements, though, tend to place it in the Brahmanic period of the late Vedic Age. As a focus for research, I settled on a rough date of 800 B.C.

With the date set, the location was easier to pinpoint. The Mahabharata places the story in “the kingdom of the Madras.” This was the region between the present-day rivers Chenab and Ravi, tributaries of the Indus. It is today situated mostly in northeast Pakistan, and partly in the Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir. In the Brahmanic period, the capital of this kingdom was Sakala—near the modern Pakistani city of Sialkot, in the foothills of the Himalayas. I set my retelling there in Sakala and in the foothills just north of it.

The second problem for the reteller is more philosophic, and for that reason more important. In its final written form, the story of Savitri emphasized the devotion and submission of the ideal wife to her husband and his family. This reflected the attitude of Hindu authorities by this later period. (It is in fact an attitude typical of the male religious leaders who arrive after the initial outpouring of a religion to establish institutions and codify teachings. By contrast, a religion’s earliest years often show surprising equality between the sexes—as in the case of Christianity while Jesus still lived.)

Still, beneath the theologic tampering, a storyteller’s eye discerns clearly the tale of a strong, remarkably independent woman—a trickster tale, in fact, in which a woman dares to oppose even a god. And women were indeed treated much more equally in the period when this story likely originated.

Which of these, then, should be respected and brought to the fore—the enshrined morality piece, or the feisty underlying folktale? Being a storyteller and an aspiring friend of women, I chose the folktale. May Yama forgive me.

In other ways too, the culture of the Brahmanic period was very different from the classical Hindu culture more familiar to us. The following will help in understanding various aspects of the story.

Race. Savitri’s people were Aryans, part of the conquering tribes that had come over the Himalayas starting in 1500 B.C. They were not a blond-haired Germanic master race but Caucasians of various ethnic origins, probably originating in central Asia. Since they had not yet fully integrated with the natives of India, they were lighter-skinned than today.

Worship. The Aryans worshipped the Sun and Fire, as well as Brahma and other gods. The “sacred fire” was set on a brick altar, probably constructed to standard dimensions. Rituals were performed at this altar at sunrise and sunset.

Religious practice was based largely on sacrifice. This, however, was in the broader sense of “consecration.” In a typical sacrifice, for instance, food would be set on the altar and “offered” to a god. After a suitable period, the food would be removed and eaten.

In the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom walked together around the altar. Here is a detailed description from the Grhya Sutras:

Having placed to the west of the fire a millstone, to the northeast a water pot, he should sacrifice, while she takes hold of him. Standing with his face turned to the west, he should seize her hand with the formula, “I seize thy hand for the sake of happiness.” . . .

Leading her three times around the fire and the water pot, so that their right sides are turned towards the fire, he says, “This am I, that are thou. Come! Let us here marry. Let us beget offspring. Loving, bright, with genial mind, may we live a hundred autumns.” Each time after he has led her so round, he makes her tread on the stone with the words, “Tread on this stone; like a stone be firm. Overcome enemies; tread foes underfoot.”

Having first poured melted butter over her hands, her brother pours fried grain twice over the wife’s joined hands. He pours again melted butter over what has been left of the sacrificed food, and over what has been cut off. She should sacrifice the fried grain without opening her joined hands. Without that leading round the fire, she sacrifices grain with the neb of the basket towards herself.

He then loosens her two locks of hair, if they are made [i.e. if two tufts of wool are bound round her hair on the two sides]. He then causes her to step forward in a northeastern direction seven steps with the words, “For sap with one step, for juice with two steps, for thriving with five steps, for the seasons with six steps. Be friend, with seven steps. So be thou devoted to me. Let us acquire many sons who may reach old age!”

Joining together their two heads, the bridegroom sprinkles them with water from the water pot.

Savitri (the goddess). As told in the story, the princess Savitri was named after the goddess Savitri, who announced the coming birth. This goddess was the daughter of Savitar, the Sun, who was worshiped at that time. She was also the personification of the “Savitri prayer” (also called Gayatri)—the prayer to the Sun that the princess’s father repeated for years to attain children.

The Savitri prayer is found in the Rig Veda, and is considered the most sacred passage in all the Vedas. One translation of the prayer is, “We desire that covetable gift of the god Savitar, who must impel our thoughts.” It was to be recited at dawn while standing and facing east, and at sunset while sitting and facing west.

Yama. Though the image of Yama and his realm became more sinister and terrifying over the centuries, in much of the Vedic period he was seen as relatively beneficent. His earliest role was merely to reign over the virtuous in the land of the dead, supplying them with food and shelter—much like Odin in Valhalla. Later, the job of harvesting souls was added.

Yama’s realm was often said to be in the south. For the Aryans, who had invaded from the north, this was a convenient direction for the unknown and mythical, as the territory to the south was still unexplored.

Cities. The cities were really forts—square or rectangular, surrounded by walls and then a moat. If located on the plain, they were built of wood; if on higher ground, of mud and brick. Stone was not yet in use. The palace was generally an enclosed courtyard or courtyards with a number of buildings.

Hermitages. The hermitage, or ashram (“OSH-rom”), served as a center for those who wished to devote themselves to a more intense religious regimen. Besides providing homes for monks, the ashrams were retreat centers for city-dwellers, and men often took up residence there after retiring from public life. Some hermitages were also boarding schools for the young.

The ashram would consist of scattered huts and cottages, plus a common hall for worship and sacrifice. Ashram residents devoted themselves to contemplation, scripture study, and ritual. Celibacy was not required, and men often brought their families along to live there. They didn’t grow or cook food, but instead ate fruit, herbs, and roots gathered from the wild.

Natural setting. The region where the story is set has been described as “a delightful country, a paradise of rivers and mountains and woods.”

In Indian literature, hermitages are described as being in “the forest,” “the jungle,” or “the wilderness.” But these are Indian terms for anything other than a settlement or farmland. Even a desert could be called a “jungle.” Typically, an ashram was located on a major highway where it crossed a river. Most were easily accessible.

In my retelling, I’ve used the term “forest” only when it really means “forest.” This is not at all a tropical jungle. The weather in the western Himalayas is relatively temperate and dry, the forest cover is relatively thin, and the trees are mostly conifers.

The “tall sharp grass” by the river is kusa—apparently a kind of saw grass.

Dress. In the cities, women wore brilliant, fine clothes, with many gold ornaments and gems. Hermitage residents wore simple saffron-colored robes. For warmth, they could wear outer coverings of matted bark. These were made by pounding bark into separate fibers, then felting them—as done also by some native American tribes.

Travel. For their journey, Savitri and her party probably traveled on horseback and in horse-drawn carriages. Savitri may well have held the reins herself in a kind of four-wheeled chariot. Elephants were not used for transport at that time.

Women. Women and men in this period were not treated as entirely equal, but much closer than under classical Hinduism. Women were educated and not secluded. They could perform rituals, though this would not be encouraged. Women often chose their own husbands. Though Savitri was no doubt a teenager, women at that time weren’t married off right at puberty. She was likely around 16.

Term Project:

Submit a written output (3 or more page Literary Analysis for submission) The Love of Savitri from Mahabharata –India

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Critical Approaches to Literature

Deconstruction is a school of literary criticism that suggests that language is not a stable entity, and that we can never exactly say what we mean. Therefore, literature cannot give a reader any one single meaning, because the language itself is simply too ambiguous. Deconstructionists value the idea that literature cannot provide any outside meaning; texts cannot represent reality. Thus, a deconstructionist critic will deliberately emphasize the ambiguities of the language that produce a variety of meanings and possible readings of a text.

Feminist criticism tries to correct predominantly male-dominated critical perspective with a feminist consciousness. This form of criticism places literature in a social context and employs a broad range of disciplines, such as history, psychology, sociology, and linguistics, to create a perspective that considers feminist issues. Feminist theories also attempt to understand representation from a woman’s point of view and analyze women’s writing strategies in the context of their social conditions.

Marxist criticism is a strongly politically-oriented criticism, deriving from the theories of the social philosopher Karl Marx. Marxist critics insist that all use of language is influenced by social class and economics. It directs attention to the idea that all language makes ideological statements about things like class, economics, race, and power, and the function of literary output is to either support or criticize the political and economic structures in place. Some Marxist critics use literature to describe the competing socioeconomic interests that advance capitalistic interests such as money and power over socialist interests such as morality and justice. Because of this focus, Marxist criticism focuses on content and theme rather than form.

New criticism evolved out of the same root theoretical system as deconstructionism, called formalist criticism. It was popular between the 1940’s and the 1960’s, but can still be found in some mutated forms today. New criticism suggests that the text is a self-contained entity, and that everything that the reader needs to know to understand it is already in the text. New critics totally discount the importance of historical context, authorial intent, effects on the reader, and social contexts, choosing to focus instead on the layers in the next. This school of criticism works with the elements of a text only – irony, paradox, metaphor, symbol, plot, and so on – by engaging in extremely close textual analysis.

New historicism focuses on the literary text as part of a larger social and historical context, and the modern reader’s interaction with that work. New historicists attempt to describe the culture of a period by reading many different types of texts and paying attention to many different dimensions of a culture, including political, social, economic, and aesthetic concerns. They regard texts as not simply a reflection of the culture that produced them but also as productive of that culture by playing an active role in the social and political conflicts of an age. New historicism acknowledges and then explores various versions of “history,” sensitizing us to the fact that the history on which we choose to focus is colored by being reconstructed by our present perspective.

Psychological criticism uses psychoanalytic theories, especially those of Freud and Jacques Lacan, to understand more fully the text, the reader, and the writer. The basis of this approach is the idea of the existence of a human consciousness – those impulses, desires, and feelings about which a person is unaware but which influence emotions or behavior. Critics use psychological approaches to explore the motivations of characters and the symbolic meanings of events, while biographers speculate about a writer’s own motivations – conscious or unconscious – in a literary work.

Queer theory, or gender studies, is a relatively recent and evolving school of criticism, which questions and problematizes the issues of gender identity and sexual orientation in literary texts. Queer theory overlaps in many respects with feminist theory in its aims and goals, being at once political and practical. To many queer theorists, gender is not a fixed identity that shapes actions and thoughts, but rather a “role” that is “performed.” It also challenges the notion that there is such a thing as “normal,” because that assumes the existence of a category for “deviant.” Queer theorists study and challenge the idea that these categories exist at all, but particularly in terms of sexual activities and identities.

Reader-response criticism removes the focus from the text and places it on the reader instead, by attempting to describe what goes on in the reader’s mind during the reading of a text. Reader-response critics are not interested in a “correct” interpretation of a text or what the author intended. They are interested in the reader’s individual experience with a text. Thus, there is no single definitive reading of a text, because the reader is creating, as opposed to discovering, absolute meanings in texts. This approach is not a rationale for bizarre meanings or mistaken ones, but an exploration of the plurality of texts. This kind of strategy calls attention to how we read and what influences our readings, and what that reveals about ourselves.


  1. Literature is a form of knowledge with intrinsic elements--style, structure, imagery, tone, genre.
  2. What gives a literary work status as art, or as a great work of art, is how all of its elements work together to create the reader's total experience (thought, feeling, gut reactions, etc.)
  3. The appreciation of literature as an art requires close reading--a careful, step-by-step analysis and explication of the text (the language of the work). An analysis may follow from questions like, how do various elements work together to shape the effect on the reader?
  4. Style and theme influence eachother and can't be separated if meaning is to be retained. It's this interdependence in form and content that makes a text "literary." "Extracting" elements in isolation (theme, character, ploy, setting, etc.) may destroy a reader's aesthetic experience of the whole.
  5. Formalist critics don't deny the historical, political situation of a work, they just believe works of art have the power to transcend by being "organic wholes"--akin to a being with a life of its own.
  6. Formalist criticism is evaluative in that it differentiates great works of art from poor works of art. Other kinds of criticism don't necessarily concern themselves with this distinction.
  7. Formalist criticism is decidedly a "scientific" approach to literary analysis, focusiing on "facts amenable to "verification" (evidence in the text).


  1. Real life experience can help shape (either directly or indirectly) an author's work.
  2. Understanding an author's life can help us better understand the work.
  3. Facts from the author's life are used to help the reader better understand the work; the focus is always on the literary work under investigation.


  1. Historical criticism investigates the social, cultural, and intellectual context that produced it. This investigation includes the author's biography and the social milieu.
  2. Historical criticism often seeks to understand the impact of a work in its day, and it may also explore how meanings change over time.
  3. Historical criticism expolores how time and place of creation affect meaning in the work.


  1. These critics hold the belief that great literature truthfully reflects life and is a realistic representation of human motivation and behavior.
  2. Psychological critics may choose to focus on the creative process of the artist, the artist's motivation or behavior, or analyze fictional characters' motivations and behaviors.


  1. Mythological criticism studies recurrent universal patterns underlying most literary works (for example, "the hero's journey").
  2. It combines insights from a variety of academic disciplines--anthropology, psychology, history, comparative concerns itself with demonstrating how the individual imagination shares a common humanity by identifying common symbols, images, plots, etc.
  3. Mythological critics identify "archetypes" (symbols, characters, situations, or images evoking a universal response).


  1. These critics examine literature in its cultural, economic, and political context; they explore the relation between the artist and the soceity--how might the profession of authorship have affected what's been written?
  2. It is concerned with the social content of literary works, pursuing such questions as: What cultural, economic or political values does the text implicitly or explicitly promote? What is the role of the audience in shaping what's been written?
  3. Marxist critics assume that all art is political.
  4. Marxist critics judge a work's "ideology"--giving rise to such terms as "political correctness."


  1. This type of criticism attempts to describe the internal workings of the reader's mental processes. it recognizes reading as a creative act, a creative process.
  2. No text is self-contained, independent of a reader's interpretive design.
  3. The plurality of readings possible are all explored. Critics study how different readers see the same text differently, and how religious, cultural, and social values affect readings.
  4. Instead of focusing only on the values embedded in the text, this type of criticism studies the values embedded in the reader. Intersections between the two are explored.


  1. Deconstructive critics believe that language doesn't accurately reflect reality becuase it's an unstable medium; literary texts therefore have no stable meaning.
  2. Deconstructive criticism resembles formalist criticism in its close attention to the text, its close analysis of individual words and images. There the similarity ends, because their aims are in fact opposite. Whereas formalist criticism is interested in "aesthetic wholes" or constructs, deconstructionists aim to demonstrate irreconcilable positions--they destruct (or deconstruct)--by proving the instability of language, its inability to express anything definte.