The oldest known version of the story of Savitri and Satyavaan is found in “Aranya Parvam” of the Mahabharata. This story was told by Markandeyah when Yudhisthira asks Markandeyah whether there has even been a woman whose devotion matched Draupadi’s. Markandeyah replies with this story.
Long long ago, there ruled a king named Ashvapati, who ruled the great and glorious kingdom of Madra. The king had everything at his disposal - wealth, power and luxury, but he had no offspring. So he prayed, observed tapas and offered everyday ten thousand oblations in the sacred fire repeating the Gayatri mantra as special prayers for Goddess Savitri. For eighteen years, he repeated this performance. Finally goddess Savitri, the presiding deity of Gayatri mantra was pleased with Ashvapati’s devotion and appeared and grants him a boon, that he will soon have a daughter. The king was joyful at the prospect of a child.
The king and his entire kingdom were overjoyed when his daughter was born and named Savitri in honour of the goddess. The king was very fond of her, gave her full freedom to do whatever she liked. Savitri grew up as a beautiful girl and the fame of her beauty spread far and wide. Royal families around the country asked for her hand by sending marriage proposals to the king. However Savitri refused to marry, saying that she would herself go out in the world and find a husband for herself. The king left the choice to Savitri.
Savitri sets out on a pilgrimage for this same purpose and finds Satyavaan, the son of a blind king name Dyumatsena, who after lost everything lives in exile as a forest-dweller. Hearing that Savitri has chosen a penniless prince, her father was severely disappointed. But Savitri was keen on marrying Satyavaan.
Meanwhile Sage Narada met the king and announced that Savitri had made a bad selection, although Satyavaan is perfect in every way, he was destined to die one year from the day of their marriage. The king Aswapati pleaded to Savitri to forget Satyavaan and choose more suitable husband. But Savitri insisted that she had already accepted Satyavaan as her husband and cannot think of anyone else. The king finally agreed and got Savitri and Satyavaan married.
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The wedding of Savitri and Satyavaan took place with a lot of fanfare and the couple went back to the forest hut and lived with her parents-in-law. For the whole year they lived happily. Three days before the predicted death of Satyavaan, Savitri started to observe a fast and vigil. Her father-in-law warned her that she had taken on too harsh a regimen, but Savitri assured him that she had taken an oath to perform these austerities and Dyumatsena offered her his full support.
The morning of Satyavaan’s predicted death, Savitri asked for her father-in-law’s permission to accompany her husband into the forest. Since she has never asked for anything during the entire year she has spent with them, Dyumatsena granted her wish.
The couple went into the forest. Under a tall tree, Satyavaan made a seat of soft green leaves and plucked flowers for her to weave into a garland while he chopped wood. Towards noon Satyavaan felt a little tired, and after a while he came and lay down resting his head in Savitri’s lap and within no time he was on the verge of death.
Suddenly the whole forest grew dark and soon Savitri saw Lord Yama - God of Death standing in front of her. Within no time Lord Yama carried out his duty of taking away Satyavaan’s soul and proceeded towards Yamlok.
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When Yama was about to leave, Savitri walked after him, pleaded lord Yama to take her too along with him to Yamalok, the land of the dead, or give back the life of Satyavaan. Lord Yama replied that he can’t take her to Yamalok because her time has not yet come. He advised her to go back to her home and offered her any boon except the life of Satyavaan. She first asked for eyesight and restoration of the kingdom for her father-in-law. Lord Yama granted the boon and moved towards Yamalok.
Instead of returning, Savitri continued to walk behind Lord Yama through the rough roads of thorns and ditches. Savitri continued to follow, with torn clothes and bleeding feet. Lord Yama was impressed at her noble conduct and offered her another boon except the life of Satyavaan. She asked for a hundred sons for her father. Yama immediately granted the boon and again proceeded towards Yamlok. Savitri still continued to follow him instead of returning.
Lord Yama was about to reach the gate of Yamalok and saw that Savitri was still following him. He was irritated with this act of Savitri and warned her that what she is doing is against nature and she should immediately return. Savitri praised Yama as he is the king of Dharma and praised about the glory of righteousness, on law, justice and mercy and appealed to Yama as the embodiment of all these.
Lord Yama was impressed by her praise and offered her a final boon with a promised from her to return immediately. She asked for many sons for herself. Out of distraction, Yama granted the boon. Savitri instantly asked Yamaraj how she could give birth to many sons without Satyavaan? Yama laughed noting that he has been outwitted by the cleverness of Savitri. He then released the soul of Satyavaan, blessed them both and disappeared.
Savitri found herself under the tree where Satyavaan was laying. Satyavaan woke up as if he was in deep sleep, he saw Savitri both crying and laughing. When asked, she said “nothing my love, let’s go back to the hut”.
Meanwhile Dyumatsena regained his eyesight even before Savitri and Satyavaan’s return. Dyumatsena became the king and Satyavvan as the crown prince. Savitri came to get one hundred brothers and many sons. Satyavaan ultimately ruled the Salwa kingdom and led a very happy and peaceful life with Savitri.
Source: Wikipedia, Aurobindo, Mahabharat