The Saga of Savitri Brata

I was on the usual everyday call with my Mom. But something was different today. The awkwardness in our conversation was just too obvious. Both of us were consciously staying away from ‘that topic’.

“It’s high time to do away with all this!”, I would have repeated umpteen number of times, persuading her to stop participating in Savitri Brata. Each time she had the same response, “I’ve been doing this right from the time I got married, can’t stop now.” This would be followed by give-away pretentions of blaming my grandmother (her mother-in-law) for initiating her into practicing the same. Nothing is ever enforced in our family, so we both knew how lame her accusations were. The feminist in me would sometimes struggle to understand her sentiments.

Savitri Brata is a religious event consisting of Puja rituals where women pray for the well-being and long lives of their husbands. I have been witnessing this annual tradition right from my childhood till the time I left home, a good decade-and-a-half ago. Prevalent in the East Indian states of Bihar, Bengal, Assam, and Orissa, this festival is celebrated mostly by the Bengalis, Maithilis, and Odiyas. It’s essentially a counterpart of the North Indian festival of Karva Chauth minus the fanfare and extravagance of dressing up as brides, adorning mehndi, and seeing your husbands through sieves against the backdrop of the Moon. Savitri Brata is relatively a quieter affair of getting together and participating in Puja rituals with the accompaniment of some harmless chatter and heartfelt laughter.

Usually Savitri Brata happens around the end of May or early June, the dates depend on the lunar calendar. This year it’s happening now. My mother used to actively participate in the annual festival and has been doing so for the last 40+ years. With my father’s demise, the very purpose of this festival doesn’t exist for her anymore. I can’t even imagine how hard it must be for her!

The description of the rituals I provide in this post is based on how I have seen the festival celebrated in my home and in the neighbourhood. Hence, this is an account of the manner in which this festival is observed by the Bengalis living in Assam, Meghalaya and other states of North East India. The rituals and traditions in other states could be different, I have no idea.

Savitri Brata is spread over three days. Women wear new clothes and partially fast, living on a diet of fruits for the whole of the first two days and half of the third day. Preparations begin 2-3 days in advance. The sacred grass Durva (Bermuda grass) is collected from the garden, cleaned, and sorted. They are bundled into neat packs of 108 along with flowers. During the Puja, each woman dedicates a bundle to their respective husbands.

Long ago, when my grandparents were around, the puja was done exclusively by a priest at our home and was attended not only by women in the family, but those in the neighbourhood too. As the years passed by, the elaborateness of the puja coupled with reduced manpower made it challenging for my Mom and Aunts to continue conducting the puja at home. Now, the puja is conducted at a centralized location where everyone assembles (except for the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021).

Many a times, we have urged Mom and Aunts to quit the puja. My Dad and Uncles also persuaded to the best of their abilities. They disliked the additional task of making the necessary arrangements and ensuring that everything was in place. Moreover, carrying the psychological guilt of not doing something similar for their wives didn’t make them feel any better. But the women, in a world of their own, were relentless. In fact, they would enjoy those three days of merry making in the form of prayers, get-togethers, laughter, incessant chatter, new clothes, and not to mention the special attention. Logic, blackmail, humble cajoles, we tried it all. Finally, we just gave up!

However, like many other traditions and rituals, Savitri Brata will soon be gone without a trace. I don’t know a single woman of my generation who observes this festival. In just a few years, it will become a forgotten thing of the past.

Many may condemn this as a regressive affair reflecting our inherent patriarchal mindsets. Probably they are right, but over the years a new realization has dawned upon me. I see nothing wrong in following rituals or traditions, especially when they do no harm to others. Rather, they bring forth few moments of joy and happiness. If offering a prayer for your husband/partner puts a smile on your face, there cannot be anything wrong with that. It’s all about individual choices.

Legend of Savitri Brata

(Source: Wikipedia)

The brata was named after Savitri, the beautiful daughter of King Aswapati of Madra Desa. She selected Satyavan, a prince in exile who was living in the forest with his blind father Dyumatsen, as her life partner. She left the palace and lived with her husband and in-laws in the forest. As a devoted wife and daughter-in-law, she went to great lengths to take care of them. One day while cutting wood in the jungle, Satyavan's head reeled and he fell down from a tree. Yamraj, the God of Death, appeared to take away Satyavan's soul. Deeply hurt, Savitri pleaded to Yamraj not to be separated from her husband. If anything, he would have to take her along too. Yamraj, moved by the devotion of Savitri, returned the life of her husband. Soon Satyavan regained his lost kingdom too. 

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Author: neelstoria

Traveling, Gardening, Trekking, Hiking, Storytelling, Writing, Nature, Outdoors, Yoga, DIY

15 thoughts on “The Saga of Savitri Brata”

  1. I’m not sure that this ritual is so harmless. I feel very happy that in just a few years it will be gone. Unfortunately, unlike the karva chauth, which was given a booster shot by a certain Bollywood blockbuster.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If I see it through the lens of society and the message it sends across maybe it isn’t so harmless. Also considering that some people may have been pressurized overtly or covertly to participate in something they don’t want to. I wrote this post only from the perspective of my family and your comment made me realize that. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. It is our thoughts – thoughts and feelings we bring into any act that decides it’s merit. Life is not 2+2=4 !!

    My mother was a traditional Hindu/Indian wife and mother. She kept the karwa chauth fast all her life and her wish was she should leave her body before daddy, that is her husband. And she did that after having been married for 71 years. Three of my sisters, who are older than me stopped keeping the fast decades ago – in 70s!! When I got married in 75 my mother told me wife it was her choice entirely to keep the fast or not. Anita decided to keep it. My mother also told her that it was ok to take water or even a cup of tea, but Anita never took it.

    Who knows what is right or wrong Neel. Just love your mother and pray for her.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re absolutely right, Ashok. As I mentioned it’s about individual choices and how we balance that out. When I was younger, with my thought process being not that mature, I could never understand why Mom does this when Dad does nothing similar. That used to drive me to ask Mom to stop doing it. However, over the years, I realised that it was a ceremony that they enjoyed and why should we forcibly stop something that is giving some kind of joy and happiness. And just because Dad didn’t do something similar didn’t mean he never prayed for the well-being of Mom. Like you rightly say 2+2 may not always be 4. And, ultimately to each his own. 🙂
      Thank you for reading. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I am always interested in your descriptions of what goes on in India and for that alone, I thank you. Reading today, I particularly liked Ashok’s comment and your reply. After all, “But the women, in a world of their own, were relentless. In fact, they would enjoy those three days of merry making in the form of prayers, get-togethers, laughter, incessant chatter, new clothes, and not to mention the special attention.”

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It gives me so much pleasure to read this comment. 🙂
          I always think people from other countries (also certain parts of India) may find such posts quite unrelatable and hence I don’t expect many people to read them. And least of all someone from a completely different culture. Goes on to reaffirm that we’re are just all just humans and our feelings and emotions are universal whatsoever!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Some of the traditions we carry forward are so customary and lost significance over time. But we still follow for various reasons. For me it is a link to my childhood where I’ve seen my mom do certain things in a way and want to continue them as much as I can. There are also a few things which I will not follow and am more than happy to leave them behind. So it’s a curious mix of emotions, logic and most importantly convenience 😆 and then hope to see my kids pick atleast a bit of it.
    Coming to Savithri vrata, I dint hear about it till I got married. Got to know from my mil that it is observed by a few in Tamil Nadu. Although they fast I have never done it. And it is observed in the month of March.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some of the things we don’t want to follow as it clashes with our ideals and principles, some we want to follow but can’t as they simply aren’t possible to do so, while some others we tweak according to our conveniences and follow. And, yet again some we follow just as they did it as we like them and are easy to do so. I thinks that’s fair enough. We do need to change with times yet keep our traditions alive too. It’s a balance that we have to do. 😀
      And, it’s new knowledge to me that some people do this puja in the South too! I was under the impression that it’s followed only in the East.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I hadn’t heard of Savitri brata, but the story of Savitri and Satyavan I knew.
    What is good and what is not in matters of tradition is tricky, many practices originated with good intention but were misused by people later. If the one who practices does it of her or his free will, it should not be discouraged I think.
    The only thing I don’t like about these rituals is the fasting. Not the fruit diet one, that is real nice 😀, the “nirjala uposh” one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nirjola is simply not possible. 😀
      In fact my mom and people in the previous generation in my family also don’t do it. Maybe for half a day till “Anjali” I may do it, but not for the entire day. In fact, I do no “uposh” at all! There’s always the fruits to eat and the sweets to have. Just leave out the salt – that’s enough. 😀
      Agree with you that people would have misused and altered many traditions. And absolutely it’s a matter of individual choice.
      Thanks for reading, Deb.
      Hope all is good with you as you spend some good time with your parents. Though locked up, still…

      Like

  5. Most old traditions are dying and unless they have some connection with the current generation or the companies have been able to “milk” the commercial side. I think it is important to do away with unwanted rituals, at the same time, we should also understand the context and its importance in how it has shaped our past & culture. I guess our generation also has a lot more options in terms of celebrations and also a bigger say in what happens in our lives. Hope you are doing well, Neelanjana.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some rituals are simply not possible to carry on anymore either they make no sense or they are too difficult to do so in this age and time. Yes, we do have options and the opportunity to make a choice in our generation but again maybe it’s not true for everyone. While some traditions are good riddance to bad rubbish, some others we should try to preserve. It’s a finding that right balance of the purpose they serve and the people who they indulge in them.
      Thanks for reading, Arvind.
      Am doing okay. Not to speak about the teeth though! 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are right. If you really dvelve into the reasoning for traditions, you will find there were some logics. Of course, many of these don’t hold true or relevance. These will definitely die over the years as people will find no connections.
        Good to hear you are doing okay,Neel.

        Like

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