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S A V I T R I

6- OTHER WOMEN



SAVITRI

OTHER WOMEN

BY

MARJORIE STRACHEY



LONDON

CHATTO y WINDUS

1920



///^



TO

F. E. W.



All rights reserved



NOTE

THESE stories are not meant for
students of Folk-lore. Most of
them are taken from translations and
adaptations, and I have had no scruples
in further adapting and altering them
myself. A list of the books I have used
will be found at the end, so that anyone
vi^ho cares to may verify for himself the
extent and character of the changes I
have made in my originals.



CONTENTS



SAVITRI ....

the lay of the ash tree
yanka and her brothers
saint iria ....
vassilissa the wise .
janet and tamlin .
libussa the prophetess .
joukahainen's sister

THE bamboo-cutter's STORY
THE BUILDING OF SKADAR .
THE COURTSHIP OF ETAIN .



PAGE

I

i8

31

38
43
56
65
78

97

114
124



SAVITRI



MANY years ago there lived in
the country of the Madras a
king, whose name was Aswapati. Now
Aswapati was a man of virtue ; he was
pious and devoted to the service of the
gods ; he was truthful, trustworthy, and
pure of heart ; he was generous, and
intent on the welfare of all beings, and
his people loved him. But when he grew
old and still had no children he became
very wretched. And in hope of pro-
pitiating the gods he vowed himself to a
life of penance— fasting, praying, making
oblations, and refraining from all sensual
pleasures. For eighteen years he ob-
served these practices, and at last one day,
as he stood before the altar, the holy fire
became pregnant, and there issued forth
a beautiful, smiling goddess.

" O King Aswapati," said she, " I am
I



2 SAVITRI

pleased with, thy holy life and thy de-
votion to the gods. Ask what thou
wishest and it shall be granted to thee."

" Goddess," replied the king, " I wish
for many sons worthy of my race. If
thou art pleased with me, grant me this."

" It is granted thee," said the goddess,
" to have a daughter, and she shall be
valiant and mighty. Rejoice, but make
no answer."

With these words the goddess vanished
away.

Aswapati returned to his palace, and
in due course a daughter was born to
him, to whom the name of Savitri was
given.

Savitri grew in splendour like the
waxing moon ; and as she passed from
childhood to youth, and her breasts
rounded and she became tall and slender,
she resembled a golden goddess, and no
one dared seek that radiant girl in
marriage.

One day it happened to be a festival,
and Savitri bathed and went up to the
altar to make her offerings. Then she
took the sacred flowers that had been laid
before the god and went to her father.



SAVITRI 3

She bowed in front of him, gave him the
flowers she had brought, and with joined
hands stood beside him. Aswapati looked
at her and he was proud ; he looked at
her again and he was sad.

" Daughter," said the king, " the time
for giving thee in marriage has come and
no one asks for thee. The father who
does not give his daughter in marriage is
disgraced."

A little while afterwards Aswapati was
sitting in his palace, conversing with
Narad, the wise man, when Savitri came
and stood before them with bent head.

" Speak, daughter," said Aswapati.
" What is thy wish ? Do not be afraid
to speak before Narad, but tell us all that
is in thy heart."

" Father," replied Savitri, " there once
lived among the Salwas a virtuous king
named Dyumatsena. He became blind,
and his enemies seized his kingdom, and
he, his wife, and infant son were obliged
to take refuge in the jungle. For years
he has been living there, leading a life
of holiness and penance, and his son,
Satyavan the Truthful, is now a young



4 SAVITRI

man. It is this Satyavan, my father,
whom I have accepted in my heart for
my husband."

At these words Narad, the wise man,
seemed much troubled.

" Alas ! " he said, " Savitri has done
wrong in this choice."

*' How ! " exclaimed the king. " Is
Satyavan then not courageous, intelligent,
or full of energy ? "

" These virtues are his," replied Narad.

" Is he then not magnanimous or
pious ? "

" These virtues too are his," replied
Narad.

" Is he then not faithful, modest,
patient, or beautiful ? "

" These virtues too are his," replied
Narad, " and he is, moreover, obedient
and courteous."

" What, then, are his defects ? " asked
the king.

" He has only one defect," replied
Narad, " but it is a fatal one. Twelve
months from this day Satyavan will die."

" Alas ! " exclaimed Aswapati, " this
is indeed a fatal fault ! Come, dear
Savitri, now that you have heard Narad's



SAVITRI 5

words give up Satyavan and choose another
husband."

" M7 father," repHed Savitri, " a
woman can only choose once. Let
his Hfe be long or short, let his virtues
be many or few, I have accepted him in
my heart as my husband, and I cannot
change."

" King," said Narad, " Savitri cannot
be made to swerve from her decision.
Moreover, no other person has the
virtues of Satyavan. I therefore approve
of the marriage and advise thee to proceed
with it."

On an auspicious day King Aswapati
and his daughter set out for the sacred
forest where Dyumatsena was living.
On approaching the blind king's abode,
Aswapati came near on foot, and seeing
him sitting on a cushion of grass under
the shade of a tree he bowed low and
announced himself as Aswapati.

" Be seated," said Dyumatsena, " and
tell me thy wish."

" O holy and royal Dyumatsena," re-
plied Aswapati, " this is my daughter
Savitri. Take her for thy daughter-in-



6 SAVITRI

law, I beg of thee, and let her be married
to thy son Satyavan."

" Thy daughter," replied Dyumatsena,
" is accustomed to the luxuries of a
palace. We, who have been deprived of
our kingdom, are practising austerities,
and leading lives of self-denial. Thy
daughter is unworthy to live like this —
how could she bear our penances and
mortification ? "

" My daughter," replied Aswapati,
" knows well enough that happiness is not
always found either in the palace or in
the forest, but that it flies to and fro,
and comes sometimes to one, sometimes
to another. Do not reject my suit in
this way. We are equals, and an alliance
between us would be fitting. Accept,
then, my daughter as the wife of
Satyavan."

" Aswapati," replied Dyumatsena,
" years ago I wished for an alliance with
thee ; but while I hesitated I lost my
kingdom, and it was too late. Let this
wish then, which I had so long ago, be
fulfilled to-day."

So Savitri and Satyavan were brought
together, and with all proper ceremonies



SAVITRI 7

the marriage took place. Aswapati gave
his daughter silk robes and many beautiful
jewels, blessed her, and returned to his
palace. And when he had gone, Savitri
took off her silk robes and jewels and
dressed herself in bark and red cloth.
And hy her kindness and gentleness, and
the sweetness of her speech, she pleased
her mother-in-law, her father-in-law, and,
above all, her husband, Satyavan the
Truthful. Thus they lived together in
the sacred forest, practising austerities
and leading holy lives. But night and
day Savitri thought of the words spoken
by Narad.

The time passed quickly by, and the
hour appointed for the death of Satyavan
approached. Savitri, in whose mind the
words of Narad were ever present, had
counted the days as they passed, and
when only three remained, she took the
vow of a three days' penance, during
which time she was neither to eat nor
to sleep. Dyumatsena, when he heard of
her vow, was grieved ; he rose and went
to Savitri, and spoke to her kindly and
affectionately.



8 SAVITRI

" Thy vow, Savitri, is a hard one ;
thou, who art the daughter of a king,
wilt find it difficult to fast and watch
for three days and nights."

" Father," replied Savitri, " do not be
sorry for me. I shall be able to observe
my vow."

" So be it," said Dyumatsena, " for it
does not become one like me to say to
thee, ' Break thy vow ' ; I ought instead
to say, ' Keep thy vow.' " And with
these words he left her.

So Savitri kept her three days' penance,
and she became pale and thin. And
during the last night, thinking that her
husband was to die next day, she watched,
fasting, in extreme anguish. At last
the sun rose, and, thinking " To-day is
the day,'^ Savitri performed the morning
sacrifice, and went and stood before her
parents with her hands joined and her
head bent. And the aged king and
queen spoke the morning greeting to her,
" Mayst thou never be a widow ! "
And in her heart Savitri said, " So be
it ! " But watching the sun rising in the
sky she awaited the fatal hour.

" Now, Savitri," said Dyumatsena,



SAVITRI 9

smiling, " thou hast performed thy vow ;
come then and take thy morning meal."

" I will eat at sun-down," answered
Savitri ; " this was my vow."

Presently Satyavan took his axe and
his basket and prepared to go into the
forest to fetch the fruit and the wood
they needed.

Seeing this, Savitri said to him :

" Do not go alone ! I will go with
thee ! I cannot bear to be separated
from thee ! "

And Satyavan replied :

" Dear Savitri, the forest paths are
rough and hard to walk on ; besides,
thou art exhausted by thy vow. How
canst thou go with me ? "

" I am not exhausted," exclaimed
Savitri. " I want so much to go ! Do
not prevent me ! "

And Satyavan smiled and said, " Come,
then, if thou canst get permission from
my parents."

So Savitri went to her father-in-law
and said to him, " My husband is going
out to gather fruits, and it is my wish to
go with him. Besides, I have been here
now nearly a year and I have never seen



10 SAVITRI

the forest. I much desire to see the
flowers and the blossoming trees."

When Dyumatsena heard her he said :

" Since Savitri married Satyavan I do
not remember that she has made any
request. Have then thy wish ; but do
not hinder Satyavan in his work."

So permission having been granted,
Savitri set out with Satyavan, and her face
was smiling, but her heart was torn with
grief. And they walked through the
forest, admiring the delightful woods
and the flowering trees, through whose
crimson branches blue-and-green pea-
cocks flew.

" Look ! " said Satyavan. " See how
pleasantly the streams flow, and how the
brightly coloured petals drop from the
bushes into the water and are carried
away ! "

And it seemed to Savitri that she was
cut in two ; for she smiled and answered
gaily Satyavan's words, which sounded so
sweetly in her ear ; and, remembering
Narad, she looked upon her husband as
already dead, and a ghastly fear con-
strained her heart.

When they had gone some way into



SAVITRI II

the forest, Satyavan began picking fruits ;
and when he had filled his basket he took
his axe and began to cut branches off the
trees. After a while he stopped and
said :

" The sun is making my head ache ;
I will stop and rest awhile."

And he laid down his axe. Presently
he said :

" Savitri, I do not feel well. I feel as
if my head were being pierced by arrows.
I will sit down."

So he sat on the ground, and Savitri
sat beside him.

After a while he said :

" Savitri, I wish to sleep."

Then Savitri took his head in her lap
and gazed at her husband in agony, not
knowing what to do. And Satyavan
closed his eyes and relaxed his limbs and
became very still and very cold.

Suddenly there appeared before them
a gigantic figure, dark but glowing like a
firebrand, red-eyed, and carrying in his
hand a cord. Savitri trembled, for he
was terrible to behold ; and, gently
placing her husband's head on the ground,



12 SAVITRI

she rose to her feet and spoke with shaking
lips :

" Surely thou art a god. Tell me, I
beg, who thou art and why thou art
come."

" Savitri," replied the god, " I am
Yama, the god of Death. Thy husband's
days have run out and I am come to fetch
him. It is because of thy love for thy
husband and thy life of austerity that I
have appeared before thee and answer thy
questions."

So saying, Yama pulled the soul from
Satyavan's body and tied it lightly with
his cord. Then Satyavan ceased to
breathe, and his body lost its lustre and
faded like ashes when the fire is out.
But Yama, having done what he came
for, turned and went southward, carry-
ing Satyavan's soul with him ; and
Savitri followed him.

At this Yama exclaimed : " Stay,
Savitri ; do not follow me. Go back
and bury thy husband. Thy duties as
a wife are now over, and no living person
may travel farther with Yama."

" How can my duties to my husband
be over ? " replied Savitri. " I must



SAVITRI 13

follow him wherever he goes. Not even
the gods can separate husband and wife.
Wise men say that walking seven steps
with another makes a friendship. Listen,
then, to what I have to say. There are
many duties in life — the search for
wisdom, love of the family, penance, and
meditation. But it is not necessary for
everyone to practise all the virtues.
Yama, I have led a life of love for
Satyavan."

" Thy words are true," said Yama ;
" they please me by their clearness
and reason. Ask, then, any boon thou
wilt, except the life of thy husband, and
I will grant it."

" My father-in-law is blind," said
Savitri ; " grant that he may recover his
eyesight and his strength."

" Thy wish is granted," said Yama ;
" and now, Savitri, come no farther with
me, but return."

" I cannot return," answered Savitri.
" Is it not true that even to speak once
with the virtuous is much to be desired ?
How much more desirable, then, is their
friendship and their love ! Having found
a virtuous husband, why should I ever



14 SAVITRI

leave him ? Moreover, not even the
gods can separate husband and wife."

" O Savitri," exclaimed Yama, " thv
words are full of wisdom, and delight me
much. Ask, then, another boon, except
the life of thy husband."

" My father Aswapati has no sons,"
said Savitri. " Grant that many sons,
worthy of his race, may be born to him."

" Thy wish is granted," said Yama ;
" and now, Savitri, do not weary thyself
with coming farther, but return."

" What weariness can I feel in the
presence of my husband ? " asked Savitri.
" The things that are hateful to us are
wearisome, and we are wearied also by
wicked actions and foolish desires. But
to follow those we love even to the ends
of the earth will never weary the foot
or the soul."

" Savitri," said Yama, " come no
farther with me ; but for thy wisdom
and learning ask me another boon, except
the life of thy husband."

" Grant that to Satyavan and me many
sons may be born," replied Savitri.

" Thy wish is granted," said Yama,
" and now that all thy wishes have been



SAVITRI 15

fulfilled, cease from following me and go
back home."

" To be truly virtuous," said Savitri,
" is to do what is right without expecting
a reward ; and in like manner when one
loves truly one does not consider whether
a return will be made or the desire
gratified, but follows where the heart
leads."

" O Savitri," exclaimed Yama, " never
have I heard such words as thou speakest !
The more I listen the more enchanted
I am ! Art thou then so devoted to thy
husband ? Ask of me some incomparable
boon ! "

Then Savitri flung herself upon the
ground and clasped the dread knees of
Yama, and kissed his feet.

" O mighty god," she cried, " grant,
grant, I beseech, the life of Satyavan !
Without him I am as if I were dead !
Without him I do not wish for life !
Without him I do not wish for happiness !
Without him I do not wish for heaven
itself ! Moreover, thou hast promised
me a boon which cannot be fulfilled
unless Satyavan returns. Thou hast
promised me many sons and takest away



i6 SAVITRI

my husband ! O Yama, this is the boon
I ask — may the life of Satyavan be
restored ! "

" So be it," said Yama ; and he un-
loosed the cord which he had tied about
Satyavan's soul ; and vanished.

When Savitri had returned to the spot
where her husband's body lay, she sat
down on the ground and took his head
on her lap. And presently the colour
returned to his face and he movedjand
opened his eyes, and said :

" I have slept a long time, and the
night is dark."

" Yes," replied Savitri ; " the sun set
long ago and all is black except for the
gleams of a forest fire. Wild beasts, too,
are prowling in the jungle, and their
roaring makes me tremble."

" Tell me, Savitri," asked Satyavan,
" what happened while I slept ? I
thought I saw a terrible figure standing
beside me, with a cord in his hand. Was
it a dream or was it a reality ? "

" It is late," answered Savitri ; " I will
tell thee everything to-morrow. Shall
we go homewards ? Or shall I fetch



SAVITRI 17

some faggots and prepare to spend the
night here ? "

" We will go home," answered Satyavan.
" We have already delayed too long. My
parents will be in distress, fearing that
some misfortune has overtaken me — my
blind old father will be wandering about
in misery seeking for me — O Savitri,
let us hasten home ! "

" Dear Satyavan," said Savitri, " be-
lieve me, if I have ever done penance,
obeyed my parents or loved my husband,
this night will not be a night of sorrow
for us, but a night of rejoicing."

With these words she put Satyavan's
arm around her, and looking with love
into his eyes :

" Come, husband," she said, " let us
go home."

Whoever hears the story of Savitri
will never know misery.



THE LAY OF THE ASH TREE

THERE once lived in Brittany two
knights, who were near neigh-
bours. They were rich and valiant
gentlemen, and they were both of them
married. In due course one of the
ladies had twin sons, at which her husband
was very glad, and in his joy he sent a
messenger to his neighbour to say that
his wife had had two sons, and to ask
him to be the godfather of one of them.

The messenger arrived at the castle
when the other knight and his lady were
sitting at dinner ; he knelt before the
dais and told his message. The knight
thanked God for the news, and gave the
bearer of it a fine horse. At this, his
wife, who was sitting at table beside her
husband, gave a laugh.

" God help us ! " she cried. " How is
it that our neighbour makes such haste
to publish his own dishonour ? We all



THE LAY OF THE ASH TREE 19

know that no woman can have two
children at one birth without the help
of two men ! "

Her husband stared at her and then
spoke sternly.

" Wife," said he, " this is no way to
speak ; the lady has always been of good
repute."

But the words his wife had spoken were
remembered by those who were present,
and soon spread all over Brittany. Every-
one blamed her for her pride and spite ;
but the husband of the other lady did
not know what to think. He began to
suspect his wife and then to hate her,
and at last he shut her up, and ill-treated
her, though she had not in any way
deserved it.

But before the year was over she was
avenged. The same lady who had
spoken so ill of her herself became
pregnant ; and when her time came she
bore twin daughters. Her grief was
very great, for she feared that her husband
would never believe in her virtue when
he learned what had happened. She
knew that in condemning another she



20 SAVITRI

had condemned herself, and at last deter-
mined to kill one of the infants. " For,"
said she to herself, " I had rather do
penance for it to God, than be dis-
honoured for it by men."

Now the lady had to wait on her a
damsel whom she had long cherished and
loved, and this damsel was grieved to see
her mistress in such distress.

" Lady," she said, " do not be so sad.
Give me one of the children and I will
rid you of her so that you shall be spared
all blame. I will carry her safely away ;
I will take her to the door of a monastery,
and some good man will no doubt find
her there, and, if God please, care for her
and bring her up."

At this the lady was delighted, and
promised the damsel a rich reward.
They wrapped the baby in a piece of
fine linen, and over this wound a rich
silk, embroidered with wheels, which
her husband had brought back from
Constantinople. Then they tied to the
child's arm a thick gold ring engraved
with letters, and set with an amethyst.
This they did that those who found her
might know she came of good parentage.



THE LAY OF THE ASH TREE 21

When all was ready, the damsel took the
baby, and when night came and it was
dark she went out of the town into a
highway leading to the forest. She held
her way through the forest, and, still
keeping to the highway, came out into
the open country. Then, far to the
right, she heard dogs barking and cocks
crowing, and turning in that direction
she came to a beautiful town where stood
a rich abbey. When she saw the towers,
belfry, and walls of the Abbey, she laid
the baby on the ground, knelt down,
and prayed to God to protect it. _ Having
finished her prayer she looked round, and
opposite the Abbey gate she saw a spread-
ing Ash tree ; it was thick and covered
with leaves, and the stem was divided
into four branches. She caught up the
child in her arms, and laid it in the fork
of the tree. Then, again commending it
to God, she went back, and told her
mistress all that she had done.

In that Abbey there was a porter, whose
duty it was to open the gates and let
in those who wished to hear mass. On
this night he got up early, lit the tapers



22 SAVITRI

and the lantern, rang the bells, and then
went to the gate and opened it. Im-
mediately he saw, hanging from the Ash
tree, the silk in which the child was
wrapped, and going towards it to pull
it down found, concealed in its folds,
the baby. He at once picked it up and
hurried off with it to his daughter, who
lived with him, and was nursing her own
infant. They lit a candle, and made a
fire, and in unwrapping the child to bathe
and feed her, found the rich silk, the
fine linen, and the gold, engraved ring
set with an amethyst.

" Daughter," said the old man, " this
child is surely of noble birth. I shall
take it to the abbess, and hear what she
has to say in the matter."

The abbess, on hearing the porter's
tale, desired to see the baby ; and when
she saw her declared that she would bring
her up as her own niece, forbidding the
porter to tell how he had found her.
And because of where she had been
found, she was given the name of Ash.

So for a long time she remained hidden,
being brought up in the Abbey close,



THE LAY OF THE ASH TREE 23

and when she was old enough the abbess
had her well taught and instructed in
everything a girl ought to know. She
grew up beautiful and courteous, frank
and kind in manner and speech, so
that all who saw her loved and admired
her.

Now there lived not far away a knight
called Gurun, who heard of the girl,
and from hearing of her loved her. On
his way back from a tournament he went
to the Abbey, and asked the abbess to
bring her niece to him. When he saw
her he thought her so beautiful, so wise
and courteous that he felt he would be
lost for ever if he could not win her.
Yet he was afraid that if the abbess
guessed what he had in mind she would
never let him see her niece again.

At last he thought of a plan. He made
great gifts of land to the convent, thus
winning the friendship of the nuns and
their leave to stay in the Abbey whenever
he might wish. In this way, he had the
opportunity of often seeing and talking
to the girl ; and so much he prayed, and
so much he promised, that at last she
gave him what he asked for.



24 SAVITRI

One day he said to her :

" Dear love, do you indeed love me
truly ? "

And she answered :

" Yes, my lord."

" But what would you do for love of
me ? " he asked.

And she answered : " Anything that
would make you happy ; and if you loved
me no more, but desired some other
woman, I would make you happy in that
too, that you might sleep sweetly with
her."

At these words the knight laughed and
said : " That you shall never need to do ;
but, since you love me so much, come
and live with me in my castle. For if
your aunt were to discover our loves
she would be angry and separate us ;
but if you come to me you will be safe
and happy — I will never fail you."

She who loved him so much gladly
agreed to his wish, and went with him
to his castle. And all that she took with
her was her fine linen, her embroidered
silk, and her gold ring ; for the abbess
had given them back to her when she
grew up, and told her how she had been



THE LAY OF THE ASH TREE 25

found by the porter in the fork of the
Ash tree.

For a long time they lived together
in happiness, and there was no one who


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