Karadayar Nonbu – The Vrata by Tamil Women

Karadayan Nombu or Vratam is an important fast observed by Tamil women. 
Karadayan Nombu is based on the legend of Satyavan and Savitri. Based on this legend, each region in India observes an Upvaas in different time of the year. In Tamil Nadu, it is observed during the transition of Tamil Month Maasi and Panguni. The story of Satyavan and Savitri is a sub plot in the Mahabharata.

Savithri among the five Satis leads the image of a loyal and steadfast wife who could bring back her husband from Yama the God of Death because of her intrepidity and thinking-on-her-feet capacities.

The oldest known version of the story of Savitri and Satyavan is found in “The Book of the Forest” of the Mahabharata. The story occurs is told by Markandeya. When Yudhisthira asks Markandeya whether there has ever been a woman whose devotion matched Draupadi’s, Markandeya replies by relating this story:

The childless king of Madra, Ashwapati, lived as an ascetic for many years and prayed to the Sun God Savitr. He wished to have a son for his lineage. Finally, pleased by the prayers, God Savitr appeared to him and granted him a boon saying that he will soon have a daughter. The king is joyful when his daughter is born and named Savitri in honour of the god. Savitri, born out of devotion and asceticism becomes the embodiment of these qualities later in life.

Savitri was so beautiful and pure that she intimidated all the men who came near her. When she reached the age of marriage, no man asked for her hand. So her father told her to find a husband on her own. She set out on a pilgrimage and founds Satyavan, the son of an exiled, penniless, blind king named Dyumatsena who was a forest-dweller.

Savitri returned to find her father speaking with Sage Narada who announced that Savitri had made a bad choice: although perfect in every way, Satyavan was destined to die one year from that day. In response to her father’s pleas to choose a more suitable husband, Savitri insisted that she had already chosen her husband. Narada finally agreed and King Ashwapati gets Savitri and Satyavan married. Savitri went off to the forest wearing the clothing of a hermit and lived in perfect obedience and respect to her new parents-in-law and husband.

Three days before the predicted death of Satyavan, Savitri began 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 support as well.

On the morning of Satyavan’s final day, Savitri asked her father-in-law’s permission to accompany her husband into the forest. Since she had never asked for anything during the entire year of her marriage Dyumatsena granted her wish.

The couple went into the forest and while Satyavan was splitting wood, he suddenly became weak and laid his head on Savitri’s lap. Yama, the God of Death, had come to claim the soul of Satyavan.

Savitri followed Yama as he carried the soul away. When he tried to convince her to turn back, she offered various wise arguments. She praised Yama for his just rule as King of Dharma, and for his noble conduct with no expectation of return.

Impressed by her oratorical skills Yama praised both the content and style of her words and offered her any boon, except the life of Satyavan. She first asked for the eyesight of her father-in-law and restoration of his kingdom. Next her wish was for a hundred sons for her father and then a hundred sons for herself and Satyavan. The last wish cleverly created a dilemma for Yama, as it would indirectly grant the life of Satyavan. However, impressed by Savitri’s dedication and purity, he offered her any boon, but this time omitting “except for the life of Satyavan”. Savitri instantly asked for Satyavan to return to life. Yama granted life to Satyavan and blessed Savitri’s life with eternal happiness.

Satyavan awoke as though he had been in a deep sleep. Meanwhile Dyumatsena regained his eyesight even before Savitri and Satyavan’s return. Savitri retells the story to her parents-in-law, husband, and the gathered ascetics. As they praised her, Dyumatsena’s ministers arrived with the news of the death of his usurper. Joyfully, the king and his entourage returned to his kingdom.

From then Savitri has always been idolised as the ideal woman who used her wits to win back the life and riches of her husband. Unfortunately in the modern mind the label ‘Sati Savitri’ has assumed a negative connotation and used to describe paragons of virtue in joint families, especially as dep[icted in TV serials. The strength and ability to hold families together under any circumstances has become somewhat unbelievable when the norm seems to be women who are ready to come out of relationships on the flimsiest of excuses.

However there are many caregivers who, being younger than their husbands by quite a few years, are spending their own twilight years caring and being loyal to ailing spouses. This is true of men as well who care for their wives but unfortunately they are not called Sati Savitris. They may be called Ekapatni Ramas, but considering what happened to Sita that may be an iffy title.

Today marriages happen because the couples think that they are Made for each other.
The next stage they become loving and Mad for each other.
Soon the fights and disagreements set in making them SAD for each other.
Incompatibility and different types of torture part their ways and the couple become BAD for each other.

2 Comments to “Karadayar Nonbu – The Vrata by Tamil Women”

  1. Please also refer the vyakhyanam of Shri ramji sastrigal on Sankara tv. He has said that the birth of Savithri happened out of intense gayatri tapas by ashvapathi, the father, spanning several years of nithya japam and gayatri homam. It is this poorva phalan which enables Savithri to overcome Yama. He had also related it to overall well being bestowed by gayatri japam and Paramacharyal’s suggestion of Sahasra gayatri on holidays.

    • Thanks Srividya ji for your inputs. This is very useful. Its an interesting co-incidence that you pointed out SahasraGayathri as prescribed by Periyava. We have a group here who do it on every sunday and keep track of each other to motivate each other.

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