Jyeṣṭha Pūrṇimā is celebrated through ritual bathing practices, and, there is also another major celebration that occurs on this day: Vaṭa Sāvitrī Pūrṇimā. The date varies throughout the regions of India depending on which calendar system people are using (and there are several!) but throughout South Asia you see some version or variation of this celebration.
Vaṭa Sāvitrī is a very sweet holiday named after a remarkable young woman in our ancient lore – Sāvitrī, who the celebration is named for. On this day, we perform a special pūjā ceremony at a banyan tree, and we listen to her story. We will tell you more about the ceremony later on – first, here’s the story:
Once, in a small kingdom in India, a king and his queen prayed for years for the blessing of a child. They performed devout austerities and held a fervent prayer in their hearts. Lord Savitṛ (the power of cosmic light) heard their prayers and blessed them with a beautiful, radiant daughter, who was named Sāvitrī out of gratitude to him.
Like her parents, she too was a noble-hearted, kind, and devout child. In those days, princesses chose their own husbands entirely of their own will. So when she came of age, her parents gave their blessing for her to find her match.
Many young men presented themselves, but none of them captured her heart. Disappointed, she went for a walk in the forest, and saw a luminous, strong, handsome young man resting under a tree. Her heart stopped. There was such a glow of truth and goodness about him that she was overcome with love and longing. She recognized the one she had been searching for.
So she returned home to her parents and told them she had made her choice. They sent out scouts, and it turned out that the young man, Satyavān, was the son of a blind neighboring king who had tragically lost his kingdom and all his wealth, and both he and his elderly parents were forced to live like hermits in the forest. And, the most horrific part of all was that Satyavān had been destined to only live for one more year.
When presented with this information, Sāvitrī remained firm. She had made her choice, and she was determined that even if it was only for a year, she wanted to marry him and only him.
Seeing her mind and heart unshakeable, her elders acquiesced and she was married to him. This princess who had grown up in luxury and comfort was now living in a tiny hut, fighting against the elements for survival each day.
Still, she embraced her new life with deep joy and devotion. She adored her husband, and he too, cherished and loved her deeply. They spent each minute of each day together, loving each other without limits, tending to the other’s every need with sweetness and warmth. Throughout this time, she only focused on loving him, not allowing her fears or impending sadness to separate them from love for even a moment.
Finally, the day arrived. Sāvitrī accompanied Satyavān as usual to the forest, where he began to chop wood. As he lifted his axe, he suddenly clutched his heart. She screamed and ran towards him. He collapsed in her lap, and died.
Overcome with grief, she gently carried his body to a nearby banyan tree and held him tightly to her chest. Her love and her agony pierced the entire forest.
In a few moments, Lord Yama, the power of death, arrived to take Satyavān. He too was so struck by her beauty and the depths of her love, that he offered a blessing – he would grant her any blessing she wanted, except for the life of Satyavān.
Sāvitrī closed her eyes, and listened to her heart. She prayed for grace. Slowly, she said, “I want to live to see my father-in-law and mother-in-law joyfully having a feast with their great-grandchildren in the grand hall of their royal palace”.
Lord Yama was baffled! Her father-in-law only had one child, Satyavān, There was no way to grant her request without returning to her father-in-law his kingdom and his palace, but most importantly, he would have to bring Satyavān back to life!
Impressed by her courage and the scope of her vision, he granted her wish, and Satyavān took a deep breath and opened his eyes. Sāvitrī gazed into them, her own eyes weeping with love and gratitude, and the two beloveds returned back to their home, hand-in-hand, heart-in-heart.
On this day, we listen to this incredible story and honor the sacred power of ordinary human love. Sāvitrī is an inspiration to woman all over South Asia as an embodiment of what pure unconditional love and profound courage looks like. Even when facing death directly, in the midst of the deepest pain she had ever known, she was able to use her intellect and compassion. Her grace and goodness brought blessings and upliftment to everyone in her life. And she also demonstrated that what we think of as “ordinary” love is not ordinary at all. The bond that ties us together in relationship is powerful, sacred, and, if pure, can transform even the most unyielding karma into an experience of blessing.
On this day, women go to banyan trees and perform a special pūjā where they make offerings of water, seasonal fruit (including cucumber and coconuts), flowers, incense, and other auspicious offerings. Most significantly, they tie a thread seven times around the tree with the heartfelt prayer that their beloveds are protected and granted a long, happy, and healthy life. The entire practice is an opportunity to experience and honor the depth of love.
While traditionally this particular ritual is performed by married women, we can all reflect on wishing for protection and blessing for the ones we love. And, we can express our gratitude for the devotion and sweetness that we receive from our loved ones. It is easy to look down on our human bonds as “ordinary” or somehow less spiritual. But this story invites us to see divine power and beauty in all of our relationships, no matter how worldly.
Finally, as you will learn in the next two lessons, there is also tremendous seasonal and spiritual wisdom to both the offerings that are made during this season of mid-summer, and also to the practice of sitting with the banyan tree itself.
By listening to this story and engaging with this practice, may you be inspired to allow your deep love and heartfelt prayers for your loved ones to emerge within your being. May you experience the sanctity and profound value of your everyday, simple, ordinary human love.