If our Bharatadesa is considered strong and a leader in the field of spirituality, it is said to be because our land is Karmabhumi andPunyabhumi, and people are naturally endowed with eternal valuesincluding devotion to Bhagavan, parents and Guru. In this the part played by our women in individual and social lives is no small contributor. Women have even surpassed men in certain respects. Devi Savithri is one of them. Her incredible feat forms the background of KaradaiyarNonbu. Let us look at her story.

King Aswapathi of Madradesa was worried at not having progeny. As per the account in Devi Bhagavatham, he performed severe penance for a hundred years in Pushkarakshetra in order to please Devi Savithri. He then heard Akasavani asking him to perform Japa of Gayatri mantra ten lakh times. Sage Parasara came and initiated the king into the Mulamantra of Devi Savithri, Puja procedure etc. and asked him to do Japa, Puja etc. in addition to the chanting of Gayatri mantra as per Akasavani. The king worshipped Devi Savithriaccordingly with great faith. Mahabharata records that from the Agnikundam (fire altar) Devi Savithri emerged with the brilliance of a thousand Suryas and said: “I came here on the instruction of Brahmadeva. Pleased with your penance, I shall myself incarnate as your daughter”. Saying so, she vanished.

After some timea daughter was born to king Aswapathi and his queenMalathi. The parents named her Savithri as she was the gift of Devi Savithri. When Savithri came of marriageable age, she was so beautiful that princes took her to be of superhuman origin and hence none agreed to marry her. When Aswapathi did not succeed in finding a suitable match for her, he asked his daughter to go out, accompanied by her female friends and look for a suitable boy. After a prolonged search, Savithri found suitable match in Sathyavan, the son of Dyumatsena, the blind king of Salvadesa, who had lost his kingdom and was living in the forest. She wished to marry him and informed her father accordingly. Sage Narada, who happened to come there, was shocked. Asked for the reason for his discomfiture, he revealed that Sathyavan was destined to live on earth for one more year only. The king asked Savithri to choose some other boy. Savithri refused, stating that having decided mentally on Sathyavan as the chosen bridegroom already, choosing another boy now would go against chastity of woman. She was determined to marry Sathyavan alone.Narada comforted Aswapathi saying that Savithri’s steadfastness would bestow all auspiciousness on her. The king then went to the forest and gave away Savithri in marriage to Sathyavan. Savithri happily spent her married life with her husband Sathyavan in the forest.

She won over her parents-in-law and Sathyavan by her devoted service. As she knew the date of Sathyavan’s end, she undertook severe penance. She worshipped Devi Kamakshi and observed Vrata by fasting and praying in standing position like a tree for three continuous days. The first day of the month of Phalguna (Panguni in Tamil) arrived. Fasting and observing all austerity, she accompanied Sathyavan, who was going to the woods for fetching firewood, flowers, fruits etc. While cutting a tree for firewood, Sathyavanfelt exhausted and lay down on Savithri’s lap. Yama came and took away the Jiva of the size of thumb from his body.Savithricould see him owing to the power of her penance. She vowed to restore Sathyavanto life. With Sathyavan’s lifeless body by her side, she worshipped Devi Kamakshi with deep devotion. Yama appeared and told her that her Pujas are a waste, as Sathyavan was already dead and that he could not be revived.Savithri did not give up. She performed Puja to Devi Kamakshi, offering wild flowers and fruits. For Naivedyam, she could not get any suitable food item; she prepared ‘Adai” (cake) out of clay and butter out of tree sap.

Yama was going away in the direction of south, having taken the life of Sathyavan. Savithri followed relentlessly. Yama told her strictly not to follow him, as no human being with human body can enter Yamaloka. Savithri persisted. She praised Yama’s scholarship of Vedas and Sastras and strict adherence to Dharma. Devi Bhagavatham records the dialogue between Savithri and Yama in great depth. At her request, Yama dwelt at length on the fruits of karmas of humans on earth, the sojourn in Swarga corresponding to various acts of Punya, the various Narakas resulting from different sins, the different births on earth and ultimately the need for devotion to Bhagavan for getting released from the cycle of births and deaths. After a lot of debate, Yama asked her why she followed him in that manner. Savithri asked for restoration of life of Sathyavan. Yama declined and said “You ask for any boon other than that”.Savithriinitially prayed for restoration of eyesight to her father-in-lawDyumatsena. Yama readily granted. Later Savithri secured from Yama the second boon of grant of the lost kingdom to her father-in-law. The third boon she got was grant of a hundred sons to her father Aswapathi. The fourth boon secured by Savithri was momentous. She asked for a hundred sons to be born to her and Sathyavan. Yama granted this boon too. Savithri was still following Yama. She said “Yama Dharmaraja’s word cannot go false. Hence, for me to get a hundred sons, you have to grant the life of Sathyavan.” Yama appreciated the sharp intellect of Savithri and her determined and firm devotion, and was pleased to restore Sathyavan’s life.
It was Savithri’sGowriVrata (Nonbu) that yielded this incredible fruit from the hands of Yama himself. The ‘KaradaiyarNonbu (Vrata)’ being performed now is indeed the same Puja which Savithri had performed at that critical hour. The greatness of this ‘Nonbu’, when observed by women at the time of the close of Maasi (Magha) month and start of Phalguna (Panguni) month, is that their husbands would live long and they would lead happy wedded lives.
The ‘Adai’(cake) which Savithri made out of clay is prepared with jaggery by us; the tree sap used by Savithri is substituted by good butter now. It is the practice for women to pray to Devi Kamakshi: ''உருகாதவெண்ணெயும், ஒரடையும்நான்உனக்குதருவேன். கணவனைபிரியாதவரம்வேண்டும்'' – “I offer to you solid butter and Adai (cake); you kindly grant me the boon of never being separated from my husband.” If women observe KaradaiyarNonbu and Puja to Devi Kamakshi with this prayer with deep devotion, they are sure to be blessed with determination and firmness of intent like Savithri, and all auspiciousness.

P. R. Kannan, Navi Mumbai