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The Pativratya Ideal


The observance of the pativratya dharma by women is not tantamount to servility and subordination. Marital fidelity is greatly valued in the Hindu tradition as it leads to family harmony and bestows occult powers. A woman who sees the Lord in her husband and makes him her very life cannot deviate from the path of virtue; and virtue is power itself. There are many examples of Hindu women who as life partners made great sacrifices, underwent trials and tribulations, and some times showed their thaumaturgic powers born of chastity (satitva).

Gandhari covered her eyes with a strip of cloth as her husband Dhritarashtra, the king of Hastinapura, was blind.  Sita accompanied Rama to the forest during the days of his exile, kept her chastity intact while in the custody of Ravana, the king of Lanka, and went through the agni pariksa so that her husband could fulfil his raja dharma. Savitri confronted Yama, the god of death, and saved the life of her husband. Sati Anusaya turned the Hindu trinity of gods into children.

To uphold satitva demands profound moral and mental courage.  The allure of material riches, power or threat of political coercion are minor inconveniences, like flies to an elephant.

The Pativrata then, is not only a Dharma but a sublime and unique legacy of Bengali Culture. She is the embodiment of all the virtues associated with satitva, such as, purity, morality, fidelity, chastity, righteousness, goodness, duty, tolerance, service, devotion and many more. It is vital that these values are practiced, in order to inspire future generations and so preserve this noble tradition.

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Fatimah

Fatimah  is regarded as an exemplar for men and women.

History tells us that Fatimah (as) lived with her husband as best as a wife can, in love, faithfulness, obedience and care.

She lived with her husband as any wife, did not set herself apart as the daughter of the Messenger of Allah (sawa); rather she performed her marital responsibilities as best as a woman could do in spite of the weakness that plagued her from the start of her life, as narrated by the historians.

Fatimah (as) was faithful to her husband, and harmonised with him in soul and spirituality.

Supportive couple

Ali and Fatimah (as) used to divide the responsibilities inside the house, and in our narrations Fatimah (as) asked the Prophet (sawa), in a loving way, to divide the chores between her and Ali (as). The agreement was that she would grind, knead and bake and Ali (as) would sweep the floor, and bring water and wood (for the fire).

In this there is a lesson for both men and women: men should learn not to feel too grand to serve at home. Ali (as) swept the floor and brought the water and wood, while the men among us feel their masculinity is brought into question if they sweep the floor or bring water. Ali was the master of men, but saw nothing objectionable in sweeping the floor of the house, because the house was his house and the wife his wife. He was a human being, and she was a human being, and a man, however great, is never too big to serve his children, wife, father, mother, brothers and sisters or anyone for whom he is responsible.

The same lesson has to be learned by women: that work at home is not belittling – a mentality which has arisen amongst women lately. Fatimah (as) worked, grinded and baked. Although we have said many times that Allah has not made it obligatory for a woman, whether daughter or wife, to serve at home, it is obligatory under Islam in that Allah wants people who live in any position which calls for participation to participate naturally and according to their powers. Allah did not make it obligatory for women to work at home or breastfeed the children, because he wanted them to give from their heart, and with the energy, effort and awareness that springs from their own will.

In the question of serving, he who serves another within the ambit of his responsibility does not call his dignity into question; so the woman who regards her work at home as belittling to her personality, or the man who regards his participation in such work as belittling to him is misguided. There is no person who is a servant absolutely, and there is no person who is a master absolutely, for everyone of us is a master in one circle and a servant in another.

History tells us that the life of Fatimah (as) might be described as ordinary, as far her daily life – doing the domestic chores, bringing up her children – is concerned. In spite of being the Doyenne of the Women of the World, the daughter of the most honorable Prophet and Messenger, wife of the Commander of the Faithful and the Master of Regents, and mother of al-Hasan and al-Husayn

Khadijah

The period of the Prophet’s (pubh) family life during his marriage to his first wife, Khadijah, could be considered as the prototype of an Islamic family life. This implies that we should look at this period as the ideal example for family relationships, practices, and attitudes which we should emulate. There is a lesson to be learned from each aspect of this relationship, starting with the circumstances surrounding its onset, followed by the numerous, happy and sad incidents known to us that filled this period of the Prophet’s life.

Sati

Umā was born as a daughter of Daksha Prajāpati and his wife Prasuti. Daksha was a son of Brahmā himself, and a great king and magnate in his own right. The girl was named Gaurī.

Gaurī, even as a child, adored the tales and legends associated with Shiva and grew up an ardent devotee. As Gaurī grew to womanhood, the idea of marrying anyone else, as intended by her father, became anathema to her. Every proposal from valiant and rich kings made her crave evermore the ascetic of Kailāsa, the God of Gods, who bestowed all on this world and himself foreswore all.

To win the regard of the ascetic Shiva, the daughter of king Daksha forsook the luxuries of her father’s palace and retired to a forest, there to devote herself to austerities and the worship of Shiva. So rigorous were her penances that she gradually renounced food itself, at one stage subsisting on one bilva leaf a day, and then giving up even that nourishment; this particular abstinence earned her the sobriquet Aparnā. Her prayers finally bore fruit when, after testing her resolve, Shiva finally acceded to her wishes and consented to make her his bride.

An ecstatic Gaurī returned to her father’s home to await her bridegroom, but found her father less than elated by the turn of events. The wedding was however held in due course, and Gaurī made her home with Shiva in Kailāsa. Daksha, depicted in legend as an arrogant king, did not get on with his renunciate son-in-law and basically cut his daughter away from her natal family.

Daksha once organized a grand yagna to which all the Gods were invited, with the exception of Gaurī and Shiva. Wanting to visit her parents, relatives and childhood friends, Gaurī sought to rationalize this omission. She reasoned within herself that her parents had neglected to make a formal invitation to them only because, as family, such formality was unnecessary; certainly, she needed no invitation to visit her own mother and would go anyway. Shiva sought to dissuade her, but she was resolved upon going; he then provided her with an escort of his ganas and bid her provoke no incident.

Gaurī was received coldly by her father. They were soon in the midst of a heated argument about the virtues (and alleged lack thereof) of Shiva. Every passing moment made it clearer to Gaurī that her father was entirely incapable of appreciating the many excellent qualities of her husband. The realization then came to Gaurī that this abuse was being heaped on Shiva only because he had wed her; she was the cause of this dishonour to her husband. She was consumed by rage against her father and loathing for his mentality.

Calling up a prayer that she may, in a future birth, be born the daughter of a father whom she could respect, Dākshāyani invoked her yogic powers and immolated herself.

Shiva sensed this catastrophe, and his rage was incomparable. He created Virabhadra and Bhadrakāli, two ferocious creatures who wreaked havoc and mayhem on the scene of the horrific incident. Nearly all those present were indiscriminately felled overnight. Daksha himself was decapitated.

Shiva placed Gaurī’s body on his shoulder and ran about the world, crazed with grief. The Gods called upon Lord Vishnu to restore Shiva to normalcy and calm. Vishnu used his Sudarshana Chakram to dismember Gaurī’s lifeless body, following which Shiva regained his equanimity. Both versions state that Gaurī’s body was thus dismembered into 51 pieces which fell on earth at various places ,known as Shakti Peethas.

The story of Savitri

1. Introduction

Among the famous, chaste women (pativratas) of India, Savitri is considered the ideal. The story of Sati Savitri has been mentioned in the Mahabharat. While the Pandavas were in exile, Jayadratha abducted Draupadi. After the Pandavs freed her and returned, they were all sitting with some sages. At that time Sage Markandeya narrated story of Savitri. The importance of Savitri can be understood now as her story was told to Draupadi, who is included among the five great women of virtue of India.

2. Choosing Satyawan

Once, Devarshi Narad came to King Ashwapati’s court. He was felicitated by the king and they started conversing. Soon after that, the king’s daughter Savitri came in. She greeted her father and Sage Narad. On seeing her Sage Narad asked as to why she was still unmarried? To this the king answered that Savitri had been sent to find and chose her own husband. During this there had been an incident. On being asked Savitri narrated the story. She said, “Once there was a famous and righteous king named Dyumatsen in Shalvadesh (the name of his kingdom) who became blind. When that happened, his son was still quite young. Thus, a neighbouring king attacked and took over his kingdom. The king, along with his queen and son went to the forest and started leading an ascetic life.

His son is a handsome and kind young man now. I feel that he is ideal and so I have mentally accepted him as my husband.” Upon hearing Satyawan’s qualities Narad commented, “He has been named “Satyawan” as he is the son of righteous and truthful parents. However, there is sorrowful news. One year from today, Satyawan will die.” Savitri remained undisturbed. Noticing this, Narad said, “O king, your daughter Savitri has a lot of resolution.No one can distract her from her decision. Since no one else has the same qualities, I think that you should marry your daughter (give kanyaadaan) to Satyawan only.”
Thus the wedding (vivah-sanskar) of Satyawan and Savitri was accomplished at an auspicious time (shubh-muhurta). Savitri, emulating her in-laws, stopped wearing her expensive clothes and ornaments. Everyone was impressed by her qualities of humility, service (seva), patience, politeness, etc. She made her husband happy by serving her in-laws. All was well for a while.
3. Removal of Satyawan’s soul

Savitri had not forgetten Narad’s words. One day she realised that only 4 days were now remaining till the day that Satyawan was fated to die. For the next three days and nights she underwent a vowed religious observance by sitting still the entire time. On the final morning, she gave offerings to the Fire Deity. That day when Satyawan went to the forest to fetch fire-wood and fruits, Savitri accompanied him. While in forest, Satyawan told her that he was feeling tired and wanted to rest. Savitri sat down next to him and took his head on her lap. Soon she saw a man nearby. He was wearing red clothes, had a crown on his head and had red eyes. He also had a noose in hands. He looked terrible. She noticed that he was looking at Satyawan. Savitri stood up. Her heart was throbbing. With great sorrow she joined her hands, bowed and said, “You look like a Deity. If you wish, kindly tell me who you are and what you expect to do?” The deity said, “Savitri since you are virtuous, I will speak to you. I am Yamraj (Deity of death). Satyawan’s life has ended and since he too was righteous, I myself have come to take him.” Saying that, Yamraj took a thumb-sized man from Satyawan’s body, tied it to his noose and started headed south. Savitri, overwhelmed with sorrow, followed him.
4. First blessing from Yamdharma

After some distance Yamraj said, “Savitri now you have to return. Carry out the after-death rituals for Satyawan. Now you are freed from your husband’s service.” Savitri said, “I should stay with my husband wherever he is. This is the only Sanatan Dharma. No one can stop me due to my worship, devotion towards Guru, love, righteousness and your grace.’ Yamraj was pleased by her determination and said, “I shall grant you a wish. Ask for anything, except your husband’s life.” At that time, she asked for vision, strength and radiance for her father-in-law. Yamraj granted her the wish and asked her to go back, again. Instead of thinking of herself she had asked for her father-in-law. What a great sacrifice!!
5. Second blessing from Yamadharma

Savitri continued to follow Yamraj and remained firm in her wish to be with her husband. On being asked to go back yet again, she said, “The company of a holy person is beneficial even for a moment and it is even greater to be his friend. It is never unworthy.”

On hearing her auspicious thoughts Yamraj granted her another wish. Again, it was to be anything except her husband’s life. Savitri wished that the lost kingdom of her father-in-law be restored to him and for him to not give up his righteous ways. Yamraj granted this wish also by saying tathaastu (let it happen) and requested Savitri to return. With this wish, Savitri’s loyalty towards righteousness became apparent!
6. Third blessing from Yamadharma

As they went forward, she said to Yamraj, “You are known as ‘Yama’ because you maintain the equilibrium of all living beings regularly and also grant them their wishes. The Sanatan Dharma of a holy person is to treat all living beings with love through mind, speech and deeds as well as grace them and grant their wishes. Every living being tries to behave lovingly with others according to their capacity however holy men bestow love upon their enemies too.” Yamraj appreciated her words and granted her a third wish. Savitri asked for a 100 children for her father because she had realised that her father would not have anyone else to take care of him after she was gone. And she had made a firm resolution to go with Satyawan. A daughter is said to be Duhita as she is a well-wisher of both her parents as well as her in-laws. What an ideal way Savitri found, to carry out her duties to both!
7. Fourth blessing from Yamadharma

On going further Savitri said, “Due to the company of my husband, I do not feel this distance to be much. My mind runs ahead of me, so please listen to what I say. You are the brave son of Vivaswan (Sun) and hence you’re also called ‘Vaivaswat.’ You are also known as ‘Dharmaraj’ (follower of righteousness) as you give equal justice to either friend or enemy.” Impressed by these words, Yamraj granted her a fourth wish. This time Savitri asked for a 100 courageous children (sons) to amplify her family. Yamraj was pleased to grant this wish and asked her to return as she had come very far. This was the first time she had asked for something for herself.
8. Yamadharma releasing Satyawan’s soul!

Savitri continued to follow Yamadharma. She said, “The attitude of Holy men is always righteous. They are never sad or depressed. With the strength of truthfulness and the radiance of worship they can face even the Sun and the Earth. Realising the fact that this Sanatan (eternal) righteous conduct is adopted by holy persons, they do their deeds without expecting the outcome.” Hearing this righteous quote, Yamraj agreed to grant her a fifth wish. This time Savitri concluded, “O Dharmaraj, you have already granted my wish to have a 100 children. But this wish cannot be accomplished in the absence of my husband, hence I desire that my husband be granted his life. I do not desire any happiness other than my husband.

I don’t even wish heaven. Not only this but I do not even want to be alive without my husband. You have blessed me with many children yet you are taking my husband away. Grant me this wish so that your blessings come true.” On hearing this, Yamraj was very pleased and said, “Tathaastu.” He released Satyawan’s noose and said, “O noble lady, I have released your husband. From now on he will always be healthy. All his desires will be fulfilled. He will live with you for 400 years. He will follow righteousness and become famous. You will have 100 children with him.” As Yamaraj started leaving, Savitri bowed and offered gratitude to him for his grace. Savitri then returned to the dead body of Satyawan and put his head on her lap again. Slowly chaitanya (life) spread throughout his body and he woke up! This is how Savitri got her husband back from the dead with her righteous speech.