“Yama and Savitri” was painted by Nandalal Bose in 1913. Nandalal, one of the pioneers of Indian modern Art and illustrator of the Constitution of India, has always been influenced by the murals of Ajanta Caves and Rabindranath Tagore.
The way he captured the history and essence of the moment in his paintings was recognized by many. His paintings are considered to be art treasures despite not being antiques due to its high artistic and aesthetic value.
The painting is based on the old age story of Savitri Devi and her valor. Savitri was a fair princess of Madra. Due to a lack of potential suitors, she went out of the palace in search of her husband. After traveling to various places, she met Satyavan, a man born into royalty but still living his life in a hermitage. Upon returning to the palace, Savitri was warned by sage Narada that if she was to marry Satyavan, he will die in a year. Having confidence in her lord and her love, she ignored the warnings and married him. During one year, she worshipped all lords. Finally, the dreaded day arrived. Satyavan being a brave warrior refused to be scared of death and decided to go to the jungle to procure fruits and vegetables for his family. Being the dutiful wife, Savitri refused to leave her love alone and went with him.
Finally, the time predicted by Narada arrived, Satyavan started to feel headaches and dizziness. He laid down on Savitri’s lap for a quick nap. As soon as his eyes closed, an awful shape emerged from shadows. On his head, he had a gleaming diadem and was fearsome to look at. He was also carrying noose with him. He was none other than Yama, the god of death. He was there to procure Satyavan’s soul.
When Savitri saw Yama taking his husband’s soul she followed him to get her husband back and not to leave her love alone on the journey. Yama warned her not to follow him but she simply remarked that ‘anybody who has walked seven steps together, are considered to be friends.’ Using her devotion and friendship, she begged Yama to let go of her husband. Seeing Savitri’s dedication, purity, and bravery, Yama agreed to give her everything that she wants except her husband’s soul. Being very smart since childhood, she tricked Yama into giving her, her husband back. She asked Yama to give her a vardaan of carrying her husband’s children. As soon as Yama granted her wish, he knew he had been trapped as the wish can only be fulfilled if he gives Savitri Satyavan back.
The conversation between Yama and Savitri is what is depicted in the painting by Nandalal Bose. The painting shows passion combined with devotion. This feeling was projected so quietly by Nandalal that despite being a famous illustrator, the significance of his works is yet to be recognized by India.