A review of maternal deaths at Rajendra Hospital, Punjab, from January 1978 to December 1991 yielded important data for the planning of maternal health services in this area of India, During the 14 year study period, there were 33,160 births and 339 deaths, for a maternal mortality rate of 1002/100,000 live births. Women who had received no prenatal care accounted for 47.4% of deliveries but 92.8% of maternal deaths. In addition, a disproportionate number of deaths involved rural women (74.6%) and poor women (76.4%). 57.8% of maternal deaths involved women 21-30 years of age; 37.1% occurred among primigravidas. Direct obstetrical causes were considered the etiologic factor in 83.1% of these deaths. Primary among these causes were sepsis (37.1%), obstetric hemorrhage (26.2%), hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (21.4%), and obstructed labor (15.3%). 30.6% of deaths occurred during pregnancy, 50.3% during labor, and 19.1% in the postpartum period. Indirect obstetrical causes, notably severe anemia and anesthesia complications, were implicated in 15.3% of the maternal deaths. Critical analysis of the maternal deaths in this series suggested that 89.6% were totally preventable, 9.6% were probably preventable, and only 0.8% were not avoidable. Factors that would reduce the high rate of maternal mortality in this region include more widespread use of prenatal care, training of traditional birth attendants in asepsis, referral of high-risk pregnancies, and improved transportation in rural areas.