Etymology and usage''Sati'' ( : सती / ') is derived from the name of the goddess , who self-immolated because she was unable to bear her father 's humiliation of her and her husband . The term ''sati'' was originally interpreted as " woman". ''Sati'' appears in and texts, where it is synonymous with "good wife"; the term ''suttee'' was commonly used by English writers. ''Sati'' designates therefore originally the woman, rather than the rite. Variants are: * ''Sativrata'', an uncommon and seldom used term, denotes the woman who makes a vow, ''vrata'', to protect her husband while he is alive and then die with her husband. * ''Satimata'' denotes a venerated widow who committed ''sati''. The rite itself had technical names: * ''Sahagamana'' ("going with") or ''sahamarana'' ("dying with"). * ''Anvarohana'' ("ascension" to the pyre) is occasionally met, as well as ''satidaha'' as terms to designate the process. * ''Satipratha'' is also, on occasion, used as a term signifying the custom of burning widows alive. The Indian Commission of Part I, Section 2(c) defines ''sati'' as the act or rite itself.
Origin and spreadThe origins and spread of the practice of ''sati'' are complex and much debated questions, without a general consensus.
Indo-European symbolic practiceRituals such as widow sacrifice/widow burning have, presumably, prehistoric and possibly Indo-European roots. The archaeologist enlists clear parallels between the burial practices of the ancient Asiatic steppe s (fl. 1800–1400 BCE) and the Vedic Age. In Kuzmina's archaeological definition, ''sati'' is understood as a double burial, the co-cremation of a man and a woman/wife, a feature to be found in both cultures. Kuzmina states that in the Andronovo culture and Vedic age, the practice was never strictly observed and was symbolic. According to , in the Vedic period the practice of sati seems to have been symbolic, as is evident from the remarriage of widows, with the widow performing a "symbolic self-immolation at the death of her husband," as a status-sign. In later times, a variant reading of the Veda turned this symbolic practice into the practice of a widow burning herself with her husband. Anand A. Yang notes that the Rig Veda refers to a "mimetic ceremony" where a "widow lay on her husband's funeral pyre before it was lit but was raised from it by a male relative of her dead husband." According to Yang, the word ''agre'', "to go forth," was (probably in the 16th century) mistranslated into ''agneh'', "into the fire," to give Vedic sanction for ''sati''.
Kshatriya (Rajput) origins of satiSati as the burning of a widow with her deceased husband seems to have been introducd in the post- , after 500 BCE. Vidya Dehejia states that sati was introduced late into Indian society, and became regular only after 500 CE. According to , the practice became prevalent from the 7th century onward and declined to its elimination in the 17th century to gain resurgence in Bengal in the 18th century. Historian postulates that its mention in some of the indicates that it slowly grew in prevalence from 5th–7th century and later became an accepted custom around 1000 CE among those of higher classes, especially the . One of the stanzas in the describes 's suicide by ''sati''. According to Dehejia, sati originated within the (warrior) and remained mostly limited to the warrior class among Hindus. According to Thapar, the introduction and growth of the practice of sati as a fire sacrifice is related to new Kshatriyas, who forged their own culture and took some rules "rather literally," with a variant reading of the Veda turning the symbolic practice into the practice of a widow burning herself with her husband. Thapar further points to the "subordination of women in patriarchal society," "changing 'systems of kinship'," and "control over female sexuality" as factors in the rise of ''sati''.
Muslim-era spread of satiThe practice of sati was emulated by those seeking to achieve high status of the royalty and the warriors as part of the process of , but its spread was also related to the centuries of Islamic invasion and its expansion in South Asia, and to the hardship and marginalisation that widows endured, with the ideologies of '' '' and ''sati'' reinforcing each other. Crucial was the adoption of the practice by Brahmins, despite prohibitions for them to do so. Sati acquired an additional meaning as a means to preserve the honour of women whose men had been slain, akin to the practice of '' ''. ''Jauhar'' was originally a self-chosen death for noble women facing defeat in war, and practiced especially among the warrior Rajputs. Oldenburg posits that the enslavement of women by Greek conquerors may have started this practice, and notes that the ''kshatriyas'' or Rajput castes were the most respected community in Rajasthan, north-west India, not the Brahmins, as they defended the land against invaders, already centuries before the coming of the Muslims. She proposes that Brahmins of the north-west copied Rajput practices, borrowing the practice of ''jauhar'' from the rajputs, but transforming it ideologically from the 'brave woman' into the 'good woman'. From those Brahmins, the practice spread to other non-warrior castes. According to David Brick of Yale University, analyzing the '' '' (700–1000 CE), sati existed among the Brahmins of Kashmir in the later half of the first millennium. The author of the text may have mentioned practices existing in his own community, as the ''Vishnu Smriti'' is believed to have been written in Kashmir. The dates of other Dharmasastra texts mentioning ''sahagamana'', states Brick, are not known with certainty, but the priestly class throughout India was aware of them and the practice itself by 12th century. It was practiced in Bengal as early as the 12th century, prominently by Brahmins, and increased among them, especially between 1680–1830, because widows had inheritance rights, and were increasingly pressured to die. According to Leslie, sati also spread in medieaval India because of the hardship and marginalisation that widows endured. Widowhood for Hindu women during the medieval period gave extreme desolation and misery due to the influence of slavery practices in the Muslim ruled kingdoms, and widows chose sati sacrifice as an honourable solution rather than a shameful fate.
British Raj revivalSati practice resumed during the colonial era, particularly in significant numbers in colonial . Three factors may have contributed this revival: sati was believed to be supported by Hindu scriptures by the 19th century; sati was encouraged by unscrupulous neighbors as it was a means of property annexation from a widow who had the right to inherit her dead husband's property under Hindu law, and sati helped eliminate the inheritor; Uma Narayan (1997), Dislocating Cultures: Identities, Traditions, and Third World Feminism, Routledge, , pp. 59–65 Daniel Grey states that the understanding of origins and spread of sati were distorted in the colonial era because of a concerted effort to push "problem Hindu" theories in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Lata Mani wrote that all of the parties during the British colonial era that debated the issue, prescribed to the belief in a " " of Indian women followed by a decline in concurrence to the Muslim conquests. This discourse also resulted in promotion of a view of British missionaries rescuing "Hindu India from Islamic tyranny". Several British missionaries who had studied classical Indian literature attempted to employ Hindu scriptural interpretations in their missionary work to convince their followers that Sati was not mandated by Hinduism.
Earliest recordsFew reliable records exist of the practice before the time of the (c. 400 CE).
Early Greek sourcesAmong those that do reference the practice, the lost works of the historian , who traveled to India with the expedition of in c. 327 BCE, are preserved in the fragments of . There are different views by authors on what Aristobulus hears as widows of one or more tribes in India performing self sacrifice on the husband's pyre, one author also mentions that widows who declined to die were held in disgrace. In contrast, who visited India during 300 BCE does not mention any specific reference to the practice, which Dehejia takes as an indication that the practice was non-existent then. writes about the wives of Ceteus, the Indian captain of , competing for burning themselves after his death in the (317 BCE). The younger one is permitted to mount the pyre. Modern historians believe Diodorus's source for this episode was the eyewitness account of the now lost historian . Hieronymus' explanation of the origin of ''sati'' appears to be his own composite, created from a variety of Indian traditions and practices to form a moral lesson upholding traditional Greek values.Bosworth, pp. 174–187 Modern scholarship has generally treated this instance as an isolated incident, not representative of general culture. Two other independent sources that mention widows who voluntarily joined their husbands' pyres as a mark of their love are and .
Early Sanskrit sourcesSome of the early Sanskrit authors like in '' Daśakumāracarita'' and Banabhatta in '' '' mention that women who burnt themselves wore extravagant dresses. Bana tells about Yasomati who, after choosing to mount the pyre, bids farewell to her relatives and servants. She then decks herself in jewelry which she later distributes to others. Although 's death is expected, Arvind Sharma suggests it is another form of sati. The same work mentions 's sister Rajyasri trying to commit sati after her husband died. In '' '', Bana greatly opposes sati and gives examples of women who did not choose sahgamana.
Sangam literaturePadma Sree asserts that other evidence for some form of sati comes from in Tamilkam: for instance the written in the 2nd century CE. In this tale, Kannagi, the chaste wife of her wayward husband Kovalan, burns Madurai to the ground when her husband is executed unjustly, then climbs a cliff to join Kovalan in heaven. She became an object of worship as a chaste wife, called in Sinhala and in Tamil, and is still worshipped today. An inscription in an urn burial from the 1st century CE tells of a widow who told the potter to make the urn big enough for both her and her husband. The similarly provides evidence that such practices existed in Tamil lands, and the claims widows prefer to die with their husband due to the dangerous negative power associated with them. However she notes that this glorification of sacrifice was not unique to women: just as the texts glorified "good" wives who sacrificed themselves for their husbands and families, "good" warriors similarly sacrificed themselves for their kings and lands. It is even possible that the sacrifice of the "good" wives originated from the warrior sacrifice tradition. Today, such women are still worshipped as Gramadevatas throughout South India.
Inscriptional evidenceAccording to , the first inscriptional evidence of the practice is from in 464 CE, and in India from 510 CE. The early evidence suggests that widow-burning practice was seldom carried out in the general population. Centuries later, instances of ''sati'' began to be marked by inscribed memorial stones called Sati stones. According to J.C. Harle, the medieval memorial stones appear in two forms – ''viragal'' (hero stone) and ''satigal'' (sati stone), each to memorialize something different. Both of these are found in many regions of India, but "rarely if ever earlier in date than the 8th or 9th century". Numerous memorial ''sati'' stones appear 11th-century onwards, states Michaels, and the largest collections are found in There have been few instances of sati in the Bhanugupta, burning herself on her husband's pyre is considered to be a Sati stone.
Practice in Hindu-influenced cultures outside IndiaThe early 14th-century CE traveller of mentions wife burning in Zampa ( ), in nowadays south/central . Anant Altekar states that ''sati'' spread with Hindu migrants to Southeast Asian islands, such as to , and . According to Dutch colonial records, this was however a rare practice in Indonesia, one found in royal households. In , both the lords and the wives of a dead king voluntarily burnt themselves in the 15th and 16th centuries. According to European traveller accounts, in 15th century , in present-day extreme south , widow burning was practiced. A Chinese pilgrim from the 15th century seems to attest the practice on islands called Ma-i-tung and Ma-i (possibly (outside Sumatra) and Northern , respectively). According to the historian K.M. de Silva, Christian missionaries in with a substantial Hindu minority population, reported "there were no glaring social evils associated with the indigenous religions-no ''sati'', (...). There was thus less scope for the social reformer." However, although ''sati'' was non-existent in the colonial era, earlier Muslim travellers such as reported that ''sati'' was optionally practiced, which a widow could choose to undertake.
Mughal Empire (1526–1857)
Ambivalence of Mughal rulersAccording to , the Mughal Emperor (r.1556–1605) was averse to the practice of Sati; however, he expressed his admiration for "widows who wished to be cremated with their deceased husbands". He was averse to abuse, and in 1582, Akbar issued an order to prevent any use of compulsion in ''sati''.XVII. "Economic and Social Developments under the Mughals"
Descriptions by westernersThe memoirs of European merchants and travelers, as well the colonial era Christian missionaries of British India described Sati practices under Mughal rulers. François Bernier (1620–1688) gave the following description: The Spanish missionary Domingo Navarrete wrote in 1670 of different styles of Sati during Aurangzeb's time.
British and other European colonial powers
Non-British colonial powers in Indiabanned ''sati'' immediately after the in 1510. Local Brahmins convinced the newly-arrived to rescind the ban in 1555 in spite of protests from the local Christians and the Church authorities, but the ban was reinstated in 1560 by with additional serious criminal penalties (including loss of property and liberty) against those encouraging the practice. The Dutch and the French banned it in Chinsurah and Pondichéry, their respective colonies. The Danes, who held the small territories of and , permitted it until the 19th century. The Danish strictly forbade, apparently early the custom of ''sati'' at ''Tranquebar'', a colony they held from 1620–1845 (whereas Serampore (Frederiksnagore) was Danish colony merely from 1755–1845).
Early British policyThe first official British response to sati was in 1680 when the Agent of Madras intervened and prohibited the burning of a Hindu widow in and attempts to limit or ban the practice had been made by individual British officers but without the backing of the as it followed a policy of non-interference in Hindu religious affairs and there was no legislation or ban against Sati. The first formal British ban was imposed in 1798, in the city of only. The practice continued in surrounding regions. In the beginning of the 19th century, the evangelical church in Britain, and its members in India, started campaigns against ''sati''. This activism came about during a period when British missionaries in India began focusing on promoting and establishing Christian educational systems as a distinctive contribution of theirs to the missionary enterprise as a whole. Leaders of these campaigns included William Carey and . These movements put pressure on the company to ban the act. William Carey, and the other missionaries at conducted in 1803–04 a census on cases of ''sati'' for a region within a 30-mile radius of Calcutta, finding more than 300 such cases there. Carey's actual figures for the year 1803 was 275; for the months April–October 1804, the missionaries arrived at the figure 115. For 1803 and 1804 statistics More detailed on figures in The missionaries also approached Hindu theologians, who opined that the practice was encouraged, rather than enjoined by the . Serampore was a Danish colony, rather than British, and the reason why Carey started his mission in Danish India, rather than in British territories, was because the East India Company did not accept Christian missionary activity within their domains. In 1813, when the Company's Charter came up for renewal William Wilberforce, drawing on the statistics on ''sati'' collected by Carey and the other Serampore missionaries and mobilising public opinion against suttee, successfully ensured the passage of a Bill in Parliament legalising missionary activities in Indias, with a view to ending the practice through the religious transformation of Indian society. He stated in his address to the House of Commons:
Let us endeavour to strike our roots into the soil by the gradual introduction and establishment of our own principles and opinions; of our laws, institutions and manners; above all, as the source of every other improvement, of our religion and consequently of our moralsElijah Hoole in his book ''Personal Narrative of a Mission to the South of India, from 1820 to 1828'' reports an instance of Sati at Bangalore, which he did not personally witness. Another missionary, Mr. England, reports witnessing Sati in the on 9 June 1826. However, these practices were very rare after the Government of cracked down on the practice from the early 1800s (p. 82). The British authorities within the Bengal Presidency started systematically to collect data on the practice in 1815.
Principal reformers and 1829 banThe Principal campaigners against Sati were and reformers such as William Carey and . In 1799 Carey, a from England, first witnessed the burning of a widow on her husband's funeral pyre. Horrified by the practice, Carey and his coworkers and William Ward opposed ''sati'' from that point onward, lobbying for its abolishment. Known as the , they published essays forcefully condemning the practice and presented an address against Sati to then Governor General of India, . In 1812, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, founder of , began to champion the cause of banning ''sati'' practice. He was motivated by the experience of seeing his own sister-in-law being forced to commit ''sati''. He visited Kolkata's cremation grounds to persuade widows against immolation, formed watch groups to do the same, sought the support of other elite Bengali classes, and wrote and disseminated articles to show that it was not required by Hindu scripture. He was at loggerheads with Hindu groups which did not want the Government to interfere in religious practices. From 1815–1818 ''Sati'' deaths doubled. Ram Mohan Roy launched an attack on ''Sati'' that "aroused such anger that for awhile his life was in danger" In 1821 he published a tract opposing Sati, and in 1823 the Serampore missionaries led by Carey published a book containing their earlier essays, of which the first three chapters opposed Sati. Another Christian missionary published a tract against Sati in 1927. , the founder of the Swaminarayan sect, preached against the practice of ''sati'' in his area of influence, that is . He argued that the practice had no standing and only God could take a life he had given. He also opined that widows could lead lives that would eventually lead to salvation. , the supported Sahajanand Swami in this endeavor. In 1828 came to power as Governor of India. When he landed in Calcutta, he said that he felt "the dreadful responsibility hanging over his head in this world and the next, if… he was to consent to the continuance of this practice (sati) one moment longer." Bentinck decided to put an immediate end to ''Sati''. Ram Mohan Roy warned Bentinck against abruptly ending ''Sati''. However, after observing that the judges in the courts were unanimously in favor of it, Bentinck proceeded to lay the draft before his council. Charles Metcalfe, the Governor's most prominent counselor expressed apprehension that the banning of ''Sati'' might be "used by the disaffected and designing" as "an engine to produce insurrection." However these concerns didn't deter him from upholding the Governor's decision "in the suppression of the horrible custom by which so many lives are cruelly sacrificed." Thus on Sunday morning of 4 December 1829 Lord Bentinck issued Regulation XVII declaring ''Sati'' to be illegal and punishable in criminal courts. It was presented to William Carey for translation. His response is recorded as follows: "Springing to his feet and throwing off his black coat he cried, 'No church for me to-day... If I delay an hour to translate and publish this, many a widow's life may be sacrificed,' he said. By evening the task was finished." On 2 February 1830 this law was extended to and . The ban was challenged by a petition signed by "several thousand… Hindoo inhabitants of Bihar, Bengal, Orissa etc" and the matter went to the in London. Along with British supporters, Ram Mohan Roy presented counter-petitions to parliament in support of ending Sati. The Privy Council rejected the petition in 1832, and the ban on ''Sati'' was upheld. After the ban, priests in the region complained to the British Governor, about what they claimed was a meddlement in a sacred custom of their nation. Napier replied:
Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs!Thereafter, the account goes, no suttee took place.Napier, William. (1851) ''History Of General Sir Charles Napier's Administration Of Scinde''. (p. 35). London: Chapman and Hal
Princely states''Sati'' remained legal in some for a time after it had been banned in lands under British control. and other princely states of banned the practice in 1840, whereas followed them in 1841, the princely state of some time before 1843. According to a speaker at the in 1842, the princely states of Satara, Kingdom of Nagpur, Nagpur and Princely State of Mysore, Mysore had by then banned ''sati''. Jaipur State, Jaipur banned the practice in 1846, while Hyderabad State, Hyderabad, Gwalior State, Gwalior and Jammu and Kashmir (princely state), Jammu and Kashmir did the same in 1847. Awadh and Bhopal State, Bhopal (both Muslim-ruled states) were actively suppressing ''sati'' by 1849. Cutch (princely state), Cutch outlawed it in 1852 with Jodhpur State, Jodhpur having banned ''sati'' about the same time. The 1846 abolition in Jaipur was regarded by many British as a catalyst for the abolition cause within Rajputana; within 4 months after Jaipur's 1846 ban, 11 of the 18 independently governed states in Rajputana had followed Jaipur's example. One paper says that in the year 1846–1847 alone, 23 states in the whole of India (not just within Rajputana) had banned ''sati''. It was not until 1861 that ''Sati'' was legally banned in all the princely states of India, Udaipur State, Mewar resisting for a long time before that time. The last legal case of ''Sati'' within a princely state dates from 1861 Udaipur the capital of Mewar, but as Anant S. Altekar shows, local opinion had then shifted strongly against the practice. The widows of Maharanna Sarup Singh declined to become ''sati'' upon his death, and the only one to follow him in death was a concubine. Later the same year, the general ban on ''sati'' was issued by a proclamation from Queen Victoria. In some princely states such as Travancore State, Travancore, the custom of ''Sati'' never prevailed, although it was held in reverence by the common people. For example, the regent Gowri Parvati Bayi was asked by the Residencies of British India, British Resident if he should permit a ''sati'' to take place in 1818, but the regent urged him not to do so, since the custom of ''sati'' had never been acceptable in her domains. In another state, Sawunt Waree (Sawantvadi), the king Khem Sawant III (r. 1755–1803) is credited for having issued a positive ''prohibition'' of sati over a period of ten or twelve years. That prohibition from the 18th century may never have been actively enforced, or may have been ignored, since in 1843, the government in Sawunt Waree issued a new prohibition of ''sati''.
Legislative status of sati in present-day IndiaFollowing the outcry after the ''sati'' of Roop Kanwar, the Indian Government enacted the Rajasthan Sati Prevention Ordinance, 1987 on 1 October 1987.Trial by fire
The burning or burying alive of – :(i) any widow along with the body of her deceased husband or any other relative or with any article, object or thing associated with the husband or such relative; or :(ii) any woman along with the body of any of her relatives, irrespective of whether such burning or burying is claimed to be voluntary on the part of the widow or the women or otherwiseThe ''Prevention of Sati Act'' makes it illegal to support, glorify or attempt to commit sati. Support of sati, including coercing or forcing someone to commit sati, can be punished by Capital punishment, death sentence or life imprisonment, while glorifying sati is punishable with one to seven years in prison. Enforcement of these measures is not always consistent. The National Council for Women (NCW) has suggested amendments to the law to remove some of these flaws. Prohibitions of certain practices, such as worship at ancient shrines, is a matter of controversy.
Current situationThere were 30 reported cases of ''sati'' or attempted ''sati'' over a 44-year period (1943–1987) in India, the official number being 28. A well-documented case from 1987 was that of 18-year-old Roop Kanwar. In response to this incident, additional legislation against ''sati'' practice was passed, first within the state of Rajasthan, then nationwide by the central government of India. In 2002, a 65-year-old woman by the name of Kuttu died after sitting on her husband's funeral pyre in Panna district of Madhya Pradesh. On 18 May 2006, Vidyawati, a 35-year-old woman allegedly committed sati by jumping into the blazing funeral pyre of her husband in Rari-Bujurg Village, Fatehpur district, Uttar Pradesh. On 21 August 2006, Janakrani, a 40-year-old woman, burned to death on the funeral pyre of her husband Prem Narayan in Sagar district; Janakrani had not been forced or prompted by anybody to commit the act. On 11 October 2008 a 75-year-old woman, Lalmati Verma, committed ''sati'' by jumping into her 80-year-old husband's funeral pyre at Checher in the Kasdol block of Chhattisgarh's Raipur district; Verma killed herself after mourners had left the cremation site. Scholars debate whether these rare reports of ''sati'' suicide by widows are related to culture or are examples of mental illness and suicide such as those found among women worldwide. In the case of Roop Kanwar, Dinesh Bhugra states that there is a possibility that the suicides could be triggered by "a state of depersonalization as a result of severe bereavement", then adds that it is unlikely that Kanwar had mental illness and culture likely played a role. However, Colucci and Lester state that none of the women reported by media to have committed ''sati'' had been given a psychiatric evaluation before their ''sati'' suicide and thus there is no objective data to ascertain if culture or mental illness was the primary driver behind their suicide.Erminia Colucci and David Lester (2012), Suicide and Culture: Understanding the Context, Hogrefe, , pp. 225–226 Inamdar, Oberfield and Darrell state that the women who commit ''sati'' are often "childless or old and face miserable impoverished lives" which combined with great stress from the loss of the only personal support may be the cause of a widow's suicide.
PracticeAccounts describe numerous variants in the sati ritual. The majority of accounts describe the woman seated or lying down on the funeral pyre beside her dead husband. Many other accounts describe women walking or jumping into the flames after the fire had been lit, and some describe women seating themselves on the funeral pyre and then lighting it themselves.
Variations in procedureAlthough ''sati'' is typically thought of as consisting of the procedure in which the widow is placed, or enters, or jumps, upon the funeral pyre of her husband, slight variations in funeral practice have been reported here as well, by region. For example, the mid-17th-century traveller Tavernier claims that in some regions, the ''sati'' occurred by construction of a small hut, within which the widow and her husband were burnt, while in other regions, a pit was dug, in which the husband's corpse was placed along with flammable materials, into which the widow jumped after the fire had started. In mid-nineteenth-century Lombok, an island in today's Indonesia, the local Balinese people, Balinese aristocracy practiced widow suicide on occasion; but only widows of royal descent could burn themselves alive (others were stabbed to death by a kris knife first). At Lombok, a high bamboo platform was erected in front of the fire and, when the flames were at their strongest, the widow climbed up the platform and dived into the fire.
Live burialsMost Hindu communities, especially in North India, only bury the bodies of those under the age of two, such as baby girls. Those older than two are customarily cremated. A few European accounts provide rare descriptions of Indian ''sati'' that included the burial of the widow with her dead husband.The Representation of Sati: Four Eighteenth Century Etchings by Baltazard Solvyns
Compulsion''Sati'' is often described as voluntary, although in some cases it may have been forced. In one narrative account in 1785, the widow appears to have been drugged either with bhang or opium and was tied to the pyre which would have prevented her from escaping the fire, if she changed her mind. The Anglo-Indian press of the period proffered several accounts of alleged forcing of the woman. As an example, ''The Calcutta Review'' published accounts as the following one: Apart from accounts of direct compulsion, some evidence exists that precautions, at times, were taken so that the widow could not escape the flames once they were lit. Anant S. Altekar, for example, points out that it is much more difficult to escape a fiery pit that one has jumped in, than descending from a pyre one has entered on. He mentions the custom of the fiery pit as particularly prevalent in the Deccan Plateau, Deccan and western India. From and Uttar Pradesh, where the widow typically was placed in a hut along with her husband, her leg was tied to one of the hut's pillars. Finally, from Bengal, where the tradition of the pyre held sway, the widow's feet could be tied to posts fixed to the ground, she was asked three times if she wished to ascend to heaven, before the flames were lit. The historian Anant Sadashiv Altekar states that some historical records suggest without doubt that instances of sati were forced, but overall the evidence suggests most instances were a voluntary act on the woman's part.
Funeral customThere have been accounts of symbolic ''sati'' in some communities. A widow lies down next to her dead husband, and certain parts of both the marriage ceremony and the funeral ceremonies are enacted, but without her death. An example in is attested from modern times. Although this form of symbolic ''sati'' has contemporary evidence, it should by no means be regarded as a modern invention. For example, the ancient and sacred Atharvaveda, one of the four Vedas, believed to have been composed around 1000 BCE, describes a funerary ritual where the widow lies down by her deceased husband, but is then asked to ascend, to enjoy the blessings from the children and wealth left to her.
Jivit traditionIn 20th-century India, a tradition developed of venerating ''jivit'' (living satis). A ''jivit'' is a woman who once desired to commit sati, but lives after having sacrificed her desire to die. Two famous ''jivit'' were Bala Satimata, and Umca Satimata, both lived until the early 1990s.
PrevalenceRecords of ''sati'' exist across the subcontinent. However, there seems to have been major differences historically, in different regions, and among communities. Furthermore, no reliable figures exist for the numbers who have died by ''sati'', in general.
NumbersAn 1829 report by a Christian missionary organization includes among other things, statistics on ''sati''. It begins with a declaration that "the object of all missions to the heathen is to substitute for these systems the Gospel of Christ", thereafter lists ''sati'' for each year over the period 1815–1824 which totals 5,369, followed by a statement that a total of 5,997 instances of women were burned or buried alive in the Bengal presidency over the 10-year period, i.e., average 600 per year. In the same report, it states that the Madras and Bombay presidencies totaled 635 instances of ''sati'' over the same ten-year period. The 1829 missionary report does not provide its sources and acknowledges that "no correct idea can be formed of the number of murders occasioned by suttees", then states some of the statistics is based on "conjectures". According to Yang, these "numbers are fraught with problems". Lord William Bentinck, William Bentinck, in an 1829 report, stated without specifying the year or period, that "of the 463 satis occurring in the whole of the Bengal Presidency, Presidency of Fort William, 420 took place in Bengal, Behar, and Orissa, or what is termed the Lower Provinces, and of these latter 287 in the Calcutta Division alone". For the Upper Provinces, Bentinck added, "in these Provinces the satis amount to forty three only upon a population of nearly twenty millions", i.e., average one sati per 465,000.
Social composition and age distributionAnand Yang, speaking of the early nineteenth century, says that contrary to conventional wisdom, ''sati'' was not, in general, confined to being an upper class phenomenon, but spread through the classes/castes. In the 575 reported cases from 1823, for example, 41 percent were Brahmins, some 6 percent were Kshatriyas, whereas 2 percent were Vaishiyas, and 51 percent Sudras. In Banaras, though, in the 1815–1828 British records, the upper castes were only for two years represented with less than 70% of the total; in 1821, all sati were from the upper castes there. Yang notes that many studies seem to emphasize the young age of the widows who committed ''sati''. However, by study of the British figures from 1815 to 1828, Yang states the overwhelming majority were ageing women: The statistics from 1825 to 1826 about two thirds were above the age of 40 when committing ''sati''.
Regional variations of incidenceAnand Yang summarizes the regional variation in incidence of ''sati'' as follows:
Konkan/MaharashtraNarayan H. Kulkarnee believes that ''sati'' came to be practiced in medieval Maharashtra initially by the Maratha nobility claiming descent. Then, according to Kulkarnee, the practice of ''sati'' may have increased across caste distinctions as an honour-saving custom in the face of Muslim advances into the territory. But the practice never gained the prevalence seen in Rajasthan or Bengal, and social customs of actively dissuading a widow from committing ''sati'' are well established. Apparently not a single instance of forced ''sati'' is attested for the 17th and 18th centuries CE. Although not forced, there were instances of women committing sati.One was Shivaji's eldest childless widow, Putalabai committing sati after her husband's death, the other one was Ramabai, the widow of Peshwa Madhavrao I committing sati in 1772 on her husband's funeral pyre.
Vijayanagara empireSeveral sati stones have been found in Vijayanagar empire. These stones were erected as a mark of a heroic deed of sacrifice of the wife and her husband towards the land. The ''sati'' stone evidence from the time of the empire is regarded as relatively rare; only about 50 are clearly identified as such. Thus, Carla M. Sinopoli, citing Verghese, says that despite the attention European travellers paid the phenomenon, it should be regarded as having been fairly uncommon during the time of the Vijayanagara empire.
MaduraiThe Madurai Nayak dynasty (1529–1736 CE) seems to have adopted the custom in larger measure, one Jesuit priest observing in 1609 Madurai the burning of 400 women at the death of Nayak Muttu Krishnappa.
Kongu NaduThe Kongu Nadu region of Tamil Nadu has the highest number of Veera Maha Sati (வீரமாசதி) or Veeramathy temples (வீரமாத்தி) from all the native Kongu castes.
Princely State of MysoreA few records exist from the Princely State of Mysore, established in 1799, that say permission to commit ''sati'' could be granted. Dewan (prime minister) Purnaiah is said to have allowed it for a Brahmin widow in 1805, whereas an 1827 eye-witness to the burning of a widow in Bangalore in 1827 says it was rather uncommon there.
Gangetic plainIn the Upper Gangetic plain, while ''sati'' occurred, there is no indication that it was especially widespread. The earliest known attempt by a government, that of the Islam, Muslim Sultan, Muhammad Tughlaq, to stop this Hindu practice took place in the Sultanate of Delhi in the 14th century. In the Lower Gangetic plain, the practice may have reached a high level fairly late in history. According to available evidence and the existing reports of occurrences, the greatest incidence of ''sati'' in any region and period, in total numbers, occurred in Bengal and Bihar in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Nepal and BaliThe earliest stone inscription in the Indian subcontinent relating to ''sati'' has been found in , dating from the 5th century, wherein the king successfully persuades his mother not to commit ''sati'' after his father dies. This inscription suggests that ''sati'' was practised but not compulsory. Nepal formally banned ''sati'' in 1920. On the Indonesian island of , ''sati'' (known as ''masatya'') was practised by the aristocracy as late as 1903, until the Dutch colonial masters pushed for its termination, forcing the local Balinese princes to sign treaties containing the prohibition of ''sati'' as one of the clauses.''A History of Modern Indonesia since c. 1300'', by Merle Calvin Ricklefs, ''on forced treaties'', see Early Dutch observers of the Balinese custom in the 17th century said that only widows of royal blood were allowed to be burned alive. Concubines or others of inferior blood lines who consented or wanted to die with their princely husband had to be stabbed to death before being burned.
TerminologyLindsey Harlan, having conducted extensive field work among women, has constructed a model of how and why women who committed ''sati'' are still venerated today, and how the worshippers think about the process involved. Essentially, a woman becomes a ''sati'' in three stages: # having been a ''pativrata'', or dutiful wife, during her husband's life, # making, at her husband's death, a solemn vow to burn by his side, thus gaining status as a ''sativrata'', and # having endured being burnt alive, achieving the status of ''satimata''.
PativrataThe ''pativrata'' is devoted and subservient to her husband, and also protective of him. If he dies before her, some culpability is attached to her for his death, as not having been sufficiently protective of him. Making the vow to burn alive beside him removes her culpability, as well as enabling her to protect him from new dangers in the afterlife.
SativrataIn Harlan's model, having made the holy vow to burn herself, the woman becomes a ''sativrata'', a transitional stage between the living and the dead, before ascending the funeral pyre. Once a woman had committed herself to becoming a ''sati'', popular belief thought her endowed with many supernatural powers. Lourens P. Van Den Bosch enumerates some of them: prophecy and clairvoyance, and the ability to bless with sons women who had not borne sons before. The gifts from a ''sati'' were venerated as valuable relics, and in her journey to the pyre, people would seek to touch her garments to benefit from her powers. Lindsey Harlan probes deeper into the ''sativrata'' stage. As a transitional figure on her path to becoming a powerful family protector as ''satimata'', the ''sativrata'' dictates the terms and obligations the family, in showing reverence to her, must observe in order for her to be able to protect them once she has become satimata. These conditions are generally called ''ok''. A typical example of an ''ok'' is a restriction on the colours or types of clothing the family members may wear. ''Shrap'', or curses, are also within the ''sativratas power, associated with remonstrations on members of the family for how they have failed. One woman cursed her in-laws when they brought neither a horse nor a drummer to her pyre, saying that whenever in future they might have need of either (and many religious rituals require the presence of such a thing), it would not be available to them.
SatimataAfter her death on the pyre, the woman is finally transformed into the shape of the ''satimata'', a spiritual embodiment of goodness, with her principal concern being a family protector. Typically, the ''satimata'' manifests in the dreams of family members, for example to teach the women how to be good ''pativratas'', having proved herself through her sacrifice that she was the perfect ''pativrata''. However, although the ''satimatas intentions are always for the good of the family, she is not averse to letting children become sick, for example, or the cows' udders to wither, if she thinks this is an appropriate lesson to the living wife who has neglected her duties as ''pativrata''.
In scripturesDavid Brick, in his 2010 review of ancient Indian literature, states The earliest scholarly discussion of sati, whether it is right or wrong, is found in the Sanskrit literature dated to 10th- to 12th-century. The earliest known commentary on sati by Medhatithi of Kashmir argues that sati is a form of suicide, which is prohibited by the Vedic tradition. Vijnanesvara, of the 12th-century Chalukya court, and the 13th-century Madhvacharya, argue that sati should not to be considered suicide, which was otherwise variously banned or discouraged in the scriptures. They offer a combination of reasons, both in favor and against sati. In the following, a historical chronology is given of the debate within Hinduism on the topic of ''sati''.
The oldest Vedic textsThe most ancient texts still revered among Hindus today are the Vedas, where the ''Saṃhitās'' are the most ancient, four collections roughly dated in their composition to 1700–1100 BCE. In two of these collections, the Rigveda and the Atharvaveda there is material relevant to the discussion of ''sati''.
In the Rig VedaClaims about the mention of sati in Rig Veda vary. There are differing interpretations of one of the passages which reads: : इमा नारीरविधवाः सुपत्नीराञ्जनेन सर्पिषा संविशन्तु , :अनश्रवो.अनमीवाः सुरत्ना आ रोहन्तु जनयोयोनिमग्रे , , (RV 10.18.7) This passage and especially the last of these words has been interpreted in different ways, as can be seen from various English translations: :''May these women, who are not widows, who have good husbands, who are mothers, enter with unguents and clarified butter:'' :''without tears, without sorrow, let them first go up into the dwelling.'' (Wilson, 1856) :''Let these women, whose husbands are worthy and are living, enter the house with ghee (applied) as collyrium (to their eyes).'' :''Let these wives first step into the pyre, tearless without any affliction and well adorned.'' 3.1 Women in Indo-Aryan Societies:Sati
1st-millennium BCE texts
Absence in religious textsDavid Brick, a professor of South Asian Studies, states that neither ''sati'' nor equivalent terms such as ''sahagamana'' are ever mentioned in any Vedic literature (Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads), or in any of the early Dharmasutras or Dharmasastras. The Brahmana literature, one of the layers within the ancient Vedic texts, dated about 1000 BCE – 500 BCE are entirely silent about ''sati'' according to the historian Altekar. Similarly, the Kalpa (Vedanga)#Grhyasutras, Grhyasutras, a body of text devoted to ritual, with composition date about the time of the youngest within Brahmana literature, ''sati'' is not mentioned, either. What is mentioned concerning funeral rites, though, is that the widow is to be brought back from her husband's funeral pyre, either by his brother, or by a trusted servant. In the Taittiriya Aranyaka from about the same time, it is said that when leaving, the widow took from her husband's side such objects as his bow, gold and jewels (which previously would have been burnt with him), and a hope expressed that the widow and her relatives would lead a happy and prosperous life afterwards. According to Altekar, it is "clear" that the custom of actual widow burning had died out a long time previously at this stage. Nor is the practice of ''sati'' mentioned anywhere in the Dharmaśāstra#The Dharmasutras, Dharmasutras, texts tentatively dated by Pandurang Vaman Kane to 600–100 BCE, while Patrick Olivelle thinks the bounds should be roughly 250–100 BCE instead. Not only is sati not mentioned in Brahmana and early Dharmasastra literature, Satapatha Brahmana explains that suicide by anyone is inappropriate (adharmic). This Śruti prohibition became one of the several basis for arguments presented against sati by 11th- to 14th-century Hindu scholars such as Medhatithi of Kashmir, :''Therefore, one should not depart before one's natural lifespan.'' – Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, 10.2.6.7 Thus, in none of the principal religious texts believed composed before the Common Era is there any evidence at all for a sanctioning of the practice of ''sati''. It is wholly unmentioned, although the archaic Atharvaveda do contain hints of a funeral practice of ''symbolic'' sati. In addition, the twelfth-century CE commentary of Apararka, claiming to quote the Dharmasutra text Apastamba, it says that the Apastamba prescribes that if a widow has made a vow of burning herself (anvahorana, "ascend the pyre"), but then ''retracts'' her vow, she must expiate her sin by the penance ritual called ''Prajapatya-vrata'' Justifications for the practice are given in the '' '', dated 6th-9th century CE by Patrick Olivelle: :''When a woman's husband has died, she should either practice ascetic celibacy or ascend (the funeral pyre) after him.'' — Vishnu Smriti, 25.14
Valmiki RamayanaThe oldest portion of the epic Ramayana, the Valmiki Ramayana, is tentatively dated for its composition by Robert P. Goldman to 750–500 BCE. Anant S. Altekar says that no instances of ''sati'' occur in this earliest, archaic part of the whole Ramayana. According to Ramashraya Sharma, there is no conclusive evidence of the sati practice in the Ramayana. For instance, Tara (Ramayana), Tara, Mandodari and the widows of Ravana, all live after their respective husband's deaths, though all of them announce their wish to die, while lamenting for their husbands. The first two remarry their brother-in-law. The only instance of sati appears in the ''Uttara Kanda'' – believed to be a later addition to the original text – in which Kushadhwaja's wife performs sati. The Telugu adaptation of the Ramayana, the 14th-century Ranganatha Ramayana, tells that Sulochana (Ramayana), Sulochana, wife of Indrajit, became sati on his funeral pyre.
MahabharataInstances of ''sati'' are found in the Mahabharata. , the second wife of Pandu, immolates herself. She believes she is responsible for his death, as he had been cursed with death if he ever had intercourse. He died while performing the forbidden act with Madri; she blamed herself for not rejecting him, as she knew of the curse. Also, in the case of Madri the entire assembly of sages sought to dissuade her from the act, and no religious merit is attached to the fate she chooses against all advice. In the Musala-parvan of the Mahabharata, the four wives of Vasudeva are said to commit ''sati''. Furthermore, as news of Krishna's death reaches Hastinapur, five of his wives choose to burn themselves. Against these stray examples within the Mahabharata of ''sati'', there are scores of instances in the same epic of widows who do not commit sati, none of them blamed for not doing so.
Principal Smrtis, c. 200 BCE–1200 CEThe four works, Laws of Manu, (200 BCE–200 CE), (200–500 CE), (100 BCE–400 CE) and the (700–1000 CE) are the principal Smrti works in the Dharmaśāstra tradition, along with the Parasara Smrti, composed in the latter period, rather than in the earlier.
Earliest phase, c. 200 BCE–700 CEThe first three principal smrtis, those of Manu, Yājñavalkya and Nārada, do not contain any mention of sati.
Emergence of debate on sati, 700–1200 CE
=Later smritis and sati= Moriz Winternitz states that Brihaspati Smriti prohibits burning of widows. Brihaspati Smriti was authored after the three principal smritis of Manu, Yājñavalkya and Nārada. Passages of the Parasara Smriti say: :''If a woman adheres to a vow of ascetic celibacy (brahmacarya) after her husband has died, then when she dies, she obtains heaven, just like those who were celibate. Further, three and a half krores or however many hairs are on a human body – for that long a time (in years) a woman who follows her husband (in death) shall dwell in heaven.'' — Parasara Smriti, 4.29–31 Neither of these suggest sati as mandatory, but Parasara Smriti elaborates the benefits of sati in greater detail.
=Liberation versus ascension to heaven= Within the dharmashastric tradition espousing ''sati'' as a justified, and even recommended, option to ascetic widowhood, there remained a curious conception worth noting the achieved status for a woman committing ''sati''. Burning herself on the pyre would give her, and her husband, automatic, but not eternal, reception into heaven (svarga), whereas only the wholly chaste widow living out her natural life span could hope for final liberation (moksha) and breaking the cycle of rebirth. Thus, acknowledging that performing ''sati'' only achieved an inferior otherworldy status than successful widowhood could achieve, ''sati'' became recommended when coupled with a dismissal of the effective possibility for a widow to remain truly chaste.
=Rules on Brahmin widows= While some smriti passages allow sati as optional, others forbid the practice entirely. Vijñāneśvara (c. 1076–1127), an early Dharmaśāstric scholar, claims that many smriti call for the prohibition of sati among Brahmin widows, but not among other social castes. Vijñāneśvara, quoting scriptures from Paithinasi and Angiras to support his argument, states: :Due to Vedic injunction, a Brahmin woman should not follow her husband in death, but for the other social classes, tradition holds this to be the supreme Law of Women... when a woman of Brahmin caste follows her husband in death, by killing herself she leaders neither herself nor her husband to heaven. However, as proof of the contradictory opinion of the smriti on sati, in his Mitākṣarā, Vijñāneśvara argues Brahmin women are technically only forbidden from performing sati on pyres other than those of their deceased husbands. Quoting the Yājñavalkya Smṛti, Vijñāneśvara states, "a Brahmin woman ought not to depart by ascending a separate pyre." David Brick states that the Brahmin sati commentary suggests that the practice may have originated in the warrior and ruling class of medieval Indian society. In addition to providing arguments in support of sati, Vijñāneśvara offers arguments against the ritual. Those who supported the ritual, did however, put restrictions on sati. It was considered wrong for women who had young children to care for, those who were pregnant or menstruating. A woman who had doubts or did not wish to commit sati at the last moment, could be removed from the pyre by a man, usually a brother of the deceased or someone from her husband's side of the family.
=Evolution over time= David Brick, summarizing the historical evolution of scholarly debate on sati in medieval India, states:
Legend of goddess SatiAlthough the myth of the goddess Dakshayani, Sati is that of a wife who dies by her own volition on a fire, this is not a case of the practice of ''sati''. The goddess was not widowed, and the myth is quite unconnected with the justifications for the practice.
Justifications for involuntary satiJulia Leslie points to an 18th-century CE text on the duties of the wife by Tryambakayajvan that contains statements she regards as evidence for a sub-tradition of justifying strongly encouraged, pressured, or even forced ''sati''. Although the standard view of the sati within the justifying tradition is that of the woman who out of moral heroism chooses sati, rather than choosing to enter ascetic widowhood. Tryambaka is quite clear upon the automatic good effect of sati for the woman who was a 'bad' wife: Thus, as Leslie puts it, becoming (or being pressured into the role of) a ''sati'' was, within ''Tryambaka'' thinking, the only truly effective method of atonement for the bad wife.
Exegesis scholarship against satiOpposition to sati was expressed by several exegesis scholars such as the ninth- or tenth-century Kashmir scholar Medatithi – who offers the earliest known explicit discussion of sati, the 12th- to 17th-century scholars Vijnanesvara, Apararka and Devanadhatta, as well as the mystical Tantric tradition, with its valorization of the feminine principle.
MedhatithiExplicit criticisms were published by Medhatithi, a commentator on various theological works. He offered two arguments for his opposition. He considered sati a form of suicide, which was Religious views of suicide#Hinduism, forbidden by the Vedas: "One shall not die before the span of one's life is run out." Medhatithi offered a second reason against sati, calling it against dharma (''adharma''). He argued that there is a general prohibition against violence of any form against living beings in the Vedic dharma tradition, sati causes death which is sufficient proof of violence, and thus sati is against Vedic teachings.
VijnanesvaraVijnanesvara presents both sides of the argument, for and against sati. He argues first that Vedas do not prohibit sacrifice aimed to stop an enemy and in pursuit of heaven, and sati for these reasons is thus not prohibited. He then presents two arguments against sati, calling it "unobjectionable". The first is based on hymn 10.2.6.7 of Satapatha Brahmana will forbids suicide. His second reason against sati is an appeal to relative merit between two choices. Death may grant a woman's wish to enter heaven with her dead husband, but living offers her the possibility of reaching moksha through knowledge of the Self through learning, reflecting and meditating. In Vedic tradition, moksha is of higher merit than heaven, because moksha leads to eternal, unsurpassed bliss while heaven is impermanent and smaller happiness. Living gives her an option to discover deeper, fulfilling happiness than dying through sati does, according to Vijnanesvara.
ApararkaApararka acknowledges that Vedic scripture prohibits violence against living beings and "one should not kill"; however, he argues that this rule prohibits violence against another person, but does not prohibit killing oneself if one wants to. Thus sati is a woman's choice and it is not prohibited by Vedic tradition, argues Apararka.
Counter-arguments within HinduismReform and bhakti movements within Hinduism favoured egalitarian societies, and in line with the tenor of these beliefs, generally condemned the practice, sometimes explicitly. The 12th-century Virashaiva movement condemned the practice. Later, Swaminarayan, Sahajananda Swami, the founder of Vaishnavism, Vaishnavite Swaminarayana sampradaya preached against sati in the 18th century in western India. In a petition to the in 1818, wrote that: "All these instances are murders according to every shastra."
In cultureEuropean artists in the eighteenth century produced many images for their own native markets, showing the widows as heroic women, and moral exemplars. In Jules Verne's novel ''Around the World in Eighty Days'', Phileas Fogg rescues Princess Aouda from forced sati. In her article "Subaltern (postcolonialism)#The voice of the subaltern, Can the Subaltern Speak?", Indian philosopher Gayatri Spivak discussed the history of sati during the colonial era
See also* Jauhar * Self-immolation * Ritual suicide * Deorala * Thalaikoothal * Witch-hunt
Sources* * * * * * * * * * * Mani, L. (1987). Contentious traditions: the debate on sati in colonial India. Cultural Critique, (7), 119–156. * Mani, L. (1998). Contentious traditions: The debate on sati in colonial India. University of California Press. * Meenakshi Jain (2016). Sati: Evangelicals, Baptist Missionaries, and the Changing Colonial Discourse, Aryan Books International. * * * Sangari, K., & Vaid, S. (1981). Sati in Modern India: a report. Economic and Political Weekly, 1284–1288. * * * * * * * Zechenter, E. M. (1997). In the name of culture: Cultural relativism and the abuse of the individual. Journal of Anthropological Research, 319–347.