I. What is Sati?
Hindu custom in India in which the widow was burnt to death on her husband’s pyre.
Can be a voluntary choice or force upon a woman by her in-laws.
II. Reasons for Sati
A widow's status was looked upon as an unwanted burden that prevented her from participating in the household work. Her touch, her voice, her very appearance was considered unholy, impure and something that was to be shunned and abhorred.
A woman was considered pure if she committed Sati.
III. The History Behind Sati
Sati, the wife of Daksha, was so overcome at the demise of her husband that she immolated herself on his funeral pyre.
Sati was the consort of Lord Shiva. She burnt herself in fire as protest against her father, Daksha did not give her consort Shiva the respect she thought he deserved.
IV. Theories of Origin
Even though Sati is considered an Indian custom or a Hindu custom it was not practiced all over India by all Hindus but only among certain communities of India.
Sacrificing the widow in her dead husband's funeral or pyre was not unique only to India. This custom was prevalent among Egyptians, Greek, Goths, and others.
Ramayana- Sita walks through fire to prove her purity.
Mahabharata- Madri throws herself on her husband, Pandu’s fire.
V. Outside Views Impact
A few rulers of India like the Mughals, tried to ban this custom.
Italian Traveler Pietro Della Valle (1586-1652) has documented the Sati ritual that he witnessed in the town of Ikkeri in November of 1623.
Colonel William. H. Sleeman (1809 - 1856 A.D.) served as the collector of Jabalpur.
VI. Sati in the Modern times
In general, before this custom was outlawed in 1829, there were a few hundred officially recorded incidences each year.
The efforts of Raja Rammohan Roy and other Hindu reformers greatly impacted the movement to outlaw this practice.
Even after the custom was outlawed, this custom did not vanish completely. It took few decades before this custom almost vanished
In 1987 an eighteen years old widow, Roop Kanwar, committed Sati in a village of Rajasthan
The 'Sati' version is that Roop told her father-in-law she wanted to commit Sati.
Roop was forced to commit Sati.
The case went to court, but no one was charged with her murder.
Even in the year 2000, you hear about Sati occurring in rural villages.
The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act of 1987 Part I, Section 2(c) defines Sati as:
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 other-wise
This article aims to make clear the nature of ritual violence through the analysis of disputes over sati in contemporary India, pointing out the difficulties in defying it and investigating the possibilities of overcoming it. Originally, Sati referred to chaste women and the goddess symbolising chastity and not to the custom of Hindu widows being burned or buried with the husband’s corpse(1). It was the British colonial rulers who understood the word sati as the act of burning widows. The idea is that the life on this earth literally comes to an end there and the husband and wife live together for ever in heaven. The British prohibited sati as a brutal custom in the beginning of the nineteenth century. Many researchers have already attempted analyses of sati in those days and of the disputes leading to the prohibition of sati(2). Sati that took place in India in 1987 and its repercussions. Six months after the incident, but the atmosphere was still such that no research could be conducted openly(3). For this reason, newspaper and magazine articles on the incident will be used here as the objects of analysis. The number of articles on this topic comes to about two hundred ranging from those that just report the facts of the sati incident and the names of people arrested to special reports of several pages in length(4). In addition to these there are many research articles by historians, religious studies specialists and anthropologists that have been published till recently. In this article, first present a brief account of the incident in 1987 and then analyse the disputes over sati appearing in newspapers. What
The focus on in particular are the beliefs behind sati, the pro-sati views of those who praise and defend sati and the anti-sati views of those who criticise it as an evil tradition of the past.
Ritual violence refers to two things: patterned or formalised violence and violent elements in ritual. In other words this is community violence in the sense that it is socially sanctioned(5), and it is divine violence in the sense that it is linked to a supernatural being. As we will see later, sati is also ritualised violence which is worshipped by many people and blessed by the goddess. Widows who can receive the blessings of the goddess are limited. The widow must also show a miracle in the act of sati. Once this is accepted those who oppose the sati are cursed by the divine beings. Thus to reproach sati means the same as criticising the community and its system of belief. This is not just a matter of criticising violence as evil, since in order to criticise it, the community and the supernatural beings have to be reprimanded. Disputes over sati teach us the difficulties in this kind of criticisms of violence.
Justifications and criticisms
Brahmin scholars of the second millennium justified the practice, and gave reasonings as to how the scriptures could be said to justify them. Among them were Vijnanesvara, of the Chalukya court, and laterMadhavacharya, theologian and minister of the court of the Vijayanagara empire, according to Shastri, who quotes their reasoning. It was lauded by them as required conduct in righteous women, and it was explained that this was considered not to be suicide (suicide was otherwise variously banned or discouraged in the scriptures). It was deemed an act of peerless piety, and was said to purge the couple of all accumulated sin, guarantee their salvation and ensure their reunion in the afterlife.
Though Sati is considered a Hindu custom, the women, known as Sati in Hindu religious literature, did not commit suicide on their dead husband's pyre. The first woman known as Sati was the consort of Lord Shiva. She burnt herself in fire as protest against her father who did not give her consort Shiva the respect she thought he deserved, while burning herself she prayed to reborn again as the new consort of Shiva, which she became and her name in the new incarnation was Parvati.
Other famous woman in Hindu literature titled Sati was Savitri. When Savitri's husband Satyavan died, the Lord of death, Yama arrived to take his soul. Savitri begged Yama to restore Satyavan and take her life instead, which he could not do. So Savitri followed Lord Yama a long way. After a long way in which Yama noticed that Savitri was losing strength but was still following him and her dead husband, Yama offered Savitri a boon, anything other than her husband's life. Savitri asked to have children from Satyavan. In order to give Savitri her boon, Lord Yama had no choice but to restore Satyavan to life and so Savitri gained her husband back.
These two women along with other women in Hindu mythology who were exceptionally devoted to their husbands symbolized the truthful Indian wife who would do everything for their husband and they were named Sati. The meaning of the word sati is righteous. But as written earlier the women named Sati, in Hindu religious literature, did not commit suicide on their dead husband's pyre. Therefore the custom of burning the widow on her dead husband's pyre probably did not evolve from religious background but from social background.
There are different theories about the origins of Sati. One theory says that Sati was introduced to prevent wives from poisoning their wealthy husbands and marry their real lovers. Other theory says that Sati began with a jealous queen who heard that dead kings were welcomed in heaven by hundreds of beautiful women, called Apsaras. And therefore when her husband died, she demanded to be burnt on her dead husband's pyre and so to arrive with him to heaven and this way to prevent the Apsaras from consorting with her husband. There are also other theories about the origins of Sati.