Manual Sati, the Blessing and the Curse: The Burning of Wives in India

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About us. Editorial team. John Stratton Hawley. Philosophy East and West 46 3 Indian Philosophy in Asian Philosophy. Edit this record. Mark as duplicate. Find it on Scholar. Request removal from index. Revision history. From the Publisher via CrossRef no proxy jstor.

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Configure custom resolver. The Identity Theory of Truth. Stewart Candlish - - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Sati as practice is first mentioned in CCE, when a stele commemorating such an incident was erected at Eran, an ancient city in the modern state of Madhya Pradesh. The custom began to grow in popularity as evidenced by the number of stones placed to commemorate satis, particularly in southern India and amongst the higher castes of Indian society, despite the fact that the Brahmins originally condemned the practice Auboyer Over the centuries the custom died out in the south only to become prevalent in the north, particularly in the states of Rajasthan and Bengal.

While comprehensive data are lacking across India and through the ages, the British East India Company recorded that the total figure of known occurrences for the period - was 8,; another source gives the number of 7, from - , an average of documented incidents per year. However, these numbers are likely to grossly underestimate the real number of satis as in , women performed sati in the state of Bengal alone Hardgrave Historically, the practice of sati was to be found among many castes and at every social level, chosen by or for both uneducated and the highest ranking women of the times.

The common deciding factor was often ownership of wealth or property, since all possessions of the widow devolved to the husband's family upon her death. It was deemed an act of peerless piety and was said to purge her of all her sins, release her from the cycle of birth and rebirth and ensure salvation for her dead husband and the seven generations that followed her Moore Because its proponents lauded it as the required conduct of righteous women, it was not considered to be suicide, otherwise banned or discouraged by Hindu scripture.

Sati also carried romantic associations which some were at apparent pains to amplify. Stein states "The widow on her way to the pyre was the object for once of all public attention Endowed with the gift of prophecy and the power to cure and bless, she was immolated amid great fanfare, with great veneration".

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Only if she was virtuous and pious would she be worthy of being sacrificed; consequently being burned or being seen as a failed wife were often her only choices Stein Indeed, the very reference to the widow from the point at which she decided to become a "Sati" Chaste One removed any further personal reference to her as an individual and elevated her to a remote and untouchable context.

It is little wonder that women growing up in a culture in which they were so little valued as individuals considered it the only way for a good wife to behave. The alternative, anyway, was not appealing. After the death of a husband an Hindi widow was expected to live the life of an aesthetic, renouncing all social activities, shaving her head, eating only boiled rice and sleeping on thin coarse matting Moore To many, death may have been preferable, especially for those who were still girls themselves when their husband's died.

Over the centuries, many of India's inhabitants have disagreed with the practice of sati. Since its very foundation the Sikh religion has explicitly prohibited it. Sati was regarded as a barbaric practice by the Islamic rulers of the Mogul period, and many tried to halt the custom with laws and edicts banning the practice. Many Hindu scholars have argued against sati, calling it "as suicide, and At the end of the 18 th Century, the influx of Europeans into India meant that the practice of sati was being scrutinised as never before; missionaries, travellers and civil servants alike condemned official Raj tolerance of the "dreadful practice" and called for its end Hardgrave In the Governor-General of India, Lord Bentinck, finally outlawed the custom in its entirety, claiming it had no sound theological basis James James also notes that the outlawing of sati practice was considered the first direct affront to Indian religious beliefs and therefore contributed to the end of the British Raj.

Most recorded instances of sati during the 's were described as "voluntary" acts of courage and devotion Hardgrave , a conviction that sati advocates continue to promote to this day. At the very least, women committing sati were encouraged by priests who received the best item from the women's possessions as payment , the relatives of both families who received all the women's remaining possessions and untold blessings and by general peer pressure. However it appears that at least in some recorded cases the women were drugged.

In "An Account of a Woman Burning Herself, By an Officer," which appeared in the Calcutta Gazette in , the observer describes the woman as likely under the influence of bhang marijuana or opium but otherwise "unruffled. Two people immediately passed a rope twice across the bodies, and fastened it so tight to the stakes that it would have effectually prevented her from rising had she attempted". Once the reality of burning to death became obvious, many women tried to escape their fate.

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Measures and implements were put into place to ensure that they could not. Edward Thompson wrote that a woman "was often bound to the corpse with cords, or both bodies were fastened down with long bamboo poles curving over them like a wooden coverlet, or weighted down by logs. If she did manage to escape, she and her relatives were ostracised by society, as is related by the redoubtable Fanny Parkes, wife of a minor British civil servant during the early 's, who gives a frank eyewitness account in of a sati burning and the consequences:.

A rich baniya, a corn chandler, whose house was near the gate of our grounds, departed this life; he was an Hindu.

Sati, the Blessing and the Curse: The Burning of Wives in India

On the 7th of November, the natives in the bazaar were making a great noise with their tom-toms, drums, and other discordant musical instruments, rejoicing that his widow had determined to perform sati, i. The [English] magistrate sent for the woman, used every argument to dissuade her, and offered her money. Her only answer was dashing her head on the floor, and saying, 'If you will not let me burn with my husband, I will hang myself in your court of justice.

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If a widow touches either food or water from the time her husband expires until she ascends the pile, she cannot, by Hindu law, be burned with the body; therefore the magistrate kept the corpse forty-eight hours, in the hope that hunger would compel the woman to eat. Guards were set over her, but she never touched anything.

Sati, the Blessing and the Curse: The Burning of Wives in India by John Stratton Hawley

My husband accompanied the magistrate to see the sati: about five thousand people were collected together on the banks of the Ganges: the pile was then built, and the putrid body placed upon it; the magistrate stationed guards to prevent the people from approaching it. After having bathed in the river, the widow lighted a brand, walked round the pile, set it on fire, and then mounted cheerfully: the flame caught and blazed up instantly; she sat down, placing the head of the corpse on her lap, and repeated several times the usual form, 'Ram, Ram, sati; Ram, Ram, sati;' i.

As the wind drove the fierce fire upon her, she shook her arms and limbs as if in agony; at length she started up and approached the side to escape. An Hindu, one of the police who had been placed near the pile to see she had fair play, and should not be burned by force, raised his sword to strike her, and the poor wretch shrank back into the flames.

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The magistrate seized and committed him to prison. The woman again approached the side of the blazing pile, sprang fairly out, and ran into the Ganges, which was within a few yards. When the crowd and the brothers of the dead man saw this, they called out, 'Cut her down, knock her on the head with a bamboo; tie her hands and feet, and throw her in again' and rushed down to execute their murderous intentions, when the gentlemen and the police drove them back.

The woman drank some water, and having extinguished the fire on her red garment, said she would mount the pile again and be burned. The magistrate placed his hand on her shoulder which rendered her impure , and said, 'By your own law, having once quitted the pile you cannot ascend again; I forbid it. You are now an outcast from the Hindus, but I will take charge of you, the [East India] Company will protect you, and you shall never want food or clothing. He then sent her, in a palanquin, under a guard, to the hospital. The crowd made way, shrinking from her with signs of horror, but returned peaceably to their homes: the Hindus annoyed at her escape, and the Musulmans saying, 'It was better that she should escape, but it was a pity we should have lost the tamasha amusement of seeing her burnt to death.

Had not the magistrate and the English gentlemen been present, the Hindus would have cut her down when she attempted to quit the fire; or had she leapt out, would have thrown her in again, and have said, 'She performed sati of her own accord, how could we make her? It was the will of God. She replied, 'The women of my husband's family have all been satis, why should I bring disgrace upon them? I shall go to heaven, and afterwards reappear on earth, and be married to a very rich man.

As a result of being outlawed, sati began to decline in the 19 th Century but persisted in parts of India, particularly Rajasthan, a state with one of the lowest literacy rates in India. In in a speech at the first All-India Women's Conference she called sati a curse, but also noted that the practice no longer posed a great risk to Indian women, unlike the practices of girl-child marriage and the institution of purdah.

In the late 's, a royal sati took place. Performed in Jodhpur by Sugankunverba, the widow of Brigadier Jabbar Singh Sisodia, her act of self-immolation occurred illegally and supposedly in secret. The Maharani Padmavati Gaekwad of Baroda, her close friend, provided this account of her death in About a month before he died she stopped eating and drinking.

Sati, the Blessing and the Curse : The Burning of Wives in India

She went about her household chores, looked after her husband and nursed him, but without letting on she got together all the things required for the last rites. I used to go to their house to cheer them up and one evening just a little before sun-down as I drove into the compound, I heard this very deep chanting of Ram-Ram as if coming from a deep, echoing chasm. Meena, a personal friend, comes from a Gujarati Brahmin family and has lived in Tamil Nadu for most of her life. These words are a definition of the concept of samskara given to me in personal discussion with Nithya, a Brahmin woman from Madurai, Tamil Nadu, in Puja is the adoration of divinities or divine images in a temple or domestic shrine, and pujapa is the range of ingredients used in puja.

One example is the cult formed around a previously little known goddess, Santoshi Ma, after the release of a film about her Lutgendorf a Lutgendorf, P. A Superhit Goddess. Manushi: A Journal about Women and Society , 10 — Manushi: A Journal about Women and Society , 24 — Darshan, the reciprocal act of visual communication that is central to sati worship—and Hindu worship in general—is one reason people are eager to witness a sati.

Sangari and Vaid argue that the construction of sati Narayani's temple at Jhunjhunhu in the s provided a locus for political and ideological mobilisation that explains, at least in part, the sudden resurgence of immolations in that area Sangari, K. Skip to Main Content. Search in: This Journal Anywhere. Advanced search. Submit an article Journal homepage. Ruth Bacchus. Pages Published online: 06 Jun Additional information Notes 1. Article Metrics Views. Article metrics information Disclaimer for citing articles. Login options Log in. Username Password Forgot password? Shibboleth OpenAthens. Restore content access Restore content access for purchases made as guest.