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Sati (practice)

An 18th-century painting on sati.

Sati (Sanskrit: satī, also spelled suttee) is an obsolete Indian funeral custom where a widow immolated herself on her husband's pyre, or committed suicide in another fashion shortly after her husband's death.[1][2][3]

Mention of the practice can be dated back to the 4th century BC,[4] while evidence of practice by wives of dead kings only appears beginning between the 5th and 9th centuries AD. The practice is considered to have originated within the warrior aristocracy on the Indian subcontinent, gradually gaining in popularity from the 10th century AD and spreading to other groups from the 12th through 18th century AD. The practice was particularly prevalent among some Hindu communities,[5] observed in aristocratic Sikh families,[6] and has been attested to outside South Asia in a number of localities in Southeast Asia, such as in Indonesia,[7] Vietnam.

The practice was initially legalized by the colonial British officials specifying conditions when sati was allowed,[2] then the practice was outlawed in 1829 in their territories in India (the collected statistics from their own regions suggesting an estimated 500–600 instances of sati per year), followed up by laws in the same directions by the authorities in the princely states of India in the ensuing decades, with a general ban for the whole of India issued by Queen Victoria in 1861. In Nepal, sati was banned in 1920. The Indian Sati Prevention Act from 1988 further criminalised any type of aiding, abetting, and glorifying of sati.


  • Etymology and usage 1
  • History 2
    • Origins and comparisons 2.1
      • Earliest records 2.1.1
      • Practice in Hindu-influenced cultures outside Indian subcontinent 2.1.2
      • Comparable rituals in other cultures 2.1.3
      • Cases of burning at funerals elsewhere, history and legends 2.1.4
      • Andronovo culture versus Vedic Age 2.1.5
    • Models for the spread of sati 2.2
      • Altekar's chronology 2.2.1
      • Modern causative models 2.2.2
    • Attitudes of Muslim rulers 2.3
    • British and other European colonial powers 2.4
      • Non-British colonial powers in India 2.4.1
      • Early British policy 2.4.2
      • Principal Hindu reformers and 1829 ban 2.4.3
      • Later British attitudes 2.4.4
      • Princely states 2.4.5
    • Modern times 2.5
      • Legislative status of sati in present day India 2.5.1
      • Current situation 2.5.2
  • Practice 3
    • Jauhar 3.1
    • Royal funerals 3.2
    • Practice within non-Hindu communities 3.3
    • Standard procedures of traditional sati 3.4
    • Variations in procedure 3.5
    • Live burials 3.6
    • Compulsion 3.7
    • Symbolic sati 3.8
      • Funeral custom 3.8.1
      • Jivit tradition 3.8.2
  • Prevalence 4
    • Numbers 4.1
    • Social composition and age distribution 4.2
    • Regional variations of incidence 4.3
      • Konkan/Maharashtra 4.3.1
      • Vijayanagara empire 4.3.2
      • Madurai 4.3.3
      • Princely State of Mysore 4.3.4
      • Gangetic plain 4.3.5
      • Nepal and Bali 4.3.6
  • Terminology 5
    • Pativrata 5.1
    • Sativrata 5.2
    • Satimata 5.3
  • In scriptures 6
    • The oldest Vedic texts 6.1
      • In the Rig Veda 6.1.1
    • 1st-millennium BCE texts 6.2
      • Religious texts 6.2.1
      • Valmiki Ramayana 6.2.2
      • Mahabharata 6.2.3
      • Other secular texts 6.2.4
    • Principal Smrtis, c. 200 BCE – 1200 CE 6.3
      • Earliest phase, c. 200 BCE – 700 CE 6.3.1
      • Emergence of debate on sati, 700 CE – 1200 CE 6.3.2
    • Puranas 6.4
    • Legend of goddess Sati 6.5
    • Justifications for involuntary sati 6.6
    • Exegesis scholarship against sati 6.7
      • Medhatithi 6.7.1
      • Vijnanesvara 6.7.2
      • Apararka 6.7.3
    • Counter-arguments within Hinduism 6.8
    • Non-Hindu views and criticisms 6.9
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References and comments 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11

Etymology and usage

Sati, or Suttee (Devanagari: सती) is derived from the name of the goddess Sati, who self-immolated because she was unable to bear her father Daksha's humiliation to her husband Shiva.

The term sati was originally interpreted as "chaste woman". Sati appears in Hindi and Sanskrit texts, where it is synonymous with "good wife",[8] the term suttee was commonly used by Anglo-Indian English writers.[9] Sati designates therefore originally the woman, rather than the rite; the rite itself having technical names such as sahagamana ("going with") or sahamarana ("dying with"). Anvahorana ("ascension" to the pyre) is occasionally met, as well as satidaha as terms to designate the process.[10] Satipratha is also, on occasion, used as a term signifying the custom of burning widows alive.[11] Two other terms closely connected to sati are sativrata and satimata. Sativrata denotes the woman who, after her husband's death, has made the formal vow, vrat, to burn herself on his pyre. After her death on the pyre, she achieves the venerated status as a satimata[12]

The Indian Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 Part I, Section 2(c) defines sati as the act or rite itself.[13]


Origins and comparisons

Earliest records

Few reliable records exist of the practice before the time of the Gupta empire, approximately 400 AD. After about this time, instances of sati began to be marked by inscribed memorial stones. According to Axel Michaels, the first clear proof of the practice is from Nepal in 464 AD, and in India from 510 AD.[5] In India, the earliest of these memorial stones are found in Sagar, Madhya Pradesh; the largest collections date from several centuries later and are found in Rajasthan. According to the Greek geographer Strabo, Aristobulus of Cassandreia, a Greek historian who traveled to India with the expedition of Alexander the Great, recorded that he had heard that among certain tribes widows were glad to burn along with their husbands. Those who declined to die were disgraced.[14][15]

A description of sati appears in the Greek 1st-century BC historian Diodorus Siculus's account of the war fought in Iran between two of Alexander the Great's generals, Eumenes of Cardia and Antigonus Monophthalmus. In 317 BC Eumenes' cosmopolitan army defeated that of Antigonus in the Battle of Paraitakene. Among the fallen was one Ceteus, the commander of Eumenes' Indian soldiers. Diodorus writes that Ceteus had been followed on campaign by his two wives, at his funeral the two wives competed for the honour of joining their husband on the pyre. After the older wife was found to be pregnant, Eumenes' generals ruled in favour of the younger. She was led to the pyre crowned in garlands to the hymns of her kinsfolk. The whole army then marched three times around the pyre before it was lit. According to Diodorus the practice of sati started because Indians married for love, unlike the Greeks who favoured marriages arranged by the parents. When inevitably many of these love marriages turned sour, the woman would often poison the husband and find a new lover. To end these murders, a law was therefore instituted that the widow should either join her husband in death or live in perpetual widowhood.[16] Modern historians believe Diodorus' source for this episode was the eyewitness account of the now lost historian Hieronymus of Cardia. 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.[17]

In the 1886 published Hobson-Jobson, Henry Yule and Arthur Coke Burnell mention the practice of Suttee (sati) as an early custom of Russians near Volga, tribes of Thracians in southeast Europe, and some tribes of Tonga and Fiji islands.[18] Yule and Burnell also compiled a few dozen excerpts of historical descriptions of sati, the first being of Ceteus (or Keteus) mentioned above in 317 BC, and then a few before the 9th century AD, where the widow of a king had the choice to burn with him or abstain. Most of the compiled list on sati, by Yule and Burnell, date from 1200 AD through the 1870s AD.[18]

Practice in Hindu-influenced cultures outside Indian subcontinent

The early 14th-century traveller Odoric of Pordenone mentions that in the Hindu Kingdom of Champa, in nowadays south/central Vietnam, burning widows alive was observed.[19] Anant Altekar mentions that sati spread with Hindu migrants to Southeast Asian islands as well, such as to Java, Sumatra and Bali[20] Other Hindu-influenced cultures where reports of sati has come are from Cambodia[21] and Mergui in present day Burma (Myanmar).[22] A Chinese pilgrim from the 15th century seems to attest the practice on islands called Ma-i-tung and Ma-i (possibly Belitung (outside Sumatra) and Northern Philippines, respectively).[23]

Description of the Balinese rite of self-sacrifice or Suttee, in Houtman's 1597 Verhael vande Reyse ... Naer Oost Indien

Burning alive of widows is apparently attested from some parts of China, but one scholar thinks it was imported from India, and was anyhow very rare.[24]

Lastly, historian K.M. de Silva reminds us, when discussing how Christian missionaries approached the situation at Sri Lanka (which has a substantial Hindu minority population); "In Sri Lanka, unlike India, there were no glaring social evils associated with the indigenous religions-no sati, (...). There was thus less scope for the social reformer."[25] However, although sati was non-existent in the 19th century, earlier Muslim travellers do report that sati was performed on the island when a king died. This is, for example, related by 9th century merchant Sulaiman al-Tajir, 13th century Zakariya al-Qazwini, 14th century Ibn Batuta, as well as by 13th century Christian traveler Marco Polo[26]

Comparable rituals in other cultures

The sacrifice of widow(s) or a great man's retainers at his death is attested for cultures outside of India. As an example where the widows vied for the honour to die with their common husband, the 5th century BC historian Herodotus mentions the Krestones tribe among the old Thracians. The woman found to have been held highest in the husband's favour while he lived had her throat slit on his grave, the surviving wives reputedly regarding it is a great shame to have to live on.[27] Citing 6th century AD Procopius from his "Gothic Wars", Edward Gibbon notes that among the Germanic tribe of the Heruli, a widow typically hanged herself upon her husband's tomb.[28] The strangling of widows after their husbands' deaths are attested from as disparate cultures as the Natchez people in present-day US state Louisiana, to a number of Pacific Islander cultures.[29]

Cases of burning at funerals elsewhere, history and legends

A well-known case is that of the 10th century BC ship burial of the Rus' described by Ibn Fadlan. Here, when a female slave had said she would be willing to die, her body was subsequently burned with her master on the pyre.[30]

Such rituals as widow sacrifice/widow burning have, presumably, prehistoric roots. Early 20th century pioneering anthropologist James G. Frazer, for example, thought that the legendary Greek story of Capaneus, whose wife Evadne threw herself on his funeral pyre, might be a relic of an earlier custom of live widow-burning.[31]

Andronovo culture versus Vedic Age

The archaeologist Elena Efimovna Kuzmina enlists clear parallels between the burial practices of the ancient Asiatic steppe Andronovo cultures (fl. 1800–1400 BC) and the Vedic Age.[32] 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.[33] Kuzʹmina further considers that in the Androvo culture and Vedic age, the practice "was never strictly observed and suicide was replaced by a symbolic act".[34]

Models for the spread of sati

Altekar's chronology

The earlier historian Anant Sadashiv Altekar, in his (1938) The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization From Prehistoric Times to the Present Day held the position that the Vedic Age saw an active discontinuation of pre-historic burning of widows, on basis that a 1000 BCE funerary custom describes that of symbolic sati, where the widow lies down by her deceased husband, but is then bidden to rise again, to enjoy the bliss of children and wealth remaining for her.[35] In the following, a brief sketch on the chronology on the spread of sati, as proposed by Altekar is given.

According to Altekar, there is no mention of actual sati in the period of Brahmana literature (c. 1500–700 BCE) and the later Grhyusutras, roughly composed 600–300 BCE on a number of rituals, but sati is not described or mentioned. In fact, what is written about funeral customs, is that the widow is brought back from the funeral pyre, typically by a trusted servant. Altekar thinks it significant that Gautama Buddha, who castigated customs of animal sacrifice, and other customs where pain was inflicted, is entirely silent about burning women alive. Altekar takes these elements as proofs that burning widows alive had long ago died out as a practice. Nor do the authors of the Dharmasutras (c. 400 BCE–100 BCE) or Yajnavalkya (c. 100 CE–300 CE) say anything about it being commendable to burn a widow alive on her husband's funeral pyre. Although we have late fourth century BCE evidence from Greek authors and the Mahabarata for the 'existence' of the custom of sati, Altekar thinks it did not really begin to grow in popularity before 400 CE, by the manner of which it is infrequently mentioned in the Puranas of that time. A very early attested case from 510 CE is that of the wife of Goparaja, who immolated herself, with another similar case attested from 606 CE. As the custom grew in popularity, Altekar highlights as determined opponents of this aristocratic custom in particular 7th century poet Bāṇabhaṭṭa, but also 9th century theologian Medhātithi and 12th century Devana Bhatta. In Altekar's view, their crusades against the custom were largely unsuccessful.

According to Altekar, it is the period c. 700–1100 CE that sees sati becoming really widespread in India, in particular in Kashmir As the centuries wore on, Altekar provides a few statistics on the spread of the custom. In Rajputana, a later stronghold for sati there are two, possibly three reliably attested cases before 1000 CE: For the period from 1200 to 1600 CE, there are at least 20 such cases. For the Carnatic, we have about 11 inscriptions relative to sati from 1000 to 1400 CE; for 1400-1600 CE we have 41.

Thus, a main view that Altekar espoused is that the spread of sati increased over time (with local variations, for example reductions in territories governed by zealous rulers hostile to the practice), and probably was close to a maximum when the British began to intervene in the first decades of the nineteenth century.[36]

Modern causative models

How, when, where and why, the practice of sati spread are complex and much debated questions, without a consensus.[37][38]

According to one model, proposed by Yang, taking into account the association of sati with the warrior elite in particular, sati only became really widespread during the Muslim invasions of India, and the practice of sati now acquired an additional meaning as a means to preserve the honour of women whose men had been slain.[37] Sashi states, "the argument is that the practice came into effect during the Islamic invasion of India, to protect their honor from Muslims who were known to commit mass rape on the women of cities that they could capture successfully."[39]

However, this theory does not address the evidence of occasional incidences of sati in pre-Islamic times. The first archeological evidence in the form of Sati stones extolling Sati appear around 700 CE, states John Hawley, including the great sati stones (ma sati kal) from 8th through 15th-century CE and hero-stones ("virgal") from the 12th and 13th century.[40] The practice remained limited to the warrior class among Hindus until the start of 2nd millennium CE.[40] During the period of Muslim-Hindu conflict, Rajputs performed a distinct form of sati known as jauhar as a direct response to the onslaught they experienced.[3] The earliest Islamic invasions of South Asia, have been recorded from early 8th century CE such as with the raids of Muhammad bin Qasim, and major wars of Islamic expansion after the 10th century.[41] This chronology has led to the theory that the increase in sati practice in India may be related to the centuries of Islamic invasion and its expansion in South Asia.[37][39]

Alternate theories for the spread of sati include it expanding from Kshatriya caste to others castes, not because of wars, but on its own, as part of "Sanskritization" and cultural phenomenon that conflated sati as a caste status symbol. This theory has been challenged because it does not explain the spread of sati from Kashatriyas to Brahmins, and Brahmins were not considered to be of inferior caste status than Kshatriyas.[38][42] Another theory, by Hawley, is that sati started as a "nonreligious, ruling-class, patriarchal" ideology but later spread as a gilded status symbol of "valor", "honor" and "purity", representing strength and courage in internecine Rajput wars, and after Muslim invasions where Hindu women feared becoming the "booty for the captor" and committed jauhar and sati to avoid "rape, torture and other ignominies".[38]

The above theories do not explain how and why sati practice continued during the colonial era, particularly in significant numbers in colonial Bengal Presidency (modern Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bangladesh and Assam).[43] Three theories have been proposed: first that sati was believed to be supported by Hindu scriptures by the 19th century, second that sati was encouraged by unscrupulous neighbors because 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, and third theory being that poverty was so extreme during the 19th century that sati was a means of escape for a woman with no means or hope of survival.[43]

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.[44]

Attitudes of Muslim rulers

Under the Delhi Sultanate, permission had to be sought from the widow before any practice of sati as a check against compulsion. However, this later became more of a formality.[45]

Mughals interfered little with local customs, but they seemed intent on stopping sati.[46] Mughal emperor Humayun (1508-1556) was the first to try a royal fiat against sati.[45] Akbar (1542–1605) was next to issue official general orders prohibiting sati and insisted that no woman could commit sati without the specific permission of his chief police officers.[45][46] The chief police officers were instructed by him to delay the woman's decision for as long as possible.[45] Pensions, gifts, and rehabilitative help were offered to the potential sati to persuade her from committing the act.[45] Tavernier, writing in the reign of Shah Jahan, observed that widows with children were not allowed in any circumstances to burn and that in other cases, governors did not readily give permission, but could be bribed to do so.[46][47]

The strongest attempts under the Mughals to control it were made by the emperor Aurangzeb.In December 1663, he issued an "order that in all lands under Mughal control, never again should the officials allow a woman to be burnt".[46] Although the possibility of an evasion of government orders through payment of bribes existed, European travelers at the time recorded that by the end of Aurangzeb’s reign, sati was much abated and very rare, except by some Rajah’s wives.[46]

British and other European colonial powers

A Hindu widow burning herself with the corpse of her husband, 1820s.

Non-British colonial powers in India

By the end of the 18th century, the practice had been banned in territories held by some European powers. The Portuguese banned the practice in Goa by about 1515.[48] The Dutch and the French banned it in Chinsurah and Pondichéry, their respective colonies.[49] The Danes, who held the small territories of Tranquebar and Serampore, permitted it until the 19th century.[50]

Early British policy

Suttee, by James Atkinson 1831

The British, following the example of the early Mughals, for a while tried to regulate it by requiring that it be carried out in the presence of their officials and strictly according to custom.[45] Attempts to limit or ban the practice had been made by individual British officers in the 18th century, but without the backing of the British East India Company. The first formal British ban was imposed in 1798, in the city of Calcutta 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. Leaders of these campaigns included William Carey and William Wilberforce. These movements put pressure on the company to ban the act. William Carey, and the other missionaries at Serampore conducted in 1803-1804 a census on cases of sati for a region within a 30-mile radius of Calcutta, finding more than 300 such cases there. The missionaries also approached Hindu theologians, who opined that the practice was encouraged, rather than enjoined by the holy scriptures.[51] Serampore was a Danish colony, rather than British, and the reason why Carey started his mission in Danish India, rather than in British, was because The East India Company did not accept Christian missionary activity within their domains. In 1813, in a speech to the House of Commons, William Wilberforce, with particular reference to the statistics on sati collected by Carey and the other Serampore missionaries, forced through a bill that made Christian missionary preaching in British India legal, to combat such perceived social evils like sati[52]

Elijah 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 does not personally witness. Another Missionary Mr. England, reports witnessing Sati in Bangalore Civil and Military Station on 9 June 1826. However these practices were very rare after the Government of Madras cracked down on the practice since early 1800s (p. 82).[53]

The British authorities within the Bengal Presidency started systematically to collect figures on the practice in 1815.

Principal Hindu reformers and 1829 ban

Plaque of Last Legal Sati of Bengal, Scottish Church College, Kolkata

Sahajanand Swami, the founder of the Swaminarayan sect, preached against the practice of sati in his area of influence, that is Gujarat. He argued that the practice had no Vedic 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. Sir John Malcolm, the Governor of Bombay supported Sahajanand Swami in this endeavor.[54]

However, it was largely due to efforts of the Bengali reformer and founder of Brahmo Samaj, Raja Rammohan Roy, who beginning in 1812 started championing the cause of banning sati practice and began a large-scale campaign against the practice. He was motivated by the experience of seeing his own sister-in-law being forced to commit sati.[55] Among his actions, he visited Calcutta cremation grounds to persuade widows against immolation, formed watch groups to do the same, tried to gain support from other elite class of Bengal and wrote and disseminated articles to show that it was not required by scripture.[55] He was at loggerhead with certain section, who wanted that Government should not interfere in religious practices and filed a counter-petition for making a law banning sati practice.[56] He appealed to William Bentinck, the Governor of Bengal, to pass a law banning sati practice in British India and his persuasion[56] bore fruit and practice was banned by a law passed in 1829 in Bengal Presidency,[57] which was later extended in 1830 to Madras and Bombay Presidency.[58]

The ban was challenged in the courts by means of a petition signed by about 800 individuals, and the matter went to the Privy Council in London. The Privy Council rejected the petition in 1832, and the ban was upheld.[59]

Later British attitudes

Although the original 1829 ban in Bengal was fairly uncompromising, later in the century British laws include provisions that provided mitigation for murder when "the person whose death is caused, being above the age of 18 years, suffers death or takes the risk of death with his own consent".[45]

General Sir Charles James Napier, the Commander-in-Chief in India from 1849 to 1851 is often noted for a story involving Hindu priests complaining to him about the prohibition of sati by British authorities.

"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." [60]

Princely states

Sati remained legal in some princely states for a time after it had been banned in lands under British control. Baroda and other princely states of Kathiawar Agency banned the practice in 1840,[61] whereas Kolhapur followed them in 1841,[62] the princely state of Indore some time before 1843.[63] According to a speaker at the East India House in 1842, the princely states of Satara, Kingdom of Nagpur and Mysore had by then banned sati.[64] Jaipur banned the practice in 1846,[65] while Hyderabad, Gwalior and Jammu and Kashmir did the same in 1847.[66] Awadh and Bhopal were actively suppressing sati by 1849.[67] Cutch outlawed it in 1852[68] with Jodhpur having banned sati about the same time.[69]

The 1846 abolition in Jaipur was regarded by many British as a catalyst for the abolition cause within the Rajputana; within 4 months after Jaipur's 1846 ban, 11 of the 18 independently governed states in Rajputana had followed Jaipur's example.[70] One paper says that in the year 1846-1847 alone, 23 states in the whole of India (not just within Rajputana) had banned sati[71][72] It was not before 1861 sati was legally banned in all princely states of India, Mewar resisting for a long time before that time. The last legal case within princely states was from 1861 Udaipur the capital of Mewar, but as Anant S. Altekar shows, local opinion had then shifted strongly against the practice. All the widows of Maharanna Sarup Singh flatly refused to become sati when asked, and the one who was burnt with him was a slave girl.[73] Later the same year, the general ban on sati was issued by a proclamation from Queen Victoria.[74]

Some princely states, such as the major Salute state of Travancore was perceived not to ever have sanctioned sati within their domains. For example, the regent Gowri Parvati Bayi was asked by the 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.[75] In another state, Sawunt Waree (Sawantvadi), the king Khemsawant III (r. 1755–1803) is credited for having issued a positive prohibition of sati over a period of ten or twelve years.[76] That prohibition from the 18th century may have lapsed, since in 1843, the government in Sawunt Waree issued a new prohibition of sati.[77]

Modern times

Legislative status of sati in present day India

"Ceremony of Burning a Hindu Widow with the Body of her Late Husband", from Pictorial History of China and India, 1851.

Following the outcry after the sati of Roop Kanwar,[78] the Indian Government enacted the Rajasthan Sati Prevention Ordinance, 1987 on 1 October 1987[79] and later passed the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987.[13]

The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 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 otherwise[13]
A shrine to wives of the Maharajas of Jodhpur who have committed sati. The palmprints are typical.

The 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 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.[80] The National Council for Women (NCW) has suggested amendments to the law to remove some of these flaws.[81] Prohibitions of certain practices, such as worship at ancient shrines, is a matter of controversy.

Current situation

Sati has occurred in some rural areas of India, reports extending into the 21st century. Some 30 cases of sati from 1943 to 1987 in the Rajput/Shekavati region are documented according to a referred statistics, the official number being 28.[82] A well-documented case from 1987 was that of 18-year-old Roop Kanwar.[83][84] In response to this incident, additional recent legislation against the practice was passed, first within the state of Rajasthan, then generally, the central government of India.[13][79]

In 2002, a 65-year-old woman by the name of Kuttu died after sitting on her husband's funeral pyre in the Indian Panna district.[84] 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 in the State of Uttar Pradesh.[85] 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.[86] 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.[87]



The Rajput practice of Jauhar, known from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, was the collective suicide of widows who preferred death rather than being captured alive and dishonored by victorious Muslim soldiers in a war.[88] According to Bose, jauhar practice grew in the 14th and 15th century with Hindu-Muslim wars of northwest India, where the Hindu women preferred death than slavery or rape they faced if captured.[89][90] Sati-style jauhar custom was observed only during Hindu-Muslim wars in medieval India, but not during internecine Hindu-Hindu wars among the Rajputs.[91]

Arvind Sharma states that there was a distinction between jauhar and sati, because jauhar as principally motivated by a desire to avoid being captured by the invading Muslims, while sati was suicide of a devoted widow.[92] John Hawley disagrees, and states there was a connection between jauhar and sati in terms of the insecurity and fears of the widow(s), and that these customs reinforced each other.[90][93]

Royal funerals

Maharani Raj Rajeshwari Devi of Nepal became regent in 1799 in the name of her son, Girvan Yuddha Bikram Shah Deva, after the abdication of her husband, Rana Bahadur Shah, who became a sanyasi. Her husband returned and took power again in 1804. In 1806 he was assassinated by his brother, and ten days later on 5 May 1806, his widow was forced to commit sati.[94][95]

Practice within non-Hindu communities

Despite the condemnation of the practice by 3rd Guru Guru Amar Das (1479-1554) and the other religious leaders within Sikhism, popularity of the custom spread within Sikh aristocracy. Thus, for example, when the founder of the Sikh Empire Ranjit Singh died in 1839, 4 of his proper wives and 7 of his concubines committed themselves to sati. Two wives committed sati when Sikh King Kharak Singh died, and five women joined the funeral pyre of Maharaja Basant Singh.[96][6] When Raja Suchet Singh[97] died in 1844, 310 women committed sati.[6]

Within Jain theology, the practice of sati is clearly condemned as suicide, but even so, in the Epigraphia Carnatica, two of the 41 cases of sati in the time period 1400 to 1600 CE are those of Jain women. The low numbers of Jains known to have committed sati, it suggest that the practice was uncommon within this community.[98]

In certain areas, the Muslim widows had notably carried out the practice. Francis Buchanan-Hamilton in his Shahabad report has written about the relative numbers of sati cases in the Patna district in Bihar:

The annual number of victims may be about 25. The contagion of example has even extended to the Muhammadans.[99]

Standard procedures of traditional sati

The act of sati is said to exist voluntarily; from the existing accounts, many of these acts did indeed occur voluntarily. The act may have been expected of widows in some communities, and the extent to which social pressures or expectations constitute compulsion has been much debated in modern times. However, there were also instances where the wish of the widow to commit sati was not welcomed by others, and where efforts were made to prevent the death.[100]

Accounts 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,[101] and some describe women seating themselves on the funeral pyre and then lighting it themselves.[102]

Variations in procedure

Although 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 traveler 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.[103] In mid-nineteenth century Lombok, an island in today's Indonesia, the local 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.[104]

Live burials

In some Hindu communities, it is conventional to bury the dead, rather than cremating them, for example within the minority Pranami sect centered around the Panna district in Madhya Pradesh.[105] Self-sacrifice with the widow being buried alive beside her husband has also been attested, in ceremonies with many of the elements similar to those found within rituals of immolation.[106] As an example of how European travellers have reported upon this particular practice of a widow's self-sacrifice by means of live burial, the 17th century French traveller and gem merchant Jean Baptiste Tavernier gave the following account:

In most places upon the Coast of Coromandel, the Women are not burnt with their deceas'd Husbands, but they are buried alive with them in holes which the Bramins make a foot deeper than the tallness of the man and woman. Usually they chuse a Sandy place; so that when the man and woman both let down together, all the Company with Baskets of Sand fill up the hole about half a foot higher than the surface of the ground, after which they jump and dance upon it, till they believe the woman to be stiff'd[107]

The 18th century Flemish painter Frans Balthazar Solvyns is another witness of the ritual of being buried alive beside the deceased husband, although he specifies this as limited as a caste distinction within the territories such as Orissa, rather than being a general distinctive feature within a particular geographical region that Tavernier recounts. Solvyns gives expression to an inescapable sense of admiration of the woman who chooses to be buried alive, though he regards the whole rite as "barbarous":

We can not refuse our pity to the poor Hindoo women who are sacrificed to this ancient and barbarous custom; but their courage, firmness, and resignation, entitles them to some share of admiration. While their husband lives they are slaves, when he dies they must be ready to resign in the most cruel manner a life of which they never tasted the enjoyments. In no part of the universe are women born to so dismal a prospect.[108]

The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 Part I, Section 2(c) includes within its definition of sati not just the act of burning a widow alive, but also that of burying her alive.[13]


Sati is often described as voluntary, although in some cases it may have been forced. In one narrative account, the widow appears to have been drugged either with bhang or opium and was tied to the pyre to keep her from fleeing after the fire was lit.[109]

"A Hindu Suttee", 1885 book

In their eagerness British local press of the time proffered several accounts of alleged forcing of the woman. As an example of this, Calcutta Review published accounts as the following one:

In 1822, the Salt Agent at Barripore, 16 miles south of Calcutta, went out of his way to report a case which he had witnessed, in which the woman was forcibly held down by a great bamboo by two men, so as to preclude all chance of escape. In Cuttack, a woman dropt herself into a burning pit, and rose up again as if to escape, when a washerman gave her a push with a bamboo, which sent her back into the hottest part of the fire.[110]

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 you've jumped in, than descending from a pyre you have entered on. He mentions the custom of the fiery pit as particularly prevalent in the Deccan and western India. From Gujarat 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.[111]

A Danish missionary, in a letter published in the Monthly Magazine in 1751, writes the following of the harrowing fate of 47 widows leaping into the flame pit the year before outside the walls of the Danish colony Tranquebar:

However intrepid most of those unhappy victims appeared before jumping into the pit, the note was vastly altered when in the midst of the flames: there they shrieked hideously, tumbled one over another, striving to reach the edge of the pit and get out of it; but they were kept in by throwing heaps of billets and faggots upon them, as well to knock them on the head as to increase the fire.[112]

However, although cases are certainly attested where direct force was used to burn women alive against their will or that preventive steps were taken to make the escape of the widow practically impossible once the fires were lit, many accounts exist that show the decision to commit sati was a resolution taken by the women themselves, even refusing active attempts to dissuade her from the act. The historian Anant Sadashiv Altekar points, for example, to his own sister, who committed sati 17 January 1946. She had often, and for a long time said she would refuse to survive her husband; not even having a "suckling child" prevented her from carrying out the act, nor the pressing insistence from her relations to abstain from the act. According to Altekar, his sister remained convinced that committing sati was her duty as prativrata, i.e., as a dutiful and protective wife, even into death. Referring to this highly personal experience, Altekar says he is not disinclined to believe in some of the reports regarding the act of committing sati as a voluntary act on the woman's part.[113]

Symbolic sati

Funeral custom

There have been accounts of symbolic sati in some Hindu 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 Tamil Sri Lanka is attested from modern times[114] 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 descend, to enjoy the blessings from the children and wealth left to her.[35]

Jivit tradition

In 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.[115] Two famous jivit were Bala Satimata, and Umca Satimata, both living until the early 1990s.[116]


In old age if the Zamindar became a widower his family would marry off the old zamindar to a poor upper-caste girl. The girl would as her wifely duties look after the Zamindar through to eventual death. Then the family members would drug the young widow and get her to commit sati to deny her the inheritance of the zamindar's estate. This phenomenon gave rise to increase in sati among the Bengali upper classes. Later with the abolition of sati this practice died out and the care of the old Zamindars reverted to the family. This upper class sati increased the pressure on its abolition.

Records 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.

The bride throws herself on her husband's funeral pyre. This miniature painting originates from the period of the Safavid dynasty, first half 17th century. (Attributed to the painter Muhammad Qasim.)


A local indication of the numbers is given in the records kept by the Bengal Presidency of the British East India Company, the only authority in the Indian subcontinent provably known for having sought to keep statistics of the phenomenon of sati. An 1829 reported statistics for the period 1815-1824 yields a total of 5997 instances of sati for the Bengal presidency in that period, i.e., in average 600 per year. In the same statistics, it is said that the numbers for the same time period in the Madras and Bombay presidencies totaled 635 instances of sati.[117] Raja Ram Mohan Roy estimated that there were ten times as many cases of sati in Bengal compared to the rest of the country.[118][119] Bentinck, in his 1829 report, states that 420 occurrences took place in one (unspecified) year in the "Lower Provinces" of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, and 44 in the "Upper Provinces" (the upper Gangetic plain).[120]

Social composition and age distribution

Anand Yang, speaking of the early nineteenth century CE, 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[121]

Regional variations of incidence

Anand Yang summarizes the regional variation in incidence of sati as follows:

..the practice was never generalized..but was confined to certain areas: in the north,..the Gangetic Valley, Punjab and Rajasthan; in the west, to the southern Konkan region; and in the south, to Madurai and Vijayanagar.[122]


Narayan H. Kulkarnee believes that sati became to be practiced in medieval days Maharashtra initially by the Maratha nobility claiming Rajput 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 type of prevalence as 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 sati are attested for the 17th and 18th centuries CE.[123]

Vijayanagara empire

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.[124]


In southern India in general, there are hardly any inscriptions attesting to sati before 900 CE. The Madurai Nayak dynasty, reigning 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.[125]

Princely State of Mysore

Established in 1799, a few records exist from the Princely State of Mysore 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,[126] whereas an 1827 eye-witness to the burning of a widow in Bangalore in 1827 says it was rather uncommon there.[127]

Gangetic plain

In the Upper Gangetic plain, while it occurred, there is no indication that it was especially widespread. The earliest known attempt by a government to stop the practice took place here, that of Muhammad Tughlaq, in the Sultanate of Delhi in the 14th century.[128]

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 the occurrences of it, 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.[129]

Nepal and Bali

The earliest stone inscription in South Asia relating to sati has been found in Nepal, dated to be from the 5th century, wherein the king successfully persuades his mother to not commit sati when his father died.[130] This inscription suggests that sati practice was known but not compelled.[131] Nepal formally banned sati in 1920.[132]

On the Indonesian island of Bali, 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.[7] Early Dutch observers of the particular Balinese custom in the 17th century said that only widows, themselves of royal blood, were to be burned alive. Concubines or others of inferior blood lines consenting to die with their princely husband could choose to be stabbed to death before burning.[133]


Lindsey Harlan,[134] having conducted extensive field work among Rajput women, has constructed a model of how, and why, women having committed sati are still venerated today, and how the worshippers think about the process involved.[135] Essentially, a woman on the path to become a sati goes through three stages

  • being pativrata during her husband's life,
  • who, at his death, makes a solemn vow to burn by his side, gaining status as sativrata and
  • finally, having endured being burnt alive, achieving the status of satimata.


The dutiful wife, the 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 own culpability, as well as within the afterlife, enables her to protect him from new dangers.


In Harlan's model, having made the holy vow to burn herself transforms the woman to a sativrata, a transitional stage between the living and the dead, before ascending the funeral pyre. Once a woman committed herself to become sati, popular belief thought her to become endowed with many supernatural powers. Lourens P. Van Den Bosch enumerates some of them. The sati would gain the powers of prophecy and clairvoyance, as well as the ability to bless women with sons, 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.[136]

Lindsey Harlan probes deeper into the sativrata stage: As a transitional figure on her path to become a powerful family protector as satimata, the sativrata dictates the terms, and obligations the family must fulfill in order for her to protect them once she has become satimata, by showing reverence to her by observing the conditions. These are generally called ok. A typical example of an ok is to place a restriction on the type of colours used in the family members's clothing, or to forbid the use of some particular type of clothing.

What can be termed curses, shrap is also within the sativrata's power, understood to be a severe teaching to members of her family in how they have failed. One woman cursed her in-laws when they refused to bring neither a horse or a drummer to her pyre, saying that whenever in the future might have need of either (and many religious rituals requires such a presence), it would not be available to them.


After her death on the pyre, the woman is finally transformed into the shape of the satimata, an spiritual embodiment of goodness, with her principal concern of being a family protector. Typically, the satimata occurs in the dreams of the family members, teaching for example, the women how to be good pativratas, herself through her sacrifice having proved she was the perfect pativrata. However, although the satimata's intentions are always for the good of the family, she is not averse to let, for example, children become sick, or the cows' udders wither, if she thinks this is an appropriate lesson to the living wife who had neglected her duties as pativrata.

In scriptures

David Brick, in his 2010 review of ancient Indian literature, states[137]

There is no mention of sahagamana (sati) whatsoever in either Vedic literature or any of the early Dharmasutras or Dharmasastras. By "early Dharmasutras or Dharmasastras", I refer specifically to both the early Dharmasutras of Apastamba, Hiranyakesin, Gautama, Baudhayana and Vasistha, and the later Dharmasastras of Manu, Narada, and Yajnavalkya. – David Brick, Yale University[137]

The earliest scholarly discussion of sati, whether it is right or wrong, is found in the Sanskrit literature dated to 10th- to 12th-century.[138] 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.[137] 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.[139] They offer a combination of reasons, both in favor and against sati.[140]

In the following, a historical chronology is given of the debate within Hinduism on the topic of sati.

The oldest Vedic texts

The 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 Veda

Claims about the mention of sati in Rig Veda varies. There are differing translations of the passage. One of the passages goes:

इमा नारीरविधवाः सुपत्नीराञ्जनेन सर्पिषा संविशन्तु |
अनश्रवो.अनमीवाः सुरत्ना आ रोहन्तु जनयोयोनिमग्रे || (RV 10.18.7)
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 house, tearless without any affliction and well adorned.[141]

The text does not mention widowhood, and other translations differ in their translation of the word here rendered as 'pyre' (yoni, literally "seat, abode"; Griffith has "first let the dames go up to where he lieth"). In addition, the following verse, which is unambiguously about widows, contradicts any suggestion of the woman's death; it explicitly states that the widow should return to her house.

उदीर्ष्व नार्यभि जीवलोकं गतासुमेतमुप शेष एहि |
हस्तग्राभस्य दिधिषोस्तवेदं पत्युर्जनित्वमभि सम्बभूथ || (RV 10.18.8)
Rise, come unto the world of life, O woman — come, he is lifeless by whose side thou liest. Wifehood with this thy husband was thy portion, who took thy hand and wooed thee as a lover.[142]

A reason given for the discrepancy in translation and interpretation of verse 10.18.7, is that one consonant in a word that meant house, yonim agree "foremost to the yoni", was deliberately changed by those who wished claim scriptural justification, to a word that meant fire, yomiagne.[143]

Dehejia states that Vedic literature has no mention of any practice resembling Sati.[144] There is only one mention in the Vedas, of a widow lying down beside her dead husband who is asked to leave the grieving and return to the living, then prayer is offered for a happy life for her with children and wealth. Dehejia writes that this passage does not imply a pre-existing sati custom, nor of widow re-marriage, nor that it is authentic verse because its solitary mention may also be explained as a later date insertion into the text.[144][145] Dehejia writes that no ancient or early medieval era Buddhist texts mention sati, and if the practice existed it would likely have been condemned by these texts.[144]

1st-millennium BCE texts

Religious texts

The Brahmana literature, holy commentaries on the ancient Vedic texts, dated about 1000 BCE – 500 BCE are entirely silent about sati according to the historian Altekar. Similarly, the 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.[146]

Nor is the practice of sati mentioned anywhere in the Dharmasutras,[147] texts tentatively dated by Pandurang Vaman Kane to 600-100 BCE, while Patrick Olivelle thinks the bounds should be roughly 250-100 BCE instead[148] Furthermore, nor do the vast texts of the Aranyakas and Upanishads contain any mention of sati.[149]

Not only is sati not mentioned in Brahmana and 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,[137]

Therefore, one should not depart before one's natural lifespan. – Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa,[137]

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[150]

Valmiki Ramayana

The oldest portion of the epic Ramayana, the Valmiki Ramayana, is tentatively dated for its composition by Robert P. Goldman to 750–500 BCE.[151] Anant S. Altekar says that no instances of sati occur in this earliest, archaic part of the whole Ramayana.[152]

According to Ramashraya Sharma, there is no conclusive evidence of the sati practice in the Ramayana. For instance, 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.[153] The Telugu adaptation of the Ramayana, the 14th-century Ranganatha Ramayana, tells that Sulochana, wife of Indrajit, became sati on his funeral pyre.[154]


Instances of sati are found in the Mahabharata.

Madri, 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.[155]

Other secular texts

Other secular texts from the 1st millennium BCE draw a complete blank on sati as well, Simmi Jain mentions the Arthashastra, and the works of Pāṇini, in particular the Aṣṭādhyāyī.[149]

Principal Smrtis, c. 200 BCE – 1200 CE

The four works, Manusmṛti (200 BCE - 200 CE), Yājñavalkya Smṛti (200 - 500 CE), Nāradasmṛti (100 BCE - 400 CE) and the Viṣṇusmṛti (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 CE

The first three principal smrtis, those of Manu, Yājñavalkya and Nārada do not contain any mention of sati.[137]

Emergence of debate on sati, 700 CE – 1200 CE

Later smritis and sati

Justifications for the practice are given in the Vishnu Smriti (dated from 700 to 1000CE):

When a woman's husband has died, she should either practice ascetic celibacy or ascend (the funeral pyre) after him. – Vishnu Smriti, 25.14[137]

In contrast, Moriz Winternitz states that Brihaspati Smriti prohibits burning of widows.[156] Brihaspati Smriti was authored after the three principal smritis of Manu, Yājñavalkya and Nārada.[156]

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[157]

Neither of these suggest sati as mandatory, but Parasara Smriti elaborates the benefits of sati in greater detail.[157]

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."[157]

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.[157] 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.[157] 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.[158]

Evolution over time

David Brick,[137] summarizing the historical evolution of scholarly debate on sati in medieval India, states:

To summarize, one can loosely arrange Dharmasastic writings on sahagamana into three historical periods. In the first of these, which roughly corresponds to the second half of the 1st millennium CE, smrti texts that prescribe sahagamana begin to appear. However, during approximately this same period, other Brahmanical authors also compose a number of smrtis that proscribe this practice specifically in the case of Brahmin widows. Moreover, Medhatithi--our earliest commentator to address the issue--strongly opposes the practice for all women. Taken together, this textual evidence suggests that sahagamana was still quite controversial at this time. In the following period, opposition to this custom starts to weaken, as none of the later commentators fully endorses Medhatithi's position on sahagamana. Indeed, after Vijnanesvara in the early twelfth century, the strongest position taken against sahagamana appears to be that it is an inferior option to brahmacarya (ascetic celibacy), since its result is only heaven rather than moksa (liberation). Finally, in the third period, several commentators refute even this attenuated objection to sahagamana, for they cite a previously unquoted smrti passage that specifically lists liberation as a result of the rite's performance. They thereby claim that sahagamana is at least as beneficial an option for widows as brahmacarya and perhaps even more so, given the special praise it sometimes receives. These authors, however, consistently stop short of making it an obligatory act. Hence, the commentarial literature of the dharma tradition attests to a gradual shift from strict prohibition to complete endorsement in its attitude toward sahagamana.[137]


The Puranas have examples of women who commit sati; they suggest that this was considered desirable or praiseworthy: "A wife who dies in the company of her husband shall remain in heaven as many years as there are hairs on his person." (Garuda Purana 1.107.29)[159]

Passages in the Atharva Veda, including 13.3.1, offer advice to the widow on mourning and her life after widowhood, including her remarriage. Although the Vedas provide this advice to recent widows concerning grief and mourning, there is no mention of sati practices in the Vedas or Dharmaśāstra.

Legend of goddess Sati

Although the myth of the goddess 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 sati

Julia 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,[160] Tryambaka is quite clear upon the automatic good effect of sati for the woman who was a 'bad' wife:

Women who, due to their wicked minds, have always despised their husbands (...) whether they do this (i.e., sati), of their own free will, or out of anger, or even out of fear-all of them are purified from sin.[161]

Thus, as Leslie puts it, becoming (or being pressured into the role of) a sati was, within Tryambaka‍‍ '​‍s thinking, the only truly effective method of atonement for the bad wife.

Exegesis scholarship against sati

Opposition 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,[137] the 12th- to 17th-century scholars Vijnanesvara, Apararka and Devanadhatta, as well as the mystical Tantric tradition, with its valorization of the feminine principle.


Explicit criticisms were published by Medhatithi, a commentator on various theological works.[162] He offered two arguments for his opposition. He considered sati a form of suicide, which was forbidden by the Vedas:

One shall not die before the span of one's life is run out.[162]

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.[163]


Vijnanesvara 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".[140] The first is based on hymn 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.[140]


Apararka 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.[164]

Counter-arguments within Hinduism

Reform 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.[165]

In a petition to the British East India Company in 1818, Ram Mohan Roy wrote that;-

"All these instances are murders according to every shastra."[166]

Non-Hindu views and criticisms

European artists in the eighteenth century produced many images for their own native markets, showing the widows as heroic women, and moral exemplars.[167]

In her article "Can the Subaltern Speak?" philosopher Gayatri Spivak discusses how sati takes the form of regulating women in pre-colonial India according to Hindu law, and how sati takes the form of imprisoning women in the double bind of self-expression attributed to mental illness and social rejection, or of self-incrimination according to British colonial law.[168] The woman who commits sati takes the form of the subaltern in Spivak's work, a form much of postcolonial studies takes very seriously.

See also


  1. ^ The spelling suttee is a phonetic spelling using the 19th-century English orthography. The sati transliteration uses the more modern IAST (International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration) which is the academic standard for writing the Sanskrit language with the Latin alphabet system.[106][169]

References and comments

  1. ^ Arvind Sharma (2001), Sati: Historical and Phenomenological Essays, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120804647, pages 19-21
  2. ^ a b Wendy Doniger (2013), Suttee, Encyclopedia Britannica
  3. ^ a b On attested Rajput practice of sati during wars, see, for example Leslie, Julia; Arnold, David (ed.); Robb, Peter (ed.) (1993). "Suttee or Sati: Victim or Victor?". Institutions and Ideologies: A SOAS South Asia Reader 10. London: Routledge. p. 46.  
  4. ^ Eraly, Abraham. The First Spring: The Golden Age of India. Penguin. p. 370. 
  5. ^ a b Michaels, Axel (2004). Hinduism: Past and Present. Princeton University Press. p. 149.  
  6. ^ a b c Altekar, Anant S. (1956). The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization: From Prehistoric Times to the Present Day. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Pub. pp. 131–132.  
  7. ^ a b A History of Modern Indonesia since c. 1300, by Merle Calvin Ricklefs, on forced treaties, see Wiener, Margaret J. (1995). Visible and Invisible Realms: Power, Magic, and Colonial Conquest in Bali. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 267–268.  
  8. ^ P. J. Cain, Mark Harrison (2001). Imperialism: Critical Concepts in Historical Studies. Routledge. p. 209.  
  9. ^ Doniger, Wendy (2009). The Hindus: An Alternative History. Penguin Books. p. 611.  
  10. ^ Weinberger-Thomas, Catherine (1999). Ashes of Immortality: Widow-Burning in India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,. p. 21.  
  11. ^ Bharti, Dalbir (2008). Women and the Law. New Delhi: APH Publishing. p. 49.  
  12. ^ Harlan, Lindsey (1992). Religion and Rajput Women: The Ethic of Protection in Contemporary Narratives. Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oxford: University of California Press. p. 119.  
  13. ^ a b c d e Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987. Official text of the Act on Government of India's National Resource Centre for Women (NCRW) Website
  14. ^ Strabo 15.1.62
  15. ^ A. B. Bosworth. The Legacy of Alexander: Politics, Warfare, and Propaganda under the Successors. Oxford University Press. p. 177.  
  16. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica, 19.34.1-6
  17. ^ Bosworth, pp 174-187
  18. ^ a b Yule, Henry; Burnell, Arthur C. (2013). "Suttee". Hobson-Jobson: The Definitive Glossary of British India. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 493–498.  
  19. ^ Phillips, Kim M. (2013). Before Orientalism: Asian Peoples and Cultures in European Travel Writing, 1245-1510. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 119.  
  20. ^ Altekar, Anant S. (1956). The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization: From Prehistoric Times to the Present Day. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Pub. p. 130.  
  21. ^ The archeologist  , also, see Yule, Burnell (2013), pp.494 col2-495 col 1
  22. ^ Lach, Donald F. (1994). Asia in the Making of Europe: The Century of Discovery 1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 525.  
  23. ^ Creese, Helen (2005). Women of the Kakawin World: Marriage and Sexuality in the Indic Courts of Java and Bali. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe. p. 317, footnote 12.  
  24. ^ Eberhard, Wolfram (1969). The Local Cultures of South and East China. Leyden: Brill Archive. p. 335.  
  25. ^ de Silva, K.M. (1981). A History of Sri Lanka. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 266.  
  26. ^ On al-Tajir, Ibn Batuta and Marco Polo Hermes, Nizar F.; Netton, Ian R. (ed) (2013). "The Orient's Mediaeval Orient(alism)". Orientalism Revisited: Art, Land and Voyage. London: Routledge. p. 211.  
  27. ^ Herodotus; Dewald, Carolyn (ed.); Waterfield, Robin (tr.) (2008). The Histories. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 305.  
  28. ^ Gibbon, Edward (2014). History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Complete Edition. Catholic Way Publishing. p. 3218, footnote 4705.  
  29. ^ On Natchez, and on Anatom in present day  
  30. ^ However, in this ritual described by Ibn Fadlan, the slave girl is described as being stabbed to death prior to being burned. See page 19, at James E. Montgomery. "Ibn Fadlan and the Rusiyyah" (PDF). 
  31. ^ Pausanias; Frazer, James G. (2012). Pausanias's Description of Greece 3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 200.  
  32. ^ See table 18 at Kuzmina, Elena E.; Mallory, J.p. (ed.) (2007). The Origin of the Indo-Iranians. Leyden: BRILL. p. 341.  
  33. ^ Kuzʹmina, Elena E.; Mallory, J.P. (ed.) (2007). The Origin of the Indo-Iranians. Leyden: BRILL. p. 340.  
  34. ^ Kuzʹmina, Elena E.; Mallory, J.p. (ed.) (2007). The Origin of the Indo-Iranians. Leyden: BRILL. p. 194.  
  35. ^ a b Altekar, Anant S. (1956). The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization: From Prehistoric Times to the Present Day. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Pub. p. 118.  
  36. ^ See Altekar's discussion, Altekar, Anant S. (1956). The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization: From Prehistoric Times to the Present Day. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Pub. pp. 115–142.  
  37. ^ a b c Yang, Anand A.; Sarkar, Sumit (ed.); Sarkar, Tanika (ed.) (2008). "Whose Sati?Widow-Burning in early Nineteenth Century India". Women and Social Reform in Modern India: A Reader. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. pp. 21–23.  
  38. ^ a b c John Stratton Hawley (1994), Sati, the Blessing and the Curse, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195077742, pages 162-167
  39. ^ a b Sashi, S.S. (1996). Encyclopaedia Indica: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh 100. Anmol Publications. p. 115.  
  40. ^ a b John Stratton Hawley (1994), Sati, the Blessing and the Curse, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195077742, pages 51-53
  41. ^ Andre Wink (1996), Early Medieval India and the Expansion of Islam: 7th-11th Centuries, Brill Academic Publishers, ISBN 978-9004092495
  42. ^ Leslie, Julia; Arnold, David (ed.); Robb, Peter (ed.) (1993). "Suttee or Sati: Victim or Victor?". Institutions and Ideologies: A SOAS South Asia Reader 10. London: Routledge. p. 46.  
  43. ^ a b Uma Narayan (1997), Dislocating Cultures: Identities, Traditions, and Third World Feminism, Routledge, ISBN 978-0415914192, pages 59-65
  44. ^ Daniel Grey (2013), Creating the ‘Problem Hindu’: Sati, Thuggee and Female Infanticide in India: 1800–60, Gender & History, 25(3), pages 498-510, doi:10.1111/1468-0424.12035
  45. ^ a b c d e f g Central Sati Act - An analysis by Maja Daruwala is an advocate practising in the Delhi High Court. Courtsy: The Lawyers January 1988. The web site is called "People's Union for Civil Liberties"
  46. ^ a b c d e XVII. "Economic and Social Developments under the Mughals" from Muslim Civilization in India by S. M. Ikram edited by Ainslie T. Embree New York: Columbia University Press, 1964. This page maintained by Prof. Frances Pritchett, Columbia University
  47. ^ Tavernier's own chapter on sati here, Tavernier, Jean Baptiste; P., J. (tr.) (1678). "2.2.10". The six voyages of John Baptista Tavernier. London: R.L. and M.P. pp. 169–173. 
  48. ^ To Cherish and to Share: The Goan Christian Heritage Paper presented at the 1991 Conference on Goa at the University of Toronto by: John Correia Afonso S.J. from: "South Asian Studies Papers", no 9; Goa: Goa Continuity and Change; Edited by Narendra K. Wagle and George Coelho; University of Toronto Centre for South Asian Studies 1995
  49. ^ Shashi, S.S. (1996). Encyclopaedia Indica: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh 100. Anmol Publications. p. 118.  
  50. ^ In a minute from  
  51. ^ Kumar, Raj (2003). Essays on Indian Renaissance. Discovery Publishing House. p. 173.  
  52. ^ Mangalwadi, Vishal; Stetson, Chuck (ed.) (2007). "India:Peril&Promise". Creating the Better Hour: Lessons from William Wilberforce. Macon, GA: Stroud & Hall Publishers. pp. 140–141.  
  53. ^ Hoole, Elijah (1829). Personal Narrative of a Mission to the South of India, from 1820 to 1828. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green. p. 332. Retrieved 5 May 2015. 
  54. ^ Encyclopedia of Hinduism (2007) Constance A. Jones. Facts on File Inc.
  55. ^ a b History of Modern India, 1707 A. D. to 2000 A. D By Radhey Shyam Chaurasia. 2002. p. 118. 
  56. ^ a b The Cambridge History of the British Empire: The indian empire ..., Volume 5 edited by H. H. Dodwel. 1932. p. 140. 
  57. ^ Long, George (ed.) (1842). "Suttee". The Penny Cyclopædia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, 23. London: C. Knight. p. 359. 
  58. ^ History By Raghunath Rai. p. 137. 
  59. ^ Kulkarni, A.R.; Feldhaus, Anne (1996). "Sati in the Maratha Country". Images of Women in Maharashtrian Literature and Religion. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. p. 192.  
  60. ^ Napier, William. (1851) History Of General Sir Charles Napier's Administration Of Scinde. (P. 35). London: Chapman and Hall [2] at Retrieved 10 July 2011
  61. ^ Proceedings - Indian History Congress - Volume 48 by Indian History Congress 1988 - Page 481, see also Thornton, Edward (1858). A Gazetteer of the Territories Under the Government of the East India Company and of the Native States on the Continent of India. London: W.H. Allen. p. 73, column 2. 
  62. ^ For 1841 proclamation, Thomas, R. Hughes (ed.) (1851). Treaties, Agreements, and Engagements, Between the Honorable East India Company and the Native Princes, Chiefs, and States, in Western India, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, &c: Also Between Her Britannic Majesty's Government, and Persia, Portugal, and Turkey. Bombay: Government. p. 258. 
  63. ^ See footnote Wilson, Horca H. (1851). William Gifford, ed. "Widow Burning-Major Ludlow". The Quarterly Review 89: 257–276. 
  64. ^ "Debate at the East India House, March 23rd 1842". The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Miscellany (London: W.H. Allen) 37: 286. April 1842.  The Raja of Satara banned the practice already in 1839, House of Commons, Great Britain (February–August 1849). "Papers relative to the Raja of Sattara". Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons and Command 39. London: H.M. Stationery Office. p. 45, No. 1531. 
  65. ^ PUCL. "Central Sati Act — An analysis". Retrieved 2010-04-23. 
  66. ^ On Hyderabad and Gwalior Trotter, James (1866). The History of the British Empire in India 1. London: Wm. H. Allen & Company. p. 97. , Jammu and Kashmir "Bengal and Agra, Miscellaneous". The Indian News and Chronicle of Eastern Affaires (London: Alexander E. Murray) 132: 76. 22 February 1848. 
  67. ^  
  68. ^ Townsend, Meredith (1858). The Indian Official Thesaurus: Being Introductory to Annals of Indian Administration. Serampore: Serampore Press. p. 155. 
  69. ^ Finishing writing in April 1853,  
  70. ^ A much quoted table given at page 270 in Wilson, Horca H. (1851). William Gifford, ed. "Widow Burning-Major Ludlow". The Quarterly Review 89: 257–276. 
  71. ^ "Bengal and Agra, Miscellaneous". The Indian News and Chronicle of Eastern Affaires (London: Alexander E. Murray) 132: 76. 22 February 1848. 
  72. ^ Index of official correspondences to some 20 princely states relative to the suppression of sati can be found in Foreign and Political Department (1866). A collection of treaties, engagements, and sunnuds, relating to India and neighbouring countries: Index 8. Calcutta: Cutter. pp. 313–314. 
  73. ^ Altekar, Anant S. (1956). The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization: From Prehistoric Times to the Present Day. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Pub. pp. 141–142.  
  74. ^ Sati: A Historical Anthology by Andrea Major - 2007- Page xvii On Mewar and Queen Victoria's 1861 proclamation, Brown, Lindsay; Thomas, Amelia (2008). Rajasthan, Delhi & Agra. Lonely Planet. p. 42.  
  75. ^ "Tinnevelly". Church of England Magazine (London: James Burns). 7, 198: 383. 14 December 1839. 
  76. ^ page 182 in James S. Buckingham, ed. (June 1824). "Burning of Hindoo Widows". The Oriental Herald (London: J. M. Richardson) 2,6: 173–185. 
  77. ^ Townsend, Meredith (1858). The Indian Official Thesaurus: Being Introductory to Annals of Indian Administration. Serampore: Serampore Press. p. 307. 
  78. ^ Rajalakshmi, T.K. (28 February – 12 March 2004). Sati" and the verdict""". Frontline Magazine,  
  79. ^ a b Trial by fire, Communalism Combat, Special Report, February–March 2004 , Volume 10, No.96, Sabrang Communications.
  80. ^ "No violation of Sati Act, say police".  
  81. ^ No. 2: Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 National Council for Women, Proposed amendments to the 1987 Sati Prevention Act
  82. ^ See in particular pp.182-185, with a discussion of a number of these cases inWeinberger-Thomas, Catherine (1999). Ashes of Immortality: Widow-Burning in India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,. pp. 182–185.   Having found cases unmentioned in official statistics from that time, Weinberger-Thomas estimates the actual number from the Shekavati region to be about 40, rather than the official 28.
  83. ^ "This Date in History: Sati in India". 2006-10-04. Retrieved 2010-07-26. 
  84. ^ a b "Magisterial inquiry ordered into 'sati' incident". 2002-08-07. Retrieved 2010-07-26. 
  85. ^ The Times of India, "Woman commits 'sati' in UP village", 19 May 2006.
  86. ^ BBC News, "India wife dies on husband's pyre", 22 August 2006.
  87. ^ "Woman jumps into husband's funeral pyre". The Times of India (Raipur). 13 October 2008. 
  88. ^ Arvind Sharma (1988), Sati: Historical and Phenomenological Essays, Motilal Banarsidass Publ, ISBN 9788120804647, page xi, 86
  89. ^ Mandakranta Bose (2014), Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern India, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195352771, page 26
  90. ^ a b Malise Ruthven (2007), Fundamentalism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199212705, page 63
  91. ^ Kaushik Roy (2012), Hinduism and the Ethics of Warfare in South Asia: From Antiquity to the Present, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-1107017368, pages 182-184
  92. ^ Sharma, Arvind (1988). Sati: Historical and Phenomenological Essays. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publ. p. xi.  
  93. ^ John Stratton Hawley (1994), Sati, the Blessing and the Curse, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195077742, page 165-166
  94. ^ Genealogy, The Royal House of Shah, Nepal:
    1777 - 1799 H.H. Svasti Sri Giriraj Chakrachudamani Narnarayanetyadi Vividha Virudavali Virajamana Manonnata Shriman Maharajadhiraja Sri Sri Sri Sri Sri Maharaj Rana Bahadur Shah Bahadur Shamsher Jang Devanam Sada Samar Vijayinam, Maharajadhiraja of Nepal. ... m. (first) at Katmandu, 1789, Sri Sri Sri Maharani Raj Rajeshwari Devi [Sri Vidya Lakshmi Devi] (k. by forced sati on the orders of Bhimsen Thapa, on the bank of the Salinadi rivulet, at Sankhu, 5th May 1806)
  95. ^ Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership, "Women In Power, 1770-1800" ("1799-1800 and 1802-04 Regent Sri Sri Sri Maharani Raj Rajeshwari Devi of Nepal ... she was imprisoned at Helambu and killed by being forced to commit sati.").
  96. ^ Khushwant Singh (1962, Reprinted 2014), The Fall of the Kingdom of Punjab, Orient Longmans/Penguin, ISBN 978-0670087709
  97. ^ Hindu bhagats and poets, and Punjabi officials
  98. ^ Sangave, Vilas A. (2001). Facets of Jainology: Selected Research Papers on Jain Society, Religion, and Culture. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan. p. 88.  
  99. ^ Kumar, Raj (2003). Essays on Indian Renaissance. Discovery Publishing House. p. 178.  
  100. ^ Letter, Panduranga Joshi Kulkarni is a description by a man who stopped his daughter-in-law's suicide. It has been suggested that his motivations were monetary. Women in World History A project of the Center for History and New Media, George Mason University.
  101. ^ See Kamat for two examples
  102. ^ Primary Sources: Letter, Francois Bernier Women in World History, a project of the Center for History and New Media, George Mason University.
  103. ^ On hut, p.170, on pit, p.171 Tavernier, Jean Baptiste; P., J. (tr.) (1678). "2.2.10". The six voyages of John Baptista Tavernier. London: R.L. and M.P. pp. 170–171. 
  104. ^ Zollinger, M. (1848). James R. Logan, ed. "On the religion of the Sassak". The Journal of the Indian archipelago and eastern Asia (Singapore: Mission Press) 2: 165–170. 
  105. ^  
  106. ^ a b The Representation of Sati: Four Eighteenth Century Etchings by Baltazard Solvyns by Robert L. Hardgrave, Jr.
  107. ^ Tavernier, Jean Baptiste; P., J. (tr.) (1678). "2.2.10". The six voyages of John Baptista Tavernier. London: R.L. and M.P. p. 171. 
  108. ^ The Representation of Sati: Four Eighteenth Century Etchings by Baltazard Solvyns, by Robert L. Hardgrave, Jr.
  109. ^ The Representation of Sati: Four Eighteenth Century Etchings by Baltazard Solvyns, by Robert L. Hardgrave, Jr. The account uses the word "likely".
  110. ^ Calcutta Review (1867). The Calcutta Review XLVI. Calcutta: R.C.LePage and Co. p. 256.  This is said to be based on the set of official documents, "Papers relative to East India Affairs, viz., Hindoo Widows and Voluntary Immolations. Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed.1821-25", pp.221-261, ibidem Yet another such case appearing in official papers, transmitted into British journals, is case 41, page 411 here, where the woman was, apparently, thrown twice back in the fire by her relatives, in a case from 1821. J.S. Buckingham, ed. (December 1827). "Official Papers laid before Parliament Respecting the burning of Hondoo Widows". Oriental Herald (London: James S. Buckingham). 15,48: 399–424. 
  111. ^ On these techniques for preventing escape, Altekar, Anant S. (1956). The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization: From Prehistoric Times to the Present Day. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Pub. p. 134.  
  112. ^ Hood, Edwin P. (1870). The world of moral and religious anecdote. London: Hodder and Stroughton. p. 277. 
  113. ^ Altekar, Anant S. (1956). The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization: From Prehistoric Times to the Present Day. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Pub. p. 137.  
  114. ^ Defying blessings of the goddess and the community: Disputes over sati (widow burning) in contemporary India by Masakazu Tanaka. , section 6 in Tanaka's essay.
  115. ^ Harlan, Lindsey; Claus, Peter J. (ed.); Diamond, Sarah (ed.); Mills, Margaret A. (ed.) (2003). "Sati". South Asian Folklore: An Encyclopedia : Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. New York, London: Taylor & Francis. p. 538.  
  116. ^ On these two women, and a general in-depth treatment of jivit tradition, see Harlan, Lindsey (1992). Religion and Rajput Women: The Ethic of Protection in Contemporary Narratives. Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oxford: University of California Press. pp. 171–181.  
  117. ^ Contemporary reference to 1815-1824 numbers: "Burning of Widows in India". The Missionary Herald (Boston: American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions) 25,4: 130–131. April 1829.  These 6632 instances of recorded sati in the period 1815-1824 is discussed by other authors, see for example, Yang, Anand A.; Sarkar, Sumit (ed.); Sarkar, Tanika (ed.) (2008). "Whose Sati?Widow-Burning in early Nineteenth Century India". Women and Social Reform in Modern India: A Reader. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. p. 23.   In particular, note Yang's objection to naive trust to the numbers reported by the British administration, considering these apparently "hard numbers" as being "fraught with problems."
  118. ^ Sakuntala Narasimhan, Sati: widow burning in India, quoted by Matthew White, "Selected Death Tolls for Wars, Massacres and Atrocities Before the 20th Century", p.2 (July 2005), Historical Atlas of the 20th Century (self-published, 1998-2005).
  119. ^ Sakuntala Narasimhan, Sati: widow burning in India
  120. ^ Modern History Sourcebook: On Ritual Murder in India, 1829 by William Bentinck Within previously cited statistics from 1815-1824, the year 1816 had 442 reported incidents of sati, the only figure in that statistics on the 400-level
  121. ^ For these statistics and in-depth treatment, see Yang, Anand A.; Sarkar, Sumit (ed.); Sarkar, Tanika (ed.) (2008). "Whose Sati? Widow-Burning in early Nineteenth Century India". Women and Social Reform in Modern India: A Reader. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. pp. 29–31.  
  122. ^ Yang, Anand A.; Sarkar, Sumit (ed.); Sarkar, Tanika (ed.) (2008). "Whose Sati? Widow-Burning in early Nineteenth Century India". Women and Social Reform in Modern India: A Reader. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. p. 22.  
  123. ^ Kulkarnee, Narayan H.; Kusuman, K.K (ed.) (1990). "A Note on Sati in Maharashtra". A Panorama of Indian Culture: Professor A. Sreedhara Menon Felicitation Volume. New Delhi: Mittal Publications. pp. 215–220.  
  124. ^ Sinopoli, Carla M. (2003). The Political Economy of Craft Production: Crafting Empire in South India, C.1350-1650. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 230–231.  
  125. ^ On early rarity and Nayak adoption, Kulkarni, K.R.; Feldhaus, Anne (ed.) (1996). "Sati in Maratha Country". Images of Women in Maharashtrian Literature and Religion. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. p. 276.  
  126. ^ Pinto, Janet (2002). The Indian Widow: From Victim To Victor. Mumbai: St Pauls BYB. p. 115.  
  127. ^ Eye-witness (August 1828). Buckingham, James Silk, ed. "Suttee at Bangalore". The Oriental Herald LVI: 281–285. 
  128. ^ L. C. Nand, Women in Delhi Sultanate, Vohra Publishers and Distributors Allahabad 1989.
  129. ^ The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 (No.3 of 1988) on the web site of the Harvard School of Public Health
  130. ^ John Whelpton (2005), A History of Nepal, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521804707, page 19
  131. ^ DR Regmi (1983), Inscriptions of Ancient Nepal, ISBN 978-0391025592, page 11
  132. ^ Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Violations in Nepal (1989), ISBN 978-0929692319, page 14
  133. ^ Creese, Helen (2005). Women of the Kakawin World: Marriage and Sexuality in the Indic Courts of Java and Bali. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, Inc. pp. 240–241.  
  134. ^ Lindsey Harlan, faculty profile
  135. ^ This section is based on chapter 4, Harlan, Lindsey (1992). "Satimata tradition: The Transformative process". Religion and Rajput Women: The Ethic of Protection in Contemporary Narratives. Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oxford: University of California Press. pp. 112–153.  
  136. ^ Bremmer, Jan (ed.); Van Den Bosch, Lourens P. (ed. and auth.) (2002). "The Ultimate Journey". Between Poverty and the Pyre: Moments in the History of Widowhood. London: Routledge. p. 184.  
  137. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Brick, David (April–June 2010). "The Dharmasastric Debate on Widow Burning". Journal of the American Oriental Society 130 (2): 203–223. 
  138. ^ Brick, David (April–June 2010). "The Dharmasastric Debate on Widow Burning". Journal of the American Oriental Society 130 (2): 206–211. 
  139. ^ Sharma, Arvind (1988). Sati: Historical and Phenomenological Essays. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publ. p. 102, footnote 206.  
  140. ^ a b c Brick, David (April–June 2010). "The Dharmasastric Debate on Widow Burning". Journal of the American Oriental Society 130 (2): 212–213. 
  141. ^ Shashi, S. S. (1996). Encyclopaedia Indica: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh. Anmol Publications. p. 115. 
  142. ^ Compare alternative translation by Griffith:
  143. Let these unwidowed dames with noble husbands adorn themselves with fragrant balm and unguent.
    Decked with fair jewels, tearless, free from sorrow, first let the dames go up to where he lieth.
  144. Hymn XVIII. Various Deities., Rig Veda, tr. by Ralph T. H. Griffith (1896)
  145. ^ O. P. Gupta, "The Rigveda: Widows don't have to burn", The Asian Age, 23 October 2002, available at
  146. ^ a b c V Dehejia (1994), Editor: John Stratton Hawley, Sati, the Blessing and the Curse. Oxford University Press. pp. 50–51. 
  147. ^ On this idea of discontuation, see Altekar, Anant S. (1956). The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization: From Prehistoric Times to the Present Day. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Pub. p. 118.  
  148. ^ Altekar, Anant S. (1956). The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization: From Prehistoric Times to the Present Day. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Pub. pp. 118–119.  
  149. ^ Altekar, Anant S. (1956). The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization: From Prehistoric Times to the Present Day. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Pub. p. 119.  
  150. ^ For extended dating debate, including Kane reference, see Olivelle, Patrick (1999). The Dharmasutras: The Law Codes of Ancient India. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. xxv–xxxiv.  
  151. ^ a b Jain, Simmi (2003). Encyclopaedia of Indian Women Through the Ages: Ancient India. Delhi: Gyan Publishing House. p. 258.  
  152. ^ On 12th century Apararka date, see for example, page 75, On penance page 207, in Banerji, Sures C. (1999). A Brief History of Dharmaśāstra. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications.  
  153. ^ See in particular his discussion on the preceding pages of conclusion given at Goldman, Robert P (1990). Balakanda: An Epic of Ancient India. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 23.   An important strand in Goldman's argument for the dating concerns which cities are considered capitals, and which are not
  154. ^ Altekar, Anant S. (1956). The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization: From Prehistoric Times to the Present Day. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Pub. p. 121.  
  155. ^ Sharma, Ramashraya (1971). A socio-political study of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa (1 ed.). Motilal Banarsidass Publ. pp. 96–8. 
  156. ^ Pollet, Gilbert (1995). Indian epic values: Rāmāyana and its impact. Peeters Publishers. p. 62.  
  157. ^ For this discussion, see for example, Sagar, Krishna C. (1992). Foreign Influence on Ancient India. New Delhi: Northern Book Centre. p. 291.  
  158. ^ a b Winternitz, M (2008). History of Indian Literature, Vol. 3. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 598.  
  159. ^ a b c d e Brick, David (April–June 2010). "The Dharmaśāstric Debate on Widow-Burning". Journal of the American Oriental Society 130 (2): 203–223. Retrieved 11 February 2014. 
  160. ^ Brick, David (1 April 2010). "The Dharmasatric debate on widow-burning". Journal of the American Oriental Society 130 (2): 203–223. Retrieved 8 February 2014. 
  161. ^ page 181, 1.107.29
  162. ^ and thus, critically, sati regarded as an essentially voluntary act, the woman afterwards worthy of worship
  163. ^ For direct quotation, see p.56, for rest of discussion, consult essay Leslie, Julia; Arnold, David (ed.); Robb, Peter (ed.) (1993). "Suttee or Sati: Victim or Victor?". Institutions and Ideologies: A SOAS South Asia Reader 10. London: Routledge. pp. 45–63.  
  164. ^ a b Brick, David (April–June 2010). "The Dharmasastric Debate on Widow Burning". Journal of the American Oriental Society 130 (2): 208. 
  165. ^ Brick, David (April–June 2010). "The Dharmasastric Debate on Widow Burning". Journal of the American Oriental Society 130 (2): 207–208. 
  166. ^ Brick, David (April–June 2010). "The Dharmasastric Debate on Widow Burning". Journal of the American Oriental Society 130 (2): 214. 
  167. ^ "About Lingayat" on Archived 5 February 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  168. ^ Mani, Lata (1998). Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India. University of California Press. p. 57. 
  169. ^ "The Representation of Sati: Four Eighteenth Century Etchings by Baltazard Solvyns" by Robert L. Hardgrave, Jr. Bengal Past and Present, 117 (1998): 57-80.
  170. ^ Sharp, J. (2008). "Chapter 6, Can the Subaltern Speak?". Geographies of Postcolonialism. SAGE Publications. 
  171. ^ "Not available when footnotes constructed". Retrieved 2010-04-23. 

Further reading

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Garzilli, Enrica (August 1997). "First Greek and Latin Documents on Sahagamana and Some Connected Problems (Part 1)". Indo-Iranian Journal 40 (3). 
  • Garzilli, Enrica (October 1997). "First Greek and Latin Documents on Sahagamana and Some Connected Problems (Part 2)". Indo-Iranian Journal 40 (4). 
  • Hawley, John Stratton, ed. (1994). Sati, the blessing and the curse: the burning of wives in India. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  
  • Kane, M. P. V. (1953). History of Dharmashastra IV.  
  • Nand, L. C. (1989). Women in Delhi Sultanate. Allahabad: Vohra Publishers and Distributors. 
  • Singh, Nagendra Kr. (2000). Ambedkar on religion. New Delhi: Anmol Publications.  

External links

  • Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987. Official text of the Act on Government of India's National Resource Centre for Women (NCRW)
  • Maja Daruwala, A History of Sati Legislation in India, People's Union for Civil Liberties.
  •  "Suttee". The New Student's Reference Work. 1914. 
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