Friday, June 3, 2011

Sati - real love or forced suicide?

Sati is a Hindu funeral practice in some Indian communities referring to a widow that immolates herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.

Although the practice was banned in 1829 there were women who still committed Sati either forced by their family or voluntarily.


The word “sati” means virtuous woman and in Indian tradition a woman who commits sati will be seen as a Goddess and will go directly to heaven. The term also comes from the goddess Sati, also known as Dakshayani who immolated herself because of her father. In the 10th century widows had to commit sati because otherwise they were seen as bad people. It was also believed that committing sati was a way to erase their husband’s sins, so refusing to do it was not in the benefit of their dead husband. However, sati was not popular in all Hindu societies as many of them saw this practice as suicide.

Those in favor of sati say that it is a practice approved by the ancient texts. For example, in Rig Veda Samhita there is a passage called Sati hymn which states:

“Let these women, whose husbands are worthy and are living, enter the house
with ghee (applied) as corrylium (to their eyes).  Let these wives first step into
the pyre, tearless without any affliction and well adorned.”

A woman who committed sati thought that she would follow her husband in heaven. Such a woman will be highly respected, sati stones would be raised in her name called Maha-sati stones, and she would be worshiped by people.  

Sati – voluntary or forced?

Before answering this question we should first explain how a widow was(and sometimes still is) perceived in Hindu societies. They were stigmatized by wearing a white sari, shaving their head, wearing the tika sign on their forehead, eating a single meal, and live an austere life.  The family perceived them as a burden and abandoned or simply rejected them (and some still do this nowadays) so they were forced to live in groups called ashrams.

In these humiliating conditions sati might have been a better option. However, in some cases women were forced by family or simply drugged and pushed into the fire.  Even if it is voluntary, sati is still seen as a collective murder. 

Voluntary sati was documented by Pietro Della Valle  in the town of Ikkeri:

“There was a musical band in front of the procession. The widow was mounted on a horse. She was holding a lemon in her right hand and a mirror in her left. She was constantly making sure her bridal make-up was in tact. An umbrella was held to protect her from the sun. The widow was not in mourning at all. And instead looked as if she was anxious to join her husband. The people in the procession sang her glories and admired her sacrifice. While the system of Sati is a cruel one, the courage of the women is admirable. I am going to visit her on the day of the Sati and pay my respects to her eternal love."

A case of modern sati was that of Roop Kanwar, an 18 year old girl married only for 8 months. Some say she was forced to commit sati by her family while others state that she asked her brother to light the pyre when she was ready. 

 Here you can read about a case of forced sati where a woman is murdered because her family wants her property.  


  1. Interesting, but i have to wonder...What's up with you and all the women killing/torturing rituals? :)

    These are barbaric rituals, regardless of the culture and the "song and dance" that goes along with them. Sadly though, the remains of these traditions are found in the heads of modern people.

    There is a tribe in Africa i think where women have their clitoris removed so that they don't feel any pleasure, and thus they don't cheat on their husbands.

    That's just the way some people behave, supreme beings my ass :)...sorry, got a bit carried away :D.

    1. If you do more research it doesn't only happen in Africa but other places such as Britain and Muslim Countries and all around world.

  2. :D To be honest, this fascinates me; it's not just about women, the whole darkness within us is what keeps me interested, the mechanisms behind some people's actions and believing they've done the right thing. I don't approve of it in any way, quite the contrary.
    And yes, clitoridectomy is an interesting subject too :P

  3. well, by definition, "forced suicide" is still murder, but I see your point.
    And, I was gonna refrain from saying this because 'I don't know you, so who the hell am I to recommend anything to you?', but in light of your comment above I think you'd really enjoy a short story called The Lives of the Philosophers by Kevin Brockmeier. His other stories were mediocre in my opinion, but this one is a brilliant, yet subtle, expression of the inescapable sadness and brutality inherent in human nature. I can't overstate how impressed I was with every aspect of it; the story construction, the mellifluous flow of the sentences, use of metaphor, double-entendre, parallelism, as well as the philosophical point it expresses.
    Oops, I almost quoted the best double-entendre, but that would've given away half the story...You might really like it.

    My own opinion is that we are conditioned to be cooperative within societal/social settings, but there is no escaping the ugly characteristics without which we never would have survived to evolve into the (illusion of) cooperative co-existence we have today. Brutality, self-deception, deception, greed, hate, sexual dominance; these were all characteristics that we never could have survived the evolutionary struggle without, and they are always lurking just beneath the thin veneer of "humanity" we have, quite recently in evolutionary terms, bestowed upon ourselves. Self-deception is one of our most important evolutionary characteristics; the ability to believe our own exceptionalism and righteousness, despite glaring evidence to the contrary, is what keeps us dedicated to killing our declared "enemies" and (most importantly) stealing their resources. Manifest Destiny, anyone? We fool ourselves and eachother for as long as it's convenient and workable, but the second anything disturbs our fragile homeostasis, or someone has something we want more, just watch the teeth and claws come out! Regardless of competition for resources, even in the most prosperous society there's ever been, look at how easily & often we justify being petty and violent to eachother, not to mention how easily we justify inflicting mass-brutality on other cultures. Ugliness is a part of us, and there will always be some degree of competition between us; it's in our DNA. I tried to live for a long time in denial and consternation over this, and it was torment, every day; old age has made me a realist, and more accepting of "the things I cannot change" (I don't believe in AA, but I do like that sentiment).
    But, that's just my two-cents, which is about exactly what it's worth... Okay, I'm done anti-sharing.

    1. I'm going to search for that story, it sounds really interesting. Thanks.

      Now to the second part of your message, I do agree with the fact that we have to cooperate with the social settings and also with the fact that we are self deceptive. Indeed, that is our most important characteristic, it keeps us surviving, it gives meaning to our life, and it encompasses every action we take, from believing in a god to making a certain buying decision. I really liked the way you described how ugliness is still inside us, no matter what we do. I totally agree with, I wish I could be able to prove you wrong or show you how that is not true, but unfortunately that's a clear image of how things are and I cannot add anything. Thanks for your interesting comment!