Sati
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Sati. From “Sati” Online Source: http://chnm.gmu.edu/wwh/modules/lesson5/lesson5.php?s=0 The status of widows in many societies has been precarious, because the deaths of husbands removed the primary source of their economic well-being as well as control over their sexuality

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Sati

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Sati

Sati


Sati

  • From “Sati”

  • Online Source: http://chnm.gmu.edu/wwh/modules/lesson5/lesson5.php?s=0

  • The status of widows in many societies has been precarious, because the deaths of husbands removed the primary source of their economic well-being as well as control over their sexuality

  • If there were no adult sons to support widowed mothers, other kinfolk might be reluctant or lack the means to care for widowed relatives


Sati

  • Many societies where men held dominant power evolved mechanisms to control the social and sexual relationships of widows

  • The burning or burying of widows with their deceased husbands occurred at various times in places as diverse as central Asia, South and Southeast Asia, and Fiji


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  • In India, the Laws of Manu, compiled around 200 CE declared that a Hindu widow was to remain sati, a Sanskrit word that was interpreted to mean chaste or pure, and was not to remarry, while a Hindu widower was permitted to marry again

  • Gradually, the word sati was used to designate the ritual of self-immolation or self-sacrifice by a Hindu widow on her husband’s pyre


Sati

  • Through her self-sacrifice, a widow remained pure and demonstrated her everlasting devotion to her husband

  • Thus sati (a word that Europeans frequently transliterated as suttee) came to mean both the practice of self-immolation and the Hindu widow who died by this ritual


Sati

  • Such a widow was thought to become a goddess and to bring auspiciousness or good fortune to her birth and marital families

  • Her cremation site was also marked by a commemorative stone or temple and became a pilgrimage site for devotees seeking divine favors

  • Although it was never widespread, sati as self-immolation became and remains a potent source for stereotypes of Indian society as ridden with exotic and superstitious religious injunctions, and for images of Hindu women as oppressed


Sati

  • The origins of sati as self-immolation are hotly debated

  • It is often associated with war and concepts of honor

  • One possible source was the deaths of four widows in the Mahabharata, a great epic about a war between two sets of cousins for a kingdom


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  • Another is the custom of jauhar among Rajputs, groups from central Asia who migrated to northwestern India, who, when confronted with certain defeat, put their women and children to death by fire to prevent their enemy from capturing and dishonoring them


Sati

  • One religious source mentioned is the Hindu goddess named Sati who committed suicide in protest against her father’s refusal to invite her divine husband Shiva to a royal sacrifice

  • But Sati died and the god Shiva was incapable of dying, so she was not and could not be a widow


Sati

  • There is much debate about when the practice of self-immolation began to be practiced in India

  • Some historians claim that there is material evidence in the form of commemorative stones of self-immolation as early as the 6th century CE and European accounts of the sati ritual begin with Marco Polo and proliferate from the 1500s onward


Sati

  • The social restrictions on Hindu widows that might include shaving one’s hair, discarding all jewelry, and wearing simple white saris, eating only one meal a day, and being excluded from celebrations such as weddings constituted “cold” sati and could have motivated some widows to willingly commit self-immolation


Sati

  • As more Europeans traveled to India from the 1500s onward to forge trade and diplomatic relations, they recorded their observations and attitudes towards sati and the Hindu culture that they asserted authorized such deaths

  • Their accounts tended to praise the devotion of Hindu wives to their husbands and to emphasize the religious injunctions for the ritual


Sati

  • As it expanded its political control during the 18th century, the English East India Company viewed sati as a disturbing religious practice but permitted it so as not to antagonize Hindu subjects


Sati

  • By the early 1800s, British officials and missionaries became more aggressive in their condemnation of sati, although their accounts continued to have subtle praise for the wifely devotion of Hindu widows

  • At the same time high-caste Hindus, frequently of the bhadralok (respectable people) elite in Bengal, either defended the ritual or sought to prohibit it


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  • The debate over sati escalated when the East India Company, under pressure from evangelical groups in Britain, legalized sati in 1813 if the widow acted voluntarily

  • This legislation triggered intense debate in India and Britain both for and against sati

  • British missionaries as well as Indian advocates and opponents of sati sought sanction for their opposing positions in Hindu scriptural texts


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  • Emboldened by support from Indians such as Ram Mohan Roy and influenced by the Utilitarian philosophy which sought the greatest good for the greatest number of people through legislation, Lord William Bentinck, governor-general of the Company’s possessions in India from 1828 to 1835, promulgated legislation criminalizing sati in 1829


Sati

  • It proved difficult to enforce the prohibition in a climate where cremation took place usually within 24 hours of death and British officials were widely dispersed


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  • Contention resurfaced in the late 20th century after Roop Kanwar, an 18-year-old Rajput woman, allegedly committed sati at Deorala, Rajasthan, on September 4, 1987 in very different political and social circumstances


Sati

  • European travelers, British officials, Indian reformers, orthodox Hindus, and Christian missionaries wrote extensively about sati, while Europeans and Indians produced visual representations in prints, paintings, magazines, and eventually films


Sati

  • Men produced almost all of these primary sources that contained several themes

  • First, Indians and Europeans debated the origins of sati, traced where it occurred in India, and occasionally tried to ascertain which varnas (the four broad divisions of Hindu society: brahman, or priests; kshatriya, or warriors and administrators, vaishya, or merchants; and sudras, or artisans and peasants) and economic classes enjoined the practice of sati on Hindu widows


Sati

  • Second, both orthodox Hindus and those seeking to reform Hindu customs argued about the scriptural legitimacy, or lack thereof, for sati

  • Third, European travelers, officials, and missionaries revealed much about their accounts of sati from the 1600s onward


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  • Fourth, during the early 1800s, the campaign to prohibit sati produced official reports and polemical tracts that gave evidence of cultural arrogance among British officials and missionaries, defensiveness among Indian reformers, and assertiveness among orthodox Hindus


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  • For the stories of Hindu widows who committed self-immolation or attempted to do so and decided against doing so at the last minute, historians must rely on British and Indian, usually male, witnesses of the spectacle of sati


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-Background to the Primary Source (Letter, Francois Bernier)

  • During the 17th century, Louis XIV of France sought to strengthen the power of the monarchy in France and to enhance France’s position in world politics

  • In 1664, Jean Colbert, his finance minister, established the French East India Company to develop French trade with India

  • Besides providing information on India for Colbert, Francois Bernier’s observations on sati influenced generations of Europeans

  • Educated first in physiology and later in medicine, Bernier (1620-1688) considered himself a modern man of science


Sati

  • In 1658 he sailed for Surat on the west coast of India, and by March 1659 he joined the entourage of Dara Shukoh, an imperial Mughal prince, as his personal physician and wrote a vivid account of the succession war among Dara Shukoh and his brothers for the Mughal throne

  • He then produced several long letters about economic conditions and religious and social customs in northern India


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-The Primary Source – Letter dated October 4, 1667 to Monsieur Jean Chapelain that is entitled “Describing the Superstitions, strange customs, and Doctrines of the Indous or Gentiles [Hindus] of Hindoustan”

-“From which it will be seen that there is no Doctrine too strange or too improbable for the Soul of man to conceive”


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-Excerpts from the Letter

“As I was leaving Sourate [Surat] for Persia, I witnessed the devotion and burning of another widow…She was of middle age, and by no means uncomely. I do not expect…to convey a full idea of the brutish boldness…of her undaunted step…of the look of confidence…of her lofty carriage…placed her deceased husband’s head in her lap, took up a torch, and with her own hand lighted the fire within, while I know not how many Brahmens were busily engaged in kindling it without…”


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  • “It is true, however, that I have known some of these unhappy widows to shrink at the sight of the pile wood; so as to leave no doubt on my mind that they would willingly have recanted, if recantation had been permitted by the merciless Brahmens; but those demons excite or astound the affrighted victims, and even thrust them into the fire…”


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  • “But sometimes the devoted widows elude the vigilance of the murderous priests. I have been often in the company of a fair Idolater, who contrived to save her life by throwing herself upon the protection of the scavengers, who assemble on these occasions in considerable numbers, when they learn that the intended victim is young and handsome, that her relations are of little note, and that she is to be accompanied by only a few of her acquaintances….Consequently she is ever afterwards exposed to the ill-treatment of her low and vulgar protectors…”


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  • “At Lahor I saw a most beautiful young widow sacrificed, who could not, I think have been more than twelve years of age. The poor little creature appeared more dead than alive when she approached the dreadful pit: the agony of her mind cannot be described; she trembled and wept bitterly; but three or four of the Brahmens, assisted by an old woman who held her under the arm, forced the unwilling victim toward the fatal spot, seated her on the wood, tied her hands and feet, lest she should run away, and in that situation the innocent creature was burnt alive..”


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