Sati Pratha: The Burning of Widows

Written by Sulaiman Razvi

Sati Pratha is a Hindu practice where the wife ascends the funeral pyre of her husband and gives up her life. The word Sati may have been derived from the name of Shiva’s wife. Sati, also called Dakshayani, was one of the daughters of Prasuti and Daksha. She loved Shiva, but her father Daksha forbade her marriage to Shiva. She married Shiva anyway, and Daksha got revenge by not inviting Shiva to a festival during his absence. Sati killed herself by self-immolation on a fire. After Shiva returned and found Sati’s body, he killed and decapitated Daksha, later replacing his head with a goat’s. Sati Pratha was widespread during the Early Brahmanic Dark Ages (1500 BC – 500 BC). It was later enforced by the Brahmins on their usurpation of power during the Later Brahmanic Dark Ages (500 BC – 1000 AD). Sati Pratha can be found in almost every Hindu scripture.

There have been some cases of Sati Pratha in Independent India,

1 April 2015 Maharashtra: Woman’s body found from husband’s pyre
http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-maharashtra-woman-s-body-found-from-husband-s-pyre-2073728

Dec 15 2014: In Bihar, 65-year-old woman jumps into husband’s funeral pyre
http://www.firstpost.com/india/bihar-65-year-old-woman-jumps-husbands-funeral-pyre-1849693.html

9 Sep 2009 Indian women still commit ritual suicides
https://www.rt.com/news/india-ritual-suicide-sati/

14 October 2008 Relatives arrested after widow burns to death on funeral pyre
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/oct/14/india

22 September 2006 Brothers arrested for throwing 95-year-old mother on funeral pyre
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-406471/Brothers-arrested-throwing-95-year-old-mother-funeral-pyre.html

22 August 2006 India wife dies on husband’s pyre
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/5273336.stm

An unusual occurence in Bihar
“In 1987, 18-year-old Roop Kanwar was immolated in Rajasthan in front of the whole village. Hers was the fortieth case in independent India, and the 28th in Rajasthan. In this case too it was glorified as the ultimate religious act of a married woman. Public pressure forced the government to enact the Rajasthan Sati Prevention Ordinance on October 1, 1987. Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia had maintained a stony silence on whether her government will appeal against the judgment. And it had to be filed before March 31. This would have meant going against her mother’s professed views supporting sati. It would also have meant going against the Hindu revivalists in the BJP. Incidentally, VHP Vice-President Acharya Dharmendra was the master of ceremonies at the first death anniversary of Roop Kanwar.”
http://archive.tehelka.com/story_main1.asp?filename=Ne040304bihar.asp

 

IN MAHABHARATA

Mahabharata, Adi Parva 1.125 “Vaisampayana continued, ‘Having said this, the daughter of the king of Madras, the wedded wife of Pandu, ascended the funeral pyre of her lord, that bull among men.”

Mahabharata, Adi Parva 1.126 His wife Madri, beholding him placed in the funeral pyre and about to be consumed, herself ascended the same pyre, and sacrificing her life thus, hath gone with her lord to the region reserved for chaste wives.

Mahabharata, Adi Parva 1.95 And (one day) Pandu, beholding Madri decked with ornaments, had his desire kindled. And, as soon as he touched her, he died. Madri ascended the funeral pyre with her lord.

Mahabharata, Mausala Parva 16.7 The four wives of that heroic son of Sura ascended the funeral pyre and were consumed with the body of their lord. All of them attained to those regions of felicity which were his.The son of Pandu burnt the body of his uncle together with those four wives of his, using diverse kinds of scents and perfumed wood. As the funeral pyre blazed up, a loud sound was heard of the burning wood and other combustible materials, along with the clear chant of Samans and the wailing of the citizens and others who witnessed the rite.

IN RAMAYANA

Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda 3.66.12 “Today itself, I too in devotion to my husband, will meet my appointed end. I shall enter the fire, duly embracing this body of my husband.” Shri K.M.K. Murthy

IN PURANAS

Devi Bhagavatam 6.25.35-50 …Once Madri, full of youth and beauty, was staying alone in a solitary place and Pandu seeing her embraced her and due to the curse, died. When the funeral pyre was ablaze, the chaste Madri entered into the fire and died a Sati

Devi Bhagavatam 2.6.53-71 …Then those Munis, practising great vows, knew that Pandu was dead and performed duly, on the banks of the Ganges, the ceremony of burning the dead. At that time Madri gave over to Kunti the charge of her two sons and followed the Sati practice along with her husband to go to Satyaloka

Agni Purana 222.19-23 ”…The widow who practices self-control and austerities after the death of her husband, goes to heaven…the widow who burns herself on the same funeral pire wth her husband also goes to heaven.” Tr. M.N. Dutt

Kurma Purana 2.34.108b-109 ”A woman who enters the funeral pyre along with her husband, shall uplift him even if is a Brahmana-slayer, an ungrateful fellow or one defiled by great sins. learned men know this to be the greatest expiation for women.” Tr. Board of Scholars, Edited by J.L. Shastri.

Vishnu Purana 5.38 The 8 queens of Krishna, who have been named, with Rukmini at their head, embraced the body of Hari, and entered the funeral fire. Revati also embracing the corpse of Rama, entered the blazing pile, which was cool to her, happy in contact with her lord. Hearing these events, Ugrasena and Anakadundubhi, with Devaki and Rohini, committed themselves to the flames.

Shiva Purana, KotiRudra Samhita 4.10. 23-24 ”The Brahmin lady desirous of entering the pyre in order to follow her husband cursed the Raksasa king. The chaste lady entered fire…”

Bhagwad Purana (Srimad Bhagvatam) 4.28.50 She then prepared a blazing fire with firewood and placed the dead body of her husband upon it. When this was finished, she lamented severely and prepared herself to perish in the fire with her husband.

Swami Prabhupada writes on this verse,

It is the long-standing tradition of the Vedic system that a faithful wife dies along with her husband. This is called saha-maraṇa. In India this system was prevalent even to the date of British occupation. At that time, however, a wife who did not wish to die with her husband was sometimes forced to do so by her relatives. Formerly that was not the case — the wife used to enter the fire voluntarily. The British government stopped this practice, considering it inhuman. However, from the early history of India we find that when Mahārāja Pāṇḍu died, he was survived by two wives — Mādrī and Kuntī. The question was whether both should die or one should die. After the death of Mahārāja Pāṇḍu, his wives settled that one should remain and the other should go. Mādrī would perish with her husband in the fire, and Kuntī would remain to take charge of the five Pāṇḍava children. Even as late as 1936 we saw a devoted wife voluntarily enter the fire of her husband.’’ A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada on Bhagwad Purana 4.28.50 [Source: http://vanisource.org/wiki/SB_4.28.50 ]

He also writes

‘’In the Vedic culture there is a system known as satī or saha-maraṇa, in which a woman dies with her husband. According to this system, if the husband dies, the wife will voluntarily die by falling in the blazing funeral pyre of her husband. Here, in this verse, the feelings inherent in this culture are expressed by the wife of the brāhmaṇa. A woman without a husband is like a dead body. Therefore according to Vedic culture a girl must be married. This is the responsibility of her father. A girl may be given in charity, and a husband may have more than one wife, but a girl must be married. This is Vedic culture. A woman is supposed to be always dependent—in her childhood she is dependent on her father, in youth on her husband, and in old age on her elderly sons. According to Manu-saṁhitā, she is never independent. Independence for a woman means miserable life. In this age, so many girls are unmarried and falsely imagining themselves free, but their life is miserable. Here is an instance in which a woman felt that without her husband she was nothing but a dead body.’’Swami Prabhupada on Bhagwad Purana 9.9.32 [Source: http://vanisource.org/wiki/SB_9.9.32 ]

Bhagwad Purana 9.9.36 After this way cursing Mitrasaha [‘indulgent toward friends’ or Saudâsa] she, being devoted to be with her husband, found her destination by stepping into the fire that burned the bones of her husband.

Srimad Bhagavatam 11.31.19-20 Tormented by separation from the Lord, His parents gave up their lives at that very spot. My dear Parīkṣit, the wives of the Yādavas then climbed onto the funeral pyres, embracing their dead husbands. The wives of Lord Balarāma also entered the fire and embraced His body, and Vasudeva’s wives entered his fire and embraced his body. The daughters-in-law of Lord Hari entered the funeral fires of their respective husbands, headed by Pradyumna. And Rukmiṇī and the other wives of Lord Kṛṣṇa — whose hearts were completely absorbed in Him — entered His fire.

Garuda Purana 1.107.29 ”A Wife who dies in the company of her husband shall remain in heaven as many years as there are hairs on his person” Tr. J.L. Shastri

Garuda Purana II.4.88-97 “…A woman who has been chaste and faithful to her husband should mount on the pyre after bowing to her (deceased) husband before the funeral rites start. One who gets away from the pyre due to fainting should observe the vow named prajapatya. One who ascends the pyre and follows up her husband stays in heaven for a period equal to the number of hair on the body, three and a half crore. Just as the snake-charmer takes out the snake from the hole so also she takes out her husband from hell and enjoys with him in paradise. She who ascends the pyre goes to heaven. She is praised by the celestial nymphs and enjoys with her husband so long as the fourteen Indras rule in heaven successively. Even if the man has killed a brahmana or a friend or any other person of noble conduct he is purified of sins by his wife who ascends his pyre. A woman who enters fire after the death of her husband prospers in the heaven like Arundhati. Until and unless the woman burns herself after her husband’s death she is never released from the bond of her sex. A woman who follows her husband purifies the three families on her mother’s side, the three families on her father’s side and the three families on her husband’s side.” Tr. J.L. Shastri

Another verse mentioned in Garuda Purana translated by Ernest and Subrahmanyam shows how a widow repented,

Garuda Purana 2.40 ”Not knowing my duty I did not serve my husband, nor after his death enter the fire. Having become widowed I performed no austerities;–O Dweller in the Body, make reparation for whatever you have done!” Tr. Ernest Wood and S.V Subrahmanyam, Edited by B.D. Basu.

Garuda Purana 10.42 ”When a woman burns her body with her husband’s, the fire burns her limbs only, but does not afflict her soul” Tr. Ernest Wood and S.V Subrahmanyam, Edited by B.D. Basu.

Garuda Purana 10.45-46 ”Likewise she who has joined her husband is never burnt. her inner soul becomes unified with that of her husband, by death. The woman who does not burn herself in the fire, on her husband’s death, is certainly never released from feminine bodies.” Tr. Ernest Wood and S.V. Subrahmanyam, Edited by B.D. Basu

Garuda Purana 10.48 ”The Woman who ascends the funeral pyre, when her husband is dead, becomes equal to Arundhati, and attains the heaven. [50] She who goes with her husband purifies three families her mother’s, her father’s, and that into which she was given.” Tr. Ernest Wood and S.V. Subrahmanyam, Edited by B.D. Basu

Brahma Purana 10.75 ”Dying Immediately after the husband is the greatest duty of women. This is the path laid down in the Vedas. [77] The woman who follows her husband shall stay in heaven for as many years as there are hairs in a man’s body, viz. three and a half crores of years.” Tr. Board of Scholars, Edited by J.L. Shastri

Brahmanda Purana 2.3.30.39 ”By entering this burning pyre, I will be slightly after a long time, the dear guest of my husband in the world of the Pitrs (Manes)[41] After saying these words with firm decision, Renuka decided to follow her husband by entering the fire.” Tr. Ganesh Vasudeo Tagare

Vamana Purana 46.4-22 A king died childless, and his wife wept bitterly and embraced his corpse until a bird told her that she would have seven sons if she mounted her husband’s funeral pyre. She obeyed, and as she entered the fire the king arose and flew into the sky with her, by his power of yoga. When the queen entered her fertile period the king felt it his duty not to neglect her. He made love to her in the air, and his seed fell down from the sky. Then he went with her to the world of Brahma to dwell eternally. But the wives of the Seven Sages saw the cloud like seed falling from the sky into a flower, and they thought it was Soma. Wishing to be young forever, they bathed ritually, honoured their own husbands, and drank the king’s seed. The moment that they drank it [having thus unconsciously violated their chastity] they lost their holy lustre, and all their husbands abandoned them immediately as sinners. They gave birth to the seven Maruts (Storm Gods).

Padma Purana V.106.60 ”Having raised her, Narada said to the pure one about her dead (husband): ”O innocent one of large eyes, please go to your husband. O you of large eyes, your husband, abandoned by his kinsmen, is dead. O auspicious one, you should not weep. Enter fire (i.e. funeral pyre of your husband).”[65-68] If you will go to (i.e. desire to enter) fire there, then do not weep . O daughter, if you have committed a sin like enjoying another man (than your husband) then make an expiation to purify that. On entering into the fire your minor sins will perish.” Tr. N.A. Deshpande

Padma Purana VI.252.89-90 ”Rukmaputri with Pradyumna, Usa with Aniruddha and all Yadava ladies honoured the bodies of their husbands and entered fire.” Tr. N.A. Deshpande

Skanda Purana III.i.12.115-116 ”Ere long thereafter, King Manojava abandoned his body and went to the world of Siva, due to the power of that Tirtha. O Brahmanas, his wife Sumitra embraced his body then and ascended his funeral pyre. She too attained the same world.” Tr. G.V. Tagare

Skanda Purana V.i.53.38-41 ”…The beautiful woman gathered fuel and twigs together and kindled the funeral pyre which she ascended along with her husband. She was mentally pleased in doing so…” Tr. G.V. Tagare

Skanda Purana III.ii.7.53-56 “A chaste woman who follows her husband from the house to the cremation ground for self-immolation undoubtedly attains the merit of a horse-sacrifice at every step. Just as a snake-catcher forcibly retrieves a snake from its hole, so also a chaste woman retrieves her husband from the messengers of Yama and goes to heave. On seeing a chaste woman the messengers of Yama flee. On seeing the splendour of a chaste woman even the sun feels burning sensation, even the fire gets burnt and all other luminaries begin to tremble. A chaste woman sportingly enjoys heavenly pleasures along with her husband for as many crores and ten thousand years as there are hairs on her body.” Tr. G.V. Tagare

Narada Purana, Uttarabhaga 16.85-89 “She sold off her bangle and brought a great deal of fuel. She prepared the funeral pyre. After placing her dead husband on it, she poured ghee over the pyre (fuel). She too climbed on the funeral pyre joining her face to his face, her heart near his heart and O gentle lady, her buttocks near his buttocks. With her foot she dragged the fire. The auspicious lady of charming limbs set fire to the ailing body of the husband along with her body. As the fire blazed brightly, she cast off her body and went to the world of the Devas taking her husband with her after annihilating many of his sins by means of her holy rites very difficult to be performed.” Tr. G.V. Tagare

Narada Purana, Uttarabhaga 30.87 “With a great deal of merits the woman goes to the region of Visnu alongwith her husband if her body is cremated alongwith him. But a woman greedy of wealth and of her body (?) attains Yama’s torture and the affliction of being born in base wombs of lower species.” Tr. G.V. Tagare

Vamana Purana 46.51-53 “…Then after a long time that beloved slender-bodied queen of the king had pregnancy from that best of kings. During the pregnancy of the wife the king died. She, loyal to her husband, while desiring to get upon (the funeral pyre of) her husband, was prevented by the ministers, but could not be stopped.” Tr. Anand Swarup Gupta

There is another fake story circulated on internet that, Wives of kings used to immolate themselves only if the Kings went into battle with Muslims, Jauhar wasn’t practiced when rival king was Hindu. Let’s not indulge in history and check what scripture says,

Vishnu Purana 3.18 It is related that there was formerly a king named Śatadhanu, whose wife Śaivyá was a woman of great virtue. She was devoted to her husband, benevolent, sincere, pure, adorned with every female excellence, with humility, and discretion…After a time the Rájá, triumphant over his enemies, died; and the princess ascended the funeral pile of her husband.

There is no reference that King Satadhanu lived in the period of Muslims. and here we read that the wife of the king ascended funeral pyre of her husband after he died in (or after) the battle. So this refutes the claim of people who tries to blame others for all evil practices of their religion. If self-immolation with husband is such a great virtue then why don’t Hindu scripture says the same about men? But not all women are suppose to practice Sati Pratha, Brahmin women are barred from practicing it as it will be Brahmin slaughter, other than Brahmin women, following women are also exempted from ascending the funeral pyre of their husbands,
Narada Purana I.7.52 “O blessed princess! The following (ladies) do not ascend funeral pyre, viz. those with infant children (depending on them), pregnant women, those whose monthly course has not yet started and women in the menses.” Tr. G.V. Tagare

 

IN SMRITIS

Parasara Smriti 4.28 ”A widow, who immolates herself on the same funeral pile with her deceased husband, resides in heaven for ten millions of years, which is the number of hairs on the human body.” Tr. M.N. Dutt

Brihaspati Smriti 24.11 A wife is considered half the body (of her husband), equally sharing the result of his good or wicked deeds; whether she ascends the pile after him, or chooses to survive him leading a virtuous life, she promotes the welfare of her husband.

Vishnu Smriti 25.14 ”After the death of her husband, to preserve her chastity, or to ascend the pile after him.” Tr. Various Oriental Scholars

Daksa Smrti 4.18-19 A sati who dies on the funeral pyre of her husband enjoys an eternal bliss in heaven

Vijnanesvara writes in Mitakshara on Yajnavalkya Smriti verse 88

‘’Moreover, though ”deprived of her husband,” or bereft of her husband, she should not be without her father, &c, Because, being without their protection, she ”becomes infamous,” becomes blameworthy. This is (the rule, in case the widow wishes to pass her life) as a Brahmachari or celebate. Because it is ordained in the Vishnu Smriti (Ch. XXXV. 14):- ”After the death of her husband (the widow should adopt one of these two courses) either to preserve her chastity (Brahmacharya) or to ascend the pile after him.” There is great virtue in Anvarohana (or self-immolation along with the deceased husband.)

Vyasa has shown the same thing, in the form of the parable of the she-pigeon:- ”Devoted to her husband, she entered the raging fire, and thereafter she obtained her (dead) lord who was adorned with a variegated bracelet. Then afterwards the bird went in company with his wife to heaven, and enjoyed it with her being honored with all acts (of service.)”

 

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