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Sati (widow-Burning) Essay

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We often look at the practices of different religions and cultures and don't understand them. Many times these practices are controversial to us or even considered illegal in the different parts of the world we reside in. However, what we fail to grasp is that the basis of many of these "different" practices may be practical and similar to our own beliefs and livelihood. In Hinduism a controversial "practice" is called sati, a ritual that involves widowed women immolating themselves on top of their husband's funeral pyre. Although today Sati is an unacceptable practice, the ritual itself has positive spiritual, economic and practical reasons and beliefs behind doing it. The purpose of this paper is to elaborate what these intentions are.

Sati is often understood as "widow-burning" (Knott 10) from a western perspective. Western thinkers think of sati as an action whereas as Indians use the word as a noun. Hindus use sati as a name or title given to a "good women" (Knott 72). There is a Western view of sati being an action because of the ritual/process a Hindu woman endures when becoming a "sati". Sati is largely associated with becoming a sati for widowed women is to immolate themselves upon their husband's funeral pyre (bonfire). In Hinduism funerals have a people from the community, friends, Priest (Brahmin) and family present at the moment of the cremation.

Though there are specific duties that are carried by different family members, in the situation of a departed husband, his widow would lay herself alongside her husband's body and would eventually burn herself to death. Like many rituals in different religions a universal acceptance of a ritual does not occur and that is parallel in Hinduism. Hinduism is a unique religion because it is very diverse in many different parts of the Indian sub continent, for example all Hindus do not universally accept sati and it is more frequent in different regions and caste in India.

Sati has specifically become very popular in the northern parts of India such as Kashmir and Rajasthan (Gaur 47). Sati has become vastly popular in that area from the year 1600 A.D and so forth, with many examples of Rajasthan princesses performing the custom of sati and has been recorded (Gaur 47). Geographically it is interesting to know that Rajasthan is vastly known in the Indian sub-continent as regions of strong royals and empires. "The practice which was once a prevalent on voluntary basis became almost compulsory at least in the royal houses (Kshatriya)"(Gaur 48). Even the last recorded sati in 1987 of Roop Kunwar was in the Rajasthan region (John S. et al 7) is the evident trickle down affect in society where once the hierarchy (Brahmins and Kshatriya) have accepted a custom the lower caste like Vashya's (Merchants) and Sudhra's (farmers) also accept it, Roop Kunwar came from a lower part of the caste system. The social implication that can be made by a vast of Kshatryia (rulers) accepting the custom is possibly because of pressure from the Brahmins, furthermore rulers have a great expectations from the society as well, anytime a ruler would disrespect or not follow a religious tradition would face the possibility of rebellion in the community by lower caste members. That's why we see the trend of many Rajasthan Princes performing sati (Gaur 47). The custom has been controversial however because of many accusations of women being forced to perform sati, pressure could be because the socio/economic class people belong too and not wanting to feel ashamed in society for not doing so. The reason perhaps why sati entered the hierarchy of the caste system is perhaps because of the mythology behind it which resembles the socio class.

The mythology of sati is "found in epic and puranic sources" (John S. et al. 30). The story is of Lord Shiva and his wife Sati, the story goes on that his father-in-law (Lord Daksha) disrespected Lord Shiva by not making him apart of a ceremonial sacrifice, to show honor and faithfulness to her husband Sati burns herself into a bonfire. Sati is a role model for many Hindu women as a devoted female figure to her male counterpart, those women who show qualities alike Sati and eventually perform the ultimate act of sacrifice are called "Sati-mata", "good -women/goddess" by the community (Knott 72). Sati is a strong example of the connection that humankind and Gods/Goddesses have in Hinduism, the Gods play a role model to humankind and how they should act upon themselves. Hindu devotees often follow the examples of Gods/Goddesses as a testament of devotion to the religion.

Sati represents a strong devotion to religion for widowed women through spirituality. In Hinduism reincarnation is a principle belief in which the spirit or soul of one is in an infinite cycle where the spirit moves onto the next finite body (life time), once the mortal body is demised. In Hinduism women believe that their spiritual



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