- (suttee) widow self-immolationSati, the practice of burning widows on their hus-bands’ funeral pyres (as had happened with the goddess Sati), developed in post-Vedic India, as the rights of women, especially widows, greatly deteriorated. Widows were almost considered to be dead. They had to shave their heads and dress in white with no decoration. They were consid-ered inauspicious and were often confined to the home.Because of the practice of marriage outside one’s clan in North India, spouses generally were from distant villages. As all marriages were patrilocal, a woman whose husband had died would find herself living with unrelated in-laws, who often did not look upon her kindly. If the woman had several children and particularly a son, she might draw comfort and status from them, but if she were newly married with no chil-dren, she looked forward to a life of ascetic denial and loneliness as remarriage was strictly forbid-den. As a result, many women succumbed to the social pressure of self-immolation on the fires of their husbands; it is documented that many oth-ers were coerced to do so. As an added incentive, in certain regions, the woman who became a sati was deified.In the 19th century the British colonial admin-istrators outlawed sati. Independent India also outlawed the practice, and it largely fell into dis-use after independence. However, the debate over the practice never completely ceased. With the modern Hindu revival some have argued that this traditional practice should be encouraged; this idea has spurred furious opposition from secular-ists and women’s groups.Further reading: John Stratton Hawley, ed., Sati, the Blessing and the Curse: The Burning of Wives in India (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); John S. Hawley and Donna M. Wulff, eds., Devi: Goddesses of India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996); Stella Kramrisch, The Presence of Siva (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981); Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, Real and Imagined Women: Gender, Culture, and Postcolonialism (London/New York: Routledge, 1993).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.