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Sati or suttee culture of Hindu Widows

Sati or suttee culture among Hindus in India.

Sati is the culture or religious practice among some Hindu community in India .by which a recently widowed woman either voluntarily or by use of force or coercion commits suicide as a result of her husband's death.  The best known form of sati is when a woman burns to death on her husband's funeral pyre.  However other forms of sati exist, including being buried alive with the husband's corpse and drowning.

The term sati is derived from the original name of the goddess Sati , also known as Dakshayani, who self-immolated because she was unable to bear her father Daksha's humiliation of her (living) husband Shiva. 

The custom began to grow in popularity as evidenced by the number of stones placed to commemorate satis, particularly in southern India and amongst the higher castes of Indian society, despite the fact that the Brahmins originally condemned the practice 

 British East India Company recorded that the total figure of known occurrences for the period 1813 - 1828 was 8,135; another source gives the number of 7,941 from 1815 - 1828, an average of 618 documented incidents per year.  However, these numbers are likely to grossly underestimate the real number of satis as in 1823, 575 women performed sati in the state of Bengal alone .

Practice of sati was to be found among many castes and at every social level, chosen by or for both uneducated and the highest ranking women of the times.  The common deciding factor was often ownership of wealth or property, since all possessions of the widow devolved to the husband's family upon her death. In a country that shunned widows , sati was considered the highest expression of wifely devotion to a dead husband .

Over the centuries, many of India 's inhabitants have disagreed with the practice of sati . Once the reality of burning to death became obvious, many women tried to escape their fate.  Measures and implements were put into place to ensure that they could not. 

A rich baniya, a corn chandler, whose house was near the gate of our grounds, departed this life; he was an Hindu. On the 7th of November, the natives in the bazaar were making a great noise with their tom-toms, drums, and other discordant musical instruments, rejoicing that his widow had determined to perform sati , i.e., to burn on his funeral-pile.

In the late 1950's, a royal sati took place. Performed in Jodhpur by Sugankunverba, the widow of Brigadier Jabbar Singh Sisodia, her act of self-immolation occurred illegally and supposedly in secret.

There are many interesting points about this particular sati event.  The woman was obviously deeply attached to her husband and devastated at his death.  However no attempt was made to dissuade the woman from committing suicide; indeed her brother-in-law was concerned only with whether she would go through with it on the day and not bring shame to the family name. 

Other incidents of sati continue to take place.  Fifty-five year old Charan Shah's self-immolation in 1999 at Satpura village in Uttar Pradesh is shrouded in mystery as witnesses refused to co-operate with official investigations.  Shah's suicide is notable because it led to the publication of a vitriolic article apparently justifying the practice of sati and demanding the repeal of the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, by a respected female academic, Madhu Kishwar (published in Manushi, Issue 115).  In May 2006, Vidyawati, a 35-year-old woman allegedly jumped into the funeral pyre of her husband in Rari-Bujurg Village, Uttar Pradesh. In August 2006, Janakrani, a 40-year-old woman, died on the funeral pyre of her husband in Sagar district. In October 2008, a 75-year-old woman committed sati by jumping into her 80-year-old husband's funeral pyre at Checher in Raipur.