Sati

August 14, 2018

Hinduism is amongst the most provoking and widespread religions of the world. Learning more about this religion has greatly raised a lot of questions in my mind regarding different peoples’ views and moralities. The subject and discussion surrounding the empowerment of women has been a topic many have pondered about all over the world, including India, for decades now. Although the ritual of Sati has not exclusively been an Indian ritual, among many of the age old customs of India, Sati has definitely stood out to be one of the most controversial topics we have discussed regarding Hindu Goddess Worship thus far. Many challenged not only the idea, but also the practice of Sati as it was arguably seen to be one of the most inhumane practices. The self-immolation of Hindu wives confronted the British with central questions regarding gender and what implications should then be held and enforced for all British women. I specifically decided to choose Sati as the topic of my research paper as it almost acts as a metaphor for many societies. Out of the vast knowledge I have gained over the course of the semester, the female community of India, aroused the most curiosity inside me, which inclined me to gain more knowledge about it. A society that gives no worth to a woman as their own individuals, but rather sees woman as a man’s extension or possession, and who has the right to live up until her husbands passing away. Do to the nature and actual ritual practice of Sati, I find it the most symbolic of encompassing views towards women.

 

Although there are many other instances in which Hindu women are treated as nothing more than property and assets

that could be discarded or ruled by men, the ritual of Sati, really stood out to me. The practice of Sati was essentially the burning or self immolation of female widows in the funeral pyre for their husband. It was seen and believed to be one of the only ways that female widows would be able to attain divinity after the passing of their husbands, and many females practiced Sati in the hope of reaching heaven. Additionally, it was believed that by performing Sati, the female widow would act to atone for the guilt or sins of her husbands family. The actual word, Sati, follows from the Sanskrit word for, “a good woman”, which itself, describes a virtue a goodness that each woman inherently had by performing the act. Those who decided to follow through with this practice displayed a huge deal of wifely virtue that was believed to continue to carry out in their afterlife. On top of that, it was believed that Sati was a religious duty to the husbands of the widows and many believed that performing Sati would be better than living the life of a widow anyways. To be a widow and to have an unmarried girl in a family was immensely looked down upon and was considered to be a social dishonor. Because of the divinity that came behind this practice, it was seen to be very revered by the Hindu people.

 

The dispute regarding Sati did not just disappear overnight. The practice, ritual, and beliefs surrounding it were incredibly ingrained in the Hindu culture. Regardless of the previous revered of this practice, over the course of 11 years, the debates regarding this ritual ended in the Sati Regulation Act. This act was declared on December 5th, 1829 and proclaimed that the practice of sati, or suttee, or of the burning or burying alive of the windows of Hindus is illegal and punishable by the criminal courts. Additionally, The Prevention of Sati act authorized that the act of glorifying or attempting to commit Sati, was also prohibited. Regardless of these attempts in order to completely dispose of this cultural practice, it can be argued that Sati is still a burning issue today. There have been cases regarding women attempting to commit sati on their husband’s pyre, and it has been reported that there are still around 250 sati temples still built. I wish to continue gaining knowledge about this controversial topic in order to gain a greater understanding of Hindu Goddess Worship and how Sati in particular has helped shape Goddess Worship today.

“A woman committing her Sati, thus obeying the group’s codex of honor and moral clearly made a decision against personal freedom and for her integration into this very group. However, death is always the big liberator; in stepping over the line (between life and death) voluntarily, she takes the only route towards freedom that has remained for her. Sati thus is truly a point of culmination; in the moment of deepest incarceration into a traditional society’s most oppressing moral codexes a door to total liberation is opened”.

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