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Satee

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Satee

(1) Faithful to one's husband by heart, speech and actions. There are five Satee famous in Hindu religious scriptures - (1) Gautam's wife Ahalyaa, (2) Paandav's wife Draupadee, (3) Raam's wife Seetaa, (4) Baali's wife Taaraa, and (5) Raavan's wife Mandodaree. In our Hindu Dharm a Satee has a lots of power and there are many stories of such Satee who had so much power that they stopped even Soorya (Sun) to rise - read such a story here.

(2) Satee is the name of the wife of Shiv. She immolated herself in her father's Yagya at the insult of her husband Shiv. She was the daughter of Daksh.

(3) Satee is the name of a practice of being immolated oneself with her husband on his pyre. This custom or tradition or practice was very common in Muslim period

Satee (Practice)
(3) A woman who immolates herself on her deceased husband's funeral pyre, she is also called Satee. There is an evidence of Satee Prathaa (practice) in India around 400 AD.

Justifications for the practice are given in the Vishnu Smriti also - "Now the duties of a woman (are) ... After the death of her husband, to preserve her chastity, or to ascend the pile after him." (Vishnu Smriti, 25-14). There is justification also in the later work of the Brihaspati Smriti (25-11). Both this and the Vishnu Smriti date from the first millennium. The Manu Smriti is often regarded as the culmination of classical Hindu law, and hence its position is important. It does not mention or sanction Satee though it does prescribe life-long asceticism for most widows.

The Puraan also have examples of women who have committed Satee and there are suggestions in them that it was considered desirable or praiseworthy too: A wife who dies in the company of her husband shall remain in heaven as many years as there are hairs on his person. (Garud Puraan 1/107/29) According to Garud Puraan, 2/4/93, she stays with her husband in heaven up to a Kalp.

In the Raamaayan, Taaraa, in her grief at the death of husband Baali, wished to commit Satee. Hanumaan, Raam, and the dying Baali dissuaded her and she finally did not immolate herself.

In the Mahaabhaarat, Maadree, the second wife of Paandu, immolated herself. She held herself responsible for the death of her husband, who had been cursed with death if he ever had intercourse with his wife. He died while performing the forbidden act with Maadree, who blamed herself for not having rejected his advances, although she was well aware of the curse.

Passages in the Atharv Ved, including 13.3.1, also offer advice to the widow on mourning and her life after widowhood, including her remarriage.

It is often claimed that this most ancient text of Rig Ved sanctions or prescribes Satee practice. This is based on verse 10.18.7, part of the verses to be used at funerals. Whether they even describe Satee or something else entirely, is disputed, The hymn is about funeral by burial, and not by cremation. There are differing translations of the passage. The translation below is one of those said to prescribe it.

इमा नारीरविधवाः सुपत्नीराञ्जनेन सर्पिषा संविशन्तु |
अनश्रवो.अनमीवाः सुरत्ना आ रोहन्तु जनयोयोनिमग्रे || (RV 10.18.7)
"Let these women, whose husbands are worthy and are living, enter the house with ghee (applied) as collyrium (to their eyes). Let these wives first step into the pyre, tearless without any affliction and well adorned."

This text does not mention widowhood. In addition, the following verse, which is unambiguously about widows, then contradicts any suggestion of the woman's death; it explicitly states that the widow should return to her house.

उदीर्ष्व नार्यभि जीवलोकं गतासुमेतमुप शेष एहि |
हस्तग्राभस्य दिधिषोस्तवेदं पत्युर्जनित्वमभि सम्बभूथ || (RV 10.18.8)
"Rise, come unto the world of life, O woman come, he is lifeless by whose side thou lies. Wifehood with this thy husband was thy portion, who took thy hand and wooed thee as a lover."

Opposition of This Practice
Although this practice is opposed for long time, but the well known opposition was from Raajaa Raam Mohan Roy from about 1812 AD.  British attitudes are usually given in the following much repeated quote, usually ascribed to General Napier - "You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours."

The Portuguese banned the practice in Goa by about 1515. The Dutch and the French had also banned it in Chinsurah and Pondicherry. The first formal British ban was in 1798, in the city of Kalkattaa only.

On December 4, 1829, the practice was formally banned in the Bengal Presidency lands, by the then governor, Lord William Bentinck. Satee practice remained legal in some princely states for a time after it had been abolished in lands under British control. The last such state to permit it, Jayapur, banned the practice in 1846. Later Indian Government passed the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987.

The Prevention of Sati Act makes it illegal to abet, glorify or attempt to commit Satee. Abetment of Satee, including coercing or forcing someone to commit Sati can be punished by Death Sentence or Life imprisonment, while glorifying Sati is punishable with 1-7 years in Prison.

 

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Created by Sushma Gupta on 3/15/06
Contact:  sushmajee@yahoo.com
Updated on 10/07/11