Burning Widows: The Basis of Sati in Hindu Religious Texts

Sati[1] (also called Suttee), i.e., widow burning, is a ghastly Hindu custom that was carried out upon the death of a husband. This savage and inhumane practice, drawn from a myth involving a Hindu god was implemented either voluntarily or by use of force throughout Hindu history.

The most well known form of Sati is where a woman burns to death on the funeral pyre of her husband. Other forms of Sati also exist, like being buried alive with the corpse of the husband and drowning.[2]

Traditional Hinduism deprives a widow of all inheritance from her deceased husband. Furthermore, burning alive or being viewed as a failed wife were the only two choices for these widows. What is even more heartbreaking is the fanfare with which Sati was done upon the decision of the woman to become Sati (a Chaste One)!

Defenders and promoters of Sati use Hindu Scripture to justify their position.[3]

Parasara Smriti 4.32

If a woman follows her departed lord, by burning herself on the same funeral pyre, she will dwell in heaven for as many years as there are hairs on the human frame, — which reach the number of three crores (ten million) and a half.

Vishnu Dharma Sutra 25.14

After the death of her husband, to preserve her chastity, or to ascend the pile after him.

Agni Purana 222.223

The widow who practices self-control and austerities after the death of her husband, goes to heaven…the widow who burns herself on the same funeral pyre with her husband also goes to heaven.

With the arrival of the British in India, the practice of Sati was viewed with horror. During the 1800’s, reports of Sati were described as voluntary acts of courage and devotion.

Some women were encouraged by priests while others burnt themselves under family and peer pressure. In some recorded cases, women were drugged.[4] Some women tried to flee and escape the inferno, so measures like tying the woman to the corpse with cords were implemented to prevent this.

In 1827 the Governor-General of India, Lord Bentinck, finally outlawed the custom of Sati in its entirety.[5]

Sati is rarely discussed in India today – probably because of its shameful and barbaric nature. However, many incidents of Sati have occurred even after its banning. In a case in 2002, one thousand villagers shouted their support and watched a 65 year old woman burn to death on the funeral pyre of her husband.[6] Enacting laws to prevent this type of barbarity will be in vain when such customs are held close and cherished passionately by traditional Hindus, who are not willing to follow the reformed and modernized version of their polytheistic religion.

In Islam, a widow is allotted a share in the inheritance of her husband and the entire community is encouraged to care and look after the widow. Those who do engage in this noble deed are viewed with great honour in the Hadith.

Muhammad Rasūlullāh sallallahu alayhi wa sallam is reported to have said,

“One who strives to help the widows and the poor is like the one who fights in the way of Allah.” The narrator said: I think that he sallallahu alayhi wa sallam added: “I shall regard him as the one who stands up (for prayer) without rest and as the one who observes fasts continuously.”[7]

This merciful teaching brought out leaders who would tend to the widows and weak in society. See the book Umar Ibn Al-Khattab by Shaykh Ali As-Sallabi vol.1 pp.264-272 for more on this.

Notes

  1. Sati, Sanskrit Satī (“Virtuous Woman”), in Hinduism, one of the wives of the god Shiva and a daughter of the sage Daksa. Sati married Shiva against her father’s wishes. When her father failed to invite her husband to a great sacrifice, Sati died of mortification and was later reborn as the goddess Parvati. (Some accounts say she threw herself into the sacrificial fire, an act that is sometimes given as justification for suttee, the ritual immolation of a wife on her husband’s funeral pyre.) Shiva, distraught, carried her corpse around the world on his shoulder until the other gods dismembered it to put an end to his mourning. Each of the spots where a piece of Sati’s body fell to the ground became a sacred place of pilgrimage called a pitha.
  2. https://kashgar.com.au/blogs/history/the-practice-of-sati-widow-burning
  3. https://www.news18.com/news/buzz/dear-amish-tripathi-youre-wrong-sati-was-never-just-a-minor-practice-in-india-1924843.html
  4. https://kashgar.com.au/blogs/history/the-practice-of-sati-widow-burning
  5. https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/gk-current-affairs/story/sati-pratha-facts-275586-2015-12-04
  6. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/2178102.stm
  7. Bukhārī & Muslim

 

MuslimSkeptic Needs Your Support!
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Abdullah

Shame on those Muslims who celebrate Hindu culture in the form of Bollywoood despite how backwards and anti thetical it is to Islam.