Sati Pratha: The Burning of Widows by Brahmanism

Sati Pratha is a Hindu practice where the wife ascends the funeral pyre of her husband and gives up her life. The word Sati may have been derived from the name of Shiva’s wife. Sati, also called Dakshayani, was one of the daughters of Prasuti and Daksha. She loved Shiva, but her father Daksha forbade her marriage to Shiva. She married Shiva anyway, and Daksha got revenge by not inviting Shiva to a festival during his absence. Sati killed herself by self-immolation on a fire. After Shiva returned and found Sati’s body, he killed and decapitated Daksha, later replacing his head with a goat’s. Sati Pratha was widespread during the Early Brahmanic Dark Ages (1500 BC – 500 BC). It was later enforced by the Brahmins on their usurpation of power during the Later Brahmanic Dark Ages (500 BC – 1000 AD). Sati Pratha can be found in almost every Hindu scripture.

IN MAHABHARATA

Mahabharata, Adi Parva 1.125 “Vaisampayana continued, ‘Having said this, the daughter of the king of Madras, the wedded wife of Pandu, ascended the funeral pyre of her lord, that bull among men.”

Mahabharata, Adi Parva 1.126 His wife Madri, beholding him placed in the funeral pyre and about to be consumed, herself ascended the same pyre, and sacrificing her life thus, hath gone with her lord to the region reserved for chaste wives.

Mahabharata, Adi Parva 1.95 And (one day) Pandu, beholding Madri decked with ornaments, had his desire kindled. And, as soon as he touched her, he died. Madri ascended the funeral pyre with her lord.

Mahabharata, Mausala Parva 16.7 The four wives of that heroic son of Sura ascended the funeral pyre and were consumed with the body of their lord. All of them attained to those regions of felicity which were his.The son of Pandu burnt the body of his uncle together with those four wives of his, using diverse kinds of scents and perfumed wood. As the funeral pyre blazed up, a loud sound was heard of the burning wood and other combustible materials, along with the clear chant of Samans and the wailing of the citizens and others who witnessed the rite.

IN PURANAS

Devi Bhagavatam 6.25.35-50 …Once Madri, full of youth and beauty, was staying alone in a solitary place and Pandu seeing her embraced her and due to the curse, died. When the funeral pyre was ablaze, the chaste Madri entered into the fire and died a Sati…

Devi Bhagavatam 2.6.53-71 …Then those Munis, practising great vows, knew that Pandu was dead and performed duly, on the banks of the Ganges, the ceremony of burning the dead. At that time Madri gave over to Kunti the charge of her two sons and followed the Sati practice along with her husband to go to Satyaloka…

Agni Purana 222.19-23 ”…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 pire wth her husband also goes to heaven.” Tr. M.N. Dutt

Kurma Purana 2.34.108b-109 ”A woman who enters the funeral pyre along with her husband, shall uplift him even if is a Brahmana-slayer, an ungrateful fellow or one defiled by great sins. learned men know this to be the greatest expiation for women.” Tr. Board of Scholars, Edited by J.L. Shastri.

Vishnu Purana 3.18 His queen again followed him in death, and, conformably to sacred precepts, once more mounted cheerfully his funeral pile.

Vishnu Purana 5.38 The 8 queens of Krishna, who have been named, with Rukmini at their head, embraced the body of Hari, and entered the funeral fire. Revati also embracing the corpse of Rama, entered the blazing pile, which was cool to her, happy in contact with her lord. Hearing these events, Ugrasena and Anakadundubhi, with Devaki and Rohini, committed themselves to the flames.

Shiva Purana, KotiRudra Samhita 4.10. 23-24 ”The Brahmin lady desirous of entering the pyre in order to follow her husband cursed the Raksasa king. The chaste lady entered fire…”

Bhagwad Purana (Srimad Bhagvatam) 4.28.50 She then prepared a blazing fire with firewood and placed the dead body of her husband upon it. When this was finished, she lamented severely and prepared herself to perish in the fire with her husband.‘

Swami Prabhupada writes on this verse,

”It is the long-standing tradition of the Vedic system that a faithful wife dies along with her husband. This is called saha-maraṇa. In India this system was prevalent even to the date of British occupation. At that time, however, a wife who did not wish to die with her husband was sometimes forced to do so by her relatives. Formerly that was not the case — the wife used to enter the fire voluntarily. The British government stopped this practice, considering it inhuman. However, from the early history of India we find that when Mahārāja Pāṇḍu died, he was survived by two wives — Mādrī and Kuntī. The question was whether both should die or one should die. After the death of Mahārāja Pāṇḍu, his wives settled that one should remain and the other should go. Mādrī would perish with her husband in the fire, and Kuntī would remain to take charge of the five Pāṇḍava children. Even as late as 1936 we saw a devoted wife voluntarily enter the fire of her husband.’’ A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada on Bhagwad Purana 4.28.50 [Source: http://vanisource.org/wiki/SB_4.28.50 ]

He also writes

‘’In the Vedic culture there is a system known as satī or saha-maraṇa, in which a woman dies with her husband. According to this system, if the husband dies, the wife will voluntarily die by falling in the blazing funeral pyre of her husband. Here, in this verse, the feelings inherent in this culture are expressed by the wife of the brāhmaṇa. A woman without a husband is like a dead body. Therefore according to Vedic culture a girl must be married. This is the responsibility of her father. A girl may be given in charity, and a husband may have more than one wife, but a girl must be married. This is Vedic culture. A woman is supposed to be always dependent—in her childhood she is dependent on her father, in youth on her husband, and in old age on her elderly sons. According to Manu-saṁhitā, she is never independent. Independence for a woman means miserable life. In this age, so many girls are unmarried and falsely imagining themselves free, but their life is miserable. Here is an instance in which a woman felt that without her husband she was nothing but a dead body.’’Swami Prabhupada on Bhagwad Purana 9.9.32 [Source: http://vanisource.org/wiki/SB_9.9.32 ]

Bhagwad Purana 9.9.36 After this way cursing Mitrasaha [‘indulgent toward friends’ or Saudâsa] she, being devoted to be with her husband, found her destination by stepping into the fire that burned the bones of her husband.

Garuda Purana 1.107.29 ”A Wife who dies in the company of her husband shall remain in heaven as many years as there are hairs on his person” Tr. J.L. Shastri

Another verse mentioned in Garuda Purana translated by Ernest and Subrahmanyam shows how a widow repented,

Garuda Purana 2.40 ”Not knowing my duty I did not serve my husband, nor after his death enter the fire. Having become widowed I performed no austerities;–O Dweller in the Body, make reparation for whatever you have done!” Tr. Ernest Wood and S.V Subrahmanyam, Edited by B.D. Basu.

Garuda Purana 10.42 ”When a woman burns her body with her husband’s, the fire burns her limbs only, but does not afflict her soul” Tr. Ernest Wood and S.V Subrahmanyam, Edited by B.D. Basu.

Garuda Purana 10.45-46 ”Likewise she who has joined her husband is never burnt. her inner soul becomes unified with that of her husband, by death. The woman who does not burn herself in the fire, on her husband’s death, is certainly never released from feminine bodies.” Tr. Ernest Wood and S.V. Subrahmanyam, Edited by B.D. Basu

Garuda Purana 10.48 ”The Woman who ascends the funeral pyre, when her husband is dead, becomes equal to Arundhati, and attains the heaven. [50] She who goes with her husband purifies three families her mother’s, her father’s, and that into which she was given.” Tr. Ernest Wood and S.V. Subrahmanyam, Edited by B.D. Basu

Brahma Purana 10.75 ”Dying Immediately after the husband is the greatest duty of women. This is the path laid down in the Vedas. [77] The woman who follows her husband shall stay in heaven for as many years as there are hairs in a man’s body, viz. three and a half crores of years.” Tr. Board of Scholars, Edited by J.L. Shastri

Brahmanda Purana 2.3.30.39 ”By entering this burning pyre, I will be slightly after a long time, the dear guest of my husband in the world of the Pitrs (Manes)[41] After saying these words with firm decision, Renuka decided to follow her husband by entering the fire.” Tr. Ganesh Vasudeo Tagare

Padma Purana V.106.60 ”Having raised her, Narada said to the pure one about her dead (husband): ”O innocent one of large eyes, please go to your husband. O you of large eyes, your husband, abandoned by his kinsmen, is dead. O auspicious one, you should not weep. Enter fire (i.e. funeral pyre of your husband).”[65-68] If you will go to (i.e. desire to enter) fire there, then do not weep . O daughter, if you have committed a sin like enjoying another man (than your husband) then make an expiation to purify that. On entering into the fire your minor sins will perish.” Tr. N.A. Deshpande

Padma Purana VI.252.89-90 ”Rukmaputri with Pradyumna, Usa with Aniruddha and all Yadava ladies honoured the bodies of their husbands and entered fire.” Tr. N.A. Deshpande

Skanda Purana III.i.12.115-116 ”Ere long thereafter, King Manojava abandoned his body and went to the world of Siva, due to the power of that Tirtha. O Brahmanas, his wife Sumitra embraced his body then and ascended his funeral pyre. She too attained the same world.” Tr. G.V. Tagare

Skanda Purana V.i.53.38-41 ”…The beautiful woman gathered fuel and twigs together and kindled the funeral pyre which she ascended along with her husband. She was mentally pleased in doing so…” Tr. G.V. Tagare

IN SMRITIS

Parasara Smriti 4.28 ”A widow, who immolates herself on the same funeral pile with her deceased husband, resides in heaven for ten millions of years, which is the number of hairs on the human body.” Tr. M.N. Dutt

Vishnu Smriti 25.14 ”After the death of her husband, to preserve her chastity, or to ascend the pile after him.” Tr. Various Oriental Scholars

Daksa Smrti 4.18-19 A sati who dies on the funeral pyre of her husband enjoys an eternal bliss in heaven

Vijnanesvara writes in Mitakshara on Yajnavalkya Smriti verse 88

‘’Moreover, though ”deprived of her husband,” or bereft of her husband, she should not be without her father, &c, Because, being without their protection, she ”becomes infamous,” becomes blameworthy. This is (the rule, in case the widow wishes to pass her life) as a Brahmachari or celebate. Because it is ordained in the Vishnu Smriti (Ch. XXXV. 14):- ”After the death of her husband (the widow should adopt one of these two courses) either to preserve her chastity (Brahmacharya) or to ascend the pile after him.” There is great virtue in Anvarohana (or self-immolation along with the deceased husband.)

Vyasa has shown the same thing, in the form of the parable of the she-pigeon:- ”Devoted to her husband, she entered the raging fire, and thereafter she obtained her (dead) lord who was adorned with a variegated bracelet. Then afterwards the bird went in company with his wife to heaven, and enjoyed it with her being honored with all acts (of service.)”

IN VEDAS

Rig Veda 10.18.7 Let these unwidowed dames with noble husbands adorn themselves with fragrant balm and unguent. Decked with fair jewels, tearless, free from sorrow, first let the dames go up to where he lieth.

Atharva Veda 18.3.1 Choosing her husband’s world, O man, this woman lays herself down beside thy lifeless body.

Rig Veda 10.18.8 is often quoted to show prohibition of Sati but this verse is quoted out of context.

Rig Veda 10.18.8 Rise, woman, (and go) to the world of living beings : come, this man near whom thou sleepest is lifeless: beget children from this appointed husband [through Niyoga], the suitor who took thee by the hand.

[This verse is translated into English from Hindi Bhashya]

The commentary states,

“When a woman capable of conceiving a child becomes widow then she may contract Niyoga with the appointed Husband to beget children” Arya Samaj commentary on the Rig Vedic verse 10.18.8, page 512[Source: http://aryasamajjamnagar.org/rugveda_v5/pages/p512.gif ]

The Rigved 10.18.8 verse is spoken by the Husband’s Brother. So when the husband dies leaving behind wife and no children then the wife should contract Niyoga with her brother in law or Brahmin, in simple words the widow becomes an object of lust and child production factory. But without any hesitation some people use this verse out of context to show widow remarriage. Hindu scripture prohibits remarriage of widows. Maharishi Manu also writes,

Manu Smriti 9.65 In the sacred texts which refer to marriage the appointment (of widows) is nowhere mentioned, nor is the remarriage of widows prescribed in the rules concerning marriage.

Source: https://truthabouthinduism.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/sati-pratha-the-burning-of-widows/

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