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A brief historical background of Sati tradition in India
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CitationShamsuddin, M. (2020). A brief historical background of Sati tradition in India, Din ve Felsefe Araştırmaları, 3(5), 44-63.
Hinduism, being the oldest religion has many sacraments in it. Sati (also known as suttee); burning a woman alive with her husband's dead body is the most influential and controversial sacrament. A woman dies alongside her husband because she believes it as her duty. When and how sati originated is a controversial topic among scholars because of conflicting data about it. However, Hindus regard it as a sacred tradition because many religious texts of Hindus have either directly or indirectly mentioned Sati practice and its afterlife benefits. Some scholars believe that the first person to burn herself was Goddess Sati. The word sati is derived from the name of the Goddess Sati since she was the first person to immolate herself. Mass suicide known as Jauhar is an another form of Sati, it was performed by Rajput Hindu women at the end of the battle to prevent themselves from falling in the hands of the enemy. In some Indian kingdoms when a king died his court officers and his servants accompanied him to his death. This tradition has been followed since ancient times in India. Sati is considered as a dignified sacrifice, a glory and a way to clean the sins of the spouse and his family but some consider it as a private matter of spouses who follow his/her loved one into death and with time it became public and society being a male dominant restricted it only to a woman. Globetrotters such as Al Biruni (973-1048 CE), and Ibn Battuta (b. 1304 CE) and many others who travelled to India have mentioned in their travel books about sati being performed openly and publicly. Some scholars claim that sati is an obligatory duty of a woman and she has to die alongside her husband’s body to ensure that all the sins of them and their family are cleaned and to prevent from bringing disgrace to herself and her family. Sometimes when women denied to perform sati many people forced her to immolate herself and many even tried to forcefully throw her into the fire. But many other scholars say otherwise that the sati is an optional and a voluntary act and not a compulsory one. They believe that a Hindu widow is given some time to think about sati whether she wants to die alongside her husband’s body or continue with her life. Sati became common after the 13th century in India it was because of the religious texts of Hindus such as Puranas, Mahabharata which talks about sati. Some religious texts of Hindus talk about sati in a clear way but some don’t. In Indian history, some Hindu scholars and poets have condemned the sati tradition. The first one who tried to put a stop to this inhumanly tradition were Muslims rulers of India namely Mughals and Nizmas. But when the Muslim rulers tried to end this tradition they were criticized by many people and the attempts made by them were proven unsuccessful. However, in the 19th century, during the British rule in India, Sati was abolished by the governor of India at that time, William Bentick. Practicing Sati was continued despite being banned and prohibited time and again by Muslim rulers, Britishers who invaded India and the Indian constitution and Indian law. Some women still practice sati in some rural and remote places in India. This is because many Hindu women consider fire as a sacred thing and Sati as their duty. Their religious texts promise them an afterlife in haven with their husbands. Thus, they continue practicing Sati, believing that fire will not harm them, and they will be with their husband’s even after death. Many people idolize and deify the woman who performs sati. The people and the family member of the dead construct a temple of the woman who performed sati. Many studies states that religious beliefs, social pressure and lack of education plays a big role in this barbaric tradition. Today in India almost every Indian citizen believe that sati is not a religious tradition even if it is mentioned in their sacred texts and they interpret those texts differently in a more moral and human way. This paper will focus on the historical background of the Sati tradition.