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Sati System: The Practice of Widow Burning with Dead Husband

Sati system can be described as the religious Hindu practice of a widow burning herself alive with her dead husband on funeral pyre. It’s commonly known as an act of “dying together".

Sati system can be described as the religious Hindu practice of a widow burning herself alive with her dead husband on funeral pyre. The widow who performs this act is called “sati” which means “true”.

The practice is rare nowadays as it was outlawed in India by British in 1829.  

Sati system: A voluntary act

In Hinduism dead are put on fire and not buried. Burning usually took place within a day of the death. Widow burning also occurs at the same time. A widow has to decide within this time if she wishes to be a sati or not.

If husband dies at distant, sati performed at later date. Widow burning occurs on self made pyre.

Religious beliefs behind widow burning 

According to Hindu scriptures, it’s a right thing to do for a widow to go through the sati system. If she volunteers to do so, then:

It will wash away all accumulated sins of the couple.

They will have a reunion and happy afterlife.

They will reside in heaven.

It’s believed that the widow who commit sati bring blessings for her family for next seven generations.

Sati honored 

Going through sati system is considered as a greatly honored act. It demonstrates incomparable courage, love and devotion. Sati was treated as heroic woman and her family members respected everywhere.

Temples, religious shrine and sati stones were built to honor sati.

Sati system: Widow burning 

Sati rituals were performed in front of handsome gathering that includes widow’s in-law relatives and other people who cheer this practice.

Widow dressed in her marriage robes escorted to the funeral pyre and was seated or laid down with her dead husband. Rituals were performed and then pyre set on fire.

Image via Wikipedia

In some cases widow was brought near the burning pyre and she jumps into the blaze.

On rare occasions widow seated herself besides dead on the funeral pyre and lighting the pyre by herself.

Sati by burial 

In same communities they don’t burn the dead. They bury. Widow buried alive with her husband has the same effect of sati as widow burning.

Forced widow burning 

Sati system is said to be voluntary but on numerous accounts widows were forced. Often they were found unruffled under the influence of drugs like bhang or opium.

They were tightly fastened to the corpse with cords and effective measures were taken to prevent any attempt to rise or run when pyre set on fire.

Enforced widowhood 

Some harsh regulations were set-up for a widow who doesn’t consent for sati system. All efforts were to make her life as miserable as possible.

She was not allowed to re-marry. She has to wear white or plain sari all the time and was deprived of the use of ornaments.

She was considered inauspicious and barred from participating in any marriage or similar ceremonies. She can’t have food with other family members.

At places it is customary to have the widow’s head shaved off as part of degrading.

Though sati was voluntary but much pressure was induced on widow to go for it. It’s strange to think that a widow not yet out of her grief was put under such barbaric acts.

Symbolic sati 

In some communities widow burning not desired. They perform sati system just as a symbol to follow the scriptures. Widow was laid down to her dead husband and ceremony is completed. Just before fire widow was moved from the place.

Other believes 

The Greeks believed that sati system was introduced to discourage wives from poisoning their wealthy husbands and marry their lovers.  

Another theory was that of endogamy. Sati, enforced widowhood and girl marriages were needed in a caste to maintain a balance of men and women.

Sati still practiced 

In spite of so many laws against sati system it’s still practiced on rare occasions in some rural areas. Last known account occurred on October 11, 2008 in Raipur district of India.

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User Comments
  1. Dora77

    On February 4, 2012 at 8:22 pm


    zulfikar,

    this is just terrible act of human sacrifice.
    how cruel?
    thanks for sharing.

  2. erwinkennythomas

    On February 5, 2012 at 9:25 am


    terrifying

  3. avissado

    On February 6, 2012 at 10:30 am


    if they had a similar thing for the widower, it would still be horrible but fair…

  4. Linvio

    On February 7, 2012 at 5:36 am


    Oh… Glad to have learned this information… I never thought such ’system’ existed… thanks again.

  5. sheilanewton

    On February 7, 2012 at 7:07 pm


    OMG – this is fascinating and horrifying all at the same time.
    A great and shuddery story told so well.

  6. nita kusuma dewi

    On February 8, 2012 at 9:47 pm


    nice article

  7. dodolbete

    On February 17, 2012 at 6:32 pm


    It reminds me of one of the wayang’s story… about Sinta, Rama & Rahwana… our culture is pretty much influenced by Hindu’s too

  8. Safa

    On March 20, 2012 at 10:53 am


    So terrifying…Such a horrible act

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