Suttee (or sati) is a Hindu custom of burning of a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre. The origin of the practice has remained obscure and controversial. Even the scriptural sanction of the practice is contested. However, its mention or instantiation in some religious scriptures seems to have assisted in amplification and expansion of the practice. The growth of suttee was very rapid in Kashmir as compared to other parts of India during the period 700-1100 A.D. Kalhana in his chronicle Rajatarangini which is the major source of information for this period in Kashmir has mentioned numerous cases of sati. This paper aims at examining the historicity of suttee in pre-Sultanate Kashmir by putting in use the sources available. Whether the practice was volitional in nature? How much deep-rooted it was in the society? Which sections of the society had either followed or repulsed it? This paper attempts to answer these questions and also sheds light on the social significance of the practice.
Cite this article:
Umar Mushtaq Parry. The Burning of Widows: A Historical Analysis of Suttee in Pre-Sultanate Kashmir. Research Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences. 2023;14(1)37-0. doi: 10.52711/2321-5828.2023.00007
Umar Mushtaq Parry. The Burning of Widows: A Historical Analysis of Suttee in Pre-Sultanate Kashmir. Research Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences. 2023;14(1)37-0. doi: 10.52711/2321-5828.2023.00007 Available on: https://www.rjhssonline.com/AbstractView.aspx?PID=2023-14-1-7
1. The term suttee is referred to the practice or rite of widow burning. The word sati means a good woman, a devoted/true wife or a widow who burns herself on a funeral pyre. (These terms in this paper are put in use in accordance with the given meanings).
2. Arvind Sharma, Sati: Historical and Phenomenological Essays (Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass, 1988) 39. V. N. Datta, Sati: A Historical, Social and Philosophical Enquiry into the Hindu Rite of Widow Burning (New Delhi, Manohar Publications, 1988) 1. In Hindu usage the former is referred to as sahamarana and the later as anumarana.
3. Op. cit., Sharma, pp.31-2.
4. S. Altekar, The Position of Women in Hindu Civilisation, (Benaras Hindu University: The Culture Publication House, 1938) 137-42. For detailed information about the Rig Veda, Atharvaveda, and the epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana regarding the custom of sati.
5. Ibid., p.142.
6. Ibid., pp.142-3, 151. Op. cit., Sharma, pp.31-2.
7. Ibid., p.33.
8. Ibid., pp.31-32. Op. cit., Altekar, pp.140, 143-5, 148.
9. Dwarka Nath Mitter, A Thesis on The Position of Women in Hindu Law, (West Bengal: Visva Bharati Library, Santiniketan) 357-58.
10. Op. cit., Altekar, pp.139, 142-43, 159-50.
11. Devika Rangachari, Invisible Women, Visible Histories: Gender, Society and Polity in North India, (New-Delhi: Manohar, 2009) 159.
12. Op. cit. Altekar, p.149.
13. Ved Kumari, The Nilmata Purana, Vol. II., (Srinagar-Jammu: J & K. Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, 1968) 71.
14. J. C. Dutt, tr., The Rajatarangini of Jonaraja, (The Kings of Kashmira-2nd series) (Delhi, Gian Publishing House, 1986).
15. J. C. Dutt, tr., Srivara’s Rajatarangini, (3rd series), p.143.
16. G. M. D. Sufi, Kashir: Being A History of Kashmir (Vol.I), (Lahore: University of Punjab, 1948) 93-4, 146. Muhibbul Hasan, Kashmir Under the Sultans, (Calcutta: Iran Society, 1959) 65.
17. Dutt, Srivara’s Rajatarangini, (3rd series), p.143. Op. cit. Sufi, p.262.
18. M. A. Stein, tr., Kalhana’s Rajatarangini (Vol.I), (Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass, 1979) p. 60, v.56. The place where queen Vakpusta performed suttee came to be known as Vakpustatavi, on her name. where this place situates now is uncertain.
19. Ibid., p.28, v.152.
20. Ibid., p.217, vv.226-27.
21. Ibid., p.306, vv.478, 481. Names of all the servants has also been given by Kalhana.
22. Ibid., p.377, v.1380.
23. Ibid., (Vol.II), p.37, v.448.
24. Ibid., p.97, vv.1223-24.
25. Ibid., (Vol.I), pp.157, 275. (Vol.II), p.37.
26. C. H. Tawney, tr., The Ocean of the Streams of Story (Vol. I & II), of Somadeva’s, Kathasaritsagar, (Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal with Asiatic Society, Calcutta, 1880) 13, 299.
27. Op. cit., Stein, Vol.II, p.37, v.447.
28. See the same references as given in footnote 17.
29. Op. cit., Stein, Vol.I, p.128, v.98.
30. Op. cit., Tawney, Vol.I, p.244, Vol.II, p.195.
31. Op. cit. Sharma, p.29.
32. Op. cit., Stein, vol.II, p.180, v.2334.
33. Op. cit. Sharma, p.39. The case of Kosthaka’s wife resembles that of the queen Yashomati’s (king Harsha’s mother). Sharma has called its kind as a rare form of sati.
34. P. N. K. Bamzai, Culture and Political History of Kashmir, Vol.I, (New-Delhi: M. D. Publications, 1994) 208.
35. Op. cit., Stein, vol.II, p.180, v.2338.
36. Ibid., Vol.I, pp.382-83.
37. Ibid., Vol.I, p.325, vv.724-27.
38. Ibid., Vol.II, p.31, vv.363-64.
39. R. S. Pandit, tr., Rajatarangini (The Saga of the Kings of Kashmir), (New-Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1935) 246. For role of ministers see footnotes also.
40. Op. cit., Mitter, p.356. Op. cit., Datta, p.5.
41. Op. cit., Pandit, pp.409, 333. See footnotes.
42. Op. cit., Stein, Vol.I, p.229.
43. Ibid., p.231.
44. Op. cit., Rangachari, p.159.
45. Edward C. Sachau, tr., Alberuni’s India, (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1910) 155.
46. Ibid., p.155. Op. cit., Altekar, p.159. Op. cit., Datta, p.208.
47. P. N. Bazaz, Daughters of the Vitasta, (New Delhi: Pamposh Publications, 1959) 11.
48. Op. cit., Stein, Vol.I, pp.334-35.
49. Ibid., p.219.
50. Ibid., pp.389-90.