Ask the Swami: Matters of Life and Death

Funeral customs, illness rituals, the history of the sati (self-immolation) rite, and more.


09/16/2002 10:17:12 PM

Dear Mr. Sharma, We are approaching the issue from different frames of reference. Hinduism, Christianity, etc are socio-religions with abusive pasts. Along with Sati can be found many other abuses linked to Hinduism such as caste discrimination (brahmanism), animal sacrifice (Kali worship), murder (Thugis)and so many absurd religious wars. Religion and Spirituality are not the same. Religious interpretation and dogma can be applied in very damaging ways. Religion at best leads to true spirituality which is non-sectarian and illuminating. At worst religion can leads to abuse of power, and ignorance. Like other socio-religions what is known as Hinduism is simply a point in eternal time. The word Hindu is not found in any vedic scriptures. Hinduism has its good and bad points. Everything that has been or is now promoted as part of Hinduism is not good and holy. BDas


08/25/2002 10:11:37 AM

Sati is very heinous, sadistic crime against women. Anyone to state that it has do anything with Hindu scriptures and Hindu doctrines, is doing a great disservice to Hinduism. It also add fuel to the fire, to those who are see Hinduism, nothing but a pagan religion. Let us look at the facts as recorded in the history. None of the Hindu law givers , Manu, Yatnyavalkya, Gautama have discussed Sati. Four Vedas do not mention Sati. None of the six Dharshanas discusses about Sati None of the 108 Upanishads discuss about Sati. Neither Ramayana nor Mahabharata has nothing to do with Sati. Reading into episodes in the Epics acts of Sati is a very dangerous route to take. In the interest of well being of our culture, we have to keep away connecting Sati to Hinduism.


08/25/2002 08:39:48 AM

Mr.Bdas --First you wrote more than 5 posts to prove that SATI is a part of Hinduism. Now you are trying to potray an isolated incident of woman like Madri committing sucide, after she felt she caused the untimely death of her her husband Pandu, to be Sati. If the same thing happened else where in the world, you would not call that an act to be Sati. You would have called it a mere suicide of a lost woman. Then you are stating that Kunthi did not die because she has to take care of children. Unfortunately, You have no answer to why Sathayvathi or Ambika or Ambhalika or hundreds of wives of fallen Kauravas did not commit Sati in Mahabaharata. It is very difficult to debate with you, since you are unluckilly bend on proving Sati is part of Hindusim. Mr. Bdas with out any specific knowledge of Sati, you are using a magnifying glass and to check how far some of our ancient episodes and concepts are relevant to Sati.


08/25/2002 08:38:42 AM

It is is erroneous and fallacious to state sati is a "part of warp and woof of Hinduism." Madri's sucide is a mere suicide. Madri's suicide cannot be construed as illustrative or representative of any compliance with any Vedic injunction.


08/25/2002 08:37:45 AM

Now look at the Code of Manu, ManuSmriti, one of the most conservative codes in Hinduism. Manusmriti, is explicit when it says that the Hindu woman has to live under the benign care of her father when a maiden, of her husband when married, and of her sons when she is a widow. No where Manu wrote a woman should commit Sati after the death of her husband. Mr.Das please investigate in detail before you write.


08/23/2002 10:02:34 AM

I am not trying to justify Sati from the scriptural viewpoint or otherwise. Personally I don‚t think it can be justified by scriptural quotes. What I was responding to concerned the historical origin of the Sati Rite. Hindu scholars, historians and religionists have for hundreds of years been pointing to the Puranic story of Sati and Daksa as the origin of the rite as it relates to Hinduism. Hence the name Sati Rite. Mr. ED boldly proclaimed 100% otherwise as if he could actually prove his contention. No one can prove whether or not the rite started in India or somewhere else but as it relates to the Hindu religion many if not most scholars attribute it to the Puranic story. Their guess is 100% as good as any made by Mr. ED. / BDas And according to the Mahabharata the reason Kunti did not commit Sati is that she was left to take care of the children. (The five Pandavas)


08/22/2002 06:16:09 PM

Mr. BDas I do not think you have read what Mr. Viswanathan wrote in its entirety. I read what he wrote few times and I came to the following conclusions. Mr. Viswanathan is asking every one "to quote specific verses from our scriptures" to prove Sati was practiced as a ritual by all Hindus and Sati is an integral part of Hinduism, rather than "he said" and "she said" statements.


08/22/2002 06:14:12 PM

Only thing you have done is to quote this and that authors. You have not quoted even one verse from any of our 4 Vedas, or 108 Upanishads or two Ethihasas, or 18 Puranas, Puranas that been regarded by Hindu saints as the most important. Not from any of the minor Purans. Don't you think being Judgmental with out quoting verses is not the right way. I am a professor and I come from Tamil Nadu. I have not read any where Sati is practiced in Tamil Nadu. During my childhood I studied Vedas and Agamas and nowhere I have come across anything about this very .


08/22/2002 06:10:27 PM

If queen Madri's suicide in epic Mahabharata can be considered as part of Sati ritual, then according to very same logic, queen Kunthi also should have been committed Sati. It did not happen. In Mahabharata, sage Veda Vyasa did not write any where that queen Kunti should have killed herself after the demise of her husband. When King Santhanu died Queen Sathayvathi did not commit Sati in Mahabharata; When Prince Chitrangada died his wife princess Ambika did not commit Sati in Mahabharata; When Prince Vichitravirya died Princess Ambalika did not commit Sati in Mahabharata; When prince Duryodhana was killed, his wife did not commit Sati in Mahabharata; When guru Dronacharya was killed, his wife did not commit Sati in Mahabhrata. So to conclude that queen Madri's suicide is Sati, is a very false erroneous generalization of things. May be we should ask Dr. Kamat why he wrote Madri's suicide is Sati.


08/22/2002 06:07:23 PM

In Ramayana, when demon king Ravana died his wife Mandhodiri did not commit Sati. In Ramayana, when King Dasaratha died his three wives Kausalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra did not commit Sati. After all Sati was the last thing on Kaikeyi's mind. She was getting ready to see prince Bharata to become the king. So both epics have nothing to do with Sati. Mr. BDas, you are a learned man. So how could you show blind eyes to many episodes in both epics. How could you blindly follow what Dr. Kamat wrote?? Mr. BDas already westerners are putting down Hinduism, in the name of Suttee. I cannot understand why you want to join them?


08/19/2002 12:20:48 PM

cont'd - 5 - The Swami also clearly stated that what later became known as Sati was nothing like what happened in that Puranic story. He also stated that women who were then known as Sati's were honored in ancient Hindu society. (This is a well know fact as evidenced by the numerous existent Sati temples.) Then he stated that Sati has been illegal in India for 173 years and "that this practice is only abused today by a very few ignorant people." We understand Mr. Ed is entitled to his opinion but a scholar who boldly asserts that another scholar is 100% wrong on this or any issue related to the historicity of Hinduism should first look for an absolute consensus on which to base his assertion. Everyone knows that no such consciences exists in what is presently known as Hinduism. Rather than being considered objective, any Hindu scholar who makes such a statement runs the risk of being considered if not 100% fanatic, at last 50% uninformed. /BDas


08/19/2002 12:20:24 PM

cont'd - 4 - ED's theory is also based on the idea of an Aryan invasion, a theory started and promoted by the British which is widely disputed by Hindu scholars. ED also states that the Rajputs were monogamous but if you visit Jaipur Palace or the Amber Fort any guide will show you the elaborate queens quarters and tell you that the Rajput kings and royalty had harems sometimes consisting of hundreds of wives All this goes to show that Mr. ED's opinions on the issue are not as universally accepted as he would like us to believe. In his answer the Swami simply restated the widespread belief that the origin of what became known as the Sati rite in Hinduism is found in the Puranic story of Sati and Daksa.


08/19/2002 12:17:49 PM

cont'd - 3 - ED also claims that there was never a recorded case of Sati in South India but here the famed Dr. Ambedkar cites historical evidence that Sati was present in the south as well. "Not only it was practiced in North, West and Central India, the examples of Inscriptions from Epigraphica Carnataka show that the custom existed in South India also. Anumarana was practiced after deaths of various kings like - in 1130 A.D. Kadamba King Tailapa, Ganga King Nitimarga, and Satyavakya Kongunivarman Lord of Nandagiri, both of whom lived in 915 A.D., in 1220 A.D. King Ballala, and in 1180 King Bammarasa."


08/19/2002 12:12:48 PM

While Mr. ED theorizes that there is no basis for Sati in Hindu scripture Dr. Kamat writes: "The Mahasati (the great Sati) or the Sahagamana (joint departure) system of a cremating the woman alive on the death of her husband is an ancient custom in India. Scholars of the Puranas trace the origins to the suicide of Satidevi in the Yajnakunda (sacrificial fireplace) of Lord Brahma , while a few attribute it to the pre-caste Vedic system of Indian society. In the Indian mythology of the Mahabharat,, there is the instance of Madri dying on the funeral pyre of husband Pandu, leaving the children to the care of the first wife Kunti" But according to Mr. ED the Sati rite cannot be found in the Mahabharata even though anyone can look at chapter 13 of Kamala Subramaniam's acclaimed edition published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and find the story of Madri ascending the funeral pyre of her dead husband Pandu.


08/19/2002 12:11:04 PM

Mr. ED authoritatively claims that about the Sati rite "Swami B.V. Tripurari is 100% wrong." I am surprised that an author of a book on Hinduism would so boldly assert that any academic opinion relating to Hinduism is 100% wrong. The question that comes to my mind is who is he to make this judgment. Even in his own writings he admits there is no absolute consensus on topics related to Hindu history and theory. This is certainly true regarding opinions on the origin of the Sati rite. While this author promotes his particular theory regarding the origin of Sati countless Hindu religious figures and scholars promote something entirely different. In "The Origins of the Sati System", Dr. Jyotsna Kamat writes: Scholars differ on the origins of Sati. Some have dated the origins to the period of the Vedas: (apprx. 5500 years ago), and a few others have attributed the system to the origins of the caste system (apprx. 1st century A.D.)."


08/10/2002 02:47:37 PM

What is Sati? It is the most horrendous act of widows killing themselves jumping into the funeral pyre of their dead husbands, sometimes willfully and sometimes forcefully by others. Amazingly, there is not even one reported incident of Sati any where in South India. Even in North India it might have been practiced by less than 1/% of the population during the hay days of Sati. Of course copy cats are every where and once in a while you are bound to hear an incident of Sati reported in the media. To say Sati is part of Hinduism is exactly like saying Salem witch hunt and Spanish's eradication of Mayans has to do with the immortal teachings of Jesus Christ. There is not even one scriptural statement in thousands of Hindu scriptures concerning Sati. On the contrary, according to "the funeral hymns in the Rig Veda" , there is a ceremony of widow sleeping next to the corpse of the dead husband and then being allowed to marry anyone she pleases.


08/10/2002 02:44:30 PM

Many have a false notion that Goddess Sati has something to do with the act of Sati. Goddess Sati is the last daughter of Yaksha Prajapathi [one of the sons of Lord Brahma actually born from the thumb of Lord Brahman.] She married Lord Siva against the objections of her father. Later when her father king Daksha conducted a religious cermony [yaga] Yaksha invited his 99 daughters and their husbands, Except Goddess Sati & her husband Lord Siva. Goddess Sati wanted to attend the function one way or another. Lord Siva objected that. Still goddess went to Yaksha's palace. King Yaksha refused to even recognize her. Yaksha ill-treated his 100th daughter in front of everyone. Sati felt humiliated. By her powers, She created a fire and self-immolated to ashes. That is the story of the Goddess Sati. GODDESS SATI'S SELF IMMOLATION HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH SUTEE OR SATI.


08/10/2002 02:44:17 PM

Now let us search through some of the Hindu mythologies. In the major PURANAS [ 18 of them ] and two EPICS [ RAMAYANA & MAHABHARATA ] one will not see any act of SUTEE . In the epic Ramayana, after Lord Rama's father king Dasaratha died, none of his three wives practiced Sati. In Ramayana, when the monkey-king Bali died, his wife Tara married his brother Sugreeva. When the demon king Ravana got killed, his wife Mandhodhiri did not kill herself.


08/10/2002 02:43:12 PM

There is not even one act of SATI in the whole epic poem of Mahabharata [220,000 verses] where thousands of men got killed in the bloody Mahabharata war. The act of 16000 wives of Lord Krishna, killing themselves after the demise of Lord Krishna, has nothing to do with Sutee. All of them were devatas [celestial beings ] who came for the exclusive purpose of assisting Lord Krishna to get rid of demons like Kamsa, Sisuspala, Duryodhana, Jarasandha etc. They left their bodies as soon as Lord Krishna left his EARTHLY BODY and went back to Vaikunta. So too Krishna's brother Balarama, who is actully Anatha - the 1000 headed Serpent bed of Lord Vishnu.


08/10/2002 02:42:37 PM

Queen Madri's suicide [ King Pandu's second wife in the epic Mahabharata ] has nothing to do with Sutee. According to the epic of Mahabharata [ the longest poem in the world ], King Pandu had two wives. The first was Kunti [ Pritha ] and second was Madri. Once king Pandu was hunting in the forest along with Madri and he saw two antelopes mating. Pandu with an arrow shot the male. Little Pandu knew that those antelopes were actually a saint and his wife. The dying male transformed himself to a saint [ RISHI ] and cursed Pandu slaying him during mating and cursed, " YOU, PANDU WILL DIE JUST LIKE ME IF YOU MAKE LOVE TO YOUR WIFE AGAIN" From that time onwards, King Pandu lived like a celibate [ Bramachari].


08/10/2002 02:41:03 PM

FROM WHERE PRACTICE OF SUTEE COME ? According to Hindu theologians sacrifices similar to Sati was prevalent among some Greek tribes, Germans and Slavs. Many believe that Sati came to India, when Kushans, a central Asian tribe attacked India in 1 A.D. As far as I know, Sati was never practiced in South India. You may still hear occasional reports of Sati, that are "copy-cats" trying to imitate an ancient condemned ritual for their own personal material needs.


08/10/2002 02:39:25 PM

WHO PRACTICED SUTEE IN INDIA? As far as I can find out, It was RAJPUTS an extremely monogamous warrior tribe who were descendants of KUSHANS, who practiced SUTEE. WHY DID THEY PRACTICE? Rajputs were in constant wars among themselves and also were in war with Moslems. So there were thousands of young widows and Rajputs feared that it is dangerous to have thousands of young, extremely beautiful widows running around in a very rigid monogamous society and they went to the extreme measure of eliminating them. MOSLEMS, who constantly were in war since Prophet Muhammad started the religion, were also in the same plight and to took care of the problem of young widows running around the country, by allowing polygamy, in fact FOUR MARRIAGES. That code of allowing men to marry four wives at the same time, is part of the Koran. Unluckily, Hindu codes did not address that issue. So, Rajputs took an easy route of disposing very attractive very young widows.


08/10/2002 02:37:53 PM

WHAT HAPPENED TO SUTEE? In 1829, British government in India, outlawed SUTEE as a criminal offense. Sutee was never ever practiced in South India. Copycats appear now and then, but believe me vast majority of people have nothing to do with Sutee.


08/10/2002 02:15:07 PM

Swami B.V. Tripurari is 100% wrong in writing-- "The sati tradition has its origins in the Puranic history. Sati refers to the chaste (sati) wife of Lord Shiva, who is said to have destroyed her own body in mystic fire." I am shocked by that answer. I wish he will elaborate, quoting actula verses from Hindu scriptures, what made him to come to this concluison.


08/10/2002 02:14:46 PM

Many have a false notion that Goddess Sati has something to do with the act of Sati. Goddess Sati is the last daughter of Yaksha Prajapathi [one of the sons of Lord Brahma actually born from the thumb of Lord Brahman.] She married Lord Siva against the objections of her father. Later when her father king Daksha conducted a religious cermony [yaga] Yaksha invited his 99 daughters and their husbands, Except Goddess Sati & her husband Lord Siva. Goddess Sati wanted to attend the function one way or another. Lord Siva objected that. Still goddess went to Yaksha's palace. King Yaksha refused to even recognize her. Yaksha ill-treated his 100th daughter in front of everyone. Sati felt humiliated. By her powers, She created a fire and self-immolated to ashes. That is the story of the Goddess Sati.


08/10/2002 02:13:40 PM

GODDESS SATI'S SELF IMMOLATION HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH SUTEE OR SATI. She left her body because she was humiliated by her father. Sati is normally committed after the death of husband. In this case, Siva did not die. So call self immolation of goddess Sati as Sati is erroneous


08/06/2002 12:54:24 AM

I just checked out your link, Manyana, and was appalled by the sort of things that are presented as 'facts' on Hindu women. Take my advice and try using a little more discernment when surfing the net.


08/06/2002 12:41:55 AM

Cont. This practice really cannot be blamed on the Muslims. I also totally agree with Aisha Noor. We need to stop comparing who is more oppressed in which religion and instead, as she said, “work together to foster respect for women's dignity and human rights”—and I'm happy to say that sati, at least, is virtually unheard of in this day and age.


08/06/2002 12:40:55 AM

Cont. “The Rajputs of Rajasthan [in Northwest India] are a warrior race; the word Rajput means ‘son of a king,’ and most of the clans of the community trace their ancestry to the nobles and the high military officers of the various invaders [Scythians and Huns, it is most commonly held] who came into North India and established kingdoms or fiefs in the early centuries of the Christian era. Not surprisingly, the military virtues of fearlessness and valour came to be highly valued; in addition, honour had always been an overriding concept. A glorious death was to be welcomed—for the men in battle, and for the women in a fiery end through the rites of jauhar or sati. If death rather than defeat and dishonour was the motto for the men, death rather than disgrace and dishonour through ravishment was its equivalent for the women.” Sakuntala Narasimhan, Sati: A Study of Widow Burning in India


08/06/2002 12:38:16 AM

Depalika, I also want to highlight a major fact for sati becoming important in the hindu society from the 15th century was to do with the muslim invasion of India. Let’s nip this in the bud right now, shall we? I think you are referring to jauhar. “The word jauhar is derived from jatugriha, meaning a house made of lac or other combustible material. To protect their honour and avoid the possibility of molestation and rape by invaders [who were typically though not always Muslim], the wives of Rajput warriors often chose jauhar and leapt into the fire when defeat for their men seemed imminent …"


08/06/2002 12:01:23 AM

Manyana, I think you will agree with me that it would be very wrong to generalize the misogynistic practice of female genital mutilation to all Muslims, based on its occurrence in certain Muslim societies, or to assume that the custom is endorsed by al-Quran, again simply based on its incidence in some Muslim societies. The same can be said of sati and Hinduism. Please don’t contribute to further ignorance by making any more unfounded generalizations.


08/06/2002 12:00:28 AM

However, I don't think I have the right to disrespect other peoples religion, Tix, I really appreciate your open-mindedness :) but I should also tell you that the vast majority of Hindus themselves condemn the practice in no uncertain terms and dismiss utterly the idea that widow immolation is integral to their religious beliefs.


08/05/2002 11:58:04 PM

Cont. The one thing I need to make clear is that the Vedas themselves (the only Hindu scriptures to be considered authoritative, and even there, Hindus’ relationship with the Vedas is quite different from Muslims’ relationship with the Quran or Christians’ relationship with the Bible) do not require or even refer to the custom, although other funeral procedures are described in detail. Widow remarriage, on the other hand, is mentioned. The subject is complicated but if anyone is interested, I invite them to ask questions on the Hindu board and I will be happy to discuss what I know.


08/05/2002 11:56:31 PM

Cont. In India, sati was actually never as widespread as is popularly perceived. Its incidence varied dramatically from one region to the next (primarily in Rajasthan and Bengal), from one caste to the next (primarily the warrior caste and, later, the priestly caste as well), and also from one time period to the next. It does not seem to have been practiced at all in Vedic society, for example. Textual and archaeological evidence suggests that the custom began to pick up in the early feudal period (c. 6th and 7th centuries AD) due to a variety of factors, which tended to be more socio-economic than strictly spiritual.


08/05/2002 11:55:10 PM

Cont. “In ancient China, even favourite courtiers were expected to affirm their loyalty to the deceased emperor through suicide; and wives who committed suicide on the death of their husbands had gateways erected in their honour by imperial command. “In Babylon and in Celtic Britain, a man’s slaves and attendants were often interred with him on his death … In Fiji and among the Maoris, widow burning was known … One opinion holds that sati was probably a Scythian rite introduced from central Asia; a parallel is drawn with Thracian funeral rites in which apparently the favourite wife was killed while the other spouses, being denied this privilege, bemoaned their disgrace.”


08/05/2002 11:54:37 PM

Cont. Anyone interested in the topic may want to check out Sakuntala Narasimhan’s Sati: A Study of Widow Burning in India, Harper Collins Publishers India, 1998. Narasimhan points out that, “although the dictionary defines sati as a Hindu custom, the practice of widow sacrifice at the husband’s funeral was not unknown in other cultures. It was known in ancient times among the Gauls and the Goths. It was also known among the Slavs (who were influenced by the Goths), the Greeks, Celts, Scythians, Thracians, and the people of Oceania …"


08/05/2002 11:53:16 PM

Cont. In its original sense, the term sati simply referred to a virtuous woman. It was derived from the word sat, meaning “truth.” A sati was therefore a woman who was true to her ideals. There are several examples of women in the Hindu tradition (such Savitri, Arundhati, Anasuya) who are revered as satis and who did not end their lives upon their husband’s death; however the word did eventually become associated with widow immolation.


08/05/2002 11:50:16 PM

I will have to beg the Swami’s pardon, but I think it is rather an oversimplification to chalk up the entire custom to a single story in the Puranas, especially considering that its heroine (yes, whose name happened to be Sati) was not even a widow and did not immolate herself upon the funeral pyre of her husband.


08/05/2002 06:46:50 PM

Depalika91 wants "the 15th century Muslim invasion of India" to share at least some of the blame for sati. In fact, Muslim rulers in India were appalled by sati and tried to eradicate it. (Of course, they were often blind to the cruelties inherent in their own customs, such as purdah. As they say, other people's faults are like other people's headlights--they always seem more glaring than your own.) It would be a step towards peace if Muslims and Hindus could stop blaming eachother for the abuses in their religious traditions and instead try to work together to foster respect for women's dignity and human rights.


08/05/2002 12:12:06 PM

Salaam there, Moreover Tix, Hindu women believe that their husbands are like gods. If wife went out without her husband's permission, her husband cut off her ears and nose. Even if the husband abused her, either physically or mentally, she did not have right to fight back or leave him. try this link out, you'd know more on Hindu women:


08/02/2002 09:35:22 AM

I find it interesting to learn now finally about the origin of this strange custom. I have no intention to show any disrespect for the religious context and the honesty of those women who did bring this sacrifice voluntarely. But I can't help to agree with others that although spiritual in origin, it has led to abuse and cruel oppression of women,forcing them to die such a horrible death. It is also an open question why, when the origin is purely spiritual and a wish to be united with the husband for ever, the men never did the same nor were encouraged by the teachings to do it. Must we conclude that women are more spiritual and much more loyal and loving then men? I don't know. But there is the question why the Hindu men never thought about this. Salaam. Tix However, I don't think I have the right to disrespect other peoples religion


07/27/2002 11:23:14 AM

Swami Tripurari gave the explanation of the origin of Sati. From his explanation it seems that if a wife gives her life on hasband's 'Chita' - the funaral pyre voluntarily than it is alright. But in fact it is not. Noboby should have right to give up his/her life (suicide)that way. Only god detemines when he/she should die.


07/16/2002 05:42:54 PM

I fully respect the ancient origins as discussed by his holiness. I want to add another twist to the discussion of it's origin. When I was in school in India an enlightened teacher of sanskrit whom I respect said that sati was a way that women tried to get over the deceased husband by buring the clothings and any memories so that they can re marry and get on with the life. I find this very believable. I find that ancient hindu religion has been well thought of and is very beautiful. But unfortunately due to the ignorance of common man and misinterpretation by many generations of wise men who wanted to make it advantagous to the men have destroyed the true meanings of many of our wonderfull customs that were light years ahead in thinking even as compared to today's western society and freedom for women. I also want to highlight a major fact for sati becoming important in the hindu society from the 15th century was to do with the muslim invasion of India.


07/12/2002 02:24:54 AM

I wish that the swami would say more about HOW WRONG it is to commit the act of sati. It is a completely unecessary and stupid practice that was practiced by ignorant people (yes, our ancestors) who lived in a gender-biased society (I'd like to know how many men would have been willing to be cremated alive with their dead WIVES!). Although this is a small complaint, I really like what the Swami has to say at the end. He points to how the Gita can be applied to modern life. He makes a somewhat sexist verse (the Gita was written by men) and helps to point out the philosophy and truth in the words.