Ask the Swami: Matters of Life and Death
Funeral customs, illness rituals, the history of the sati (self-immolation) rite, and more.
Submit questions on Hinduism to Swami Tripurari by firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting his website: www.swami.org/sanga.
The description given of this incident in the Bhagavatam is much different from the practice that became known in later times as "sati."
In days gone by, some women did enter the funeral pyre along with their deceased husbands. In some instances, the departed husbands were the gurus of their wives and both husband and wife were attached to one another in spiritual consciousness. The chastity of these women and their spirituality was honored in ancient times by the society at large. However, today this rite is outlawed, and has been illegal in India for 173 years.
This practice is only abused today by a very few ignorant people. Those who are involved in participating in this ritual in any way risk criminal prosecution in doing so.
What are the Hindu beliefs concerning having a child out of wedlock?
Hindus believe that children will be better served by being born to parents who are committed to one another in marriage. Chapter one, verse 40 of the Bhagavad-Gita tells us that irreligion and the loss of family tradition results in women being taken advantage of by unscrupulous men, the result being unwanted children.
In the commentary to this verse in my book Bhagavad-Gita; Its Feeling and Philosophy, I wrote:
"Although it is certainly true that when irreligion increases women can be taken advantage of, in today's world women can also take advantage of men. Inappropriate mixing of men and women does often produce unwanted children. This section of the Gita extols the virtues of family life which is vital to a healthy society."