(Last Updated on : 12/09/2009)
Sati was One of the most important and widely followed Indian customs of the ancient era. But now a day it is not followed. Basically this is the custom in which the wife becomes the Sail of her lord. If a woman lost her husband she would also put an end to her existence by ascending the funeral pyre. This custom is popularly known as 'Saha-gamanam' or 'going with her lord.' Different explanations are offered for the origin of this seemingly peculiar and inhuman custom. One of them can be mentioned as that the foreign invaders like the Muhammadans carried away the widows and subjected them to unheard of cruelty. During those unsettled days life without a husband was considered to be worse than death. Hence probably the widows in certain cases voluntarily became the Sati to escape from the inevitable dishonour at the hands of the beastly foreign invaders. In other cases she was forced to become as sati by her relations as well.
Lord William Bentinck assisted by Raja Ram Mohan Roy desired to put an end to this evil custom in Bengal. He was surely influenced by a feeling of pity for the poor miserable widows. They usually get the feel of the people that she was a Pativratha or faithful wife of her devoted husband. In the process at first they entered the pyre but subsequently tried hard to escape from the hands of the people who forcibly held her down till she was burnt to death. It can be assured that her parents, brothers and sisters, even when the custom first originated, ought to have rebelled against the inhuman custom forced on them by social tyranny. But there is no evidence that anything of the kind was ever done.
The bed-rock of Hindu religious faith and belief is that one can never cease to exist. His body may be burnt to ashes but he should have a sort of conscious existence somewhere always and in this conscious existence he is capable of enjoying the company of others. In a similar state of existence even as one human being here is able to enjoy the company of others. Hence the wife who becomes a Sati has an unbroken enjoyment of the company and help of her husband in the other world.
Regarding the agony the Sati had to undergo on the funeral pyre. They say that the Brahmin priests of bygone days knew of a plant, the juice of which when mixed with sandal-paste and rubbed freely over the body of the would-be Sati made her insensible to heat. So when her body was being consumed by the fire she felt no pain or even unpleasant sensations.
The Institutes of Manu on the laws concerning women can be mentioned as.
'By a girl, or by a young woman, or by a woman advanced in years, nothing must be done, even in her own dwelling place, according to her mere pleasure.
'In childhood a female must be dependent on her father, in youth she must be dependant on her husband. When her lord being dead she should be dependant on her sons and if she have no sons, on the near kinsmen of her husband. If he left no relatives, she should depend on those of her father. If she has no paternal kinsmen, on the sovereign. As a matter of fact a woman must never seek independence.
Never let her wish to separate herself from her father, her husband, or her sons, for, by a separation from them, she exposes both families to contempt.