Sati or Suttee: Dutiful Deity, Patriarchal Practice

By Glenna Barlow.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

It is said that in India, Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life. Sati, a wife’s self-immolation on her husband’s funeral pyre, is certainly one of the most complex, and polemical, issues facing India in recent years. Such instances that have occurred in the last few decades have been surrounded by controversy that has attracted global attention. Outside India the reactions have largely reflected Western misconceptions and a lack of understanding, characterizing the practice as a barbaric anachronism. Within India there have been strong responses from feminist groups as well as pious devotees and Hindu fundamentalists.
Certainly the issue of sati is plagued with complexities. The connection between sati as a practice and Sati, the Hindu goddess, is problematic, indicating that sati is not a religious imperative but a practice that developed from the framework of a patriarchal society. This source can be extended to the art and iconography of sati as it appears in the form of memorial stones. My research, drawing upon ancient texts as well as current scholarship and my personal field research in Rajasthan, will address these issues, with the ultimate understanding that the practice of sati is reflective of a patriarchal society that can be traced back to both religious and social sources and is reflected in the iconography of the goddess as well as the continued practice.

Keywords: Hinduism, Sati, Suttee, India, Ritual, widow burning

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp.1-10. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 799.206KB).

Glenna Barlow

Graduate Student, Art History, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA

Glenna received her bachelor’s degree in art history and subsequent master’s degree in elementary education from the University of Mary Washington. She recently earned a master’s degree in art history at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she focused on Islamic and South Asian art. Currently she is in Mumbai on a Fulbright-Nehru scholarship conducting research on the art of religious festivals.