The Practice of Sati

The ancient Asian practice of Sati is a funeral ritual whereby a recently widowed woman would commit suicide by throwing herself upon her husband’s funeral pyre. Such self-immolation is most commonly a Hindu practice dating back to 4th Century BCE.

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There are many reported incidences of women being forced to commit suicide this way against her will, even being dragged onto the lighted pyre. Due to the fact that this practice is widespread geographically, but not particularly common, it is considered that it originated as more of a social practice than a religious one. Origin tales range from the prevention of women marrying wealthy men only to poison them and marry their true loves to jealous widows following their husbands into the afterlife to prevent them being courted.

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There have been several attempts to ban the practice dating from the 1829 outlawing by the British Raj. Similarly Queen Victoria issued an outright ban on the practice for the whole of India in 1861. (Interestingly it was December of the same year that Victoria lost her husband, Albert. She famously suffered tremendous grief from which she never recovered.) The most recent law that I could find is the 1988 Indian Sati Prevention Act which further criminalised the practice.

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