f) Self immolation or Sati in India:- The word Sati is evolved from Sanskrit words Shaswati Satta i.e. eternal / immortal existence. Self immolation performed by Hindu
devoted wives on the pyre of her dead husband though rare, was seen as the most unique and illuminating instance of soul uplifting selfsacrifice, and was considered as the manifestation of divinity in a woman. If there is one ritual that epitomizes heroism, defiance and conjugal love in the face of brutal onslaughts on Rajput kingdoms, it is Jauhar-Shaka.
A. Sati and Atrocity Narrative for the Civilizing Mission: When the enemy was at the
fort gates, when rations ran out, and when defeat was certain, Rajput kingdoms, especially in north-western India followed a code of honour that inspires awe and dread to this day.
All the women within the fort led by queens dressed in their wedding fineries and
jewellery, along with children would step into a large fire and turn to ashes in a
ceremony called Jauhar before the enemy set upon them. While the women burned, the
Rajput men performed the Shaka or the last fight from which there was no return.
The fort gates would be thrown open and the men, dressed in kesariya or saffron, the Hindu colour of renunciation, with tulsi leaves in their mouths would charge into the enemy with the aim of killing as many as possible before breathing their last.
Rajput women who performed Jauhar were regarded as brave pativratas, or exemplars of such deep devotion for their husbands that they would prefer to join them in
their next birth rather than live a life of separation and dishonour. The men who rode out to perform Shaka (or Saka) were also highly respected for performing the most fearsome of sacrifices. It was in keeping with the courage and integrity that Rajputs were known for.
B. The Jauhars of Chittorgarh: The land of Chittorgarh in the Mewar region located in the
state currently known as Rajasthan has witnessed at least three instances of Jauhar in 1303, 1535 and 1568. It is the first place that comes to mind when talking of the ritual and Rani Padmini is associated with its most famous Jauhar. It is believed that the Muslim despot Allauddin Khalji was so besotted with the beauty of the Rani for which she was acclaimed throughout the land that he decided to capture the Fort of Chittor. There is literary evidence that a Jauhar took place when Khalji mounted his attack on Chittor in 1303. Khalji’s rapacious attacks led to many such immolations of Rajput queens which were recorded by historians in his time and later.
The second instance of Jauhar in Chittor was during the attack of another Muslim ruler Bahadur Shah of Gujarat when Rani Karnavati was ruling in the name of her
son. Rana Sanga, her husband had been defeated by Mughal king Babur in the Battle
of Khanua and had later died of his wounds.
It must be noted that the Rani had notcommitted Sati (the voluntary practice of selfimmolation of a wife on the death of her husband) but chosen to manage the affairs of her husband’s kingdom. Unfortunately, she could not ward off the onslaught of the latest invader Bahadur Shah, and when Mughal king Humayun, to whom she had sent a rakhi did not reach her on time, she decided it was time for the Jauhar-Shaka ritual. Locking herself in a vault with 13,000 other women and children, she ordered for gunpowder to be used to create the agni needed for burning.
Pannadai, the Rani’s maid was entrusted with the princes in order to continue the bloodline and she managed to take them away to safety. The men of the fort wore saffron and poured out to fight to the finish. However, at a later point in time, the kingdom of Mewar including the fort of Chittor was restored to the Sisodiya Rajputs and was ruled by Vikramaditya and Udai Singh II one after the other – both of them being the princes who had been whisked away to safety during the siege and JauharShaka of 1535.
The ignominy of precipitating the third and final documented instance of JauharShaka
in Chittor Fort can be attributed to Mughal king Akbar. At the helm of Mewar
was Rana Udai Singh II, the fourth son of Rana Sanga and Rani Karnavati. Many Rajput rulers submitted to Akbar but Mewar refused to bend. Rana Udai Singh II had decided to
strategically set up his temporary capital in Gogunda, leaving Chittor in the hands of his
loyal chieftains Rao Jaimal and Patta. Akbar’s siege of Chittor in 1567 was a brutal one. He employed over 5,000 expert builders, carpenters and stonemasons to dig mines and
sap the walls of the fort but hundreds of them died due to the continual firing by Rajputs.
Enraged by this, Akbar ordered a general massacre following four months of siege.
“Rising pillars of smoke soon signalled the rite of Jauhar as the Rajputs killed their
families and prepared to die in a supreme sacrifice,” says John F Richards in “The
C. Shastric references in brief: The number of Sati practised by women were very
few in rest of the country and practised mostly by upper caste Brahmin or Kshahtriya families.
Mention Self-immolation of widow is found in the Vedas.
i) In Srimad Bhagavata, we find an instance of self-immolation performed by a Brahmin widow after her husband was killed by the King Mitra Saha. The poor wife of that Brahman mounted the burning pyre after throwing curse on the King.
ii) Brahma-Vaivarta Purana observes that one who immolates herself in the funeral
pyre of her dead husband, begins her journey to the heaven along with her husband, just as a snake charmer draws snake out of its hole. She dwells in heaven in companion with her husband [or a long long time as that of fourteen Indras period].
iii) Parasar Samhita IV 28-Z and Daksa Samhita have promised rewards for the self
immolating widow as follows: The lady such immolated herself, is sure to attain heaven
accompanied by her husband. Even if the husband is a sinner deserving eternal hell, his
pious wife ascending the funeral pyre of the husband purifies him of the sin. Such a self
immolated wife dwells in a heaven for an inconceivable long period of three and half
crores of years with her husband without being separated from him for a single moment.
iv) Atharva Veda Samhita may be translated thus – Oh departed soul this woman has come to you for attaining heaven where the husband goes after death. She does so following the age-old religious custom. Give her progeny and wealth in this life and after
v) Again Yama Raj says:- Oh son of Brahma, a chaste woman who thus remaining
constantly devoted to her husband for his welfare follows him in his death like an
inseparable companion, does never go towards the doors of my kingdom.
It proves that the custom of Sati was not superstition: It is sanctioned since the times of
Vedas and Purans. This practice has been declared illegal and crime punishable by the
court of law under section 1 of the Rig. XVII of 1829, passed by Lord William Bentinck and his council.
(To be continued)