Historical Background of Sati Pratha

Sati system is the custom in which the widow is placed on pyre of deceased husband and burnt alive. Sati practie can be found mentioned in several Hindu religious scriptures and epics.

 

Religious Epics like Naradsmriti etc. say that after the death of the husband the widow should be a Sati or live purely single.This shows that Sati was not mandatory in ancient times.Nepal’s first authentic inscription found on stone pillar at the Changunarayan Temples proves ..

 

Sati system is the custom in which the widow is placed on pyre of deceased husband and burnt alive. Sati practie can be found mentioned in several Hindu religious scriptures and epics.

 

Religious Epics like Naradsmriti etc. say that after the death of the husband the widow should be a Sati or live purely single.This shows that Sati was not mandatory in ancient times.Nepal’s first authentic inscription found on stone pillar at the  Changunarayan Temples proves that King Man Dev’s mother Rajyawati upon her son’s request chose not to be a Sati. Vauma Gupt’s mother Aabhiree and Jaya Dev’s mother Batsadevi also didn’t go Sati. This also proves that Sati wasn’t compulsory in ancient Nepal.

 

Extension of Mughal Empire in India, wrong interpretation of religion, selfishness of Pundits, political rivalry and greed of wealth caused Sati system to spread in the Middle Age Nepal. Initially the custom was limited to the monarchs. Later it got its place in Brahmin, Kshetri and Basya community.

 

Sati system was so prominent during later Middle Ages that the funerals couldn’t take place without a Sati.  At a king’s death, not only his queens rather servents and mistresses also used to be Sati. In some rare instances deceased’s mothers and sisters were also immolated. Sister and wives of the King Mahendra Malla became Sati for him. Likewise, mother of the King of Patan Bishwojit Malla who was slashed by his 6 ‘Pradhans (Ministers)’ became Sati for her son. Nine queens for each King Nripendra Mall and Shree Niwas Malla became Sati. Twenty Four queens were burnt alive with King Parthivendra Malla. In the history of Nepal, the largest numbers of queens to become Sati were of Yog Narendra Malla, the king of Patan. Thirty three queens chose to be immolated with him.

 

King Prithivi Narayan Shah, the great was against the Sati system. Aming at unification of the country he couldn’t do much to abolish the system. Though he was against Sati system, altogether nine women sacrificed themselves on his pyre. Among the nine, one was his widow Narendra Laxmi. Seven female sevents and two of his not legally married (chosen by the kings for live-in relation) wives became Sati.

 

Maiju Rani was one of the not legally married (chosen by the kings for live-in relation) queens to become Sati. When King Pratap Singh Shah died, Maiju Rani was pregnant. According to the then existing rule, a pregnant lady was forbidden from becoming a Sati. But due to the conspiracy of other members of the palace, she was forced to become Sati (on January 9, 1978) after she gave birth to her son Prince Sher Bahadur Shahi.

 

After her husband death Queen mother Rajendra Laxmi didn’t go Sati, rather she participated in active politics. She ruled the country onbehalf of her child Rana Bahadur Shah.  But when Rana Bahadur Shah was killed by Sher Bahadur Shah, sixteen queens including Raj Rajeshori Shah and few servents went Sati.

 

Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa didn’t allow his relative Lalit Tripura Sundari, the 12 years old youngest queen of Rana Bahadur Shah.  When Rana Bahadur Shah was killed, his Queen Raj Rajeswori was in exile at Helambu. Bhimsen Thapa called her back and forced her to become Sati after 11 days of Rana Bahadur’s murder.

 

When Rana Bahadur’s eighteen year’s old son died Bhimsen Thapa forced two of his queens Siddhi Laxmi Devi and Gorakshya Rajya Laxmi Devi to become Sati. At the time Gorakshya’s son King Rajendra Bikram Shah was only aged three.

 

In the history of Nepal, no other queens after those two had to become Sati. During the Shah Regime the Sati system was misused as a tool to acquire the political power. From the timenRajendra Bikram Shah the state power was acquired by the Ranas and the Sati system also made its way from the queens to the Prime Miniter’s wives.

 

First Rana Prime Minister Junga Bahadur Rana was dissident to this custom. After his return from the visit of the United Kingdom, he promulgated the first civil code in Nepal. The law incorporated some restrictions regarding the Sati system but it couldn’t totally prohibit the practice.

 

The codifed law incorporates 15 points provisions regarding Sati system.

 

Shading light on the practice of Sati system during Junga Bahadur Rana’s time, Daniel Wright writes, “The women with small children were not allowed to become Sati. Before this the women were forced to become Sati. If one tries to run then she was beaten with stones and killed.”

 

Junga Bahadur didn’t allow his bother’s wives to become Sati. He restricted his younger brothers Bam Bahadur, Badri Narsingh and Krisha Bahadur’s wives from being Sati. He didn’t allow her daughter too. He didn’t even allow Colonel Uma Kanta’s wife to be Sati.

 

Three days after the death of Junga Bahadur Rana on 25 February 1877, his three wives became Sati. Junga Bahadur younger brother Ranodip Singh was prime minister at the time.  It is said that Ranodip was of religious nature and support the Sati practice, so he didn’t prevent his sisters in law to be Sati. On the other hand fear of being intervened by his sisters in law in his rule must have inspired him not to stop them. That is because during his time in 1879, when commander in chief Jagat Shumsher died, his widows weren’t allowed to become Sati. Again during his time his younger brother Dhir Shumshers wives were also not allowed to become Sati.

 

After Ranodip’s killing, Bir Shumsher became prime minister. He tried to regulate this system during his tenure. He set the rule that the woman who chooses to become Sati had to have permission from the prime minister and in his absence from the higher judicial and legal authorities. In 1887 Bir Shumsher didn’t allow Commander in chief Ram Shumsher’s widow to become Sati. Though Bir Shumsher tried crub the Sati system, it was still in practice.

 

During Chandra Shumsher’s rule in 1911, a woman named had applied for permission from the local authorities to become a Sati. This shows that this practice still prevailing in his time.

 

On December 5, 1829, Lord William Bentick abolished Sati system in India. Nepali rulers didn’t imitate the Indians rather the practice exitsted for about ninety more years of its abolition in neighbouring India.  Meanwhile, Chandra Shumsher was pressurized by the British-India government to uproot the practice.

 

Thereafter Chandra Shumsher declared the abolition of this practice on the occasion of his 57th birthday on 8th July 1920.  His declaration states that if anybody inspires, facilitates or sets fire to a Sati then he would be sentenced to death in murder charge. Chandra Shumsher put an end the centuries long inhumane Sati system in Nepal.

 

Sati custom prevailed only in Bhramin, Kshetri and Baisyas castes. The ethic groups like Rai, Limbu, Sherpa, Gurung, Thakali etc. residing in northern Nepal had the practice of widow marriage. So, Sati custom was not practiced by them.

 

Conclusion

Rana Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher abolished Sati system formulating law in this regard. Abolition of Sati system only restricted a woman from being burnt with his deceased husband but physical and mental violence against widow is still existent. In many instances widows as blamed of being witch and people say that meeting with them on the way brings badluck. Isn’t it a new or different form of Sati system?

 

Finally, a question arises that when a man died women had to be cremated Sati but when a woman died why didn’t the man sacrifice for her?  Why he thinks of or marries another woman before the thirteen days death rituals of his late wife aren’t over? Is this natural? Definitely not, these are rules set by the mele dominant patriarchal society which has caused the women to suffer.  The Sati system was a inhumane and brutal behavior towards the women.