Monday, September 28, 2015

DEATH vs DIGNITY


Whenever “Sati” is discussed, the first thought that comes to mind is of an obsolete custom in which women chose to or were expected to jump into the funeral pyres of their husbands.

Mata Sati is a reincarnation of Goddess Shakti and also known as Dakshayeni, the youngest daughter of Daksha the son of Brahma. She fell in love with Lord Shiva and married him against her father's will. She immolated herself
 at a Yagna hosted by Daksha when Daksha insulted Shiva unjustly. One can find a temple dedicated to this story near Haridwar called Daksheshwar Mahadev.

Vedas do not mention "Sati Pratha" nor do the Dharmasutras or Upanishads talk about it which obviously means that it wasn't prescribed by Vedic texts. The earliest mention of Sati is in Mahabharat. Madri the second wife of Pandu committed Sati. But in her case the act stemmed from a strong sense of guilt for being responsible for her husband’s death than the tradition.
The practice of Sati was mostly associated with the Brahmins and Kshatriyas which eventually trickled down as is the case with most social evils. It was reported mostly from Rajputana, Awadh, Madhya Pradesh and Bengal for a variety of social reasons.

Still, Sati was an uncommon practice followed by a handful of royal families. But it became a regular practice after the Islamic invasions began. The brute force of these invasions was mostly borne by North-Western India and it had impact on social customs in these places. In a bid to save their women from dishonor & servitude, families started forcing widows to commit Sati.

“Sati Pratha” was highly romanticized amongst the Rajputs who till date remain amongst the biggest worshippers of such 'chaste' women and also built a lot of commemorative temples or marked stones at their cremation sites which were frequented by people wanting “Darshan”. Down South, Sati was a rarity which was observed by very few families.

It took strong effort from social reformers to wipe out Sati especially since people had begun to revere it. 

“Jauhar” was a culturally similar practice to Sati and emerged around the same time that the islamic invasion of India began. It was mostly limited to the Rajputana kingdoms though there have been a few isolated incidents down South and elsewhere.

Jauhar is derived from two Sanskrit words, Jiv meaning "life" and Har meaning "defeat". The difference between Sati and Jauhar (Saka) is while the former is practiced by widows only; the latter was committed by both men and women during war time.

The process involved the self-immolation of the royal women and young children to avoid being captured by the invaders in the face of imminent defeat. One of the reasons that it started was because Hindu kingdoms could not deal with the barbarity of the Islamic hordes and on occasions when a few Rajput kings had surrendered, their entire families had been slaughtered and women enslaved for sexual barbarity. Hence they decided to follow Jauhar to prevent capture and dishonour to the clan.

The earliest recorded instance of Jauhar happened in the era of Alexander and the people were most likely Agnikula Kshatriyas who having lost to the Macedonians committed Jauhar rather than face servitude.

Ideally Jauhar would take place in the night amidst Vedic chants; women dressed in their bridal finery would jump into huge pyres made for them along with their young children to commit suicide. The next morning, the men would follow this sacrifice by carrying out “Saka” in which they would wear saffron clothes after taking a bath and smear the ashes of their wives and children on their forehead and put a Tulsi leaf in their mouth and head out to war. The men would fight till death avoiding capture, to annihilate or get annihilated.

There are numerous instances of Jauhar on record starting from the times of Alauddin Khilji  Tughlaq. the Jauhar of Rani Padmini of Chittor is very famous & has inspired a lot of folklore in Rajasthan. It was after her brave act that suicide became something of a “virtue”. There have been 3 instances of Jauhar at Chittor & various across Rajasthan but it wasn’t restricted to the Rajputana only. There have been a few incidents towards the South also to avoid capture and enslavement. One can still find the vermilion smeared hand imprints of the women who committed Jauhar at Chittor Fort.

The bravado of these women who would readily jump into a pyre along with their young children gives me goosebumps. While some may call it a "glorified suicide", for me it remains as the final act of defiance against dishonourable invaders. Fact that these women chose a dignified death is thought provoking and it always left the enemy camp impressed, be it the Macedonians or the Muslims.

Loss in battle was often followed by the plundering of forts and massacre of the civilians. Akbar  the "Great" massacred 30000 innocent residents of Chittor after defeating them. Temples were destroyed and idolaters were beheaded or forced to convert to the “true faith”. The Hindus were made to pay the mandatory “zaziya” tax for being infidels. The people who got captured faced a different hell, quite similar to the methods that the modern ISIS follows in treating Yezidis and other prisoners.

The captured women were raped/enslaved or sent off to be sold in the Middle Eastern slave markets as all of them were treated as property irrespective of whether they were married or single. Muslims had the sanctions for all of these acts in the Quran which allows Slavery, sexual abuse, mutilation of POW’s (4.3, 4.24, 23.6, 23.50, 70.30). The captured men were usually castrated before being sold and sometimes used as guards for Harem's.

Point to be noted is that intellectuals might claim that ISIS isn’t Islamic but the truth remains that they follow the same methods which their ancestors i.e the Mughals etc used centuries back. The beheading of infidels and the enslavement of their women which are distributed amongst their men as spoils of war is not at all different from what happened in our country.

The most recent example of such barbarity against Hindus was at the time of partition where trains from what wasn’t yet Pakistan started arriving with the mutilated bodies of Hindus and Sikhs trying to cross the border back into India. Women were usually dragged off of these trains to be raped and tortured by the Muslim attackers. In many cases when attacked, fathers/husbands or brothers would kill the women of their families to protect their dignity. The women who were caught were sold to brothels, some were forced to convert and get married to their rapists. Only the lucky ones would die a quick death.

Unfortunately our history texts don’t do justice to the tortures that were meted out to the Hindus to keep up the secular facade of our society. While we continue to suffer from Islamic influences in our social system, like the “Ghunghat (veil) system” in the North.


The Irony is such that a lot of us don’t know about these historical incidents and continue to blame the Hindus but the truth remains that our Vedic social structure started unravelling with the advent of Islam in India. Most of us choose to ignore the suffering & sacrifices of our ancestors & coincidentally, history is repeating itself with the advent of ISIS today.

Yagyaseni likes to tweet about social issues. she is a dog lover and she can be followed on twitter by clicking here

2 comments:

Saurabh said...

Really good article explaining with references how the Sati system came into existence & why was the same followed down the line..
The so called seculars in India will not like to highlight this fact & will always try to avoid it so as to not hurt the sentiments of the 'minority'!!

Paramasivam said...

Knowing the true face of Muslim invaders, is chilling. The Historians covered these facts and paved the way for emergence of ISIS. They now shed crocodile tears, when their own people also affected. Please continue so that people will know the true Muslim barbaric acts done in India.