Accusations are often made against Hinduism for abetting widow burning in the guise of sati practice and female infanticide at birth. Many Hindus are made to feel ashamed for such brutal acts alleged against their faith and ancestors. Ignorant of facts they tend to turn apologetic and accept the accusations. They do not know that the allegations are contrary to the facts. This misleading propaganda is carried out to engineer conversions out of Hindu faith by citing stray incidents of crime out of context to malign Hindu faith.
Scriptural Evidence about Sati
There is not even one statement advocating Sati in four Vedas, 108 Upanishads, 18 Puranas, or in Manusumruti. The incident of Shiva’s consort Sati had nothing to contribute towards the suicidal act of Sati. In brief, King Daksha Prajapati, had 100 daughters and the youngest of them was named Sati. She had married Lord Shiva against the wishes of the king.
Daksha organized a yagna and with the intent of ignoring Shiva, he did not invite Him. Sati went to witness the Yagna un-invited, contrary to the advice of her husband Lord Shiva. As King Daksha ignored her presence, Sati felt humiliated, and ended herself by jumping into sacrificial fire of the Yagna. Thus, Sati ended her life when her husband was very much alive and is still an eternal God! This incident is narrated in Shiva Purana to underline a social norm that a married woman must not visit her parental house, if her husband is insulted.
The incident of Sati cannot be related to the allegation of widow burning as well. In Hindu society, every married women faithful to her husband is referred as Sati – Savitri. The suffix ‘Savitri‘ is generally used as a metaphor to respect the wife of wood-cutter Satyavan, who died at young age and his wife Savitri, a princess, brought him back to life after impressing Yama, the god of Death by her wisdom.
This Sati episode also exposes the propaganda about the allegation of female infanticide at birth. If female infanticide was patronized by Hindu scriptures then King Daksha would not have nourished one hundred daughters to grow up.
Allegations belied by historical Epics
The historical epics Ramayana and Mahabharata also support that practice of Sati had no sanction from any of the Hindu scriptures. Here are some facts:-
- In Ramayana, when King Dasratha died, none of his three queens committed sati. They lived full life and blessed Rama at his coronation as King when he returned from exile.
- When monkey-king Baali died, his wife Tara did not perform Sati, but was married to his younger brother It is a proof of widow rehabilitation by re-marriage.
- When Ravana died, his wife Mandodari did not perform
- When King Shantanu of Mahabharat epic died, his wife Satyawati did not perform Sati.
- Similarly when his successors died, none of their wives performed sati.
- There is only one incident in Mahabharata. Queen Madri, the second wife of King Pandu had held herself responsible to be the cause of her husband’s untimely death. Out of guilt and remorse, Madri, jumped into the funeral pyre of her fallen husband and committed suicide. The elder wife Kunti did not follow the act of younger wife. Except that incident, in the whole epic poem in which thousands of men got killed on the battlefield, there is no incident of Sati. None out of the 100 wives of the Kaurava warriors committed Sati.
Sati was an Alien Practice
On the contrary, the practice of wife burning had its roots away from India. Columbia Encyclopedia states: ‘The strange practice of killing a favorite wife on her husband’s grave has been found in many parts of the world; it was followed by such people as the Thracians, the Scythians, the ancient Egyptians, the Scandinavians, the Chinese, and people of Oceania and Africa’.
The practice of Sati came to India through Kushanas. In the later period as Rajputs, remained constantly occupied in wars, the invaders used to rape their wives again and again till they would die. Thus Rajputs resorted to the practice of Jauhar as a solution forced upon them out of socio-political necessity.
Jauhar of Rani Padmini
The episode of Rani Padmini reflects that she did not perform sati, but to save her dignity and honor, she had opted for Jauhar along with seven hundred brave young wives when their husbands volunteered ‘Saka’ (suicidal attack) on the camp of Alluddin Khilji. Thus the warrior husbands were alive on their chargers at the time of Jauhar. They bade farewell when their young spouses walked to the pyre singing bravely and escaped anticipated indignity.
The glorification of Jauhar was necessary to motivate young women to the option of choosing between a life of sexual slavery or glorified death as a Rajput widow. It was indeed a tribute to young widows who were brave to walk willingly towards death rather living dishonored.
Rule of East India Company
Harping about the practice of Sati is intended to malign Hinduism. In some provinces under the rule of East India Company, certain greedy families indulged in criminal act of widow burning to usurp the property of the widow, but that had no religious sanction. It also goes to the credit of Hindu reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy that they asked the British rulers at their own to severely punish the criminals.
Allegation of Female Infanticide
Similar to the allegation of Sati, the allegation of female infanticide also stands refuted by facts provided in scriptures and practices in Hindu society.
Besides epics and Purana, volumes of literature depicting the social life of ancient India is available under the titles Jatka Tales, Panchtantra, Hitopdesha, Betaal Pachisi, and classics of Kalidasa and others. There is no mention of any such practice or incident.
- On the contrary, there would not have been inspiring female characters in our literature like Sita, Draupadi, Kunti, Devaki, Yashoda, Shakuntala and All of them are respected in Hindu society. Such strong-willed females would not have lived if female infanticide was patronized by scriptures and regularly practiced by Hindus.
- It is regarded as a privileged sacred duty of the parents to perform Kanyadana (donning of daughters) at the time of marriage. Such society cannot indulge in or approve heinous crime of female infanticide.
- Out of love and affection, Hindu parents voluntarily gift household items, colorful dresses and ornaments at the time of marriage to their daughters. Stray cases of dowry demands have no sanction from scriptures and are a social evil.
- Hinduism does not support abortion even for limiting the family. Hinduism advocates self-restrain. Sex determination tests and abortion today are the unholy gifts from Western culture.
- The range and variety of attractive female garments, beauty products and ornaments since ancient times in India is a reflection of love and prominence given to daughters in the families.
- The unique festival of Raksha Bandhan is dedicated to the sentimental bond between brothers and sisters in Hindu family. No other society in the world has similar festival earmarked exclusively for this kind of relationship.
In furtherance of his imperial designs, Mughal Emperor Akbar had initiated one-sided matrimonial alliances with Rajput families. In return when Rajputs sought reciprocal relationship, Akbar on the sly had debarred Mughal princesses getting married to anyone. Consequent to ban, both the daughters of Emperor Shahjahan, Princess Jahanara and Roshanara, had lived as spinsters. It was finally Emperor Aurangzeb who lifted the ban, because he was not interested in having matrimonial relationships with infidel Rajputs.
Such brutal practices resulted in infanticide and under-cover abortions to off springs born out of rapes, adultery and intrigues to eliminate successors to the rulers. It is still shrouded in mystery how many illegitimate infants would have been killed in the dark basements of forts during Mughal period on account of Akbar’s inhuman dictate. To counter Mughal atrocities certain Rajput families also indulged in honor killings of their daughters, but Hinduism does not support that also.
Hinduism Pioneered Equality
Hinduism did not make any discrimination in the society on the basis of color, race or gender. Every person is respected equally in individual capacity. As fore-runners of Human Rights, Hindus have promoted universal well-being, equality and global brotherhood through customs, traditions, rituals and festivals. Hindus must not hesitate to refute baseless propaganda hurled at them from any quarter.
Chand K Sharma
(Next: Splashes – 26 / 72 – Temples and Rituals in Hinduism)