The Sati Strategy: How Missionaries Used An Extinct Practice As A Rallying Point To Christianise India


Designated Cynic
Jul 12, 2014
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After making history with her book on the Ayodhya controversy, Rama and Ayodhya (2013), Prof Meenakshi Jain adds to her reputation with the present hefty volume Sati - Evangelicals, Baptist Missionaries, and the Changing Colonial Discourse (Aryan Books International, Delhi 2016).​
In it, as a meticulous professional historian, she quotes all the relevant sources, with descriptions of Sati from the ancient through the medieval to the modern period.​
She adds the full text of the relevant British and Republican laws and of Lord Wiliam Bentinck’s Minute on Sati (1829), that led to the prohibition of Sati. This book makes the whole array of primary sources readily accessible, so from now on, it will be an indispensable reference for all debates on Sati.​
But in the design of the book, all this material is instrumental in studying the uses made of Sati in the colonial period. In particular, the missionary campaign to rally support for the project of mass conversion of the Indian Heathens to the saving light of Christianity made good use of Sati. This practice had a strong in-your-face shock value and could perfectly illustrate the barbarity of Hinduism.​

In the preface, Prof Jain surveys the existing literature and expresses her assent to some recent theories. Thus, Rahul Sapra found that Gayatri Spivak’s observations, e.g. that the 19th-century British tried to remake Indian society in their own image.
The issue of Sati was used as the most vivid proof of the need for this radical remaking, but it did not take into account the changing political equation during the centuries of gradual European penetration.
In the 17th century, European traders and travellers mostly joined the natives in glorifying the women committing Sati, whereas, by the 19th century, they posed as chivalrous saviours of the victimized native women from the cruel native men.
This was because they were no longer travellers in an exotic country and at the mercy of the native people, but had become masters of the land and gotten imbued with a sense of superiority.
Indians in large numbers, and especially the many indefatigable but amateurish “history-rewriters”, tend to be defective in their sense of history, starting with their seeming ignorance about the otherwise very common phenomenon of change.
When I hear these history-rewriters fulminate against the West with its supposed evil designs of somehow dominating India again, it seems that in their minds, time has frozen in the Victorian age.
Similarly here, there is not one monolithic Western view of Sati but, apart even from individual differences of opinion, there are distinct stages, partly because of the changing power equation and partly because internal changes in the Western outlook have influenced the Western perception of things Indian.
So it takes a genuine historian to map out precisely what has changed and what not, and which factors have led to those particular changes.
Then again, It is, of course, interesting to realize the continuity between the present-day interference in Indian culture by leftist scholars like Wendy Doniger and Sheldon Pollock and that of the British colonialists: “We know best what is wrong with your traditions and we have come to save you from yourselves.”
In this respect, the changes in the Western attitude to Sati run parallel to that regarding caste. Until the early 20th century, caste was seen as a specifically Indian form of a universal phenomenon, viz. social inequality.
Nobody was particularly scandalized when in 1622, the Pope gave permission to practise caste discrimination between converts inside the Church. Around the time of the French Revolution, the idea of equality started catching on, but only gradually became the accepted norm.
At that point, it became problematic that people’s status was said to be determined by birth. In this case, the determination by the inborn circumstance of being a woman, unequal in rights compared to men, and never more radically unequal than in committing Sati.
After World War II, the norm (henceforth called Human Rights) of absolute equality and increasingly of absolute individual self-determination made the tradition of caste and of Sati too horrible to tolerate.
Therefore, the indignation about Sati is far greater today than when Marco Polo visited India. Today, Sati is already a memory, but the commotion around the exceptional Sati of 1987 gave an idea of the indignation it would provoke today.
In this case, an extra factor came into play to effect a change in British attitudes to Sati. In Parliamentary debates about the East India Company charter in 1793, there was no mention yet of Sati though it had been described many times, including by Company eyewitnesses.
But by 1829, Sati was forbidden in all Company domains. This turnaround was the result of a campaign by the missionary lobby.


Ever since the missionaries set out to convert the Pagans in India, they made it their business to contrast the benignity of Christianity with the demeaning atrocities of Heathenism. This was an old tradition starting with the Biblical vilification of child sacrifice to the god Moloch by the Canaanites.
The practice was also attested by the Romans when they besieged the Canaanite (Phoenician) colony of Carthage. The Bible writers and their missionary acolytes present child sacrifice as a necessary component of polytheism, from which monotheism came to save humanity.
And indeed, we read here how Rev. William Carey tried to muster evidence of child sacrifice too (but settled for Sati as convincing enough, p.178)
In reality, the abolition of human sacrifice was a universal evolution equally affecting Pagan cultures such as the Romans. In the case of Brahmanism, it is speculated that the Vastu-Purusha concept (a human frame deemed to underlie a house) is a memory of a pre-Vedic human sacrifice.
Even if true, the fact is that in really existing Brahmanism, human sacrifice has not been part of it for thousands of years; if it had, we would be reminded of it every day. In this respect, Brahmanism was definitely ahead of the rest of humanity.
Not to idealize matters, we have to admit that, like the Biblical writers, who used the vilification of the child-sacrificing Canaanites as a justification to seize their land (and even to kill them all), Pagans who had left the practice behind equally used the reference to it to score political points.
The Romans had practised human sacrifice within living memory and then abolished it, so they were acutely aware of it and tried to exorcize it from their own historical identity by rooting it out in conquered lands as well.
This is the same psychology as among modern Westerners who remember their grandfathers’ abolition of slavery and, therefore, feel spurred to support or engineer the “abolition of caste” in India.
Using that mentality, Roman war leaders would emphasize this phenomenon of child sacrifice among the Carthaginians to portray them as barbarians in urgent need of Rome’s civilizing intervention.
Later, Caesar would also demonize as human-sacrificers, the Druids of Gaul, another “barbarian” country the Romans “liberated” from its own traditions after conquering it.
Likewise, the Chinese Zhou dynasty justified its coup d’état (11th century BCE) against the Shang dynasty by demonizing the Shang as practising human sacrifice.
This way, Sati came in very handy to justify an offensive in India. Mind you, in a military sense India had partly been conquered already, and British self-confidence at the time was such that the complete subjugation of the subcontinent seemed assured.
The offensive, in this case, was not military, its target was the Christianization of the East India Company, to be followed by the conversion of its subjects. Around 1800, the Company was still purely commercial and even banned missionaries for their religious zeal might create riots, and these would be bad for business.
So, the Christian lobby had to convince the British Parliamentarians that the Christianization of India was good and necessary, and, therefore, worthy of the Company’s active or passive support, namely to free the natives from barbarism. To that end, there was no better eye-catcher than Sati.
[IMG alt="

Charles Grant successfully presented an essay, to the House Of Commons, pleading for education and Christian mission to be tolerated in India alongside the East India Company’s traditional commercial activity."],compress[/IMG]
Charles Grant successfully presented an essay, to the House Of Commons, pleading for education and Christian mission to be tolerated in India alongside the East India Company’s traditional commercial activity.
Here I will skip a large part of Prof Jain’s research, namely into the details of the specific intrigues and events that ultimately led to the success of the missionary effort.
While these chapters are important for understanding the Christian presence in India, and while I recommend you read them, I have decided for myself to limit my attention to colonial history as it is presently eating up too much energy, especially of the Hindus.
The study of colonial history is instructive and someone should do it, but for the many, it is far more useful to study Dharma itself, to immerse yourself in Hindu civilization as it took shape, rather than in the oppression of and then the resistance by the Hindus.
India is free now and could reinvigorate Dharmic civilization, which is a much worthier goal than to re-live the comparatively few centuries of oppression.
Let us only note that the missionaries are responsible for associating Hinduism with Sati much more prominently than would be fair.
The missionary assault on Hinduism dramatized the practice of Sati, which had been “an ‘exceptional act’ performed by a minuscule number of Hindu widows over the centuries”, of which the occurrence had been “exaggerated in the nineteenth century by Evangelicals and Baptist missionaries eager to Christianize and Anglicize India”. (p.xix)


Many Hindus believe that Sati is an external contribution, probably triggered by the Muslim conquests. In reality, Sati is as old as scriptural Hinduism. Already the Rg-Veda (10:18:7-8, quoted and discussed on p.4-5) describes a funeral where the widow is lying down beside her husband on the pyre but is led away from it, back to the world of the living. So it already provides a description of a Sati about to take place, as well as of the Brahmanical rejection of Sati.

Likewise, the Mahabharata, the best guide to living Hinduism, features several cases of Sati. Most prominent is the self-immolation by Pandu’s most beloved wife Madri. Less well-known perhaps is that Krishna’s father Vasudeva is followed on the pyre by four wives and that Krishna’s death triggers the self-immolation (in his absence) of five of his many wives.

But unlike Mohammed, Krishna need not be emulated by his followers. By contrast, Rama’s influence on the women in his life is not such that they commit Sati (on the contrary, his wife Sita comes unscathed out of the flames of her “trial by fire”), and he counts as the perfect man, the model which should serve us as exemplary.

The oldest foreign (viz. Greek) testimony on Indian Sati reports on the death of an Indian general in the Persian army. His two wives fought over the honour of climbing his funeral pyre. Both had a case: one was the eldest, the other was not pregnant (whereas the eldest was, and should not deprive the deceased man of his progeny).

So the authorities had to intervene, and they ruled in favour of the younger wife. It should be repeated, for the sake of clarity, that “favour” here really means the honour of committing self-immolation, as emphatically desired by the young widow.

Indeed, a woman wanting to commit Sati needed some will-power, for Hindu society did not take this as a matter of course. As per the many testimonies, she usually had to overcome the dissuasion from her family and from worldly or priestly authorities. (But rather than leading her away in chains for her own good, as modern psychiatrists would do, they gave her the decisive last word.)

That is why the first British report on the practice spoke of “self-immolation of widows”. Contrary to the allegations of “murderous patriarchy” by modern feminists (who hold the same ignorant prejudices about Hindu culture as the average foreign tourist), women themselves chose this spectacular fate.

Contrary to a common assumption, the practice was not confined to the Rajputs or to the martial castes in general, where passion and bravery were prized. Prominent Hindu rulers like Shivaji Bhonsle and Ranjit Singh were followed on their pyres by a handful of wives and concubines. Among the lower castes, like among the Muslims, life usually resumed and a widow soon remarried, not to let any womb go waste.

But nevertheless, a British survey in Bengal found that no less than 51 percent of Sati women belonged to Shudra families. Among the other upper castes, and among the majority of women even in the martial castes, widows would be confined to a life of service and asceticism.

But no matter how rare the actual practice of Sati, it remained a glamorous affair, honoured among the Hindu masses with commemorative stones (sati-kal) and temples (sati-sthal).

Hindu Sati?
Sati was not confined to Hindu civilization. It existed elsewhere, both in Indo-European and in other cultures. Rulers in ancient China or Egypt are sometimes found buried with a number of wives, concubines and servants.
In pre-Christian Europe, the practice was related (directly, not inversely) to the status of women in society: not at all in Greece, where women were very subordinate, but quite frequently among the more autonomous Celtic women.
Among the Germanic people, a famous case is that of Brunhilde and her maidservants following Siegfried into death. Yet Indian secularists preferentially depict Sati as one of the unique “evils of Hindu society”.
The only shortcoming in this wonderful book is not a mistake but a hiatus, less than a page long. One important point I would have liked to see discussed more thoroughly, is the question raised by Alaka Hejib and Katherine Young in their paper: Sati, widowhood and yoga (p.xv-xvi) They see a “hidden religious dimension: yoga; though neither the widow nor the sati was conscious of the yogic dimension of her life.”
Indeed, “the psychology of yoga was instilled, albeit inadvertently, in the traditional Hindu woman.” Well well, yoga as the most consciousness-oriented discipline in the world is imparted unconsciously: “instilled, albeit inadvertently.” Prof. Jain reports this hypothesis but does not comment on it. So I will.
Naïve readers may not have noticed it yet, but here we are dealing with an instance of a widespread phenomenon: the crass manipulation of the term “Hindu”. Every missionary and every secularist does it all the time: calling a thing “Hindu” when it is considered bad, but something (really anything) else as soon as it is deemed good. Many Hindus even lap it up: it is “instilled, albeit inadvertently.”
Thus, whenever Westerners show an interest in yoga, the secularists and their Western allies hurry to assure us: “Yoga has nothing to do with Hinduism.” (It is like with Islam, but inversely, for whenever Muslims make negative-sounding headlines, we are immediately reassured that these crimes “have nothing to do with Islam”.)
Female Yoginis

Female Yoginis

There may be books on “Jain mathematics”, but never about “Hindu mathematics”, for a good thing cannot be Hindu. If the topic cannot be avoided, you call it, say, “Keralite mathematics” or fashionably opine that it “must have been borrowed from Buddhism.”
So, yoga cannot be Hindu when its merits are an issue. However, when it is presented as something funny, with asceticism and other nasty things, then it can be Hindu, and even used as a middle term to equate something else (something nasty, of course, like Sati) with Hinduism. So: Sati is Hindu!
In this case, the poor hapless secularists are even right. Sometimes even a deplorable motive, like their single-minded hatred for Hinduism, makes men speak the truth: Sati is Hindu.
But Sati is not Brahmanical: the Rig-Veda enjoins continuing life rather than committing Sati, and most of the Shastras either don’t mention it or prefer widowhood, for which they lay down demanding rules.
Many of the testimonies cited here mention Brahmanical priests trying to dissuade the woman from Sati. Not Brahmanical, then, but nonetheless Hindu, a far broader concept.A Hindu means an “Indian Pagan”, as per the Muslim invaders who first introduced the term in India.
And indeed, Sati has existed in many countries but certainly in India, and it is not of Christian or Islamic origin, so it may be called Pagan. And so can the rejection of Sati. See?
This, then, makes for half a page that I would have done differently. The rest of this book, 500-something pages, is designed to stand the test of time. It will survive the flames that tend to engulf its topic: the brave Sati.



Regular Member
Sep 28, 2020
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Sati never was a pan india practice. Some effluent, Royal, brahmins of North india n bengal in ancient India, latter during muslim rule it had practiced. In my state odisha no historical evidence of any sati being burnt on pyre.


Designated Cynic
Jul 12, 2014
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Sati: Re-examining Historical Evidence from 1900BCE to 1900CE

Sati is a practice of self-immolation of a widow either on her husband’s pyre or separately after her husband’s death. Polemics against Hinduism or India, always talk about sati along with other “evils” like the caste system, oppression of women, and superstitious practices.

Sati is portrayed as a regressive custom which was widely prevalent throughout India. It is to be distinguished from the practice of Jauhar in northwestern India, which grew during the 14th/ 15th century, and where Hindu women preferred death by collective suicide rather than slavery or rape they faced if captured by barbaric Islamic hordes.

The Sati Narrative

British records, as well as Christian Missionary records from 1800 onwards, indicate anywhere between 10,000 to 100,000 cases of satis every year [1]. It is said that when the British could not tolerate the injustice against women anymore, they abolished sati under British rule in 1829 after sustained campaigns by Christian missionaries such as William Carey and reformers such as Ram Mohan Roy. Luke Harding of The Guardian writes [2]:

“It has its origins in Hinduism … The practice is particularly associated with the north Indian state of Rajasthan, where the queens of the Rajput rulers would traditionally immolate themselves en masse.

But memorials to women who have committed suttee exist all over India … There have been repeated official attempts to discourage the cult – by the reformist Mughal emperor Akbar, for example, in the 16th century, and by the British, who banned it in 1829.”

The government of India also enacted the Sati Prevention Act in 1988 which aims to prevent “the commission of sati and its glorification and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.

There has been a huge amount of research and scholarly papers by feminists, social scientists, and human rights activists of different colors and hues on sati-pratha and the plight of women in India, patriarchy, and the regressive nature of Hinduism.

This essay is specifically about Sati-pratha and not Jauhar. I do not focus on the ethical, moral, social, or spiritual background of the practice. Instead, my focus in this article is to understand the written and epigraphic evidence of actual eyewitness accounts and other evidence of Sati like inscriptions and monuments.

Given the extensive literature on Sati-pratha, especially in modern times, and the fact that various reformers have tried to stop the practice, and also given that there was the need to enact multiple laws over the ages to ban this practice, it would seem to appear that sati-pratha was widely prevalent.

In this essay, we will analyze empirical data to examine this claim. We will try to understand the degree of the pervasiveness of this practice, its geographic spread, and its demographic aspects.

Evidence of Sati in Veda and Itihasa

The Rig Veda (10:18:7-8) talks about the first known instance of an aborted sati. It describes a cremation where a widow who was lying beside her husband was not allowed to kill herself. Scholars like Michael Witzel generally date the Rig Veda between 1900 B.C.E and 1200 B.C.E [3] [4], and thus we have only 1 recorded aborted instance of Sati in this ~700 year period.

The Mahabharata records at least three events of self-immolation, that of Pandu’s wife Madri, that of Vasudeva’s four wives, and the self-immolation of five of Krishna’s wives after his death.

The Ramayana whose origins are more eastern (Ikshvaku clan) record no evidence of self-immolation. The Mahabharata is generally dated by western scholars between 1200 BCE and 400 BCE and they typically argue that the current text has many layers incorporating different features over the ages.

It is as if Mahabharata is a snapshot of the period 1200 BCE to 400 BCE and in these ~800 years there are only 3 documented instances of self-immolation with 10 deaths, all restricted to the northern and western Indian subcontinent. [5]

It is evident that during the Vedic period at least, Sati was an exceedingly uncommon practice. In a span of 1500 years from 1900 BCE to 400 BCE, there are only 4 recorded instances!

Epigraphic and Written Evidence of Sati

Below I have presented empirical data for actual instances of Sati based on eyewitness accounts and epigraphic evidence. This data has been sourced from Meenakshi Jain’s meticulous and exhaustive research of various primary and secondary sources [6].

The first recorded foreign account of Sati-pratha is that by Diodorus of Sicily and describes an eyewitness account of Hieronymus of Cardia (~326 BCE) who describes the quarrel between two widows as to who would have the honor of dying along with her husband.

A lady called Pustika, the wife of one Ayamani of the Guntur region of Andhra Pradesh committed self-immolation around 300 CE and their remains were discovered in a pot unearthed in a village in the region.

In 464 CE, Queen Rajyavati, the widow of Dharmadeva of Nepal, decided to commit Sati but later did not go through with it and lived a long life.

In 510 CE, Goparaja, the chieftain of king Bhanugupta died while fighting against the Maitras, and his widow committed self-immolation in Eran, Sagar District. In Sanski, a village in the Kolhapur district of Maharashtra, a sati stone inscription dated to 550 CE was found.

In 606 CE, Queen Yashomati, the mother of Harsha and the wife of King Prabhakaravardhana committed pre-emptive Sati when it became apparent that her husband had no chance of survival.

The 842 CE Dholpur Inscription of Rajasthan records the sati of one Kanahulla, wife of one Chandamahasena. The Ghatiyala Inscription of Rajasthan dated to 890 CE records the sati of one Samvaladevi wife of Ranuka.

In 955 CE, the wives of Parantaka Chola I committed self-immolation. It is said that he had 11 wives. In 973 CE, Vanavan Mahadevi, the queen of Sundara Chola (Parantaka II) self-immolated herself on her husband’s pyre.

In 1044 CE, the consorts of Rajendra Chola, Vanavan Mahadeviar, Mukkokilan, Panchavan Mahadevi, Arindhavan Madevi, and Viramadevi committed sati. In 1057 CE, a Sudra woman Dekabbe committed sati, despite fierce opposition from her parents, when her husband was killed in a battle against a Ganga king.

In 1218 CE, Bhuvanamuludaiyal the wife of Kulothunga Chola III committed Sati. In c1290 CE, the Venetian traveler, Marco Polo, reported a sati in Malabar. The Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta saw the self-immolation of three women in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh. The husbands of these three women had died while fighting against the Sumras of Sind.

Sati was rare enough that instances of it were memorialized and valorized. Based on memorial stones raised as a tribute to women who committed satis, it can be said that not more than 100 sati incidents took place in Vijaynagar (1336 to 1646 CE).

In 1606, Jesuit missionary Roberto de Nobili reported a sati in Madurai. Till 1700 CE, there are perhaps a few more eyewitness accounts of Sati by foreign travelers and missionaries. As per a local tradition, eight four women in Rajasthan are said to have committed sati in 1735 CE on the death of Raja Budh Singh of Bundi.

Epigraphic evidence from Karnataka records eleven instances of Sati in southern India between 1000 CE to 1400 CE, and 41 instances between 1400 CE to 1600 CE. In 1680, one wife of Shivaji became a Sati and in 1700 the wife of Rajaram performed sati.

In 1749, the wife of Shivaji’s grandson Shahu committed sati. As per an estimate by Altekar, quoted by Meenkashi Jain, from the period 1300 CE to 1800 CE, the incident of sati among royal families of Rajasthan was as high as 10%. In Marwar, between 1562 CE to 1843 CE, over a period of 281 years, there are 222 recorded instances of self-immolation on the death of rulers.

Till the 12th century, there is no epigraphic evidence of sati-pratha in Bengal. Kulluka Bhatta was a commentator on Manusmriti and Jimutavahana (c. 12th century) was the earliest writer on smriti (law) from Bengal whose texts are extant. Neither of them talks about sati.

In fact, Jimutavahana had a decidedly anti-sati approach and a modern outlook on widow rights; in his seminal text Dayabhaga, he recognizes the right of a widow without any male issue to inherit the properties of her deceased husband.

From 1700 CE to 1800 CE, as per European records, there were only 5 eyewitness accounts of sati in Bengal – in 1742, 1770, 1779, 1793, and 1799.

As the Evangelical Christian movement started gaining more prominence in India starting from 1800, enumeration of sati incidents sky-rocketed, and suddenly annual 10,000 sati incidents were being reported from Bengal alone in 1803, a mind-boggling increase of 2000x, and some even suggested 50,000 sati occurrences annually!

According to government figures, 8134 widows performed sati in the 14 years between 1815 and 1829, of which more than 60% cases were recorded in Calcutta, a region which had almost no history of sati, thereby casting doubt on the validity of government data.

A colored aquatint by the caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827), after Quiz (John Page Mellor), from 1815. Source: The Wellcome Institute | Source:
The sudden increase in the documented rate of Sati under the British government can be due to one of the following reasons. One, the data is unreliable and fabricated, exaggerated to support missionary propaganda and justify the civilizing mission of the British. On the other hand, if the data is accurate, what change of conditions during the British Raj in Calcutta, led to this spike?

Analysis of 2500 years of data

If we add up all the Sati incidents from 1900 BCE till 1900 CE, based on actual eyewitness accounts and epigraphic records, there are hardly more than 500 unique incidents over a ~4000 year period, or an average of 1 sati every 8 years, and nowhere near the 10,000 per year incidents recorded by British Colonizers and Christian missionaries. Having said that, we prefer to err on the side of conservatism and thus apply two conditions to our data set:

  • We change the starting point of our analysis from 1900 BCE to 500 BCE without changing the total number of incidents (~500)
  • We also assume that the evidence represents only 5% of the self-immolation incidents and that 95% of incidents remained unreported.
Studies have shown that 52% of all violent crimes go unreported [7] and thus any data is generally normalized to reflect the under-reporting. However, following our conservative approach we will assume that 95% of self-immolation incidents were not reported and recorded, and we normalize our data accordingly.

Based on the above, we may make an estimate that no more than 10,000 Sati-pratha incidents took place, assuming that the recorded ~500 incidents reflect only 5% of actual estimated cases.

Moreover, we have shaved off 1,500 years of the timeline from our dataset and thus the period in question is now 2,500 years. Assuming that the geographic distribution and other criteria hold good we can conclude that:

  1. Most of the incidents were restricted to the northern and northwestern part of India
  2. The majority of the women who committed Sati belonged to the Kshatriya community/ warrior or princely class
  3. More than 90% of the incidents took place after 1400 CE
Analysis of Data for 1400 CE to 1800 CE

If we restrict ourselves to the period between 1400 CE and 1800 CE, we come across not more than ~400 reported cases, which translates to 8,000 estimated cases of Sati. In 1400 CE, India’s population was around 98 million (9.8 Crores) and by 1800 CE, the population increased to 189 million (18.9 Crores) [8].

The average annual population during this period 144 million (14.4 crores). With respect to the average population in those 4 centuries, how significant are the estimated 8,000 Sati cases? Let us do a quick calculation to estimate the significance of Sati. We will try to estimate what percentage of widows actually committed sati.

Today, the death rate in India is 7.3 out of 1000. In earlier eras, when medical science was not as advanced as today, the average death rate was much higher. Since we don’t have data for this, we have assumed that 4.5% (see Note 9) of the population died every year, which translates to a death rate of 45 out of 1000.

Thus the average deaths per year were 4.5% of 144 million or 6.5 million (65 Lakhs). Of those 6.5 million, many were children, as infant mortality was very high in those centuries. Many deaths were of unmarried people and so on.

It is assumed that 1/6th of those who died were men who left behind widows (the factor of 1/6 is based on a British record and is discussed in Meenakshi Jain’s book). This translates to 10 lakh widows on average per year. Of these 10 lakh widows every year, only 20 committed self-immolation.

It is obvious that even assuming 95% under-reporting, Sati-pratha was a very rare event, and only 1 out of 50,000 widows committed Sati (1 in 53,813 to be exact) [9]. Assuming lower death rates, the instances of Sati are still quite low as seen below:

Let us say that someone objects and says that I am not being conservative enough, even after assuming 95% under-reporting. Therefore, for the sake of extreme conservatism, I assume that 99% of Sati instances were unreported, or that only 1 out of 100 cases were recorded. Even then, not more than 1 out of 10,000 widows committed Sati assuming a CDR of 4.5% [10].

If we were to stretch this really thin and assume that the fantastic Missionary inspired government data from 1815 to 1828 to be true (which is highly unlikely), even then not more than 1 in 400 widows in Bengal Presidency committed Sati every year.

Implications of the Analysis

In other words, whichever way we analyze the data, the conclusion is inescapable. Sati was a very rare practice. To put things in perspective:

  1. 1 out of 50,000 widows committed Sati every year, assuming 95% under-reporting
  2. 1 out of 20,000 women commits suicide in the UK every year [11]
  3. 1 out of 10,000 US Citizens dies on account of gun violence [12]
  4. 1 out of 3,500 women dies from honor killings in Pakistan [13]
  5. 1 in 2,400 Indians dies from cancer every year [14]
  6. 1 out of 32 children in the US is exposed to domestic violence every year [15]
  7. 1 in 6 slaves from Africa died during the Atlantic Slave trade while being transported from Africa to the US and UK [16]
  8. 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime [17]
  9. 1 out of every 5 women in the UK has been the victim of a sexual offense or attempted offense [18]

Sati was an obscure practice for all practical purposes. Yet the British colonizers and Christian Missionaries decided to collaborate despite being sworn enemies and sensationalize the obscure tradition by bringing it into the limelight. The fabrication of data and the subsequent enactment of Sati prohibition helped both groups.

The Colonizers could now show a legitimate reason for ruling over India and continue their “civilizing mission” and the Christian Missionaries could continue their program to convert the heathens.

In fact, a majority of foreign writers before colonial times actually talk about how rare the practice of self-immolation was. However, such voices were ignored when data for suttee was being “tabulated” and fantastic numbers like 10,000 incidents per year were being fabricated!

The data we have furnished indicates that there was a surge in the number of Sati incidents after the 12th century, when Islam became a dominant force in India and when northern India started being ruled by various Muslim warlords. Even in Bengal, sati incidents started getting reported only after the 12th century, when eastern Bengal was taken over by Muslims.

Even then it was a rare phenomenon. Today more women die from suicides and honor killings in the UK and Pakistan respectively than they ever did from sati.

Violent crimes against women in the USA today are statistically more common than Sati ever was; for example on average, three women are murdered every day by a current or former male partner [15].

Yet Sati was painted as an extraordinary abuse of unimagined proportions, requiring urgent and immediate intervention by the British Crown. Rarer than Sati was perhaps becoming a Prophet of an Abrahamic religion; 1 out of 50 million became Prophets [19].

Thankfully there has been a lull for the past 1400 years, else we would have had to deal with 70 more prophets!

An anecdote which I have heard from elders in my family is that many British men of the East India Company in Bengal, in fact, wanted the young Hindu widows as their mistresses and hence the urgency to ban sati.

They would often paint themselves as saviors and forcefully “marry” these widows claiming that they were saving them from a plight far worse, despite stiff opposition from the women and their families. Many say that this is in fact the origin of many of the Anglo-Indian communities of Bengal, although I personally have not done any research on this.

Whatever be the case, Sati has always been a rare custom since Rig Vedic times. Post-independence, 40 odd cases of Sati have been reported of which a majority are unsurprisingly from Rajasthan.

However, starting from the 1800s till date, Sati (along with issues like caste system, Dalit oppression, Brahmin supremacy, Hindu patriarchy) has been used as a tool of propaganda by different anti-Hindu forces like British colonizers, Christian Evangelists, and now, by social scientists and human rights activists.

The Sati that we know of today in our history and social studies textbooks must be viewed in a historical context for what it is – an almost forgotten obscure custom, exceedingly rare, practiced by perhaps a handful of communities in some specific geographies,



Designated Cynic
Jul 12, 2014
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Bengal Sati Regulation, 1829

A regulation for declaring the practice of sati, or of burning or burying alive the widows of Hindus, illegal, and punishable by the criminal courts, passed by the governor-general in council on 4 December 1829, corresponding with the 20th Aughun 1236 Bengal era; the 23rd Aughun 1237 Fasli; the 21st Aughun 1237 Vilayati; the 8th Aughun 1886 Samavat; and the 6th Jamadi-us-Sani 1245 Hegira.

I. The practice of suttee, or of burning or burying alive the widows of Hindus, is revolting to the feelings of human nature; it is nowhere enjoined by the religion of the Hindus as an imperative duty; on the contrary a life of purity and retirement on the part of the widow is more especially and prefera-bly inculcated, and by a vast majority of that people throughout India the practice is not kept up, nor observed: in some extensive districts it does not exist: in those in which it has been most frequent it is notorious that in many instances acts of atrocity have been perpetrated which have been shocking to the Hindus themselves, and in their eyes unlawful and wicked. The measures hitherto adopted to discourage and prevent such acts have failed of success, and the governor-general in council is deeply impressed with the conviction that the abuses in question cannot be effectually put an end to without abolishing the practice altogether. Actuated by these considerations the governor-general in council, without intending to depart from one of the first and most important principles of the system of British government in India, that all classes of the people be secure in the observance of their religious usages so long as that system can be adhered to without violation of the paramount dictates of justice and humanity, has deemed it right to establish the following rules, which are hereby enacted to be in force from the time of their promulgation throughout the territories immediately subject to the presidency of Fort William.

II. The practice of suttee, or of burning or burying alive the widows of Hindus, is hereby declared illegal, and punishable by the criminal courts.

III. First. All zamindars, or other proprietors of land, whether malguzari or lakhiraj; ali sadar farmers and underrenters of land of every description; all dependent taluqdars; all naibs and other local agents; all native officers employed in the collection of the revenue and rents of land on the part of government, or the Court of Wards; and all munduls or other headmen of villages are hereby declared especially accountable for the immediate communication to the officers of the nearest police station of any intended sacrifice of the nature described in the foregoing section; and any zamindar, or other description of persons above noticed, to whom such responsibility is declared to attach, who may be convicted of wilfully neglecting or delaying to furnish the information above required, shall be liable to be fined by the magistrate or joint magistrate in any sum not exceeding two hundred rupees, and in default of payment to be confined for any period of imprisonment not exceeding six months.

Secondly. Immediately on receiving intelligence that the sacrifice declared illegal by this regulation is likely to occur, the police darogha shall either repair in person to the spot, or depute his mohurrir or, jamadar, accompanied by one or more burkundazes of Hindu religion, and it shall be the duty of the police-officers to announce to the persons assembled for the performance of ceremony, that it is illegal; and to endeavour to prevail on them to disperse, explaining to them that in the event of their persisting in it they will involve themselves in a crime, and become subject to punishment by the criminal courts. Should the parties assembled proceed in defiance of these remonstrances to carry the ceremony into effect, it shall be the duty of the police-officer to use all lawful means in their power to prevent the sacrifice from taking place, and to apprehend the principle persons aiding and abetting in the performance of it, and in the event of the police-officers being unable to apprehend them, they shall endeavour to ascertain their names and places of abode, and shall immediately communicate the whole of the particulars to the magistrate for his orders.

Thirdly. Should intelligence of a sacrifice have been carried into effect before their arrival at the spot, they will nevertheless institute a full enquiry into the circumstances of the case, in like manner as on all other occasions of unnatural death, and report them for the information and orders of the magistrate or joint magistrate, to whom they may be subordinate.

IV. First. On the receipt of the reports required to be made by the police daroghas, under the provisions of the foregoing section, the magistrate or joint magistrate of the jurisdiction in which the sacrifice may have taken place, shall enquire into the circumstances of the case, and shall adopt the necessary measures for bringing the parties concerned in promoting it to trial before the court of circuit.

Secondly. It is hereby declared, that after the promulgation of this regulation all persons convicted of aiding and abetting in the sacrifice of a Hindu widow, by burning or burying her alive, whether the sacrifice be voluntary on her part or not, shall be deemed guilty of culpable homicide, and shall be liable to punishment by fine or by both fine and imprisonment, at the discretion of the court of circuit, according to the nature and circumstance of the case, and the degree of guilt established against the offender; nor shall it be held to be any plea of justification that he or she was desired by the party sacrificed to assist in putting her to death.

Thirdly. Persons committed to take their trial before the court of circuit for the offence above-mentioned shall be admitted to bail or not, at the discretion of the magistrate or joint magistrate, subject to the general rules in force in regard to the admission of bail.

V. It is further deemed necessary to declare, that nothing contained in this regulation shall be construed to preclude the court of Nizamat Adalat from passing sentence of death on persons convicted of using violence or compulsion, or of having assisted in burning or burying alive a Hindu widow while labouring under a state of intoxication, or stupefaction, or other cause impeding the exercise of her free will, when, from the aggravated nature of the offence, proved against the prisoner, the court may see no circumstances to render him or her proper object of mercy.

Bengal government to the court of directors on sati (4 December 1829)[3]

6. Your honourable court will be gratified by perceiving the great preponderance of opinions of the most intelligent and experienced of the civil and military officers consulted by the governor-general, in favour of the abolition of suttees, and of the perfect safety with which in their judgment the practice may be suppressed.

7. A few indeed were of opinion that it would be preferable to effect the abolition by the indirect interference of the magistrates and other public offices with the tacit sanction alone on the part of government, but we think there are very strong grounds against the policy of that mode of proceeding, independently of the embarrassing situation in which it would place the local officers, by allowing them to exercise a discretion in so delicate a matter. To use the words of the governor-general, we were decidedly in favour of an open avowed and general prohibition, resting altogether upon the moral goodness of the act, and our power to enforce it.

8. Your honourable court will observe that the original draft of the regulation was considerably modified before its final enactment, and that it was deemed advisable, at the suggestion of the judges of the nizamat adalat, to omit the distinction originally made between misdemeanour and culpable homicide, in being accessory to a suttee, and also in the degree of interference to be exercised by the police-officers. Upon the fullest consideration of the objections taken by the court, we determined that it would be better to leave the apportionment of punishment to be regulated by the commissioners of circuit, according to the nature and circumstances of each case, and that separate special instructions should be issued to the police-officers, as well as to the European authorities, to ensure a moderate and lenient exercise of the powers vested in them respectively by the regulation.

9. Finally, also, we were induced by the advice of the nizamat adalat to leave out a provision that the Mahomedan law-officers should not take any part in trials in cases of suttee. We were disposed to think that the attendance of the law-officers might be liable to misconstruction, and afford an opening to objections which it was desirable as much as possible to avoid; at the same time the opinion of the court against excepting the offence in question from the ordinary course of trial, was doubtless entitled to much weight, and upon the whole we were willing to be guided by their judgement in omitting the section altogether.

10. We beg to refer your honourable court to the enclosures contained in the letter from the registrar of the nizamat adalat under date the 3d instant (No. 21), for the special instructions above noticed, which have been issued to the commissioners of circuit, the magistrate, and the police-officers for their guidance.

11. In conclusion we venture to express a confident expectation that under the blessing of divine providence the important measure which we have deemed it our duty to adopt will be efficacious in putting down the abhorrent practice of suttee, a consummation, we feel persuaded, not less anxiously desired by your honourable court than by every preceding government of India, although the state of the country was less favourable in former times than at present, for its full and complete execution. It would be too much to expect that the promulgation of the abolition will not excite some degree of clamour and dissatisfaction, but we are firmly persuaded that such feelings will be short-lived, and we trust that no apprehension need be entertained of its exciting any violent opposition or any evil consequences whatever.


Dharma Dispatcher
Senior Member
Nov 10, 2020
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Revisiting Sati: Understanding the practice from a Dharmic perspective


What is missing in the contemporary narrative about Sati is an examination of the tenets of the practice on its own basis. To do this, we must first locate the place of Sati in the Dharmic worldview and then analyze the practice and its validity from a Dharmic perspective.

Sati or “Widow-burning” as it is pejoratively called in the Colonial and Post-Colonial media and literature, has remained one of the most controversial issues even today, though historically the practice had always been very rare and sporadic. It has been routinely described as “regressive” and violent practice. When the case of 18-year old Roop Kanwar committing Sati in Deorala village had come to light in 1987, a team of Women and Media Committee that had visited the site described the practice as the “most violent of patriarchal practices[1]” and had held the “union of religion, commerce, and patriarchy[2]” as the cause behind the incident. Sati has also been used as a convenient tool by inimical forces to dismantle various Hindu practices. While during the Colonial period, “the sati issue was the most forceful created by the Evangelical-Utilitarian alliance to validate British rule in India[3]”, even after independence, reformists and feminists, especially those leaning to the left have used Sati and Sati reforms as a parallel in their own fights against what they perceive as “regressive practices” still prevalent in Hinduism (Ex: Made Snana, Bettale Seve).
To this politicization of the practice of Sati, except for the excellent study by Meenakshi Jain, the Hindu response has been feeble. Jain provides an authentic account of the historical practice of Sati and shows how the missionary-British nexus inflated the number of incidents to horrific levels, while the recorded incidents on the ground throughout the history has been rare and uncommon. But, her work does not examine the merits and demerits of the practice itself or about its place or relevance in Hinduism. On this front, the Hindu response has been varied, but weak, marred in confusion. While some confuse and conflate Sati with Jauhar, others argue that Sati is not sanctioned in Hinduism. Many modern commentators also triumphantly note how Hindus have reformed their religion and got rid of regressive practices.
What is missing in the contemporary narrative about Sati is an examination of the tenets of the practice (and not just the historical context) on its own basis. To do this, we must first locate the place of Sati in the Dharmic worldview and then analyze the practice and its validity from a Dharmic perspective. Since, “Dharmo viśvasya jagataḥ pratiṣṭhā[4] has served as the foundational principle of Hindu worldview and Dharma itself has been conceived as facilitating each individual to his/her material welfare and spiritual fulfillment[5], it is imperative to examine Sati, a practice which arose in the Hindu Dharmic tradition, in relation to Dharma, so as to arrive at a correct understanding of the practice that is dispassionate and free from prejudice. In this article, one such attempt is being made by examining how the Dharmashastra tradition has handled the subject of Sati.
Sati, an incorrect name
The Colonial, as well as contemporary literature refers to the practice of a widow mounting the funeral pyre of her dead husband and burning with him as either widow-burning or as Sati (Suttee, is also used). There are serious issues with the usage of both these terms.
While the term “widow-burning” carries a lot of colonial baggage and clearly an underlying insinuation that widows were coerced or forcibly burned by others (relatives and community people), an assumption that is neither attested by history[6] nor by tradition; the term “Sati” is not without its own issues either.

Sati derives from the word “Sat” which has a variety of meanings, including truth, goodness, and virtue. The term, which originally referred to Goddess Sati, the wife of Bhagavan Shiva, who immolated herself in the Yajna as a protest against the insult of her husband by her father Daksha, has been used throughout the tradition as a reference to women who are very loving and devoted to their husbands. Sati has also been understood as a synonym of Pativrata- women who consider husbands as Guru and devotion to their husband (by way of helping and walking side by side with him) as a Tapasya (spiritual austerity). For Satis, then their husbands represented the means to attain Sat- Ultimate Truth or Moksha. As Manu Smriti (2.67) notes for wives, serving husbands is itself staying and serving the Guru and household activities are themselves Yajnas, i.e. women who are homemakers derive the same spiritual benefit from doing their work as the men derive from performing Yajna, etc. In other words, Sati does not refer to any ritual or rite, but simply to women who have chosen devotion to husband and the responsibilities of Grihasta-ashrama as the means for spiritual emancipation. For this reason, we do not find any Dharmashastras referring to the ritual of self-immolation by devoted widows as Sati.
Instead, the Dharmashastras use a number of terms to refer to the ritual: “anugamana” (‘going after’), “sahagamana” (‘going with’), “anumarana” (‘dying after), “sahamarana” (‘dying with’), and “anvarohana” (‘mounting after). Even in popular usages, when the ritual is referred to as “satidaha”, “satipratha” or “sativrata”, the term Sati refers to the devoted wife, while the suffix describes the ritual aspect. Arvind Sharma notes that while Sahamarana (and hence Sahagamana) refers to the case of concremation, Anumarana (and hence Anugamana) refers to immolation of the widow after the dead husband’s cremation[7]. PV Kane writes: “The burning of a widow on the death of her husband is called sahamarana or sahagamana or anvarohana (when she ascends the funeral pyre of her husband and is burnt along with his corpse), but anumarana occurs when, after her husband is cremated elsewhere and she learns of his death, the widow resolves upon death and is burnt with the husband’s ashes or his padukas (sandals) or even without any memento of his if none be available[8].”
Keeping with the spirit of this article as well as the correct usage in mind, from here onwards, while we have completely avoided the usage of terms like Sati or Widow-burning, the term “anugamana” have been used throughout as a single term to refer to both concremation and immolation after husband’s cremation, for the sake of easy understanding (except where such a difference is necessary to be pointed).
Anugamana as a Dharmic practice
Hindu tradition posits Moksha or liberation from the bondage of karmic cycle of birth and death as the ultimate goal of life. Though Moksha is the ultimate goal, Hindu tradition recognizes that not all have the ability to attain Moksha in a particular life. This is so because, to attain Moksha, one must first have attained dispassion and a condition of desirelessness towards worldly pleasures. Since, most people are under the influence of all kinds of worldly desires, which could be broadly divided into Artha (material prosperity) and Kama (material pleasures), the Hindu texts posit Dharma as another Purushartha, which, while facilitating one to fulfill Artha and Kama in a measured restrained manner, also helps one to slowly move from a state of desire to a state of dispassion i.e. towards Moksha. These two paths, the path of dispassion and the path of measured action are respectively called as Nivritti and Pravritti path.
While the path of Nivritti is the path of Sannyasa or renunciation, the path of Pravritti is the path of Grihasta or the householder into which men and women enter through marriage so as to fulfill their worldly desires through Dharmic action. Vivaha is a Samskara, a purification ritual which makes a couple fit to enter Grihasta Ashrama to pursue Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha together as one. It is a sacred bond, a commitment to pursue righteous desires so as to slowly walk towards Moksha. It is in the context of this all important Grihasta stage and the aftermath when one of the spouse pass away, that we must locate and understand the practice of Anugamana.
Passing away of a spouse implies that the living spouse can no longer practice his Grihasta Dharma to attain Purusharthas. This means, one becomes Anashrami i.e. one without an ashrama, which is unhelpful to a person, since, Vishesha Dharma, or the righteous duties as contextualized to a specific individual is always defined with reference to varna and ashrama, and without an ashrama, one is unable to perform Dharma and hence will neither attain material welfare nor gain spiritual merit. It is for this reason, the state of “anashrama” is condemned in the Dharmashastras[9]. To remedy this, then the living spouse must adopt one of the ashramas and come out of the state of Anashrama. Dharmashastras provide a number of ways this could be accomplished.
For a widower, at least four different options are suggested in the Dharmashastras. While Yajnavalkya Smriti (1.89) suggests the widower to take another wife without delay and rekindle a new fire (for religious Yajnas), texts like Baudhayana Dharmasutra (2.17.4) suggests one to renounce the world and become a Sannyasi. He may also rekindle the fire with a ‘substitute wife[10]’ made of gold or Kusha grass (Aitereya Brahmana 32.8; Trikandamandana 2.8) and thus enter Grihasta Ashrama symbolically and continue his duties, or he may rekindle the fire alone for himself[11] (Trikandamandana 3.128) and taking Shraddha (faith/conviction) as his ‘substitute wife’ may perform agnihotra etc. similar to those who remain unmarried (Naishtika Brahmachari). Thus, the four options for the widower are: remarriage, renunciation, taking a substitute wife in the form of statue made of gold or kusha grass for ritual purposes, staying as Apatnika by rekindling the sacrificial fire for oneself alone.
While a widower enters Sannyasa ashrama by renouncing his desires and attachment to the worldly objects, he enters Grihasta Ashrama in case of a remarriage or rekindling of fire with a substitute wife made of Kusha grass or gold. He enters an ashrama similar to Naishtika Brahmachari by rekindling the fire for himself alone. This path could be understood as a widower counterpart of Vidwavrata or practices associated with widowhood prescribed for widows. Also important to note is that while by entering Sannyasa or by remarrying a new woman, a widower cuts off his Karmic connections[12] to his dead wife, he retains this connection and even reinforces it, in case he chooses the other two options.
For a widow, on the other hand, Dharmashastras prescribe three different paths: Anugamana, Vidwavrata, and Punar-vivaaha[13]. While texts like Parashara Smriti (4.28-30) mention all the three paths, other texts mention only one or two options. For example, while Manu Smriti (5.165-168) makes elaborate discussion about importance of Vidwavrata and Daksha Smriti (4.18-19) notes about the glory of Sahagamana, Vyasa Smriti (2.52) mentions both Anugamana and Vidwavrata. Apart from Parashara Smriti, Daksha Smriti and Vyasa Smriti, we have a number of other texts which also make explicit mention about Anugamana. Vishnu Dharmasutra (25.14) says a widow should either practice brahmacharyam or ascend the pyre. Stridharmapaddhatti of Tryambakayajvan cites two verses, one from Sankha Smriti and one from Skanda Purana ( Sankha Smriti notes that a widow who opts for Anugamana is glorified in heaven as one who is equal to Arundhati. Skanda Purana gives a sloka which blesses a woman saying may she accompany her husband in life and death and Tryambakayajvan opines that this must be recited during the marriage ceremony. There are a number of other verses either in the available Smritis or Itihasas-Puranas[14] or as citations by later day authors of Dharmashastras, which speak of Anugamana as a Dharmically legitimate practice.
While remarriage is the common path suggested for both widows and widowers, Anugamana and rekindling the Grihasta fire with a substitute wife made of gold or Kusha grass are exclusively prescribed for widow and widower respectively. The path of Vidwavrata suggested for a widow shares elements with both Sannyasa and Apatnikas, who rekindle the fire for themselves alone. Anugamana, in fact, can be understood as the female counterpart of the male practice of using a substitute wife[15]. To understand this, we must return back to the basic tenets of Grihasta-ashrama.
Vivaha, as noted before, is a sacred bond, a relationship into which the husband and wife enter so as to pursue the Purusharthas together. Though the goal pursued is same, the roles played by each person in the couple are different. While the man plays the role of husband and a father, the woman plays the role of a wife and a mother. While the husband takes the role of Yajamana, the conductor of the rituals and other Dharmic duties, the wife takes up the role of Saha-dharmacharini, one who accompanies the husband in fulfillment of Dharmic duties. A virtuous wife is, in fact, identified with the sacred fires of the house itself[16]. That is, the role played by the wife is like that of the sacred fire: the role of a facilitator. She facilitates her husband to fulfill his Dharmic duties and hence described as “saha-dharmacharini” and without whom a Grihasta man cannot perform any Dharmic rituals or duties. That is, the husband is the performer of the Dharmic duties using Yajnas, etc. with the support, help and company of his wife. On the other hand, for the wife, facilitating the husband in the accomplishment of the Dharmic duties is itself the Dharmic duty and a means for her overall emancipation. It is for this reason, the texts note how the half of Dharmic merit of all the actions of the husband automatically becomes transferred to the wife. That is, the husband himself becomes the direct means for accomplishing all the purusharthas for women. In other words, while for the husband a number of Grihastaashrama duties have been prescribed based on his location, condition, varna, etc., as a means for attaining purusharthas; for the wife, facilitating the husband in pursuit of these purusharthas itself is the duty or dharma prescribed and in this way, both attain all the purusharthas together.

With this background, let us look into Anugamana prescribed for widows and the substitute wife made of gold/Kusha grass prescribed for widowers. Since, for performing his Grihasta duties, a man requires a wife by his side, a widower has been advised to create a wife in gold or Kusha grass to not only act as a substitute for the departed wife, but also act as a representation or an image of the departed wife in the physical world. Just as Rama kept a golden idol of Sita not only as a substitute for the real Sita, who was in the forest (after being sent away there by Rama), but also as the very image or a representation of the Sita herself. Thus, by choosing this path, a widower will continue to perform his Grihasta duties as if his wife was still alive and as a result, both he and his departed wife will get the full merit of all Dharmic actions performed by the widower. On the other hand, a widow is not given this option to rekindle the fire with a substitute husband, because performing the Yajnas and other such Dharmic duties were never her Dharmic duty and to expect her to suddenly do it is not only unfair to her but is also impractical. She is instead given the option to choose Anugamana, by which she can continue to stay with her husband in heaven (Parashara Smriti 4.28-30) and then return back to physical life with the same husband and/or attain Moksha. By opting for Anugamana, she would continue to be with her husband and accompany him in all his actions, thereby fulfilling her own Dharmic duties. Anugamana, thus forms the widow counterpart of widower’s path of using substitute wife made of gold or Kusha grass, since both these paths facilitate the performers to reinforce the sacred bond with their spouses and continue to practice their Grihasta duties.
Vidhwavrata, on the other hand, takes on elements from both Sannyasa and Apatnika paths of the widowers. Apatnikas are those who do not have dispassion and hence cannot take Sannyasa, but because of their love and attachment to their departed wives, they cannot even remarry. Either due to sorrow at the loss of the wife or due to desire to enter a Vanaprasta-like stage, the widower chooses the Apatnika path and practices Agnihotra etc. and lives a highly restrained life by cherishing the memory of the departed wife. Similarly, widows undertaking the vows of widowhood or Vidwavrata, lead a celibate life cherishing the memory of the departed husband. As Manu Smriti (5.160) notes widows who opt for vows of widowhood, even if without sons would attend heaven just like the Brahmacharis. Widowhood also involves withdrawal from sensory-gratifications like in Sannyasa. Manu Smriti (5.157-158) notes that they should practice austerity by sustaining on only flowers, fruits and roots. They should be self-controlled and chaste.
Thus, though four options for widowers and only three options for widows are mentioned in the Shastras, we can see how the three itself sufficiently plays the role of four with respect to widows. But, it is important to note that the entire discussion, though usually applied to all women or all wives, their specific audience is actually the women who are called Sadyovadhu. Shastras broadly divide women based on their inner temperaments into Brahmavadinis and Sadyovadhu[17]. Brahmavadinis refer to those with intense desire and a competency for Vedic learning. They undergo Upanayana and are entitled to study of Vedas and the performance of Vaidika Karmas, or even take up Sannyasa, just like the menfolk. Sadyovadhu, on the other hand, do not have the desire or aptitude for Vedic learning. They are more worldly-oriented with a focus on arts, science, family, career, etc. For them, marriage itself plays the role of Upanayana and supporting and facilitating the husband in his Dharmic duties itself forms the Dharmic duty. As Manu Smriti (2.67) notes, for such women, “The nuptial ceremony is stated to be the Vedic sacrament… serving the husband (equivalent to) the residence in (the house of the) teacher, and the household duties (the same) as the (daily) worship of the sacred fire.” That is, in the case of Sadyovadhu, the husband and wife also share a relationship of the Guru-Shishya. This also explains why for such Sadyovadhu, Pati-vrata-dharma or Sati-dharma i.e. dedication to one’s husband (i.e. husband himself) is prescribed as the means for overall welfare. Just as for Brahmachari boys, it is taught that the Guru is the guide and Gurubhakti is the means for attaining Moksha, with husband donning the role of Guru in the case of Sadyovadhu, Pativratya dharma becomes the means for attaining Moksha.
It is, thus, important to note that the entire discussion in the Dharmashastras about the life-paths that could be chosen by women and the enunciation of the three Dharmically legitimate path, including Anugamana, is a discussion specifically applicable to Sadyovadini women. But, since, the number of women who were Brahmavadinis were always very minuscule compared to Sadyovadhus, and this is especially so in Kaliyuga, most of the Dharmashastras while making a reference to Streedharma almost always speaks about Sadyovadhu, as if it is applicable to all women.
Eligibility for performing Anugamana
As noted in the previous section, Anugamana is prescribed only for a Pativrata Stree[18], since she alone has chosen a lifestyle where the husband is the Guru and the means for overall wellbeing — material and spiritual. Harita, in fact, says: “A woman should be known as a pativrata, if she is pained when her husband is pained, rejoices when he’s happy, becomes wretched and emaciated when he’s gone abroad, and dies when he dies[19].” Though, it may appear as if Harita is defining Pativrata as one who undergoes Anugamana or that Anugamana is mandatory, Madanaparijata, which quotes this verse enters into a detailed discussion clarifying how these two conclusions are wrong. Madanaparijata notes that since, Manu and others give alternate options like Vidwavrata for a Patrivrata widow, saying Anugamana is mandatory is incorrect. Madanaparijata then quotes Manu Smriti (5.160), which says: “A virtuous wife (Sadhvi) who after the death of her husband constantly remains chaste, reaches heaven, though she have no son, just like those chaste men” and Mahabharata (12.144.9-10), which says: “The pativrata entered the blazing fire. There she followed her husband, who wore colorful arm-bracelets”, showing how “Patrivrata” alone is eligible for either Vidwavrata or Anugamana. Hence, Harita’s opinion must only be understood as eulogization of the qualities of Patrivrata Stree.
In any case, not all Pativrata Stree’s are eligible for Anugamana either. Vijnanesvara, the author of Mitakshara, the famous commentary on Yajnavalkya smriti notes: “And all of this constitutes the universal Law for all women right down to Candalas, provided that they are not pregnant and do not have young children (Mitakshara 1.86)[20].” Similarly, Madhavacharya in his commentary on Parashara Smriti (4.31), cites two scriptural authorities[21]: “A woman who has young children should not depart, thereby forsaking raising her young children; nor should a woman who is menstruating or has just given birth; and a pregnant woman should protect her fetus”; and “O beautiful princess, women do not ascend the funeral pyre when they have young children, when they are pregnant, when their menses have failed to appear at the regular time, and while they are menstruating.”
That is, devoted wives, who are pregnant, who are menstruating, and who did not menstruate on their expected date (indicating a possibility of a pregnancy) and those who have young children that need to be taken care of are not eligible for Anugamana. Madhavacharya, though, qualifies the last of the criteria by saying that if the mother can make arrangement for proper guardians to take care of the young children, then they can opt for Anugamana. It is interesting to note that this was what Maadri did in Mahabharata and it was Kunti who took care of all the children including two of Maadri’s sons.

Then, there are a number of verses, which apparently prohibit the practice for the Brahmana widows. The two popular verses cited are ascribed to Paithinasi and Angirasa. Paithinasi notes: “Due to Vedic injunction a Brahmin woman should not follow her husband in death, but for the other social classes tradition holds this to be the supreme dharma of Women[22]”. Angirasa notes: “When a woman of Brahmin caste follows her husband in death, by killing herself she leads neither herself nor her husband to heaven[23].” But, what is interesting to note is, while Paithanasi refers to the practice by the “mrtanugamana”, Angirasa calls it “patim anuvrajet”—both meaning she who commits self-immolation after her dead husband’s body has been burned on the pyre. Thus, the Dharmashastra writers starting from Vijnaneshwara to Aparaarka and Madanapala, all have taken the verse to mean a prohibition of only the Anugamana (immolation of the widow on a separate pyre after the husband has been cremated) and not a prohibition of Sahagamana, wherein the widow is immolated together with her husband. To substantiate this stand, they even quote another smriti text by Ushanas, which notes: “A Brahmin woman ought not to depart by ascending a separate pyre, yet for other women tradition holds this to be the supreme dharma of Women[24]”. In short, while non-Brahmana Pativrata women are eligible for both Anugamana and Sahagamana, Brahmana women are eligible only for Sahagamana[25].
Nirnayasindhu of Kamalakara Bhatta and Dharmasindhu by Kashinath Upadhyaya, two important digests on Dharma composed during the medieval period, further note that the wives of husbands who died either for the sake of penance or were Dharmically fallen, should not perform Anugamana[26]. Dharmasindhu also notes that women who have committed adultery, who have been negatively disposed towards their husbands while they were alive do not have eligibility for this practice[27].
To summarize, the eligibility criteria for performing Anugamana includes:
  1. The widow must be a Patrivrata
  2. Such Pativrata widow must neither be pregnant, nor have young children, nor is menstruating at the time, nor have missed their most recent monthly period.
  3. The husband must not have been an Adharmic and hence fallen person, nor must he have died for the sake of penance for his Adharmas.
  4. Wives who have been negatively disposed towards husbands when they were alive are also ineligible to undertake the practice.
  5. While all are entitled for Sahagamana, Brahmana widows are not entitled for Anugamana (except under certain circumstances. Refer Endnote: 25)
Anugamana as an optional practice, an expression of love and commitment
If there is one element regarding Anugamana on which all Dharmashastra writers agree, then it is that it is an optional practice. In Hindu tradition, Dharmic actions are divided into three categories: Nitya, Naimittika, and Kamya. Nitya refers to those activities, which ought to be performed daily. Naimittika refers to those that must be performed on particular occasions. Kamya, on the other hand, are those actions that are performed out of desire to attain the particular fruits that result from those actions. By definition, then, Nitya and Naimittika are obligatory Dharmic duties, while Kamya is an optional practice, performed only by those desiring a particular fruit. Starting from Aparaarka, the commentator on Yajnavalkya Smriti, who explicitly mentions “anvarohanam ca kamyatvad anityam” i.e. “Since, anvarohana is optional, it is not obligatory[28]” to later day commentators and writers of Dharmashastra up to as recent as Tryambakayajvan, who lived in 17th-18th century, all have clearly noted how the practice is optional. Dharmasindhu, further, notes that Anugamana can be done either as a Sakaama practice or as a Nishkaama practice[29]. In fact, the non-obligatory nature could be seen in the Smritis themselves, which advice, different options available for a widow.
If it be asked, why Anugamana has been made optional, it is because the act involves so much courage and sacrifice that only a truly dedicated wife who feels she cannot remain separated from her husband even for a moment, can undertake such a ritual. A verse from Brahma Purana quoted by Aparaarka, one of the commentator on Yajnavalkya Smriti, states: “There is no other recourse (than sahagamana) for a good woman when her husband dies, (for) there is no other way to extinguish the burning pain of being separated from her husband[30].” Anugamana, thus, is an expression of extreme love and commitment of the women towards their husbands. It is for this reason that Parashara Smriti (4.29-31) notes that such women will dwell in heaven with their husbands for “three and a half crores (in years) or however many hairs are on a human body—for that long a time (in years)”. This is not to suggest that widows who choose Vidwavrata, the other option available for pativratas, are less dedicated to their husbands, for Parashara notes that even they attain heaven; but the courage and commitment required to voluntarily embrace death by burning is so huge that they attain superior result as far as being together with the husbands in heaven is considered.
Thus, the correct way to understand Anugamana is that it is a Dharmically legitimate optional practice, voluntarily entered by women as an expression of their love and dedication towards their departed husbands. It is, in fact, an exertion of freewill by women who display extreme courage, commitment and sacrifice by choosing this path.
The Ritual Procedure of Anugamana
PV Kane in his History of Dharmashastras notes the procedure involved in the ritual of Anugamana, as mentioned in the medieval text Shuddhitattva of Raghunanda, thus: “The Suddhitattva sets out the procedure of widow burning. The widow bathes and puts on two white garments, takes kusha blades in her hands, faces the east or north, performs acamana (sipping water); when the brahmanas say ‘om, tat sat’ she remembers the God Narayana and refers to the time (month, fortnight, tithi) and then makes the samkalpa (declaration of resolve) set out below. She then calls upon the eight lokapalas (guardians of the quarters), the sun, the moon, the fire &c. to become witnesses to her act of following her husband on the funeral pyre, she then goes round the fire thrice, then the brahmaṇa recites the Vedic verse ‘ima narlr'(Rg.X.18.7) and a Purana verse ‘may these very good and holy women who are devoted to their husbands enter fire together with the body of the husband’, the woman utters ‘namo namah’ and ascends the kindled pyre.”
Slightly different procedures can be seen in texts like Dharmasindhu and Nirnayasindhu. However, if the widow, after thus ascending the pyre, becomes afraid or loses her resolve to continue or simply does not wish to continue with the ritual, the texts note that one of her relatives must make her to get up and come down from the pyre. Aparaarka (1.87), for example, notes: “However, they say that if a woman (who is to perform anugamana) has a desire for sons or for the world of the living, her husband’s younger brother or the like should cause her to get up (from her husband’s pyre)[31].” Similarly, Dharmasindhu notes: “(if) the woman (who is to perform anugamana) becomes afraid, either her husband’s younger brother or one of his students should cause her to get up (from the pyre) with the two verses beginning, ‘Rise…’ (RV 10.18.8-9)[32].” Apastamba, in fact, prescribes a Prajapatya penance for a widow who after deciding to perform anugamana and making a Sankalpa towards this, turns back from it at the last moment[33]. That anugamana is an optional nature of the practice, with the entire decision-making to whether to perform this ritual or not being in the hands of the women clearly comes out in the ritual procedure itself, which gives an option for the widows involves to opt out until the last moment.

Opposition to Anugamana and its refutation in Dharmashastra tradition
While the contemporary narrative on Anugamana assumes that the Hindu tradition had a monolithic straightjacket view of the practice, an examination of the Dharmashastra tradition, however, reveals that there was a lively discussion throughout history among pandits, vidwans, authors, and commentators of Dharmashastras with both pros and cons of Anugamana being examined in minute detail. As David Brick rightly notes: “Dharmasastric writings… provide clear testimony of a long, intricate, and pan-Indian debate on its very validity[34].”
One of the strongest voices within the Dharmashastra tradition who has put forward a number of objections to Anugamana is Medhatithi, the famous commentator on Manu Smriti who probably lived around 9th-10th century CE in Kashmir. In his commentary on the verse 5.155, he raises following objections to anugamana[35]:
  1. That it is a form of Suicide and suicide is prohibited for both men and women.
  2. That it goes against the Sruti statements like “Therefore, one should not depart before one’s natural lifespan” (Shatapatha Brahmana, which prohibit suicide.
  3. As a corollary from above, it is implied, though not explicitly stated by Medhatithi, that Anugamana has no sanction (owing to no positive mention) in Sruti.
  4. That the Smriti prescriptions regarding Anugamana must be taken to be of the same category as those regarding Syena Sacrifice, wherein it is simply a statement about the fruits begotten from its performance and not a prescription about the Dharmic status of the performance. In fact, like Syena Sacrifice, whose end result is death of the enemies and hence considered Adharma, Anugamana is Adharma.
Anugamana vs. Syena Sacrifice
Let us first look at the last of these arguments regarding the comparison of Anugamana with Syena sacrifice. Explaining the arguments put forward by Medhatithi, David Brick writes: “First, he argues that the practice is adharmic, because it is analogous to the syena sacrifice, a Vedic ritual whose explicit result is the death of the sacrificer’s enemies. According to the traditional interpretation given by Sahara in his commentary on Purvamimamsa Sutra 1.1.2, the performance of the syena sacrifice is not in conformity with dharma, since there is a general prohibition against violence. The Veda simply states that if a person wants to kill his enemies, the syena sacrifice is one means of accomplishing his goal. It does not, however, enjoin the killing of one’s enemies, so there is no specific injunction that would override the general prohibition against violence. Using the analogy of this sacrifice, Medhatithi argues that smrtis like that of Angiras do not actually enjoin sahagamana, because they explicitly mention its result, namely, heaven. They only state that if a widow wants to be reborn in heaven, sahagamana is one possible means. Thus, as in the case of the syena sacrifice, the general prohibition against violence still applies[36].”
But, this equation of Anugamana with Syena Sacrifice was severely criticized by Vijnaneshwara, the famous commentator on Yajnavalkya Smriti, who lived in 12th century CE. He instead provided two different refutations of Medhatithi’s position showing how Anugamana is dissimilar to Syena Sacrifice, on the one hand, and how it is instead quite similar to Agnisomiya rite involving animal sacrifice, which is a Dharmic activity, on the other.
Summarizing the first argument forwarded by Vijnaneshwara, Brick writes: “In outline, the first argument he presents goes as follows: A) There is a general prohibition against violence. B) The syena sacrifice involves violence, since its outcome is the death of one’s enemies. C) Only a specific injunction stating that one should kill one’s enemies could override the general prohibition, but no such injunction exists. Therefore, D) the syena sacrifice is prohibited by the sastras. Vijnanesvara holds that part C) of this argument does not apply in the case of sahagamana, since this practice is actually enjoined in the sastra. He points out that unlike the syena sacrifice, which results in violence, a prohibited outcome, sahagamana results in heavenly rebirth, a permissible outcome. The syena sacrifice is prohibited, because its violence is its result and its result is not enjoined. In other words, it is prohibited because the sastras never state that a person should kill his enemies and this is the violent part of the sacrifice. By contrast, the violence of the sahagamana rite (i.e., the widow’s suicide) is enjoined, as a means to rebirth in heaven, and although the sastras may not specifically enjoin rebirth in heaven, they certainly do not prohibit it. Vijnanesvara adds that sahagamana should instead be treated like the agnisomiya rite, which both involves violence to living beings (animals) and leads to a permissible outcome. Since the agnisomiya rite is permitted, sahagamana should be as well[37].”
The second argument forwarded by Vijnaneshwara was even more thorough, though more complex as well, and hence beyond the scope of this article. It is suffice to say that Vijnaneshwara’s refutation of Medhatithi and his establishing of the dissimilarity between Anugamana and Syena sacrifice was so thorough that Vijnaneshwara’s word became the last word[38] on this issue in the Dharmashastra tradition.
Is Anugamana against Sruti?
Now let us take Medhatithi’s argument that Anugamana is analogous to Suicide and hence prohibited by the statement in Shatapatha Brahmana ( “Therefore, one should not depart before one’s natural lifespan”.
Regarding this, Aparaarka, another famous 12th century CE commentator on Yajnavalkya Smriti, writes thus: “And it should not be objected that the smrti passages that enjoin sahagamana are in conflict with the following sruti passage: ‘Therefore, one who desires heaven should not depart before one’s lifespan.’ The reason for this is that they have different spheres of applicability: sruti prohibits dying by one’s own desire in general, but smrti enjoins the particular method of dying that is entering the fire when one’s husband has died. Hence, there is no conflict, for they have different spheres of applicability. Likewise, there is no conflict with (other) sruti passages that have general spheres of applicability, such as ‘Desiring heaven, one should sacrifice’ and ‘One should perform the Agnihotra rite as long as one lives’[39].” Madhavacharya, the celebrated commentator on Parashara Smriti, puts forward a similar argument and notes how “the smrti enjoining sahagamana is of greater force, as these Vedic texts do not apply here. Instead, the Vedic texts that prohibit suicide apply only to people other than women that desire heaven[40].”
The gist of the argument forwarded by Aparaarka, Madhavacharya and others is that since the Sruti passage cited by Medhatithi is of general application and the smriti passage gives a specific instruction, the latter overrides the former in that specific case, as per the hermeneutic principles of Mimamsa. An example that can clearly illustrate this is the case of Ahimsa. Ahimsa or non-injury is upheld as highest Dharma. It is one of the Samanya Dharma or common duties of all people. Yet, Kshatriyas, who have the duty to protect the people and the nation are allowed by Vishesha Dharma-special duties to use force and violence in the form of punishment and war to fulfill their obligations to the society. Similarly, though suicide in general is prohibited by the Shatapatha Brahmana and similar texts, their fields of applicability are general. There are no specific prohibitions in the Sruti or Smriti regarding Anugamana. Instead, Smriti texts enjoin Anugamana as a Dharmic activity, one that imparts heaven. Hence, the Smritis which impart special duties enjoining anugamana takes precedence over the Shruti text which imparts general prohibition against suicide.
A corollary of the above argument by Medhatithi is that Anugamana has no sanction of the Vedas. Though, Medhatithi himself has not explicitly mentioned this, many scholars, especially in recent times have highlighted this. PV Kane, for example, notes: “There is no Vedic passage which can be cited as incontrovertibly referring to widow-burning as then current, nor is there any mantra which could be said to have been repeated in very ancient times at such burning nor do the ancient grhyasutras contain any direction prescribing the procedure of widow burning[41].”
Yet, the writers in the Dharmashastra tradition, at least from the time of Aparaarka, have quoted the Rigvedic verse 10.18.7, as well as a verse from Brahma Purana[42], which quotes Rigveda as a positive evidence that prove the sanction of Sruti for Anugamana. The Rigvedic verse in question states: “Let these unwidowed dames with noble husbands adorn themselves with fragrant balm and unguent. Decked with fair jewels, tearless, free from sorrow, first let the dames go up to where he lieth[43].” The very next verse (i.e. Rigveda 10.18.8) states: “Rise, come unto the world of life, O woman: come, he is lifeless by whose side thou liest. Wifehood with this thy husband was thy portion, who took thy hand and wooed thee as a lover[44].” Kane notes that the verse 10.18.7 was not “addressed to widows at all, but to ladies of the deceased man’s household whose husbands were living and the grhyasutra of Asv. made use of it with that meaning.” Similarly, traditional commentators on the Vedas like Sayana also do not consider the verse a reference to Anugamana. Instead, verses 10.18.8 & 10.18.9[45] have been held as a reference to either Niyoga or remarriage.
But, what is clear is that at least, a few of the traditional commentators and digest writers like Aparaarka, Kashinatha Upadhyaya, etc. have interpreted 10.18.7 as a reference to Anugamana, while 10.18.8 has been taken as a reference to the widow’s family urging her to get up from the pyre and not continue with Anugamana. One text, Sahamaranavidhi, in fact, goes to the extent of saying that the verse 10.18.8 was only to test the resolution of the widow and “induce her to retire if she be not sufficiently firm in her purpose.” The usage of these verses in the Anugamana ritual, at least since, medieval times have already been noted in the previous section. Even Kane, notes: “The two verses ‘iyam nari’ and Rg. X. 18. 8 are employed by the Baudhayana-Pitrmedhasutra in the funeral rites, the first to be repeated when the wife is made to sit near the corpse and the next for making her rise. It is to be noted that Baud. directs that the corpse is placed on the funeral pile after the wife is made to rise from the vicinity of the corpse; while the Brhad-devata appears to suggest that the wife ascends the funeral pile after the corpse is placed thereon and then the younger brother forbids her with the verse udirsva[46]” This is very significant, since firstly, it shows that the said verses were utilized in funeral rites. Second, the different ways in which the widow is suggested to sit near the husband’s body points towards the possibility that while Baud. was referring to widows who would not commit Anugamana but only symbolically sit in front of the pyre, the procedure in Brhad-devata was actually directed at widows who had decided to perform anugamana. Though, Kane notes: “But the Brhad-devata does not mean that the wife burns herself on the funeral pyre and the brother-in-law contents himself with only repeating a verse to dissuade her[47]”, even he had to concede that “The Rgvidhana (III. 8. 4) says that the brother-in-law should call back the wife of his sonless brother when she is about to ascend the funeral pyre for procreating a son on her with Rg. X. 18. 8. It appears that the verse Rg X. 18. 8 symbolically describes what even in the days of the Rgveda was probably only a tradition viz, that in hoary antiquity a wife burnt herself with her husband[48].”
The very possibility that the Rigvedic verses could have referred to the practice of Anugamana, even if it was only in the hoary antiquity and not during ‘Rigvedic’ times, is enough to give credence to the Anugamana ritual put together during the medieval period that utilizes these verses in the context of Anugamana. In any case, we also have two verses (18.3.1-2) from Atharvaveda, which are clearer than the Rigvedic verses in their meaning and implication. The verses in question state: “Choosing her husband’s world, O man, this woman lays herself down beside thy lifeless body. Preserving faithfully the ancient custom. Bestow upon here both wealth and offspring (18.3.1). Rise, come unto the world of life, O woman: come, he is lifeless by whose side thou liest. Wifehood with this thy husband was thy portion who took thy hand and wooed thee as a lover (18.3.2)[49].” The first verse above notes without any ambiguity that the widow would lie beside her husband’s body choosing her “husband’s world”, i.e. choosing to go with him to heaven. The second verse, is of course, the urging of the family and the priests to the widow to rise up from the pyre and not to go ahead with Anugamana. Aravind Sharma writes that even Sayana notes how with the first verse, the widow is made to lie beside her dead husband on the funeral pyre and that the reference to progeny and property is a reference to having those in the next life[50]. Thus, to state that there is no sanction of Sruti for Anugamana would be incorrect. Nor is it correct to conclude that the urging of the widow to arise in the second verse makes Anugamana portrayed in the first verse redundant. Instead, as Sahamaranavidhi, quoted before rightly notes (though in the context of the Rigvedic verse), while the first verse speaks about Anugamana, the second speaks about the alternative. That both alternatives have been given together in the Sruti and was also later incorporated into the Anugamana ritual procedure itself, only establishes that Anugamana was an optional practice from which the widow could withdraw herself till the very last moment.
Even if, we were to discard the verses from Rigveda and sideline those from Atharvaveda that are currently available as being insufficient for positively assuming Anugamana as being sanctioned by the Sruti, even then, as Aparaarka notes, the Smriti evidence alone is enough in this case to attain the sanction of the Sruti. Aparaarka (1.87) writes: “Moreover, it should not be objected that when a smrti text is contradicted by a sruti text that has a general sphere of applicability, it becomes unauthoritative, because there is really no contradiction between them, as these texts have different spheres of applicability: one is general and one is specific. For contradiction exists only when there is no difference between spheres of applicability, but not when there is a difference between specific spheres of applicability. And therefore, from a smrti text that has a specific sphere of applicability, one can infer a sruti text that has its same specific sphere of applicability and that it is the basis of it. And that sruti text carries greater weight than a sruti text with a general sphere of applicability and, hence, causes it to be restricted[51].”
To understand what Aparaarka is saying, we must first understand the Pramanas or the means of valid knowledge in the case of Dharma. Manu Smriti (2.12) notes: Veda, Smriti, Sadachara and Atmatrupti as the four means for having correct knowledge about Dharma. Of these, Vedas alone are considered as the very source of Dharma (2.6). That is, while the Sruti is the direct and foundational pramana for Dharma, Smriti and others derive from Sruti. The other Pramanas are, in fact, successive stages of contextualization of the Dharmic teachings available in Sruti to practical life. Hence, though we have lost a large number of branches of Vedas and have no longer access to these texts, from the guidelines on a particular theme that are present in the available Smritis, we can infer that such guidelines would have been present in the Sruti texts as well, though it may be absent in the currently available Sruti texts.
In other words, since, we only have a general prohibition against Suicide and not a specific prohibition against Anugamana in the Sruti; and since, on the other hand, we have a specific guideline proposing Anugamana as a Dharmically legitimate path in the Smriti texts; we have to infer that there must be a specific Sruti injunction considering Anugamana as a Dharmically legitimate path, though such a Sruti text is no longer available to us having been lost over the course of the time. That this is a legitimate hermeneutics process accepted in the Dharmashastra tradition can also be known from the fact that Kulluka Bhatta in his commentary on Manu Smriti verse 1.3 notes that “vedas” refers to both available Srutis and those which can be inferred from Smritis and other texts like Puranas[52]. Thus, the assertion that Anugamana has no sanction of Sruti or that it is against Sruti has no basis.

Is Anugamana same as Suicide?
Interesting, no Dharmashastra author appears to have provided a direct refutation of the objection that Anugamana is analogous to suicide. But, before proceeding, it is worth noting that the term used by Medhatithi is “Atmatyaga” or “renunciation of the self, i.e. body” which has a wider and generally more neutral connotation to it than the term “suicide”, which carries a baggage of negative connotation to it. It is in this context, then we must understand the Dharmashastra writer’s assertion that though there is a general prohibition against “Atmatyaga” (renouncing the body) before its naturally stipulated time, it does not apply to the specific case of Anugamana.
Nevertheless, it is worth examining whether Anugamana is analogous to how we understand suicide today. For the purpose of the article, we would adopt the definition of suicide provided by American Psychological Association: “Suicide is the act of killing yourself, most often as a result of depression or other mental illness.” Then, the question which must be asked are: Whether Anugamana is an outcome of depression? Whether Anugamana is an outcome of mental illness or some personality disorder? We can straight away discard the notion that those who performed Anugamana did so out of some mental illness or personality disorder. That means, we are left with only one question: Whether Anugamana was performed due to depression?
Though, a superficial reading of the practice of Anugamana, especially some of its descriptions like those in Brahma Purana, quoted previously which states: “There is no other recourse (than sahagamana) for a good woman when her husband dies, (for) there is no other way to extinguish the burning pain of being separated from her husband”, may suggest that the widow indeed opts for Anugamana as a result of shock and depression, a careful reading of the intricacies involved in the Anugamana ritual as well as the nuances put forward in the Dharmashastras give us an opposite picture.
For one, if the widow does indeed wants to simply commit suicide unable to bear the pain and out of depression due to the loss of the husband, she can as well do so by other means: drowning in the river, hanging herself, etc. Why would she take the trouble to ascend the pyre and become burned alive? Why would she voluntarily choose a more painful path? The fact that the widow consciously makes a decision to follow the husband to the funeral pyre and burn herself with her husband’s dead body with a strong resolve to unite with him after discarding her body, shows that her performance of Anugamana is anything but a rash or rushed decision taken in depression.
Second, a careful look at the ritual procedure involved in Anugamana– the Sankalpa, the giving of clothes, kumkum, turmeric, etc. to other married women, the prayer to Agni, the Ahutis, etc.– reveal that the ritual requires a lot of poise and self-control on the part of the widow. Only an extremely self-controlled and courageous widow can undergo the entire ritual.
Third, a look at other exceptions to the general prohibition against Atma-tyaga will reveal these cases have no resemblance to Suicides. Other exceptions include, ascetics who discard their bodies at holy places in order to attain heaven[53], heroic warriors who deliberately embrace death in the battle[54], Prayopravesha or embracing death by fasting of persons who are aged or no longer have worldly responsibilities[55]. All these are Dharmically legitimate ways of ending one’s life and interestingly all of them require enormous courage, detachment, and self-control. Something which is missing in those who commit suicides due to depression and under the influence of other internal passions. Dalpat Singh Baya, in his study on Sallekhana, the Jain counterpart of Prayopravesha, notes how it is different from suicide. Prominent among the differences he notes include[56]:
  1. Sallekhana is not suicide because here the practitioner leaves the body through ritual practice and not by coming under the influence of internal passions and adopting lethal means as done in suicide.
  2. Psychologically, a suicidal person have conflicting desires to live and to die simultaneously. These desires may be conscious or subconscious in nature. On the other hand, the practitioner of Sallekhana, has no such desires.
  3. There is a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness in a suicidal person, whereas no such feelings exist in spiritual practitioner. The spiritual practitioner is dispassionate, self-controlled and practices Sallekhana for spiritual merit.
These observations are more or less true about Anugamana as well. The widow leaves her body through ritual action. She does not have a conflicting desires regarding to live or die and if she does, then she always has the choice to not to proceed with Anugamana until the last moment. Like spiritual practitioners, even a widow willing to perform Anugamana is full of poise, self-control, and courage. Of course, the widow is full of sorrow for the loss of her husband, which actually impels her to choose Anugamana. But, this sorrow also creates dispassion towards the body and the worldly life, which drives her to embrace Anugamana. The desire to be with her husband in heaven is yet another factor. Hence, though, Anugamana is different from other practices like Prayopravesha in a significant way, it is also different from suicide. From the above discussion, it is clear that Anugamana has no resemblance to suicide. It is instead a Dharmic way of choosing to end one’s life for attaining Preyas and Sreyas[57].
The lengthy discussion in the previous paragraphs show how the Dharmashastra tradition is not monolithic and instead discussed and debated on all aspects of Anugamana. Though many did raise various objections against the practice from time to time, these objections were answered and refuted as well by others from time to time. Dharmashastra commentators like Vijnaneshwara, Aparaarka, Madhavacharya and others have clearly established Anugamana as a Dharmically legitimate practice, though an optional practice that widows with exceptional love, courage, detachment and self-control chose to perform.
Anugamana vs. Vidwavrata vs. Punarvivaha: A comparison of the fruits accrued
We already dealt in some depth about the three Dharmically legitimate life paths that are available to the widows. But, what we did not touch upon before was the Karmic fruits i.e. the merits accrued by following each of the paths and a comparison of these fruits.
First, let us take Anugamana and Vidwavrata, since both of them are specially prescribed for Pativratas who are fully in love and are committed to their husbands. Parashara Smriti is one among the many Smriti and Dharmashastra texts which provide such an enunciation of merits obtained by the widows. Comparing the merits obtained by following Vidwavrata and Anugamana, Parashara Smriti (4.29-31) notes: “If a woman adheres to a vow of ascetic celibacy (brahmacarya) after her husband has died, then when she dies, she obtains heaven, just like those who were celibate. Further, three and a half crores or however many hairs are on a human body—for that long a time (in years) a woman who follows her husband (in death) shall dwell in heaven. And just as a snake-catcher forcefully lifts up a snake out of its hole, so does this woman lift up her husband and then rejoices together with him[58].” Tryambakayajvan in his Stridharmapaddhati (47[2] r.5-7) notes that widows who follow Vidwavrata attains three fold fruits: “She is both happy and auspicious (shubha) in this life; she obtains the pleasures of the heaven (svargabhogan), or indeed the same heaven as her husband (patilokam); and she marries the same husband in next life[59].” Regarding widows who choose Anugamana, he highlights a number of great rewards accrued: Women who follow their husbands to the cremation ground will attain with every step the rewards of Ashwamedha sacrifice; such women will attain their husbands in heaven and enjoy there for three and a half crores of years; women can purify themselves as well as their husbands and become free of many of the Adharmas committed while alive[60]; and, in short, Anugamana confers great blessings to both the wife and the husband. Tryambakayajvan, in fact, notes that Anugamana is a commendable path for widows (45r.5). Dharmasindhu of Kashinatha Upadhyaya notes that those who follow Vidhwavrata, will attain same husband and enjoy with him in heaven[61]; and those who follow Anugamana may attain heaven and other fruits, if it was done in Sakaama way (i.e. with desires) or may even attain Moksha, if done in Nishkaama way (without desires)[62]. Vijnaneshwara in his Mitaakshara (1.86), on the other hand, believes Vidhwavrata could be considered superior to Anugamana in one aspect: While alive a widow following Vidhwavrata still has the ability and possibility to attain Jivanmukti, the widow who follows her husband through Anugamana only attains heaven with him.
To summarize, Anugamana imparts following merits:
  1. When performed in Sakaama way, widows can go to heaven with their husbands and enjoy there for a very long time, in fact for as many years as there are hairs on a human body. And presumably, they will be together with their husbands in their next human lives they will take after enjoying in heaven.
  2. When performed in Sakaama way, the widows will also attain the merits accrued by performing a large number of Ashwamedha yajnas.
  3. When performed in Nishkaama way, widows can attain Moksha or final liberation. Perhaps, she will attain the heaven with her husband first, and then instead of returning back to human body, she will attain Jnana and Moksha.
  4. Secondary fruits includes purifying oneself and the husbands of some of the Adharmic actions committed while alive.
Vidhwavrata, on the other hand, imparts following fruits:
  1. When done in Sakaama way with attachment to their departed husbands, the widow, after their deaths, will join their husbands in heaven and will be with the same husbands in their next lives as well.
  2. When done in Nishkaama way, like the Brahmacharis, the widow will still attain heaven. But, perhaps, she may not be united with the husband, if she has sufficiently become dispassionate towards him.
  3. The widow will have an opportunity to gain complete Vairagya (dispassion) while alive and perhaps even attain Jivanmukti (Liberation even while alive in body).
Contrary to the above two life-paths, if a widow chooses to remarry, she would be cutting of her connection, with her departed husband, at least in the ritual/Dharmic context, and she will be establishing a newer connection with her new husband. In this case, she will of course not be uniting with her departed husband in the heaven, nor she may have him as her husband in the next life. (Though, she and the departed husband may still be destined to be coupled in some future lives, if the Karmic bond or rina-bandha between them remains unexhausted completely). She may still attain heaven and a better future birth, if she lives a Dharmic life and perhaps follows Patrivrata dharma with her new husband. It is just like the case with widowers who rekindle a new fire with a new wife and start journey afresh.
At this juncture, it is important to note that despite Parashara Smriti (4.28) clearly allowing remarriage for women under five circumstances for Kaliyuga— if husband is missing, dead, has renounced the world, is impotent, or if he commits severe Adharmic actions— which pretty much covers all legitimate grounds; except for Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, no Dharmashastra writer or commentator has written much about widow remarriage. They have either maintained silence or have criticized it. One possibility for this could be the importance of Pativrata as the means for women’s overall wellbeing. Since, the husband himself was considered the means to both heaven and liberation, love and dedication to one’s husband were upheld by the Dharmashastra authors. Vidhwavrata and Anugamana received all the attention, since they alone strengthen and reinforce the widow’s connection to their departed husbands and provides a way for her to fulfill her spiritual sadhana of Pativrata despite the husband’s death. In any case, despite the silent treatment or occasional opposition to Punar-vivaha, it is also a Dharmically legitimate path as attested in Parashara Smriti and a number of other texts.
The fruits accrued from Punar-vivaha can be summarized thus:
  1. A chance to restart her life with a new husband and hence take up the Dharmic duty of saha-dharmacharini with a new husband.
  2. Attaining heaven and other benefits by following the Pativrata duties with the new husband.
  3. The only drawback, if it can be called a drawback, is that marrying someone else after the death of one’s husband, leads to severing (or at least straining) of the Karmic relationships with the departed husband.
Anugamana vs. Jauhar: A comparison
In contemporary discourse, Anugamana and Jauhar are often used synonymously. But, it is important to note that while the former is a well-established ritual procedure in Hindu tradition, the latter evolved in a particular politically charged historical context. It is not that both of the practices are entirely distinct from each other, since they do share a number of common elements, most prominent among them being that in both practices the women ascend the pyre and become “sati” by burning themselves. Yet, Jauhar is also significantly different from Anugamana in a number of ways, the most important distinction being the motive.
Arvind Sharma notes how while the primary motive behind Jauhar was a desire to avoid being captured by the invading Muslim armies, Anugamana was performed by devoted widow[63]. Writing about the political context behind the evolution of Jauhar, Kaushik Roy notes how Jauhar was only practiced during Hindu-Muslim wars[64]. That is, Jauhar was practiced by Rajput women in order to avoid being captured, raped, and enslaved in the face of imminent defeat in the battle.
What is generally referred to as Jauhar, in fact, has two elements: Jauhar-immolation by the womenfolk and Shaka ritual by the menfolk wherein they entered the final battle, fighting till they fell dead on the battlefield. As Lindsey Harlan notes: ‘”The jauhar sati dies before and while her husband fights what appears to be an unwinnable battle. By dying, she frees him from worry about her welfare and saves herself from the possible shame of rape by triumphant enemy forces[65].” That is, Jauhar served as the female counterpart of the male Shaka ritual, with both of them attaining Veer-gati i.e. attaining heaven due to heroic death.
Thus, while Anugamana was a ritual practice available for pativrata widows, facilitating them to attain overall wellbeing, Jauhar ritual, in addition to having elements of Anugamana, also had the Kshatra element of granting Veera-gati on the performer and acted as the female counterpart of men going out on their final battles. But, the greatest significance of Jauhar in the historical context was its ability to save Hindu women from capture, rape, and slavery, which they would have been subjected to, had they been captured alive by the marauding armies of Islam.
The contemporary discourse on Anugamana or Sati suffers from a lot of misrepresentation and disinformation about the practice. As a result, both the history and the practice have gained a lot of negative traction in media and literature, thus creating a very negative image about the practice. While the historical aspect of the issue has been dealt extensively by others, this article sheds light on the practice itself.
The article examined the place of Anugamana among the various Dharmic options available for widows and compared the same with the Dharmic options available for widowers. It was then noted how the practice was voluntary in nature and love, commitment and courage were the essential elements of the practice. Various eligibility criteria and the ritual procedure were also briefly examined. The Dharmashastric debate on Anugamana with its various arguments made against Anugamana as well as their refutations were examined as well. And finally we looked into the relative merits accrued to widows by choosing Anugamana vs. Vidhwavrata vs. Punarvivaha.
From the above discussion, we can conclude that Anugamana was[66] a Dharmically legitimate ritual practice and a life choice that imparted great merits to the widow as well as to her dead husband. It was, indeed, in many a sense, an ultimate symbol of love, commitment, courage and sacrifice. Nevertheless, it was only one among the three Dharmically legitimate life-choices available for widows (the other being widowhood and remarriage), with each of these three life-choices having their own importance and imparting their own merits on the widow. It was ultimately up to the widow to choose what was best for her and this availability of choice for the widow, made Anugamana an expression of freewill, a sacred yajna in itself. The kind of love, courage and dispassion that takes to perform Anugamana meant that the practice was always extraordinary, not ordinary. And the historical evidence shows that the widows only rarely and sporadically chose Anugamana.
[1] Meena Menon, Geeta Seshu, Sujata Anandan. 1987. Trial By Fire: A Report on Roop Kanwar’s Death, Bombay Union of Journalists. Cited from Jain, Meenakshi (2016). Sati. Preface X. Delhi: Aryan Books International
[2] Jain, Meenakshi (2016). Sati. Preface X. Delhi: Aryan Books International
[3] Ibid. 179
[4] Mahānārāyaṇa Upaniṣad (79.7)
[5] Preyah and Śreyah, material wellbeing and spiritual fulfillment are proposed as two-fold goals of life in Kaṭhopaniṣad (1.2.1-2)
[6] We have many examples from history wherein the widow committed Sati, despite severe opposition and attempts to convince the widow against committing Sati by the immediate relatives. In 606 AD, for example, Queen Yasomati, the mother of King Harsha, committed Sati, despite Harsha’s attempts to convince her to not commit sati. Similarly, a Belaturu inscription of Saka 979, refers to a Sati committed by a Sudra woman at Dekabbe, despite severe opposition from her parents. Further, epigraphic evidences show that relatives often tried to discourage women from performing Sati. Even Brahmins in the community tried to prevent women from committing Sati. For more details, See: Jain, Meenakshi (2016). Sati. Delhi: Aryan Books International
[7] Sharma, A. Sati: Historical and Phenomenological Essays. Retrieved November 2017 from
[8] Kane, PV. History of Dharmashastras. Vol 2. Part 1 (628). Retrieved November 2017 from
[9] Daksha Smriti (1.9), for example, advices a Dvija to not spend even a moment in the state of anashrami and notes one who stays without an ashrama must perform prayashchitta. Piovano, I. (2002). Daksha Smriti: Introduction, Critical Edition, Translation and Appendices. Botto, O (Ed). Corpus Juris Sanscriticum. 1. Turin: Comitato ‘Corpus Juris Sanscriticum’.
[10] A symbolic wife who acts as a substitution for the real wife and in case of men whose wives have died or have separated or disappeared, these symbolic image acts as the representation of the dead or separated wife itself. A good example of this is how in Ramayana, Sri Rama creates a golden idol of Sita to perform Yajnas after he becomes separated her.
[11] The Aitereya Brahmana discusses whether a man without a wife can perform Agnihotra and concludes that he can and should since otherwise it would make him an “anaddhapurusha” or man of falsehood owing to his failure to perform sacrifices. The term “Apatnika” or a man without a wife refers to both those who never married and those whose wives have either died or are missing for a long time. See: Leslie, Julia (1995) The Perfect Wife (Stridharmapaddhati). By Tryambakayajvan. (114-115) New Delhi: Penguin Books India.
[12] Karmic connection or Rinabandha which was created when the couple bonded with each other through Vivaha and then reinforced it every day through their love, commitment, and pursuance of all Purusharthas together.
[13] Texts which mention remarriage for widows includes: Narada Samhita, Agni Purana, Garuda Purana, among others. For a detailed discussion on the validity of remarriage as a Dharmic option for a widow, See: Ishvarchandra Vidyasagar, Hindu Widow Remarriage, trans. Brian A. Hatcher. (2012). New York: Columbia University Press.
[14] PV Kane notes of some of the instances of Sati In Itihasa-Puranas: “Madrl, the favourite wife of
Pandu, burnt herself with her husband’s body. In the Virata-parva Sairandhri is ordered to be burnt with Kicaka, just as in ancient times it is said there was a custom to bury a slave or slaves along with the deceased ruler. The Mausalaparva (7. 18) says that four wives of Vasudeva, viz. Devaki, BhadrS,RohinI and Madira burnt themselves with him and (chap.7. 73-74) that RukminI, Gandhftrl, Saibya, Haimavati, Jambavati among the consorts of Krsna burnt themselves along with his body and other queens like Satyabhama went to a forest for tapas. The Visnupurana also says that eight queens of Krsna, EukminI and others, entered fire on the death of Krsna. The
Santiparva (chap. 148) describes how a kapotl (female pigeon) entered fire on the death of her husband the bird… In the Ramayana, (Uttarakanda 17. 15) there is a reference to the self-immolation of a brahmana woman… The Bhagavatapurana I. 13. 57 speaks of Gandhari’s burning herself on the death of her husband, Dhritarastra.” [Kane, PV. History of Dharmashastras. Vol 2. Part 1 (626-628). Retrieved November 2017 from]
[15] It may be asked why Anugamana has not been suggested for men. It is only because of the different nature of Grihasta duties of the husband and wife. While the wife is saha-dharmaharini for the husband, husband himself is the means for attaining purusharthas for the wife. Hence, anugamana has not been suggested as a Dharmically fruitful activity for men. However, there is no explicit prohibition against it as well. Thus, while men may not attain any spiritual merit, they may still do it out of love and for the sake of being together with their departed wives. While some may consider this to be a suicide, especially with respect to men and this needs to be debated (anugamana is not suicide with respect to women), even if this is accepted at face value, the fact that men are doing it for the sake of love and uniting with departed wives, will result in their realizing this desire, despite also incurring paapam associated with suicide. Because being a Kamya karma, one performed out of desire, it reinforces the love and rina-bandha/karmic bond between the couple. Also, as the Shastras note, the next life of a person depends upon the final thought he has just before death. This being the case, even a man who commits anugamana for the sake of wife will attain his wife. It is for this reason perhaps, the Shastras do not explicitly prohibit anugamana for men, despite not giving it as a Dharmically suitable option.
[16] Leslie, Julia (1995). The Perfect Wife (Stridharmapaddhati). By Tryambakayajvan. (141) New Delhi: Penguin Books India
[17] PV Kane writes: “Haritadharmasutra as quoted in the Sm. C. and other digests says ‘there are two sorts of women, those that are brahmavadinis (i. e. students of sacred lore) and those that are sadyovadhus (i.e. who straightway marry). Out of these brahmavadinis have to go through upanayana, keeping fire, vedic study
and begging in one’s house (i e. under the parental roof); but in the case of sadyovadhus when their marriage is drawing near, the mere ceremony of upanayana should somehow be performed and then their marriage should be celebrated’.” [Kane, PV. History of Dharmashastras. Vol 2. Part 1 (294). Retrieved November 2017 from]
[18] Sharma, S (tr) (2012). Dharmasindhu. By Kashinatha Upadhyaya. (540) Dharwad: Samaja Pustakalaya
[19] Quoted in Madanaparijata of Madanapala. Cited from Brick, D. (2010). The Dharmaśāstric Debate on Widow-Burning. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 130(2), 203-223. Retrieved from
[20] Cited from Brick, D. (2010). The Dharmaśāstric Debate on Widow-Burning. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 130(2), 203-223. Retrieved from
[21] ibid
[22] ibid
[23] ibid
[24] ibid
[25] Niryana Sindhu qualifies even this requirement and notes in case Brahmana widow who wanted to perform Sahagamana, but was unable to for some reason, she can use her husband’s bones or a piece of Palasha wood and self-immolate herself with them. Doing so removes the paapam of dying on a separate pyre. Cited from ibid.
[26] Brick, D. (2010). The Dharmaśāstric Debate on Widow-Burning. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 130(2), 203-223. Retrieved from
[27] Dharmasindhu clearly note that the statements in Dharmashastras enunciating how even women who have been wicked towards her husband can purify herself by anugamana must be understood only as “arthavada”, i.e. statements made only eulogize anugamana; since women who are negatively disposed towards their husbands do not have eligibility to perform anugamana. [Sharma, S (tr) (2012). Dharmasindhu. By Kashinatha Upadhyaya. (540) Dharwad: Samaja Pustakalaya]. It is also to be noted that doing marananthaka-prayashchitta i.e. penance wherein the performer dies at the end of the performance is prohibited in Kaliyuga [Kane, PV. History of Dharmashastras. Vol 3 (926-968). This is also perhaps another reason, why Dharmasindhu consider the statements which eulogize anugamana even for widows who have been wicked and bitter towards husband as mere “arthavada” not to be practiced. This view is expressed even by Madanapala in the context of Anugamana purifying even the husband of his heinous paapams
[28] Cited from Brick, D. (2010). The Dharmaśāstric Debate on Widow-Burning. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 130(2), 203-223. Retrieved from
[29] Sharma, S (tr) (2012). Dharmasindhu. By Kashinatha Upadhyaya. (538) Dharwad: Samaja Pustakalaya
[30] Cited from Brick, D. (2010). The Dharmaśāstric Debate on Widow-Burning. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 130(2), 203-223. Retrieved from
[31] Cited from Brick, D. (2010). The Dharmaśāstric Debate on Widow-Burning. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 130(2), 203-223. Retrieved from
[32] ibid
[33] Kane, PV. History of Dharmashastras. Vol 2. Part 1 (633). Retrieved November 2017 from
[34] Brick, D. (2010). The Dharmaśāstric Debate on Widow-Burning. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 130(2), 203-223. Retrieved from
[35] Medhatithi’s arguments have been summarized from the verses cited in Brick, D. (2010). The Dharmaśāstric Debate on Widow-Burning. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 130(2), 203-223. Retrieved from
[36] Brick, D. (2010). The Dharmaśāstric Debate on Widow-Burning. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 130(2), 203-223. Retrieved from
[37] Ibid.
[38] Brick notes: “Significantly, this refutation appears to have been quite effective, as not one of the later commentators within the dharma tradition, so far as I am aware, takes up this line of argumentation against the custom.” [ibid]
[39] Cited from Brick, D. (2010). The Dharmaśāstric Debate on Widow-Burning. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 130(2), 203-223. Retrieved from
[40] ibid
[41] Kane, PV. History of Dharmashastras. Vol 2. Part 1 (625). Retrieved November 2017 from
[42] The verse from Brahma Purana quoted by Apararka and others says:” There is no other recourse (than sahagamana) for a good woman when her husband dies, (for) there is no other way to extinguish the burning pain of being separated from her husband. And when he dies in a distant place, a virtuous woman should place a pair of his sandals on her chest and, purified, enter fire. Due to the statement of the Rgveda, such a virtuous woman does not commit suicide. And when the three days’ impurity has ceased, she eternally obtains the sraddha offering.” Cited from Brick, D. (2010). The Dharmaśāstric Debate on Widow-Burning. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 130(2), 203-223. Retrieved from
[43] Translation from Ralph T.H. Griffith. Retrieved November 2017 from This translation has been used only because of it being conveniently available.
[44] ibid
[45] Rigveda 10.18.9 reads: “From his dead hand I take the bow be carried, that it may be our power and might and glory. There art thou, there; and here with noble heroes may we o’ercome all hosts that fight against us.” [ibid]
[46] Kane, PV. History of Dharmashastras. Vol 2. Part 1 (618). Retrieved November 2017 from
[47] ibid
[48] Ibid (618-619)
[49] Translation from Ralph T.H. Griffith. Retrieved November 2017 from
[50] Sharma, A (1988). Sati: Historical and Phenomenological Essays. (37). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
[51] Cited from Brick, D. (2010). The Dharmaśāstric Debate on Widow-Burning. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 130(2), 203-223. Retrieved from
[52] In verse 3 of chapter 1 of Manu Smriti, the rishis who had asked the questions about Dharma to Manu outlines the competency of Manu Smriti as a teacher suitable for teaching about all Dharma. In this context, the verse describes how Manu is knower of all Vedas with the words “asya sarvasya vidhanasya”. While commenting on this, Kulluka Bhatta notes that while the term “Vidhana” refers to “Veda”, the usage of the term “sarvasya” or “all” refers to the entirety of Vedas, which includes both “Pratyaksha Sruti” or directly available Sruti and “Smruti-aadi-anumeyasya” or those Srutis that are to be inferred from Smruti and other texts on Dharma like the Itihasas and Puranas.
[53] Yathidharmaprakasha 17.1-32
[54] Attaining Veer-gati
[55] Compare with Jain practice of Sallekhana. Sridhar, N (2015). Is the Jain practice of Sallekhana really suicide? Retrieved November 2017 from
[56] Baya, DS. Death with Equanimity. Retrieved November 2019 from The summarized account of Baya’s observations have been quoted from Sridhar, N (2015). Is the Jain practice of Sallekhana really suicide? Retrieved November 2017 from
[57] Preyas in the form of being with husband in heaven when Anugamana is performed in Sakaama way and Sreyas in the form of Moksha when Anugamana is performed in Nishkaama way.
[58] Translation cited from Brick, D. (2010). The Dharmaśāstric Debate on Widow-Burning. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 130(2), 203-223. Retrieved from
[59] Leslie, Julia (1995) The Perfect Wife (Stridharmapaddhati). By Tryambakayajvan. (303) New Delhi: Penguin Books India.
[60] As noted earlier, while some Dharmashastra writers consider this “Prayashchitta” aspect of Anugamana only as eulogy or Arthavada for glorifying Anugamana, others point out that penances leading to death are prohibited in kaliyuga. In fact, women who are negatively disposed towards their husbands or if the husbands had performed deeply Adharmic actions, such widows are not eligible to perform Anugamana.
[61] Sharma, S (tr) (2012). Dharmasindhu. By Kashinatha Upadhyaya. (541) Dharwad: Samaja Pustakalaya
[62] Ibid (538)
[63] Sharma, A. Sati: Historical and Phenomenological Essays. Retrieved November 2017 from
[64] Kaushik Roy (2012), Hinduism and the Ethics of Warfare in South Asia: From Antiquity to the Present. Retrieved November 2018 from Wikipedia.
[65] Harlan, L (1992). Religion and Rajput Women: The Ethic of Protection in Contemporary Narratives. Retrieved from
[66] The past tense used in the paragraph, as well as elsewhere in the article is only to reflect the ground reality that Sati is a legally prohibited practice even in the Independent India. Also, the instances of Sati in independent India have been too minuscule.
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Author’s Note: This is to clarify that the purpose of the article is to understand the practice of Sati-Anugamana as it was practiced in the past using value-system prevalent at those times. The author neither suggests that Sati has to be revived today nor supports any such attempts by anyone in current times.
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Flying Dagger

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Sep 26, 2019
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It is ironic since Missionaries were burning women allover world they land foot, accusing them of witchcraft.

While marriages used to be annulled for bribe money etc. By declaring women unfaithful. A few of them who were liked by male members of churches were forced into evil practice of nunnery ( rape slavery) and made to marry one man Jesus who apparently have thousands of wives allover world.

And since he wasn't present to take care of his wives many were forcibly taken or raped by male members of church. Infact many male kids were also raped and forcibly taken by churches to this day.

Unfortunately unlike Sati which doesn't exist for centuries now this evil practice of churches still exist.

And many may not be aware but Alexander VI the famous Borgia Pope of Christians infact indulged in incest relationships with his daughter and fathered a child. Later the story were circulated that it was his son who also used to sleep with her sister and is real father.

And the modern day picture of Jesus are actually modelled and made after that same son who was also in a homosexual relationships with many painters and artists .

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