The abolition of distressing Sati (widow burning) in early Indian history

The practice of sati (suttee)  of burning or burying alive the widows of Hindu women after their husband's death, had been in practice for centuries in the western  and also in the northern regions of India. Though it  was  voluntary on the part of widows, this practice became an unpalatable  forced act. It is said sati is  symbolic of a woman's true devotion to her departed husband.  It was also prevalent among the Muslims as well as Hindus  in the Kashmir valley.  The word Sati ( from asti, in Sanskrit)  which is synonymous with ''true'' or ''pure ''  has its mythological origin  in goddess Sati, the consort of God Shiva.  She self-immolated as she could not brook the humiliation meted out to her and her husband  due to her father  Daksha's refusal to invoke God Shiva in the Yagam performed by him. He never respected God Shiva and hated him. (Sati's later incarnation/avatar was Parvati)

 Sati  slowly evolved in the 5th-7th century and  by 1000 AD,  it became an accepted custom  among the  ruling classes, especially the Rajputs. It was prevalent more among the  Rajput clans during the Mogul era.  The earliest known Sati stone (circa 510 CE) is  called the Eran pillar of Goparaja  in the reign of the Gupta king Bhanugupta.  Sati practice was reported in Nepal in 464 CE, and later  in Madhya Pradesh in 510 CE. The practice then had spread to Rajasthan, where  the largest number of sati took  place. Earlier confined to ruling classes of Rajputs and Kshatrias, the other social classes on the lower strata followed suit and practiced sati. The  controversial  Bollywood movie  that appeared a few years ago depicted the practice of Jauhar in Rajasthan. 

Sati (widow burning), India. en wikipedia org.

Sati - Mehangarh fort, Rajasthan, hand impressions

earliest sati stone(Gupta period, 510 CE), en wikipedia. org

 The methods of commuting widows to sati were different. Woman would be asked to sit ion the husband's  pyre or lie down next to the dead body or jump into the funeral pyre.To relieve the woman of pain and agony, she would consume poison and get into the funeral pyre once she became unconscious. Pregnant women and those who were undergoing period would be exempted from sati. In order to be remembered a stone was  created as a memorial to the chaste wife of the rulers. The queen had to leave her  hand prints on the wall  for the posterity to remember her as the most devoted wife.  There are sati stones with hand impressions  inside the famous Mehrangarh Fort of Rajasthan.

Rajaram Mohan Roy, Bengal 

Though the Hindu religion does not encourage  such a cruel social act, the divergent culture of the Moguls and the Rajput rulers  was the culmination of this practice.  When a war was won by the Mogul rulers, Rajput women from the royal families did not want to risk their lives ending  up in the harem of Muslim rulers to be  ill-treated or  pushed to the status of  concubine. At  stake was not only  their honor and dignity but also of their slain husband. So, they chose an honorable solution  of Sati instead of facing shameful life  and loss of pride.  During Hindu Muslim conflicts Rajputs practiced mass sati called Jauhar.  In the Muslim countries during the  medieval period widowhood for Hindu women  meant extreme unhappiness, gloom  and misery. Part of the reason is the practice of slavery in the Muslim kingdom and perversion among certain rulers. No mercy was shown to them in those days  and they had to remain depressed  and dejected through out their capture  like caged birds. However, this practice that peaked in the 15th and 17th century  ultimately became declined and stopped in the 17th century during the East India company' s persistent action to end this social evil. . 

Earlier Mogul rulers Akbar in 1500 and later Aurangzeb in 1663 tried to end sati, an “hallowed custom that had been around for sometime, but they made only futile attempt. So were the colonial rulers Portuguese, French and the English. The scourge of sati continued unabated in certain parts of the Indian subcontinent.  

Surprisingly, sati had been reported in the Madras Presidency and the first official British response to this incident in 1680  came from none other than Governor of Madras Streynsham Master (28 October 1640 – 28 April 1724) ) who made English the sole official language in the Presidency and also the language of the court.  He intervened and prohibited the burning of a Hindu widow  in Madras Presidency. He could not take any drastic action without the support of EIC  as it followed a policy of non-interference in  matters related to the Hindu religion. So,  there was no legislation or ban on Sati.  After long deliberation, discussions and debate Gov. General Lord William Bentinck  (1774–1839)  successfully passed in the Council  on  4 December 1829, the  Bengal Sati Regulation, XVII  and it made the practice of sati or suttee illegal in all jurisdictions of India  under the English company's rule and subject to prosecution. Sati is nowhere enjoined by the the Hindus scriptures  as an imperative duty, but majority of the Hindus preferred the widows to lead a life of dignity and purity. But, there were certain acts of  atrocities committed on the dejected and lonely women by a section of unscrupulous people that were unlawful and disparaging in the eyes of  the Hindus.  

From Indian point of view Rajaram Mohan Roy of Bengal, the Father of Indian Renaissance, Hindu Philosopher  and  founder of Brahma Samaj  (1828)  relentlessly worked hard and revolted against religious hypocrisies, caste systems, child marriage and women's rights.  Being a great patriot and social reformer, he took the cudgels against sati and  persistently appealed to the English company to put an end to this horrible ritual committed by certain communities.