Tracy Coleman tcoleman at COLORADOCOLLEGE.EDU
Thu Oct 23 19:08:19 UTC 2008


     I'm curious to know when the Sanskrit term satI began to connote
specifically the wife who enters her husband's funeral pyre.  In studies I
have glanced at recently, scholars employ the term satI in discussing the
controversial phenomenon of "wife-burning," but when I turn directly to
the Mahabharata and some puranas, for example, I don't see the actual term
satI used in this way.  That is, the instances I have reviewed in these
texts say (in various ways) that the wife "entered the fire," but the
actual term satI doesn't appear in these contexts.

     In the MBh, for example, when Vasudeva renounces his life in grief
for his sons, his wives join him on the pyre and go to their husband's
world, just as some of Krishna's wives enter the fire, and some enter the
forest.  But none are called satI in these specific contexts.  Likewise in
the Bhagavata Purana, when Krishna's and Balarama's wives enter the fire
after their husbands' deaths, they simply embrace their corpses and enter
the fire, without being called satI, though in the BhP, for example,
Rukmini is elsewhere called satI -- the good woman exclusively devoted to
her husband etc.

     Has anyone written a semantic history of the Sanskrit term satI?  If
not, can you point me to specific examples in the epics and puranas when
the term is used in this way?  I certainly haven't reviewed every
appearance of the term, but the question has begun to puzzle me.

Thanks for any help.

Tracy Coleman
Associate Professor
Colorado College

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