George Hart glhart at BERKELEY.EDU
Thu Oct 23 21:22:42 UTC 2008

It is perhaps worth remarking that the practice of suttee appears to  
be very old in South India.  There are poems in the Purananuru (1-3  
Cent CE) suggesting that a wife would take her own life (it is not  
specified how) and then her bones would join those of her husband in a  
pot.  Pots have been found dating to the first millennium BC that  
contain the bones of more than one person -- though as far as I know  
no one has looked to see if they evidence suttee.  There are two poems  
describing a widow going into a fire -- an event that came to be  
called tii kuLittal, "bathing in fire."  As far as I know, there is no  
word generally used in Tamil for such women, and I am not sure satii  
is used commonly in Sanskrit either.  George Hart

On Oct 23, 2008, at 12:08 PM, Tracy Coleman wrote:

> Indologists,
>     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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