Benjamin Fleming fleming_b4 at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Oct 23 22:31:43 UTC 2008

Dear Tracy Coleman,

The specific myth-tradition about this with which I am familiar
comes out of Saivite puranic material, in association with the
destruction of Daksa's sacrifice cycle. The Rudra Samhita of the
Siva Purana tradition, for example, in its second khanda, is
entirely dedicated to the goddess Sati. One verse (Rudra Samhita
2.30.15) for example says:

vadatyevaM jane satyA dRSTvA 'sutyAgam adbhutam /
drutaM tat pArSadAH krodhAdudatiSTanndAyudhAH//15

"asutyAga" is found in Monier Williams as "giving up one's life" and
sites the Bhagavata Purana as its source (although w/o a reference).

There is a translation of this verse (and the entire khanda) in the
Ancient Indian Tradition & Mythology series (Siva Purana Vol. 1: see
page 416). That translation reads:

> When people were saying thus on seeing the self-immolation of SatI,
> her attendants rose up in anger with their weapons.

There are numerous other references to her burning her body in that
chapter also, performing preparatory rites, and so forth. At no time
is satI used as a verb but presumably there is an identification
with the goddess in this story by real-life practitioners.

The Rudra Samhita is one of the later parts of the Siva Purana
tradition, maybe 14th century, though difficult to date easily. This
may well be building on earlier traditions as the story is fairly
widespread as far as I know, although I have never done a study of
the tradition myself.



On 10/23/08 3:08 PM, "Tracy Coleman" <tcoleman at COLORADOCOLLEGE.EDU> 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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