sutteeism, n.
/su tee", sut"ee/, n.

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or sati

Indian practice whereby a widow burns herself to death either on the funeral pyre of her husband or soon after his death.

The custom may be rooted in ancient beliefs that a husband needed his companions in the afterlife, though opponents point to it as an indication of a value system deeply hostile to women. Developed by the 4th century BC, it became widespread in the 17th–18th centuries but was banned in British India in 1829. Frequent instances of suttee continued to occur for many years thereafter, and occasional instances in remote areas are still reported today.

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▪ Hindu custom
Sanskrit  sati (“good woman” or “chaste wife”) 

      the Indian custom of a widow burning herself, either on the funeral pyre of her dead husband or in some other fashion, soon after his death. Although never widely practiced, suttee was the ideal of certain Brahman and royal castes. It is sometimes linked to the myth of the Hindu (Hinduism) goddess Sati, who burned herself to death in a fire that she created through her yogic powers after her father insulted her husband, the god Shiva—but in this myth Shiva remains alive and avenges Sati's death.

      The first explicit reference to the practice in Sanskrit (Sanskrit literature) appears in the great epic Mahabharata (compiled in its present form in 400 CE). It is also mentioned by Diodorus Siculus, a Greek author of the 1st century BCE, in his account of the Punjab in the 4th century BCE. Numerous suttee stones, memorials to the widows who died in this way, are found all over India, the earliest dated 510 CE. Women sometimes suffered immolation before their husbands' expected death in battle, in which case the burning was called jauhar. In the Muslim period (12th–16th century), the Rajputs (Rājput) practiced jauhar, most notably at Chitorgarh, to save women from rape, which they considered worse than death, at the hands of conquering enemies. During the medieval period, which began in the 8th century, the hardships encountered by widows in traditional Hindu society may have contributed to its spread.

      The larger incidence of suttee among the Brahmans of Bengal was indirectly due to the Dayabhaga system of law (c. 1100), which prevailed in Bengal and which gave inheritance to widows. In the 16th century, steps to prohibit suttee were taken by the Mughal (Mughal Dynasty) rulers Humayun (Humāyūn) and his son Akbar. Suttee became a central issue under the British Raj, which first tolerated it, then inadvertently legalized it by legislating conditions under which it could be done, and then finally, in 1829, outlawed it—using the condemnation as one of its justifications for continuing British rule of India.

      Suttee was sometimes committed voluntarily, but cases of compulsion, escape, and rescue are known. Scattered instances of it continue to occur, most notoriously in the case of Roop Kanwar, an 18-year-old widow who committed suttee in 1987. The incident was highly controversial, as groups throughout India either publicly defended Kanwar's actions or declared that she had been murdered.

Wendy Doniger

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Suttee —    Suttee, or sati, is a Hindu custom in which widows immolated themselves on the funeral pyre of their husbands. Suttee was supposed to be voluntary, but it was in fact often coerced. The practice was banned in Indian territory held by some of… …   Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914

  • Suttee — Sut*tee , n. [Skr. sat[=i] a faithful wife, fem. of sant existing, real, true, good, p. pr. of as to be. Cf. {Sooth}.] 1. A Hindoo widow who immolates herself, or is immolated, on the funeral pile of her husband; so called because this act of… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • suttee — ou suttie (su tie, pour les deux orthographes) s. f. Sacrifice volontaire des veuves indiennes sur le bûcher funéraire de leur mari. ÉTYMOLOGIE    Sanscr. çuddhi, sacrifice volontaire …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • suttee — self cremation of a Hindu widow on her husband s funeral pyre, 1786, from Hindi, from Skt. sati virtuous woman, fem. of sat good, wise, lit. existing, prp. of asmi I am (cognate with L. esse; see ESSENCE (Cf. essence)). Properly, the word for the …   Etymology dictionary

  • suttee — [sə tē′, sut′ē] n. [Hindi sattī < Sans satī, chaste and virtuous wife < sat, good, pure, prp. of as, to be: for IE base see IS1] 1. a Hindu widow who allowed herself to be cremated alive on the funeral pyre of her husband s body 2. the… …   English World dictionary

  • suttee — also sati noun Etymology: Hindi satī wife who performs suttee, from Sanskrit, devoted woman, from feminine of sat true, good; akin to Old English sōth true more at sooth Date: 1786 the act or custom of a Hindu widow willingly being cremated on… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • suttee — o sati Práctica india en la que una viuda se incinera, ya sea en la pira funeraria de su esposo o poco después de su muerte. Esta costumbre puede estar enraizada en la antigua creencia de que un esposo necesitaba su compañía en el más allá,… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • suttee —    (suh TEE) [Hindi, from Sanskrit: virtuous woman] Formerly, the act of self sacrifice by a Hindu widow on the funeral pyre of her husband.    When the king died, she did her wifely duty and threw herself on his funeral pyre according to the… …   Dictionary of foreign words and phrases

  • suttee — noun The custom and/or act of a Hindu woman giving herself up to be cremated on her husband’s funeral pyre as a sign of her devotion to her late spouse …   Wiktionary

  • suttee — самосожжение вдов …   Термины гендерных исследований

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