DECLINE AND FALL OF BUDDHISM
(A tragedy in Ancient India)


Chapter 7
SATI WAS STARTED FOR PRESERVING CASTE
Why discuss Sati?

With the much discussed subject, now in India, about a so called "sati" of Charanshah, in village Satpura in Uttar Pradesh, some information about this evil in Hindu social system, may be not only informative but also educative to the masses who wish to build a new India on new values.

Condition of Widows in ancient India

In India, the condition of women in general, was made more dreadful than that of a slave, but the lot of widows was always very hard and they were forced to lead a horrible life of torture, disfigurement, tonsure and deprivation, with an enforced strict ban on remarriage. They were compelled to undergo sex with other men for procreation under the system of Niyoga. As if this was not enough, a peculiar system existed in India, whereby widows were burnt alive on the funeral pyre of their dead husbands. The practice existed among the higher castes mainly, though it was given a honorable and prestigious outlook among the masses by various means adopted by the Brahmins.

Why this system started in India? It was for maintaining the caste, which was very important for the welfare of those, who are benefited by it. And as the caste system grew more rigid, the sati become more strict. Notable example is Bengal, where it was enforced more strictly because of "Kulin system", where any of the hundreds of disgruntled young wives could easily poison the old man.

Position of women

Ms. Shakuntala Rao Shastri, in her "Women in Sacred Laws" very aptly describes the pitiable condition of women before the Britishers came to India:

"True it is that anyone who has witnessed the pathetic condition of women in India at the dawn of British rule cannot but be shocked at it: the enforced child marriage, the exposure of female children, putting to death female children by throwing them at the junction of the Ganges and the sea, the violence used to make women follow the Sati rite and thus end their miserable existence, the shameful treatment accorded to a widow, the (in)famous kulinism which made marriage a profession rather than a sacrament, made woman not only an object of pity but many a woman sighed in the secret recess for her heart and wished that she had never been born a woman in this unfortunate country." [Shastri: 1959: 171]

The situation described by the learned Vedic Scholar is at the time of dawn of British occupation, but since how long it was in existence? The reply is that this was the situation since the fall of Buddhism around tenth century A.D. That the women enjoyed high position in Buddhist period can be judged by a mere glance at the Buddhist law being practiced in India before tenth century A.D. and which is practiced in all the Buddhist countries even now.

Today after passing of Ambedkar's Hindu Code, piece meal, the Hindu Laws of Marriage, Adoption, Succession, and other related Laws have been changed to a great extent. But prior to 1956, the Old Hindu Brahmanic Law was in force, under which the condition of women was pitiable. To get some idea of how these laws were made more and more cruel is seen if one considers that original law of India was Buddhist Law. Buddhist law was the national law of India, because from the historical period, the religion of India was Buddhism. It was the main stream. The Brahmins succeeded in causing the fall of Buddhism, at the cost of women and Shudras. They had to bear the brunt of all evils, to maintain the supremacy of the Brahmins.

The Buddhist personal Laws about Women

To get some idea of what was The Buddhist Personal Law, we quote from Ms. Shastri.

"In Buddhist Law, the position of women was different. The religion was more practical and elastic as well as highly ethical due to the eight principles of life enjoined on each man: (1) Right Understanding; (2) Right mindedness; (3) Right speech; (4) Right Action; (5) Right livelihood; (6) Right endeavor; (7) Right concentration; (8) Right collectedness.

"In Buddhism every human being - man or woman - is a free agent able to work out his own salvation independent of any supernatural agency or the medium of priests or rituals. The inequality between man and woman is wiped out. Hence woman in the Buddhist Law has a special place.

"Buddhist marriage is a simple ceremony it is purely a civil contract.

"The age at which a girl is allowed independent choice is twenty. If a girl contracts a marriage before this period without the consent, expressed or implicit, of her guardians or parents, it is null and void. This rule is not binding on widows and divorcees as their first marriage has already freed them from paternal control.

"Polygamy is allowed in Buddhist Law. A man can marry a second time during the lifetime of the first wife; but a woman has not a similar choice. Wives of inferior status, who can however inherit the property of their husband, are mentioned and Buddhist Law speaks of them as 'wives and concubines'. Concubines have a legal status and can inherit property, hence illegitimacy of children is avoided.

"Women have the same rights of inheritance as men. On marriage the couple have a joint interest on their estate, each keeping his or her share separate. All property acquired or inherited comes under joint property. Both husband and wife get equal share of interest. But where property is the contribution of one party only, the contributor gets two-third share and the other one-third.

"Divorce is permissible by mutual consent under Buddhist Law. When one party contracts some incurable disease, such as leprosy, divorce is immediately granted.

"In these cases each is entitled to one half of the interest in property. If one deserts the other, divorce is automatic and the deserting party forfeits all rights to inherit property but is liable to pay off the joint debts if any.

"If the husband becomes a priest against the wishes of his wife and remains as such for seven days, the wife inherits the entire property and to pay off also their joint debts, To sell or mortgage a joint property, the consent of the wife is obligatory. Neither party can act independently. A woman has the right to adopt under Buddhist Law she might adopt for inheritance or out of pity; girls are not barred from adoption.

"These laws still survive in Buddhist countries like Burma, Indochina, Japan and Ceylon, But it must be said that at one time when Buddhism was a living religion in India, they influenced, not to a small extent, Hindu culture and the legal literature, Kautlilya admits divorce by mutual consent as did the Buddhists. [The Bombay Law Reporter, Vol. 38, p. 14, quoted by Shastri: 1959: 7]

As this comes from a scholar, who is a strong supporter of Brahmanic Laws and visibly biased against Buddhism as she blames Buddhists for every thing at every conceivable opportunity even applying a wrong logic, it is more important. Sati, enforced widowhood and girl child marriage along with prohibition of education of women and reduction of age of marriage of women are the various points so inter-related that they must be discussed together. But leaving the question of position of women in general for some future occasion, we would like now to deal only with one aspect of this broad subject in this article, that is the prevalence of Sati.

Efforts to stop Sati

Saint Raidas, a chamaar by caste, and guru of Saint Meerabai of Rajputana was the first person to oppose Sati, says P. S. Changole. ['Prabuddha Bharat', 30.4.2000] All the Rajput rulers, the pseudo-Kshatriyas always eulogized the practice of Sati under the Brahmanic domination, but many Muslim and Christian rulers had attempted to stop the practice of Sati. During Portuguese rule in Goa, in 1508 A.D., Albuquirk declared it as a crime. Akbar was against use of force to stop it, but he had declared it a crime punishable by death penalty, and he had also rode 450 miles to save the queen of Jodhpur just a few steps away from pyre. Jehangir had proclaimed death penalty for those putting a widow in funeral pyre of her dead husband with force. Aurangjeb had declared that no woman would be allowed to be burnt alive. But nobody among the Hindus except Raja Rammohan Roy tried to end this infamous custom. [Nag: 1972: 44] Raja had undertaken this onerous task after the flames of Sati had engulfed his own family members.

The Raja used to be abused by his own kith and kin as a "Muslim", when he tried to prevent a widow burning. His opponents were Radhakant Deo, Pundit Kalanand Banerjee, Pundit Nimai Mukhopadyaya, Harihar Shastri, Darmapati Ganguli etc. They submitted memoranda to the Governor General to expel Fr. William Kerry and Fr. William Sliman, who were opposing sati. Their argument against the missionaries was that the missionaries are awakening public opinion against sati and thereby destroying Hinduism. [Francis D'Souza, Loksatta, 3.12.99]

But thanks to Raja's persistent efforts, it was eventually banned by Lord Bentik, the then Governor General of East India Co. in November 1829, and it became a Law on 4th December 1929. The appeal against this by the "Dharma Sabha", an organization of savarnas came before the Privy Council in July 1832 and the judges unanimously advised the Emperor to reject it. [Nag: 1972: 55] Interestingly the appellants had argued that if Sati is prohibited the women would kill their husbands.

Though for nearly hundred and seventy five years, the Act is in force, still the Sati is not completely stopped. Rupakuwanrs are still getting burnt. Not only that but there are important personalities supporting the act of burning the widows alive. This includes a prominent political leader and a widow queen Vijaya Raje Scindia, who did not practice it herself. Even leaders talking in favour of women's Reservation movement, like Sadhwi Ritumbhara, Uma Bharati, and Sushama Swaraj have supported the sati system. [Jyoti Lanjewar, Lokmat, 2.12.99]

Sita Agrawal tells us VHP Acharya Giriraj Kishore stating that there is nothing wrong if any woman who cannot bear the separation from her husband opts to join him in his funeral pyre, and Dharmendra Maharaj of Jaipur, the priest who presided over the ritual of self-immolation committed by Roop Kanwar upon the death of her husband in Rajasthan is the president of the Sansad`s Kendriya Margadarshan Samiti, the steering committee of the religious parliament. [Revive] Those women who do not commit sati are often forced into `reservations' where only widows live. One such place is Vrindavan [Roy]. Tonsuring of the head was forced on widows, thereby disfiguring them and they were forbidden to appear in auspicious functions, as per Puranic injunctions. Mahatma Phule, as is well known, had to arrange a "Barbers' Strike" to oppose the system. It is also well known that he opened "Bal hattya pratibandha griha", house for prevention of infanticide, for widows.

Sati in Vedas

Let us start tracing the origin of this practice. Rig Veda X.18.7 states:

"Let these women, whose husbands are worthy and are living, enter the house with ghee (applied) as corrylium (to their eyes). Let these wives first step into the pyre, tearless without any affliction and well adorned." [Rig Veda X.18.7] [Kane 199-200] quoted by Sita Agrawal, "Genocide of Women in Hinduism", Sati - Brahmin Annihilation of Widows, Chapter 5, (http:// dalitstan.org/ books/ gowh/ gowh5.html]

On this verse Sita Agrawal, who firmly believes that Vedic Aryans practiced Sati, comments that in recent times some Aryan apologists try to prove that this verse does not sanction sati, on a mistaken reading of the word agne or agneh , which they believe is agre . She believes it to be a wrong interpretation, and fabrication to distort the Sati verse which directs the widow to enter the pyre (agneh) so as to mean that the wife was to rise from her pyre and go to the front (agre).

In support she mentions other citations from scriptures which explicitly allow Sati:

1. The Garudapurana favourably mentioning sati for women of all castes, even the Chandala woman, with the only exceptions of pregnant women or those who have young children. [Garuda Purana. II.4.91-100] [Kane 237].

2. Several of Krishna's wives performed sati upon his death, including Rukmini, Rohini, Devaki, Bhadraa and Madura [Mah.Bhar. Mausalaparvan 7.18 ] [Alld, p.977, 1018-1019: Rukmini]

3. Madri, second wife of Pandu, considered an incarnation of the goddess Dhriti, performed sati [ Mah.Bhar. Adiparvan 95.65] [Alld, p.985]

4. Rohini, a wife of Vasudev, Krishna's father, who gave birth to Balram (Devki's child), later became a sati. [Alld.1018] The Vishnu Purana V.38 refers to this mass burning of Krishna's wives :

"The 8 queens of Krishna, who have been named, with Rukmini at their head, embraced the body of Hari, and entered the funeral fire. Revati also embracing the corpse of Rama, entered the blazing pile, which was cool to her, happy in contact with her lord. Hearing these events, Ugrasena and Anakadundubhi, with Devaki and Rohini, committed themselves to the flames." [Vis.Pur. 5.38] [Vis.Pur. {Wils} p.481]

However, we feel Sita Agrawal's citation of Puranas and Mahabharata can not prove that Rig Vedic Aryans did practice Sati, as these are much later creations. We tend to agree more with Ms. Shakuntala Rao Shastri who quotes Kaegi saying:

"The well known custom of burning of widows for thousands of years demanded by the Brahmins - is nowhere evidenced in the Rig-Veda; only by palpable falsification of a hymn has the existence of the custom been forcibly put into the texts which, on the contrary, prove directly the opposite - the return of the widow from her husband's corpse into a happy life and her remarriage" [Kaegi - "The Rig Veda", p.16, quoted by Shastri: 1959: 172]

Sati in Atharva Veda

There are scholars who believe, Atharva Veda is more ancient than Rig, and represents Indigenous people, but Brahmins maintain the importance of Rig Veda as original book of Aryans. Shakuntala Rao Shastri tells us the name Atharva Veda is not found before the Sutra period. [Shastri:1956:39, Vedic Index, vol. I, 18] It represents the life of another branch of Aryans who came to India later. [Shastri: 1956: 58] It was the literature of a different stock of Aryan family, who were influenced by Iranian culture and who entered India later than the Rig Vedic group. [Shastri: 1956: 62] Here the mention is found for widowhood in one of the later books dealing with funeral ceremonies. [Shastri:1956:53] Out of the two verses about widows, one refers to custom of widow lying beside her dead husband on pyre and the following verse describes the maiden being led forth for the dead. It is clear that burning of widow was prevalent in Atharva-Vedic cult, but 'became almost extinct and was observed only as a show.' [Shastri: 1956: 54]

Time of Origin of Sati

"It may now be asked, when and how this custom of the self- annihilation of windows on the funeral pyre of their husbands technically called by the name of Anumarana then, and later the 'Sati rite', came to be introduced and enforced in India? The available evidence shows that the custom was entirely nonexistent in early Hindu society.

"The Vedic practice was for a widow to marry her dead husband's younger brother. In the sutra period she was allowed to marry any near kinsman; in the earliest Dharmasutra (Gautama) without enjoining any restriction and in the later (Baudhayana and Vasishtha) enjoining ascetic practices for a short period only. Later on, however this asceticism alone remained and became life long. This was the characteristic of the period ranging between the 2nd century B.C. and the 4th century A.D., when the Smritis of Manu and Yajnavalkya were compiled. But there is absolutely no mention of widow burning. Later on, however, we find Anumarana prescribed for a widow as an alternative to life long asceticism.

"This is clear even from a superficial study of the Vishnu and the Brihaspati Smritis, which were put together between the 5th and the 9th centuries. A. D. Hindu society was completely revolutionized soon after this, and we find new Smritis and new commentaries springing up and holding up the ideal thing for a widow in comparison with life-long asceticism. This last is no doubt mentioned by them, but only incidentally.

"On the other hand, this practice was exceedingly eulogized and celestial felicity of the highest type was promised to the widow who immolated herself. In fact, she was believed to raise her dead husband even from hell and make him a participant of her heavenly bliss. The period between the 5th 9th centuries was a period of transition. The practice of Anumarana was, no doubt, gaining ascendancy, but authors and scholars were not wanting who condemned it." [Shastri : 1959 : 124]

Brahmanic Authors opposing Sati

Perhaps the first author opposing the practice was poet Banabhatta, who flourished earlier than Medhatithi in the 7th century A.D and was protege of Harshavardhana, the last Buddhist Emperor prior to Palas. His view on the subject have been embodied in a characteristic passage of the "Kadambari". He thought that:

"This practice which is called Anumarana is utterly fruitless. This is a path followed by the illiterate this is manifestation of infatuation, this is a course of ignorance, this is an art of foolhardiness, this is short-sightedness, this is stumbling through stupidity, viz. that life is put and end to when a parent, brother, friend, of husband is dead. Life should not be ended, if it does not leave one of itself. ..." [Kadambari: Edited by Kashinath Pandurang Parab, Nirnaysagar Press, 1890, purva-bhag, pp.339-9, quoted by Shastri]

The another such author was Medhatithi, who was, however, a schooliast and probably belonged to one school of Law. About him it is said:

"Medhatithi did not look upon Anumarana, or the self- immolation of windows, as a Dharma or meritorious act at all, and tolerated it only as a transgression in times of distress. On the other hand, Vijnanesvara and Madhavacharya regarded Anumarana as a Dharma and not as an act of suicide. Hence they argued that the suicide prohibited by the sruti text was to be considered suicide in all cases, except in that of self-destruction by a widow. The whole mental vision thus seems to have changed between the times when Medhatithi and Vijnanesvara respectively wrote, that is, between the 9th and the 11th centuries. [Shastri : 1959 : 124]

In the law-codes, however, it is the Vishnu Smriti that sanctions widow-burning for the first time in the religious and legal literature of India. The Vishnu Smriti has been supposed to have been complied soon after the 5th century A.D [Shastri : 1959 : 128 ff.] Thus Sati was legalised after decline of Buddhism started, and was gradually imposed harshly in later periods.

The earliest recorded instance of Sati

The earliest known case is recorded by Diodorus, about a soldier from India who died in Iran and his two wives vied with each other to get burnt alive on his funeral pyre.

"... In the year 316 B.C., the leader of an contingent which had gone to fight under Eumenes in Iran was killed in battle. He had with him his two wives. There was immediately a competition between them as to which was to be the sati. The question was brought before the Macedonian and Greek generals, and they decided in favour of the younger, the elder being with child. At this the elder woman went away lamenting, with the band about her head rent, and tearing her hair as if tidings of some great disaster has been brought her; and the other departed, exultant at her victory, to the pyre crowned with fillets by the women who belonged to her and decked out splendidly as for a wedding. She was escorted by her kinsfolk who chanted a song in praise of her virtue. When she came near to the pyre, she took off her adornments and distributed them to her familiars and friends, leaving a memorial of herself, as it were, to those who has loved her. Her adornments consisted of a multitude of rings on her hands set with precious gems of diverse colours, and about her neck a multitude of necklaces, each a little larger than one above it. In conclusion, she said farewell to her familiars and was helped by her brother onto the pyre, and there to the admiration of the crowd which had gathered together for the spectacle she ended her life in heroic fashion. Before the pyre was kindled, the whole army in battle array marched round it thrice, she meanwhile lay down beside her husband, and as the fire seized her no sound of weakness escaped her lips. The spectators were moved, some to pity and some to exuberant praise. But some of the Greeks present found fault with such customs as savage and inhumane. The Greeks, we find, had a theory to account for the custom, whether of their own invention or suggested to them by Indian informants we cannot say. The theory was that once upon a time wives had been so apt to get rid of their husbands by poison that the law had to be introduced which compelled a widow to be burnt with her dead husband." [Beven:1968:372]

Epigraphic evidences of Sati

Ms. Shakuntala Rao Shastri describes the "Memorial stelae". They are small stone uprights sculptured with figures and inscriptions, and are called Devli, and are found in abundance in Rajputana. They are erected in commemoration of women immolating themselves on funeral pyres of their husbands. The earliest one found in Jodhpur state at Gatiyala is dated 890 A.D. The earliest of these stelae is found in Eran in Sagar District in M.P. and is dated 510 A. D. Thus the practice of Sati was coming to vogue in sixth century A.D. [Shastri:1959:130]

The Annals of Kashmir by Kallahna of 12th century, mentions some instances where, in addition to wife / wives others like concubines, slaves, mother nurse, friends and followers also practiced Anumaran. Earliest mentioned was in 902 A.D. King Samkaravarman, in 1081 A.D. King Ananta, in 1161 A.D. King Malla, and the last one mentioned was in 12th century of King Sussala. [Shastri: 1959:130]

Not only it was practiced in North, West and Central India, the examples of Inscriptions from Epigraphica Carnataka show that the custom existed in South India also. Anumarana was practiced after deaths of various kings like - in 1130 A.D. Kadamba King Tailapa, Ganga King Nitimarga, and Satyavakya Kongunivarman Lord of Nandagiri, both of whom lived in 915 A.D., in 1220 A.D. King Ballala, and in 1180 King Bammarasa. [Shastri: 1959: 132 ff.]

When a Tomar King in Gujrath died, his 90,000 queens were requested not to commit sati. They consulted their Kula-brahmana, who advised them to commit sati as Veda verse 18/877 mentions "Agne" and not "Agre", just for the sake of golden coins, thus condemning these 90,000 women to flames. 3000 queens committed sati with king of Vijaynagar. On conquest of Jaselmere by Muslims, 24 thousand queens committed sati. Old cremation place has got inscriptions mentioning names of those committing sati. 112 queens of king Amarsing of Bundi, 88 queens of Keshosing, Jagirdar of Dharampur, 78 queens of Surendrasing of Palitana. Some social reformists tried to prevent sati of 95 queens of Bharatpur, but they had to commit sati. [Francis D'Souza, Loksatta, 3.12.99]

Travellers' Accounts

Many travellers from Al Biruni to Abbe DuBois mention the practice, the account of Travernier is most illuminating. French traveller Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a jeweller by profession, visited India 6 times between 1641 and 1667 for gem trade. All his writings display a marked admiration for India without any inherent religious bias. His description apart from being gory and horrible, also depicts greed of Brahmins:

"The Brahmans accompanying her [the Sati] exhort her to show resolution and courage, and many Europeans believe that in order to remove the fear of that death which man naturally abhors, she is given some kind of drink that takes away her senses and removes all apprehensions which the preparations for her (p.165) death might occasion. It is for the interest of the Brahmans that these unhappy women maintain the resolution they have taken to burn themselves, for all the bracelets which they wear, both in arms and legs, with their earrings and rings, belong of right to the Brahmans, who search for them in the ashes after the women are burnt. [Tavernier, Vol.II, p.164-165, Quoted by Sita Agrawal]

These heart-rending descriptions taken directly from Tavernier's Travels, Ms. Agrawal believes, prove that it was the Brahmins who enforced Sati upon the non-Brahmin races in order to exterminate them and to steal their wealth. It must be remembered, she says, that Brahmins had infiltrated the Mughal administration, and continued Sati despite prohibitory orders from Mughal kings. She quotes Tavernier further:

"I have seen women burnt in three different ways, according to the customs of different countries. In the kingdom of Gujarat; and as far as Agra and Delhi, this is how it takes place : On the margin of a river or tank, a kind of small hut, about 12 feet square, is built of reeds and all kinds of faggots, with which some pots of oil and other drugs are placed in order to make it burn quickly. The woman is seated in a half-reclining position in the middle of the hut, her head reposes on a kind of pillow of wood, and she rests her back against a post, to which she is tied by her waist by one of the Brahmans, for fear lest she should escape on feeling the flame . In this position she holds the dead body of her husband on her knees, chewing betel all the time; and after having been about half an hour in this condition, the Brahman who has been by her side in the hut goes outside, and she calls out to the priests to apply the fire; this the Brahmans, and the relatives and friends of the woman who are present immediately do, throwing into the fire some pots of oil, so that the woman may suffer less by being quickly consumed.

"After the bodies have been reduced to ashes, the Brahmans take whatever may be found in the way of melted fold, silver, tin, or copper, derived from the bracelets, earrings, and rings which (p.166) the woman had on; this belongs to them by right, as I have said." [Tavernier, Vol.II, p.165-166, quoted by Sita Agrawal]

Methods in Dravida Region

The poison of Brahmanism had already seeped, Agrawal mentions, deep into the veins of South India when Tavernier arrived, and Brahmin genocide of Dravidians was in full swing. Tavernier was himself witness to many scenes of Brahmin men murdering Dravidian women in cold blood by the most horrible means imaginable. Here is one such description of the Brahmin murder of a Dravidian woman :

"In the greater part of the Coromandel coast the woman does not burn herself with the body of her deceased husband, but allows herself to be interred, while alive, with him in a hole which the Brahmans dig in the ground, about 1 foot deeper than the height of the man or woman. They generally select a sandy spot, and when they have placed the man and woman in the hole, each of their friends fills a basket of sand, and throws it on the bodies until the hole is full and heaped over, half a foot higher than the ground, after which they jump and dance upon it till they are certain that the woman is smothered." [Tavernier, Vol.II, p.168, quoted by Sita Agrawal]

Blame the Buddhists and Muslims for all ills of Hinduism

This was the strategy of modern Brahmanism. Sita Agrawal lists some such bizarre Brahmin fraud hypotheses by several obscurantist Brahminists to "fabricate non-Vedic explanations for the occurrence of sati, often with less than honest intentions"

Corruption : One silly canard spread by the Brahmins, Agrawal says, is that the custom of sati started when `Hindu' society started to `degenerate' in the Puranic Dark Ages. If so, she asks, then why do the Vedas take this custom for granted? Why did Krishna's wives perform sati? Are we to then conclude that Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu himself, was a corrupt `Hindu'? Again, where did this corruption come from? When did it start?

Islamic Califate and Sati : One far-fetched Hindu fundamentalist idea ascribes the origin of sati as being due to the molestation of `Hindu' women by Muslim men. Thus the bigoted Brahminist historian Sudheer Birodkar writes: [Birodkar, Ch.3 : The Hindu Ethos]:

" From the 13th century onwards up to the coming of the British, the position of women was insecure due to the arbitrary power structure associated with the feudal society and the rule of the Sultans of Delhi. Although during the reign of the later Mughals the situation had improved relatively, women in the medieval ages were often exposed to the lust of feudal overlords. Their insecurity increased after the demise of their husbands. This compulsion which was resultant of a particular age was by far the most important reason for the prevalence of Sati during the middle ages. "

Needless to say, this fallacious theory would imply the existence of Muslims to molest Krishna's wives, Madri and the galaxy of Vedic Aryan women who performed self-immolation, Agrawal ridicules the theory. It also overlooks, she says, the accounts by ancient Greeks and Arabs on the prevalence of sati. In fact, the Muslim emperors took active steps to abolish sati. (e.g. Ghiyasudin, Akbar, Muhammad Tughlaq) and the Sufi saints condemned it. Thus, we find that Muhammad Tughlaq opposed Sati [Nand, p.173] The saintly Aurangzeb manifestly opposed the custom of sati and prohibited it in his empire. Agrawal asks some pointed questions:

Which `Muslim invaders' molested Krishna's wives, forcing them to perform Sati?

Which Muslims introduced the Sati hymns into the Vedas?

Which Muslims fabricated the whole lot of Hindu scriptures of Puranas, Smrtis and Shastras, inserting the verses praising Sati?

Were the Ocean of Story, the Jatakas and the Panca Tantra authored by Muslims in order to fabricate evidence of Sati?

There is only one reason for the propagation of these lies by the Brahmins; that is to cover up their horrible genocide, Agrawal avers; and comments that it is these infiltrators, such as Mahesh Bhat alias Birbal the Brahmin who sabotaged the Mughal Empire, eventually destroying it.

So why was Sati started?

Thus we find that excepting the solitary instance mentioned by Diodoras, which occurred in a foreign land, and the persons involved were perhaps from foreign tribes settled in India during those times, the practice started from the time of decline and ultimate fall of Buddhism after seventh century. Still we find Banabhatta (7th century) in the court of Harshavardhana and later Medhatithi (9th century) condemning the practice.

The more important question is why this system started, developed and why it attained such a high respect. Sita Agrawal takes the view that the main objectives for the Brahmin genocide of widows was to annihilate the non-Brahmin races by destroying their women, and secondly, to confiscate the properties of the murdered women. This is very superficial analysis. The Brahmins did not loose any opportunity to make money at the cost of others is true. But there were many ways of obtaining monetary benefits other than to start Sati. Secondly, Brahmin women also did commit sati. A glaring example of Queen of Madhavrao Peshava could be cited. So the reasons must be deeper than those thought of by Ms. Agrawal.

Sati custom in India has to be considered in combination with other customs of Child girl marriage with an elderly man and prohibition of widows to remarry. All these customs were imposed by the Brahmins in order to prevent transgression of caste rules. This was explained by Dr. Ambedkar as early as in 1919, [W&S, 1, 5] while dealing with genesis and mechanism of Castes. The following are the salient points from it.

Endogamy is the only characteristic peculiar to caste. No civilized society in today's world shows more survivals of primitive times than Indian society. One such primitive practice is of exogamy long given up by the world but is still favoured in India. Though there are no clans in India, clan system is savoured, as there is prohibition on not only "sapinda" marriages but also on "sagotra" marriages among the Hindus. The various gotras and other totemic organizations have always been exogamous. When endogamy was superimposed over sagotra exogamy, a caste was formed. To preserve and maintain this caste, inter caste marriages were banned. In case of death of a spouse, the other spouse was likely to marry outside the caste. To prevent this happening various means were adopted. These are:

1. Sati or burning of a widow on the funeral pyre of her deceased husband.

2. Enforced widowhood by which she is forced not to marry and

3. Girl marriage with an aged man.

All the medieval Brahmanic texts eulogize these customs in very glamourous language but give no reasons for them. Dr. Ambedkar, who calls all this eulogy as a sugar coating of the barbarous pill, gives the reasons:

"... Sati, enforced widowhood and girl marriage are customs that were primarily intended to solve the problem of the surplus man and surplus woman in a caste and to maintain its endogamy. Strict endogamy could not be preserved without these customs, while caste without endogamy is a fake." [W&S, 1, 14]

The Brahmins enclosed themselves into a caste, thus forcing others to be the other caste. This was divided and further subdivided into multiple non-Brahmin castes and the institution of castes spread through the length and breadth of India. This spread was due to the tendency of imitation of Brahmins by the others. As these customs were very harsh and barbarous, the imitation was imperfect and we find that nearer a caste is to Brahmins more strictly it insisted on observance of these customs. Example of Kulinism in Bengal, which also was a movement to preserve the Caste and ensure supremacy of Brahmins, is discussed elsewhere. That the reason, these customs had to be enforced strictly in Bengal following Kulinism, was to prevent any one among the hundreds of dissatisfied wives of a Kulin man from easily poisoning him, could be easily appreciated.

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