Ocean Of Problems - The Boat to Non Violence: 86 ►The System of Sati and Suicide

Published: 14.07.2020

Today the time has come to write the history of 21st century. In a significant time like this to retreat back in time and to repeat the age- old history is a sign of orthodox frame of mind. Recently on 8th December, 1987 what happened in Divrala village of Sikar district? Perhaps no one is unaware of the incident. The news is in the headlines of newspapers. The religious and the political groups have interpreted the incident from their own perspective. In this context the burning question is that the eighteen year old lady Rupkanwar had burnt herself alive on the funeral pyre of her husband. What is it? Is it a suicide? Is it some kind of mental slavery? Any orthodox tradition or is it a sign of valour?

The thoughts and choice of people do not flow in the same direction. From this point of view the same reaction is not found for any particular incident. Some people take an active role to support the cause whereas some people openly oppose it. Something similar is happening in the context of the tradition of ‘Sati’. Some persons are of the view that a woman who becomes a sati earns a lot of virtues. When she sits on the funeral pyre of her husband and lays his head on her lap then the fire is lit on its own accord. There is no evidence whatsoever to consolidate this view. Almost like a legend the news spreads and a certain percentage of people get misdirected.

When the tradition of sati did begin? In what circumstances did it began? It is a subject of authentic research. A time came when voice was raised against it. Raja Ram Mohan Roy was one of those unique men who by dint of his courage took an endeavour on putting an end to this practice forever. Some other social reformers also spoke eloquently against it. It was liked by many people. So, with their unrelenting effort and with the passage of time the system of sati almost came to an end. Some people have the hobby of digging out the old graves. By the inspiration of such people this system showed itself from time to time. The fresh example of it is the incident of Divrala. When it took place, not merely in Rajasthan, but the silence prevailed all over the nation. The incident took place, shortly after that a storm came. This incident of ‘Sati’ is one of the most talked about topics these days.

One of the famous writers of Rajasthan Laxmikumari Chundavat came to me to discuss this subject. She asked a few questions on the legitimacy of the tradition of sati.

I said, ‘Any work may be done influenced by emotions or impulses, then its legitimacy never remains undisputed. The process of becoming sati has been accomplished without any impulse doesn’t seem possible.

In this context a few other questions also present themselves. A woman becomes sati, she gets fame. Why then had no man performed this act so for? A conjugal relationship depends on both. It is a matter of glory for a woman to be a chaste by burning herself alive with her husband then where lies the question of a man being chaste arises? Why the question of burning himself with his wife does doesn’t arise in his mind? If a woman becomes a widow after the death of her husband then doesn’t a man becomes a widower after the death of his wife‘? If the husband is considered God by his ‘wife’ then what wrong in believing the wife to be the God for her husband? If all these questions are contemplated upon then it seems that the system of Sati is not even just from humanistic point of view, what to say of religious point of view? This is a kind of slavery. It is a suicide and an exploitation of woman.

Hearing my views Laxmikumari ji said, ‘Acharyashri! You consider the tradition of sati suicide. In a situation like this accepting death while being alive, Harakiri (suicide) in Japan and Santhara (fast unto death), are there all not suicide? I knew beforehand that all these questions might arise before me. I answered in reply to her questions—whether it’s accepting death while being alive, Harakiri or Santhara To commit an act influenced by strong emotions or impulses is suicide, where there is a purpose of ending one’s life, emotions, hopelessness, failure, compulsion, fear and all these factors accepting ‘Santhara’ is not approved by Jaina religion.

It is true that ‘Santhara’ has been regarded as a significant ritual among Jainas but there is a specific rule to be complied with before accepting this ritual. In jain Agam it has been said—'लाभंतरे जीविय बूहइत्ता, पच्छा परिन्नाय मलावधंसी'—As long as the body has some utility, as long as there are certain advantages that one may derive from it, some new qualities are realized from it, one must murdered life to that point. When one feels that this body doesn’t support in meditation, prayer, penance, service conscience, one must leave this body.

It is true that after accepting ‘Santhara’ the body doesn’t get any nourishment but the wish to die has been completely renounced here. Lust for life and fear of death—transcending these two states and to develop the state where one may dwell in one’s soul is what Santhara truly means. This kind of ‘Santhara’ can never be a suicide. A question may arise here that perhaps ‘Santhara’ is not accepted in a state of extreme potion but one may be influenced by worshipping one ’s image and fame. As a solution of this doubt it has to be understood that the process that has been described in Jaina scriptures the idea of getting worshipped—lags far behind. In the process where the wish to live and die also is not desirable, how on earth would the idea of getting worshipped secure a place there? The second point is that one who becomes a sati, a temple is constructed in her name, fairs are organized and god knows what other activities take place but after Santhara no such thing happens.

Some people are of the view that the tradition of Sati gets public support. The public play a tricky move. It doesn’t give any importance what should be right or wrong. It flows spontaneously. Recently on the occasion of solar eclipse some lakhs of people took bath in the pond. Why? Was it for the purity of the soul? Those lakhs of people defected in the pond and didn’t they pollute the pond of Kurukshetra‘? How could one imagine making one’s soul pure in co tempting? l am not in favour of hosting public sentiments but this will provoke violence among them. I certainly believe that certain direction could be given to the mass mind. The government of Rajasthan is thinking of implementing a new law against the tradition of Sati. The law could be easily approved if the heart transformation takes place among masses. From this point of view to change public opinion a well-organized campaigning must be done.

In the gist of this entire context I would like to come back to the same point and that is if a person gets influenced by any impulse and accepts ‘Santhara’ then it is not Santhara in the true sense of the term. To call this kind of Santhara suicide would not be wrong. To be a sati is a consequence of getting influenced by any extreme emotion. At this point of time a woman gets extremely passionate, so she cannot discriminate between right and wrong. In a situation like this, the system of Sati can only be called a suicide other than anything else. The entire conclusion of this discussion is that this process of burning oneself is not desirable from social, political and religious point of view. In this context women’s must be made conscious of and such orthodox traditions must be resisted in a non-violent manner.


Title: Ocean Of Problems
Author: Acharya Tulsi
Publisher: Jain Vishwa Bharati, Ladnun
Digital Publishing:
Amit Kumar Jain
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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Agam
  2. Body
  3. Fear
  4. JAINA
  5. Jaina
  6. Meditation
  7. Raja Ram Mohan Roy
  8. Rajasthan
  9. Ram
  10. Ram Mohan Roy
  11. Santhara
  12. Soul
  13. Violence
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