Saturday, 13 November 2010


Sati – a word that evokes the image of a woman being forced to immolate herself on her husband's funeral pyre – an image that evokes horror and a system that has been abolished by law. But have you ever wondered what it actually means?

Sati means a woman who has the power of truth (sat) in her.

Of course, all of us are aware how we humans can use everything for our personal profit. Give us technology to improve our lives and we use it to make bombs, give us money to buy food and we spend it on wine and woman. But this doesn't mean that technology and money are bad. It is simply that we can use any harmless thing in such a way that it becomes a volatile substance that can harm others around us. So no wonder Sati-a harmless word and epitome of women's power was misused in such a way that it became the worst ailment for mankind and woman was reduced to a secondary position.

The first woman who is known as Sati was Shiva's wife who went uninvited to her father, Daksha's place, to attend a yagya and when her father insulted her husband she cursed her father, sat in a yogic position and underwent auto-immolation using her powers. This angered Shiva who beheaded Daksha.

It is important to remember that Shiva's spouse is Shakti. Sati was an incarnation of Shakti.

If you think that the fact that Sati burnt to death supports the Sati practice then remember her husband was still alive and he loved her so much that he refused to part with her body and wandered with it around the universe and when it was later disintegrated by Vishnu, Shiva gets angry with him and later leaves to meditate alone and refuses to meet anyone for years.

And it is this disintegrated body of Sati that gave us Seats of Cosmic Power or Shakti peeths where woman's power reigns supreme and millions of pilgrims visit these Shakti-peeths every year.

Legend has it that Gods pray to Shakti requesting her to be born again so that the Shiva would return to the world and Sati is reborn as Parvati who later kills several demons.

Another woman whom we call Sati is Sita, Ram's wife (Ramayan) and no she is not called Sati because she passed the fire-test but because she was alone surrounded by rakshasa and away from Ram still she remained true to her love and her husband in spite of all threats and promises - a woman who was true to herself and to her own standards and on whom all the carrots and brickbats of the world didn't have any effect.

And Sita was not just a devote wife but a complete woman who knew how to assert herself as is evident from the fact that in the end she refuses to bow to the man she loved so much and quits him, crowned by the glory of being true daughter of mother earth. She was no meek and weak woman but a woman of substance who knew how to love, cherish and who had the courage of conviction.

Of course, Ram, too, was faithful to her and madly in love with her. Remember, how he searched her like a weak, love-sick man asking trees and other creatures about her whereabouts when she was kidnapped by Ravan. When Sita was exiled to forest, Ram, the King, lives like a pauper in his sumptuous palace and sleeps on the floor. He refuses to remarry. So there is a balance and a shared love that has few parallels.

Another woman who is called Sati is Savitri – Satyavan's wife, who marries him of her own free will while she is fully aware that he has only one more year to live. But she is so sure of her love and her intelligence that she refuses to hear anyone else. They marry and lead a happy life and when he dies, she forces Yama (the death God) to return his soul. And they lived happily ever after.

So do these three women evoke the image of a weak woman being drugged and forced to sit on their husband's pyre and burnt alive? Were they just instruments in man's hands?

I don't think so. For me Sati is Shakti, the cosmic power - woman's power - power of a woman to destroy (like Shiva's wife Sati) or create (like Savitri). And even when she, like Sita, refuses to return to her beloved husband (who, too, loves her), it doesn't diminish her glory in any way. Hinduism doesn't tell you go and obey your husband but to live life as you deem correct according to your own principles, your dharma. None of the three Satis took their husband's permission before committing the ultimate act. And their husbands are shown as epitome of love and fidelity. So when I say glory to Sati, I glorify the powerful womanhood that can create, preserve and destroy.


  1. Great thought and beautifull presentation :)

  2. It was realy wodenrful write up Ritu, congratulation, however,I think Sati is word invented by men for women.

  3. @HariGovindVishwakarma: Glad that you liked it. Regarding the origin of the word Sati, it is unknown like many other words. It may have been invented by men to glorify the image of women they appreciated or by women (who were quite powerful and even mantradrishta Rishis) to glorify themselves. But what is certain is that men definitely tried to modify the meaning of this word to their own advantage. The tradition of Sati (self-immolation), as prevalent in some communities, is similar to Jauhar prevalent amongst Rajput women. Only just see how it was modified that Jauhar (that means supreme courage) became Sati (epitome of truth). It is as if there was a sort of lack of recognition of that supreme sacrifice and down the line, somehow men's courage (jauhar) in the battle-field had become more important than that of women, who committed this supreme act of courage, to save themselves from being raped and appropriated by the enemy when they were sure that their men would lose the battle.
    It is noteworthy that most instances of jauhar are when there were wars between Rajputs and foreign aggressors.
    It is an interesting discussion (and topic of debate) and can go on for hours. I avoided going into much detail in the article because it is an article on a blog and not a book.