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Monday, August 3, 2020

Trial by fire


For a widow, to cast herself into the burning pyre of the dead husband is to occupy the highest office of fidelity and fortitude, according to Bhairav Singh, a witness to Roop Kanwar’s Sati in Deorala, Rajasthan, in 1987.
VIKAS KUMAR | Issue Dated: June 1, 2008
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Trial by fire “It’s been 20 years since Roop Kanwar committed Sati. But I remember it as if it happened just yesterday. Committing Sati is prestigious for the Rajput clan. Before Roop Kanwar, many Rajput women had committed Sati. Now, there stands a Sati Mata (mother goddess) temple where Roop Kanwar had entered the burning pyre of her husband. By committing Sati, Roop Kanwar kept alive the flickering lamp of Hindu rituals. I was one of the witnesses to the act. That day after the death of her husband, she was made to sit on the funeral pyre. Her eyes were closed as she sat and kept chanting God’s name. All the people around praised this decision and Roop Kanwar’s sacrifice. The Rajput men surrounded the pyre with swords and, whether due to a miracle or Devi Sati’s grace, the pyre lit automatically! To my utter amazement, Roop Kanwar, who went up in flames, did not even let out a cry of pain! This was indeed the blessing of Goddess Sati. No normal person could dare it. Sumer Singh’s family was fortunate to have a brave woman like Roop Kanwar in their family. Contemporary generations, who term Sati regressive and barbaric, only exhibit their ignorance of Indian tradition and culture.


The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act of 1987 defined the Abetment of Sati in Part 2, Section 4(a) thus: “Any inducement to a widow or woman to get her burnt or buried alive along with the body of her deceased husband or with any other relative or with any object associated with the husband or relative, irrespective of whether she is in a fit state of mind or is labouring under a state…impeding the exercise of her free will..” Incidentally, Roop Kanwar’s father-in-law along with 10 others were acquitted.

According to the ancient Hindu beliefs, Sati was the daughter of King Daksh. Sati had eloped with Lord Shiva and this had angered King Daksh to the extent that he refused to have anything to do with her thereafter. Years later, Daksh organised a grand Yagya (holy bonfire) where all the gods and saints were invited except Lord Shiva. Sati went up to her father, who insulted her and her husband, Shiva. Hurt and furious, Sati set herself afire.

This is what gave rise to the practice of Sati, but every woman cannot commit Sati. One has to be very courageous to indulge in self-immolation.

Even after so many years, people still remember Roop Kanwar for her immense fearlessness. September 4 is a very significant day in and around our village. Due to regulations, we are prohibited to conduct any religious function at that venue of Sati. It’s strange that on this day, invariably there is a curfew. You might not believe it, but many politicians and officials who denounce Sati believe and pay regards to Sati Devi in private, but do not propagate it fearing criticism. There are many who say that Roop Kanwar had been forced into it against her wishes, but I know for sure that all such stories were made up. I have been on good terms with Sumer Singh’s family and they would not do such a thing with a woman. The elder brother of the family had been killed in an accident, but his wife was not asked to commit Sati. So it is clear that Roop Kanwar had committed Sati of her own accord. After this incident, Sumer Singh’s family was almost shattered.

Many people, mostly newly married couples, from across the nation still visit Deorala every year to seek the blessings of Sati Devi. People make their wishes to the Goddess and upon its fulfillment, visit again to make offerings. You would not believe but people from Kerala, Punjab and Bihar come over to this place to pay their respects and this shows that they still believe in this ritual. You could put restrictions on fairs and functions, but how would you erase faith from the minds of people?”
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017