9th Edition of Encyclopedia Britannica - free ninth edition online encyclopedia Britannica » Volume 22 [SIB - SZO]: Sphinx to Xxii



SUTTEE, the name given by English writers to the rite of burning a widow on the funeral pyre of her husband as practised among certain Hindu castes, and especially among the Rajputs. The word sati (as it should rather be written) properly denotes the wife who so sacrifices herself, not the rite itself, and means "a good woman," "a faithful wife." The sacrifice was not actually forced on a wife, but it was strongly recommended by public opinion as a means to her own happiness and that of her husband in the future state, and the alternative was a life of degraded and miserable widowhood. The practice was current in India when the Macedonians first touched that country (Diod. Sic., xis. 33), and it lasted into the 19th century, having been tolerated even by English rulers till 1829. (See INDIA, vol. xii. p. 806.) The subject is illustrated by copious quotations from ancient and modern authorities in Yule's Anglo-Indian Glossary, p. 666 sq., and by comparison of similar rites among other nations in Tylor's Primitive Culture, ch. xi. It has its root in the primitive view of the future life, which regards the dead as having similar needs to the living. The wife is sent into the world of shades with her husband, just as arms, clothing, or treasure are buried in his tomb, or slaves are slain to attend their master in the underworld. The Indian custom is not, therefore, properly a part of Brahmanism ; but it was adopted by the ministers of that religion, who strained their sacred texts to find support for it.

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