Origin of Sati

Widow-burning not in Original Vedas

The Light & Islamic Review (US), May/June 1993 Issue (Vol. 70, No. 3, p. 19)

The Holy Quran tells us that scriptures of previous religions had undergone alterations by their followers, and for various motives false ideas and customs were introduced which were not found in the original holy writs. From a book The Rig-Veda and Vedic Religion, by A.C. Clayton (pp. 12–13), written in the early years of this century, we discover that this is how the practice of sati came to be introduced into Hinduism. The book quotes a verse of the Rig-veda (x. 18.7):

“a rohantu yonim agre”

which means:

“may they (the women) first approach the resting-place of the departed”

and then explains:

“By the most awful crime in the history of literature this phrase was altered in later times. It then read:

‘a rohantu yonim agneh’

“meaning ‘let them enter the place of fire·, and by this terrible falsification the verse was made to justify the burning of widows. The exact opposite was the fact. Among the early Aryans the widow might marry again ….

“There may have been instances of widow burning in early Aryan times but it was during a much later period (A.D. 650–1200) that the custom of burning a widow with her husband’s body came generally into force. Such a widow is highly praised in the Garuda Purana; she was called a sati (pronounced suttee) emphatically a ‘good’ woman. Hence the modem name of the custom. At the same time, it became customary for a widow who did not ascend her husband’s pyre to live a life of asceticism and privation, and precepts sanctioning the practice were inserted in the later sacred books. Farquhar (Primer of Hinduism) quotes one:

‘If a woman’s husband dies, let her lead a life of chastity, or else mount his pyre.’” (Vishnusmriti, xxv. 14)