The practice of Satidaha
The word 'Satidaha', 'Sahamran' or 'Sati' - all three has the same meaning. 'Satidaha' is a rite where widows are burned alive on the funeral pyres of their deceased husbands.
This custom was not mandatory for Hinduism according to the scriptures. It was rarely practiced ceremony. But one's conduct can easily influence others; and this caused an epidemic spread. But this custom has never been appreciated in the entire Hindu family of the country.
In the remote Vedic age, the seeds of this custom may be sown, but in reality this reflection is not seen in the Vedas. In the mythological era, it is mentioned several times in Ramayan, but was not conducted in reality. At the story of Mahabharat, this sacrifice was seen as an extreme expression of mourning. According to the Mahabharat, Pandu's second wife 'Madari', went to death on Pandu's funeral pyre. As, Pandu's death occurred during sexual intercourse with her.
'Manu', the great Hindu law-giver did not mention anything about this shocking rite,only Brahmacharya was prescribed for the widow. Other memorialists did support this ritual, but nobody said that the custom is mandatory for widows. Only Smritraj, Raghunandan known as the Manu of Bengal, was the first to glorify the greatness of it and mentioned it as Hindu widow's the best and the most important duty. So, it is seen that the softer people of Bengal accounted this rite with warm reception.
Raghunandan was born in Navadwip during the period of Muslim rule. At that time Muslim rule was crumbling which as a result, gave rise to brutal attitude of people throughout the country. People became more aggressive and animal in nature which affected abusively more on the widows, virgins and married young wives. For this reason, Smiritiraj started this rigid custom in widow's honor and purity.
On the other hand, the custom of 'Ballali kowlinnya' increased. This leads to the rise of polygamy practice in Hinduism. As a result, envy and jealousy among Hindu widows increased for their husband's love. Perhaps this had spread in Bengal very widely so that wives will not kill their husband for some minor reasons and also to save their husband's life from being crushed over by their jealousy. And if any wife kills her husband, then her death with him was inevitable.
Though Raghunandan has glorified the greatness of it but it was not universally accepted custom. However, at this time the rite had already spread in Bengal. There are historical witness to confirm this. Apart from Rajputana, it was not that popular among other province of India.
According to the testimony of 'Satidaha', the widows often burn themselves with their deceased husbands with a happy heart. But there were some exceptions where widows were burned without their consent in the name of satidaha and this were regarded as murders.
But if the widows voluntarily burn themselves with her deceased husband or instigate her to burn then this custom is nothing but a ritualistic social custom. This system was never regarded as the most prominent part of religion. To take live of widows by burning with the funeral pyres of their husbands is known as 'Sati'. The complacence of this 'Sati title' is unbearable.
When the people saw that this practice is causing harm to the society, they decided to abolish it. The Governor Lord Bentinck with help of Rammohun Roy, Dwarkanath Tagore, Prasanna Kumar Tagore, Kashinath Roy Chowdhury and others formed the 'Satidaha' abolition act on December 4, 1829, Rammohan Roy as the leader of this act.
On January 14, 1830, Radhakanta Deb, Gopimohan Dev, Bhabanicharan Mitra and others met with the governor General Lord Bentinck and presented a 'petition' against that law. It is said:
"We, the undersigned beg leave respectfully to submit the following petition to your Lordship in Council, in consequence of having heard that certain persons taking upon themselves to represent the opinions and feelings of the Hindoo inhabitants of Calcutta, have misrepresented those opinions and feelings and that your Lordship in Council is about to pass a Resolution, founded on such erroneous statements to put a stop to the practice of performing Suttees, an interference with the Religion and customs of the Hiddoo, which we most earnestly deprecate and cannot view without the most serious alarm" (Calcutta Magazine and Bangal General Register, 1830)
(The above excerpt is collected from the book "Satidaha" by the renowned, people benefactor author Sri KumudnathMallick, page 119. The book was first published in Calcutta in 1912.FaysolArefinDipon, compiled and edited in the book 'JagritiPrakashani' in Bangladesh in 2016.)
At the same time, Rammohun, Dwarkanath Tagore, Prasannakumar Thakur, Kashinath Roy Chowdhury, etc. presented the letter congratulating the Governor General. Radhakanta and others called them(Rammohun, Dwarkanath Tagore, Prasannakumar Thakur, Kashinath Roy Chowdhury, etc.)as `Certain Persons' in the 'petition'. It was impossible for Lord Bentinck to make legislation without the help of this newly established social force. It is undeniable that Rammohun as a leader of this social group had pioneered role in preventing the practice of Satidaha.
The writer is a researcher.