Sati Pratha : Evilest of the evils….. darkest of the dark!
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Our Indian Constitution says that this infamous chapter has been torn off from our culture years ago. But on second thoughts, probably this evil ritual is being conducted even today, wrapped in a different form with a different name. Perhaps, Widowhood is another face of the Sati Pratha that still prevails in our society to give women another reason to think that they’ve no individuality of their own.
Is the meaning of being Sati only limited to getting burnt in the husband’s funeral pyre? This custom was apparently inspired from the belief that a wife is considered to be living only till her husband is alive. As soon as the husband is no more, the wife becomes lifeless too. With similar thoughts, the concept of Widowhood was also established. But instead of burning her in the funeral pyre, she was chosen to be burnt in these pathetic widow rules. A widow has the right to breathe but not to behave like an alive person. She is considered as merely a creature because accordingly, it’s only her husband who could give her the right to be called a human.
Origination of Widowhood & its purpose
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Unlike the current typical purposes behind widowhood, it’s original motto, put forward in the ancient times, did have some logics and deep meanings. Widowhood was primarily seen as a method of Renunciation ( formal rejection of all earthly pleasures). Since, at that time, the husbands were generally much older in age than their wives, so they used to reach the age of renunciation or Sannyasa Ashram first. A person in the Sannyasa Ashram is expected to go to forest or any other natural place and get devoted to God leaving behind all his wealth and pleasures. Since a woman could not live outside all alone, so her renunciation was dependent not upon her age but her husband. Being younger in age, she would usually be alive at the time of her husband’s death, so she was expected to get abide by some rules & regulations, formally reject all the earthly pleasures and lead a simple life. But gradually, these widow rules began to be recognized more as a way to mourn over the husband’s death and less as a method of renunciation.
Vidhva-Vrata : Their actual reasons and gradual manipulation
Sacrificing colours and other symbols of marriage
Widows were made to sacrifice colorful clothing and wear whites only. According to Indian mythology, sunlight is white in color and is considered as the purest of all. The color white gives positive energy to us to bravely face our life’s challenges, seek god’s blessings and recognize this world on a positive note. Sacrificing the other symbols of marriage like, bangles, sindoor, jewelriesetc., was also a way of renunciation.
Gradually, these practices began to be considered as a way to sacrifice the beauty of a woman, since apparently, her beauty is associated with her husband only. Any form of beautification was not expected to be donned by a widow.
Shaving her head
Shaving one’s head after any family member’s death is a tradition prevailing in Hinduism since, ages ago. It was a method of purification of the body and soul from all kinds of impurities and negativities associated with the death. Similarly, the family members used to take bath properly, clean the entire house and avoid cooking meals in kitchen too. The custom of shaving a widow’s head was also initiated with an aim to purify her and make her free from all kinds of negative energies. Moreover, hair was also considered as an offering to God as part of prayer seeking the well-being of the dead person in heaven.
With time, the plight of widows got more miserable than one could imagine. The head was shaved as part of mourning rather than prayer. Families also feared that if the widows would decide to re-marry, their honor would be at stake. So, making her lose her most beautiful asset would take away all her charm and she’d never dare to think of re-marriage.
Sacrificing certain kinds of food and sleeping on stone
A person in the Sannyasa Ashram used to eat only vegetables and fruits and avoid heat-generating foods like animal meat, spices etc. With similar thoughts, widows were also expected to consume only certain kinds of foods. They were made to sleep on stone as renunciation is meant to sacrifice all kinds of pleasures and go through the challenges of life.
However, the meanings of these rules got completely changed later on.
Not attending family rituals
Renunciation is meant to stay away from family functions, rituals, etc. It is believed that these occasions are not for a person who is going through the Sannyasa Ashrama.
Later on, these rules got manipulated in a way that widows began to be considered as an inferior and discriminated part of society. It was strongly believed that her presence in an auspicious occasion would spoil it. This mindset is still forcing widows to feel terrible about themselves at every single step of life.
All these rules and regulations coming under the widowhood vrata, were applied only on someone who had been the wife of a pious person who has attained a higher destination in life by renunciation. The purpose of becoming a widow was to attain the samedestination as his.
As our ancestors say, it’s true that these ancient customs were surely made with some logical thoughts behind them. But, those thoughts held importance in the past circumstances only. Now, the time has changed…….the situations have changed……. so, the rules need to get changed too. One should not keep on carrying the burden of customs just because they’d been carried on till today. Time moves on, we should too.
This article is not meant to hurt anyone’s religious sentiments. It’s just meant to focus on the fact that circumstantial evidences hold the basis of custom formation. Our ancestors made customs that were logical at their time…… we need to change them for better keeping the present circumstances in mind.
As it’s said that Charity Begins At Home. No revolutionary changes can be brought about in the society, if we don’t initiate the spark at our home. We’ve grown up seeing the plight of widows around us, in our family as well. Perhaps, it’s not as terrible as mentioned here. But the way widows are treated, does need some rectification.
Widows are humans too….. and they too have got just one life as us! Think about it!
Sumedha is a young, ambitious girl of 19 who has a flair for writing and believes that one needs to be a genius to contribute to literature. She is inspired by Shakespeare and loves to pen down what girls of her age adore reading.