Category Archives: E. Dharma and the Individual

The Hindu Dowry System (Origins)

Although the tradition of a bride/groom price is not common in the Western world, many different religious groups still continue to practice it. Currently, the dowry refers to the wealth that the bride brings with her into her marriage. This wealth can vary from gifts to material goods, in addition to anything the groom and his family may ask for. It usually occurs within patriarchal societies. Despite the establishment of laws prohibiting such practices, the dowry tradition still occurs in the Hindu religion. It is quite surprising that it is prevalent (in South Asia), since the sex ratio is skewed towards males. In turn, it can also result in abortions (of female fetuses), infanticide, and parents holding the belief that females seem to be a burden (Arunachalam and Logan 1). If families are not able to live up to the expectations of the groom and his family, weddings can be broken off and cause humiliation for the bride and her family (Sharma 137). This makes it hard for the bride to remarry in the future.

Not only has the practice of dowry been incorporated within the ancient Indian traditions of marriage, but scholars also believe that its practice is constantly legitimized by references made to ancient texts of the Hindu religion. It is also believed that the misinterpretations of some of these historical texts lead to the continued practice of such a tradition (Sheel 33). The first occurrence of the dowry practice (in South Asia) dates back approximately 2,000 years to Manu asserting stridhan (Arunachalam and Logan 2006:10), which is distinguished from the modern dowry. Kishwar explains that the stridhan consists of gifts that are voluntarily and exclusively given to the bride from her household. Therefore, it is seen as the bride’s parents signing off part of their will to her. Although the dowry is prohibited in India, the notion of stridhan is not what makes it difficult for people to distinguish the two (121). Historians trace back the tradition of dowry to the kanyadana concept along with the moral basis of stridhana. The kanyadana practice arose from the dana tradition which held the belief that gift giving was one of the ways to achieve high cultural and spiritual recognition. Initially, marriage incorporated kanyadana in the sense that the father presented his daughter as a gift to the groom at the time of their marriage. In addition to the bride, the accompanying of gifts enhanced the social status of the bride’s family; however, it was not necessary (Sheel 19).

The early origins of the dowry practice suggest it was used as a form of inheritance from the father to the bride for security purposes (Arunachalam and Logan 2). As with most patriarchal societies, Hindu society practiced the tradition of transferring property (movable or non-movable) to the bride at the time of marriage. The Codes of Manu incorporated the earliest account of property rights. “It subscribed to the view that the unmarried daughters were to be given a quarter of their brothers’ share of patrimony for the purposes of their marriage,” according to Sheel (46). The Patrimony consisted of the property that the father granted his sons. Each brother was to give one-fourth of his share to his maiden sister, as described by Manu. In Hindu law, sons are granted a share of ancestral property, independent of their family. Alternatively, daughters can only be given the right to property from their fathers. Therefore it makes it possible for a father to deny access of his property to his daughter but not his son (Sharma 47). The form in which a bride is wed is reflected by her caste and class status, which in turn determines the value of the dowry. Marriage validation required gift giving even though a woman’s right to property was dependent on marital status. The patriarchal system continued to be strengthened in the various varnas of Hinduism, while marriage was not given a simple structure. Eventually, it became the norm to forbid the passing down of non movable property due to the exploiting motives of the groom and his family. Instead, brides were given movable property as a form of dowry. As the act of inheriting property began to decline, other attempts were made to instill the dowry (Sheel 37).

Along with the notions such as stridhan, the development of the dowry system is thought to be linked to the societal structure. Scholars believe that during the Rgvedic period societies were grouped in tribal constituents, rather than on a caste system. Not only did women have reproductive roles, but they were also able to perform many other duties while the men were active in tribal battle. Although some historians suggest that the Rgvedic period did not contribute to sexual discrimination, others feel that it was crucial in establishing a hierarchy based on gender. For instance, Uma Chakravarty argues that class and gender order were established during this significant period and marked the beginning of the male dominated Hindu culture. However, rituals and practices had not yet lowered the status of women (Sheel 35). As the Vedic period passed, there was a decline in women working in the field of production. As they moved into the private sector, the family structure and patrilineal progression resulted in further caste and gender segregation. As argued by R.S. Sharma, the establishment of varna occurred during the end of the Vedic period, at the time of the Buddha. Many rituals such as rajasuya were established as a result of these rigid changes in the social structure (Sheel 36). In turn, these rituals served to authorize “the existing and emerging hierarchies based on varna, gender, and patrilineal kinship structure” (Roy 136). Prescriptive and normative literature (from that time) gave rise to notions such as caste purity via marriage, rules prohibiting adultery, and patrilineal succession. The caste system was an attempt to validate the newly emerged socio-political structure of the society. In this sense, it seems appropriate to associate marriage with property. As stated by Sheel (36), a huge quantity of Brahmin literature holds laws and customs that attempt to keep women within a patriarchal system. It was clear who the victims of such a movement were—the women. Brahmins adapted the principle of stri-dharma and not only did the women accept it, but they honored it.

Not only did the dowry originally represent affection but it also meant superior morality within the higher Hindu classes (Sheel 41). Simply put, “a better status fetches larger amount of dowry” (Sheel 18). As Nath observes, “making gifts was a visible sign of prosperity…either for distributing tribal wealth or for gaining prestige and dominant status” (85-86). One of the oldest examples of this occurs in the Ramayana (one of the most influential texts of Hinduism), where a dowry follows the marriage of Rama and Sita (Sheel 41). The Smritis validate the dowry practice by arguing that a girl “was honoured by the giving of gifts” (Sheel 44).

The most ancient record of marriage dates back to the tenth book of Rg Veda. In this ancient record, marriage was described as a ceremony of the groom holding the bride’s hand followed by prayers aimed at offspring, well being, and long life while praising Gods. The bride and groom both seemed to have freedom in picking their partners, who had to be outside of the family. Thus, this literature reflects a society where rigid social structure had not yet been established (Sheel 38). But such an egalitarian society surrendered to a government system aimed to address social issues, halfway into the first millennium. For example, the purity-pollution dichotomy became established which was unheard of. The varna system became more complex and led to the creation of the Dharma sutras (Sheel 39).

Furthermore, the complexities resulted in diversification of marriage forms and practices (Sheel 39). The Mahabharata is a text that displays the transition of marriage. Talbot points out that the “epic progresses from extolling purely ksatriya forms to recommending kanyadana for Brahmins and kanyadana or warrior like marriages to ksatriyas and in the final phase advocates kanyadana for everyone” (Talbot 61). However, discrete forms of marriage were described following the Smrti period, with a large influence from the Brahmin class. The various wedding forms were prescribed in the Manusmriti into two typical categories; either they were dharmya (socially acceptable) or adharmya (not socially acceptable). The dharmya types emphasized on the father whose duty was to arrange the marriage and present his daughter as a gift, in the way that was specified according to the type of marriage it was. By following the dharmya tradition, the father and his daughter both gained respect. This represented the kanyadana ideal which says the virgin bride is the gift. On the other hand, the socially unacceptable adharmya types of marriages were identified as not following a patriarchal system. Their marriages did not necessarily require the participation of the bride’s father. These forms of marriage were nonexistent in the upper classes and only permitted for the lower classes. However, historians noticed that the majority of these adharmya types of weddings were approved for ksatriyas. In the Mahabharata, Krishna permits and encourages Arjuna to abduct his sister, Subhadra. Yet, in the latter part of the epic, these types of weddings are inappropriate for all Hindu castes. One of these adharmya marriages includes the Asura rite which consists of the groom choosing to acquire the bride by passing on as much wealth possible to the bride and her family. It was disapproved because it was believed that a “purchased wife” was unable to perform sacrificial rites and would destroy the groom’s family (Sheel 43).

As the Dharma shastras illustrated the importance in the idea of kanyadana, they varied on the legitimacy of providing wealth after marriage. For example, the Asura marriage has been approved and/or disapproved in many different parts of Hindu history. The adharmya marriages were criticized, perhaps to help spread the Brahminical dharmya which considered daughters as being gifts. The influence that the Brahmin class had on the Hindu culture was enormous, as gift giving gained importance in the marriage tradition. However, both the dharmya and adharmya forms of marriage co-existed as they applied to different castes (Sheel 44).

Thus it is possible to understand how the kanyadana and Asura notions lead to the modern practice of dowry. The kanyadana form dominated the Hindu culture in ancient times. It involved the father gifting his daughter at the time of her marriage. With time, the transferring of property, hypergamy, and caste rules lead to the dowry representing currency transfer. Hypergamy is the practice of Hindu women marrying males whose caste is at least as high as theirs. Das (1975) explains that “stratification in status, wealth and power determines the rank and lineage within a caste group and gave impetus to hypergamous marriage to gain social prestige”. However, it is surprising that the dowry system was not heavily incorporated into Hinduism during the pre-modern times. A major factor that delayed such a movement included the fact that the kanyadana ideal did not deny other forms of marriage. It allowed for the existence of various forms of marriage, although the upper classes took it to an extreme. Secondly, although the kanyadana was particularly directed to the upper castes, the dowry custom was restricted to a small group of the society. This group was of elite status because it consisted of wealthy individuals that were able to afford gift giving. As the kanyadana ideal began to spread to other castes, the dowry came to represent a burden (Sheel 45-46).

Presently, the dowry is known to serve as a way of acquiring a fine husband and represents good social status. Rather than being voluntary as it was in its ancient context, it became mandatory. The gifts that are now presented for marriage are assessed in terms of how much cash they represent. Usually, a mediator is required to make a compromise and set a price for the dowry that the two families agree on. It is hard to determine the extent to which the dowry tradition still occurs because “those giving as well as those accepting dowry are punishable under the existing law” (Sharma 46). In fact, the only way to catch the public’s attention is through the controversy caused by “dowry deaths.” Therefore, scholars make use of indirect methods in order to evaluate trends and determine why it is still occurring (Arunachalam and Logan 3). Although a dowry system is followed by the various Hindu classes, it is important to realize that there are some exceptions. There are established societies based on matrilineal structures which helps explain the variations in the regional trends of the dowry tradition.

Ultimately, the inheritance practice changed to the price of maintaining high quality husbands during the later part of the nineteenth century. Although it is difficult to determine who benefits most from the dowry, current data reveals that a practice arose in the 1950’s where bachelors began to prescribe a list of objects for exchange in marriage (Arunachalam and Logan 12). According to the Institute of Development and Communication, although the dowry system originates with the brahmin class, eight percent of dowry deaths and abuse cases occur in the middle and lower classes of the Hindu society (Sharma 46). When the daughter agrees to marriage, she is still assured that she will be offered security and an improved quality of life. The relocation of wealth from the brides’ to the grooms’ families still takes place today and is often thought to ensure a good match. Furthermore, marriage became mandatory in the Hindu tradition even if it meant spending vast amounts of money (Sheel 47). The bride’s family eventually agrees to the amount that the groom and his family ask for mainly due to the dishonor that can arise from having an unmarried girl living in her parents’ household while her age is appropriate for marriage. If the bride’s family cannot fully pay the dowry price within a single payment, installments can be made to reach the price. Therefore, there have been two major changes from the traditional practice of dowry to the one of today. The first has been a shift from the dowry tradition being optional to it becoming mandatory; and the second has been the new role of negotiation in determining the amount of the dowry (Sheel 18).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Arunachalam R., and Logan, T.D. (2006) On the Heterogeneity of Dowry Movements.

Cambridge: NBER Working Paper Series.

Das, Veena (1975) Marriage among Hindus. Devaki Jain.

Kishwar, Madhu (2003) Laws Against Domestic Violence: Underused or Abused? New

Delhi: NWSA Journal.

Nath, Vijay (1989) Ritual Symbolism and Status Conferring Role of Dana. Gorakhpur:

PIHC.

Roy, Kumkum (1985) Legitimation and Brahmanical Tradition: The Upanayana and the

Brahmacharya in the Dharma Sutras. Amritsar: PIHC.

Sharma, Usha (2003) Women in South Asia: Employment, Empowerment, and Human

Development. Laxmi Nagar: Authorspress.

Sheel, Ranjana (1999) The Political Economy of Dowry. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers

& Distributors.

Talbot, Cynthia (1980) How to Get a Wife: Marriage Strategies in the Mahabharata. Ann

Arbor: University of Michigan.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Laws of Manu

Stridhan

Dana

Kanyadana

Varnas

Mahabharata,

Dharmya/Adharmya

Asura rite of marriage

Dharmashastras

Mahabharata

Hypergamy

Ramayana

The Dowry Prohibition Act

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dowry_law_in_India

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/crossing_continents/3071963.stm

http://www.indiatogether.org/2006/mar/ksh-marriage.htm

http://mynation.net/dowry.htm

http://www.hindunet.org/srh_home/1996_2/msg00193.html

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/h_caste.asp

http://www.wsws.org/articles/2001/jul2001/ind-j04.shtml

Article written by: Amarpal Dhillon (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Samskaras and Pregnancy

Pregnancy in the Hindu tradition is a very important time for a woman, especially if it is her first pregnancy, which it is hoped will take place as soon after marriage as possible. A new bride goes to live with her husband’s family, and in many cases, she has never met them before, so as a newcomer to the household, she has a low status and often feels isolated, homesick and awkward socially and sexually. Pregnancy helps welcome the wife into the husband’s family, and she is made to feel comfortable; eating well, resting often and being relieved of certain tiresome tasks (see Kakar 26 – 27).

Before conception, during pregnancy and following birth, there are many Samskara performed in the Hindu tradition. “Samskara” is a term generally translated as “rite of passage”, but it can also mean, “to perfect, refine, polish, prepare, educate, cultivate and train” (McGee 333). The Samskara performed around and during pregnancy have different purposes, but all are to aid in a healthy, auspicious pregnancy (preferably that of a son). These Samskaras are prescribed in the Grhya Sutras (ancient Hindu texts of householder rites) and are also in current ritual handbooks, even though they are not used very often anymore. The first three Samskaras I will be discussing take place from before conception to birth, and the last two take place within two weeks of the birth.

The first Samskara that is involved in pregnancy is called the Garbhadhana, also known as the niseka (see McGee 339) and relates to conception. Garbhadhana is sometimes thought to be the Garbha Samskara (the Samskara of the embryo) but is generally assumed to be the Ksetra Samskara (the consecration of the wife) (see Tachikawa et. al. 101). In the present day, this Samskara is not performed as a separate ritual but is usually absorbed into the wedding rituals (see McGee 341).

The Garbhadhana is also called the rite of insemination (see McGee 335) and it involves the husband’s seed being placed into the wife’s womb in order to secure the production of offspring. The Garbhadhana should be performed immediately after wedding, but one may also wait until the fourth day after the beginning of the first menstruation after the wedding. This latter time is thought to be when the wife’s womb is ripe for the planting of the husband’s seed. This ritual should be performed on a day that is considered auspicious (see McGee 340).

If a male child is preferred, which is often the case as a son is expected to perform his father’s funeral rites, an even numbered lunar day is considered auspicious. A full moon or new moon are considered inauspicious, as is performing Garbhadhana under Mula or Magha (see McGee 340) which are lunar mansions, or the moon one is born under (see Kapoor 215 & 238). When the night has been chosen, the husband asks his wife to accompany him and recites nine specific Mantras that accompany the husband’s different actions during the act (see Tachikawa et. al. 101). When “a learned daughter who will live out her full life span” is desired, the wife is supposed to cook rice with sesame seeds for them both to eat, together with ghee (see McGee 340).

Ancient texts assumed that gender was not determined when conception took place, but at about half way through the pregnancy. Therefore another way to ensure the foetus was a boy was to perform Pumsavana, “meant to stimulate, consecrate, and influence the fetus [sic] bringing about a male child” (McGee 340), during the third or fourth month, before the foetus could be felt moving. The day for this Samskara must be auspicious and under a male constellation, and the wife must fast and bathe before the ritual begins (see McGee 340).

Pumsavana ought to be performed in a round apartment with the wife facing east (an auspicious direction). The husband places a grain of barley on the wife’s right hand and then places a mustard seed on either side and pours curds or yogurt on top of them. The wife is to eat this mixture without repeating any Mantras. The wife is then to sip some water and the husband places his hands on her belly and recites a Mantra about his seed entering his wife’s womb and a male son being delivered in the tenth month. The husband then pounds shoots or sprouts of a Nyagrodha tree (or for “followers of the Rg Vedic Grhya Sutras, Durva or Asvagandha ‘bent grass’” (Tachikawa et. al. 103)) and mixes the resulting juices with ghee and shoves it up his wife’s right nostril while he stands behind her and she sits with her head against his lap (see Tachikawa et. al. 101 – 103 and McGee 340 – 341).

A Hindu goddess, probably Parvati because she holds a trident and is flanked by lions, is depicted pregnant on this wall at Veeramakaliamman Temple in Singapore
A Hindu goddess, probably Parvati because she holds a trident and is flanked by lions, is depicted pregnant on this wall at Veeramakaliamman Temple in Singapore

The next Samskara that is performed is Simantonnayana, which is prescribed for the fourth month and is the only Samskara during pregnancy that need only be performed once, as the other Samskara are thought to be performed on the embryo, while the Simantonnayana is thought to be performed on the mother (see McGee 341 and Tachikawa et. al. 103). The Simantonnayana could be performed in order to smooth the progress of labour and delivery or to ensure the foetus develops properly and is safely delivered in the final trimester, and is also thought to remove any pollution of the foetus that may have been a result of the pollution of its parents (see McGee 341 and Rodrigues 141). Either way, it is performed by the husband’s symbolic parting of the wife’s hair. In this ritual, the wife is to be facing west, while the husband parts her hair, starting at her forehead and moving toward the back of her head using a porcupine’s quill that has three white spots on it. As the husband parts his wife’s hair, he is to repeat two Mantras and three Vyahrtis (see Tachikawa et. al. 103.) The three Vyahrtis are Bhuh, Bhuvar and Swar, which roughly translate as earth, sky and heaven and are considered a form of Brahma (see Kapoor 420).

The Pumsavana and Simantonnayana are rarely performed today and taking their place is dohala-jevana, which takes place in the seventh month of pregnancy. The dohala-jevana involves a gathering of women who prepare a feast for the pregnant woman of food that she likes (or craves). They also adorn her with flowers or unripe fruits, sing her songs, shower her with gifts, anoint her, massage her, and generally create a high-spirited atmosphere (see McGee 341 and Tachikawa et. al. 104). This can be seen as similar to a baby shower in North America. In her final trimester, the pregnant woman is to be well taken care of and protected and should avoid inauspicious activities, as should her husband, in the interest of the welfare of the foetus (see McGee 341). She should also temporarily move back in with her mother so that she can become closer to her mother and learn from her so that she may be a good mother also (see Kakar 27).

The day and constellation under which the infant is born is noted for the purposes of jyotisa (see Rodrigues 142), which are important for marriage and naming, among other things. Immediately after the infant is born and preferably before the umbilical cord is cut, the Samskara Jatakarman, the birth ceremony, is to be performed. Jatakarman is supposed to give the child intelligence and strength and help him live a long life. Jatakarman is made up of several niceties. There are four preliminaries and then the father places some gold on an axe that has been placed on a stone, and turns them upside down so that the stone is now on the axe. The father then holds the infant over the stone with its head facing east and says two Mantras about his son being strong like the stone, sharp (intelligent) like the axe, and worthy like the gold (see Tachikawa et. al. 104).

The Aupasanagni (household fire) is then taken away, the Sutikagni (birth fire or confinement fire) is brought in, and the father throws rice grains and mustard seeds into the fire eleven times, repeating eleven Mantras as he does so in order to keep away evil spirits (see Tachikawa et. al. 104). The father than washes his hands and touches the earth giving thanks to it for delivering his child safe and healthy. The father then performs medhajanana in order that the infant may gain intelligence and strength. The rite of medhajanana involves mixing ghee with gold and Darbha grass or honey and placing it on the lips of the infant while reciting three Mantras. The father also performs Ayusya, in which he whispers the names into the infant’s ear of people who have had long lives in order to ascertain a long life for the child (see McGee 341 and Tachikawa et. al. 104). The father then bathes the infant in lukewarm water while reciting certain Mantras. He then performs the rite of stanapratidhana, the giving of the breast, where he places the infant on the mother in order that the baby might breastfeed, while he recites another Mantra. He then praises a pot of water that is placed near the head of the mother and infant to protect them both. Jatakarman is rarely, if ever performed nowadays (see McGee 342 and Tachikawa 104).

Although birth is considered an auspicious event, the actual act of giving birth is inauspicious and the naming of the infant, Namakarana, is not to take place until after purification rites, which take place on the eleventh day after birth and include ritual bathing and prayers. Therefore, Namakarana should take place on the twelfth day (see McGee 342 and Tachikawa 105).

The infant has been bathed and is dressed in new clothes and then the Namakarana begins. The father writes ‘salutation to lord Ganapati’ then the four names of his son on a bronze vessel filled with grains of rice. The first name is called the kuladevatanama (‘family-deity-name’) and is based on the family deity. The second name comes from the deity of the month the infant is born in and is called the masanama (‘month-name’). The third name is the name people are to use with him in public and is called the vyavaharikanama (‘ordinary-affairs-name’). The fourth name is based on the constellation under which the infant was born and is called naksatranama (‘constellation-name’). The father then gives honour and praise to the namadevatas, the deities who are in charge of names and then whispers the names in his son’s right ear as the infant sits on his mother’s lap. After the names have been whispered in the son’s ear, the Brahmins gathered are to make a statement about the names being “established” and address him by his names and bless him (see Tachikawa 105).

The Grhya Sutras and Dharma Sastras advise that boys’ names should have an even number of syllables and girls’ names should have an odd number. They also suggest that boys’ names end in an unvoiced aspiration or a short sound, while girls’ names should end in a long vowel such as [i] or [a] and should be easily pronounceable and feminine (see McGee 342 and Rodrigues 142). Naming the infant is thought to release it from sin (see McGee 342).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Kakar, Sudhir (2001) The Essential Writings of Sudhir Kakar. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kapoor, Subodh (ed.) (2000) The Hindus Encyclopaedia of Hinduism: Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Hinduism. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications

McGee, Mary (2004) “Samskara.” In The Hindu World. Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby (eds.). New York: Routledge. pp. 332 – 356.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism – the eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Limited.

Tachikawa, Musashi, Hino, Shoun, and Deodhar, Lalita (2001) Puja and Samskara. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Sapinda

Naksatra

Gotra

Annaprasana/ Gannaprasana

Niskramana

Tithi

Cudakarana/ Caula

Dohada

Brhadaranyaka Upanisad

Jyotisa

Sutikagni

Medhajanana

Ayusya

Namadevatas

Vyahrtis

Nakshatra/ Nakshastra

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.shyamasundaradasa.com/

http://www.sanathanadharma.com/samskaras/

http://www.hindunet.com/

http://www.commsp.ee.ic.ac.uk/~pancham/articles/the%20sixteen%20samskaras.pdf

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/sbe29/sbe29018.htm (keep reading until 25)

Article written by Jenna Boyd (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Sati and Social Implications

Introduction

In many religious traditions marriage is arguably one of the most sacred institutions on which two people can unite.In the Hindu tradition, a woman’s devotion to her husband is seen as essential and is very important to the marriage itself.However, this devotion should not only be seen in life, but also with death. In the pasta wife was able to prove her devotion through a ritual called Sati.The ritual is when usually an orthodox Hindu woman will throw herself on the pyre of her dead husband and be burned alive so that she would be able to follow him into the afterlife.An explanation of what Sati is according to tradition and how it became outlawed under the British rule is very important to understanding the devotion and traditions of orthodox Hindu people. Through the use of edicts set down by the British monarchy, and a more recent case of Sati, I wish to show how even though a practice is outlawed; those that remain faithful will continue the practice.

What is Sati?

According to Dorothy Stein Sati (also called Suttee) is practice which is “an expression of an underlying view of women as property” (253).Women were seen as heroes because of their willingness to be sacrificed (Stein: 253).However, women within the higher classes were not specifically told to do this sacrifice, and neither were the women of the lowest castes (Stein: 253-254).

A woman who is able to follow her husband through the act of Sati is seen as a being of high power and was given great respect.Stein states “The widow on her way to the pyre was the object (for once) of all public attention….Endowed with the gift of prophecy and the power to cure and bless, she was immolated amid great fanfare, with great veneration” (254).It is through the burning of the wife that her true essence was seen. Only if she was virtuous and pious would she be worthy of being placed on the fire, therefore, she has to make the decision of being put on the fire, or be seen as a non-pious wife (Stein: 254-255).Through Sati she would be ridding herself of the sins she may have acquired in this life time, and in past ones (Stein: 256).“By burning, moreover, she, her husband, her husband’s family, her mother’s family, and her father’s family would be in paradise for 35 million years, no matter how sinful they all had been” (Stein: 256) .It is clear why so many women would be willing to do it, for to rid past and present sins is a great cause.

What are the Social Implications?

Several aspects should be considered with the practice of Sati.For one, it the age of the wife when her husband dies does not matter Stein claims that “a widow’s death assured guardianship and undisputed influence over her children to her husband’s family. It also kept her from enjoying her lifetime rights in her husband’s estate” (Stein: 256). With the practice of Sati expenses were cost considerate.The Pundit (a Hindu priest) would receive the most precious gift, and everyone who attended would be given gifts as well, also the families who were wealthier would also be expected to buy more expensive products and presents (Stein :256-257).

According to Anne McLeer (2001) Lata Mani (1990) examined two different debates with regard to the Practice of Sati.Mani claims, according to McLeer, that:

“Both abolitionist and promoters of Sati (all members of the male establishment) used brahmanic scripture as justification of their position.The female subjectivity of the Sati was not allowed to enter into the debate; even the abolitionists failed to mention cruelty of the cultural authority of Sati and its relation to tradition” (McLeer: 47).

With use of the notion of women be subject to men, both groups did not have strong enough arguments for what was to happen to the people.In India the practice itself was restricted under British rule, and it lead to the decline of the practice.

In 1829, the British Monarchy decided to abolish the practice of Sati (Oldenburg: 101-102).To the British the use of Sati was that of horror and they wanted to gain public attention to the cause back in England.At first they did not want to interfere with the religious practices of the countries they were adding to the Empire (Stein: 258).There were also meetings which occurred between Hindu religious advisors, and members of the British Supreme Court, and it was decided in 1813 they were not going to interfere with the practices, they would just monitor them (Stein: 258).According to historical documentation and records of Sati it was seen, the numbers of cases of Sati increased a great deal after the new regulations regarding Sati were administered (Stein: 258). Some believe that it is because the British were not as vigilant with recording the cases prior to the new legislations, and now the administration would have to be more careful about its records (Stein: 258).

“Lord William Bentinck’s regulations of Sati published on 8 December 1829 outlawed widow burning in Bengal” (Datta: 136).He had consulted with the British monarchy to understand how he was going to be able to decrease the number of Sati sacrifices (Datta: 136). Some Hindus saw this action by Bentinck as attack on Hinduism itself (Datta: 138). In Calcutta the orthodox community petitioned against Bentinck. They eventually lost however on February 6, 1830, the orthodox party called Dharma Sabha was founded.The party was formed to protect the Hindu community at large and to maintain its traditions and rights (Datta: 140).The outcome was that Sati was outlawed still but the Hindu community was able to prove they had the right to discuss the issues with the ruling monarchy (Datta: 144).Datta states“though Sati was prohibited, there still existed a strong feeling among the Hindu community that despite the legislative enactment the practice of widow – burning would continue as the Hindus were attached to their ancient customs with a fanatical devotion”(Datta:145).

Then in the 1950`s when the Indian Penal Code was being revised the British thought the sections dealing with death and suicide were comprehensive enough to cover the regulations instituted by the East Indian Company therefore they would be enough to cover the practice of Sati, and for this reason there was no implicit reference to Sati made (Oldenburg: 102).However, in 1987 a women in Marwari, India, resurrected the practice by deciding she was going to follow her husband into the afterlife; these actions on her own behalf led to another debate on the morality of Sati.In the 1980`s there was a case of Sati which occurred and caused several feminist groups to speak out against the practice of Sati (bearing in mind Sati is not a common occurrence it is nearly one in a million). A girl by the name of Roop Kanwar, who was a new wife (Oldenburg: 101), to a seemingly depressed and suicidal man. They were only married for a short time, before her husband was admitted to the hospital, and soon thereafter he died.The new family of Roop Kanwar, claimed that she wanted to die alongside her husband (Oldenburg: 118).This case led several feminist groups to take up the cause of fighting against the justifications and revival of Sati.They claim there are three groups to blame on this they are: 1) Rujput Men – “for using women`s lives as the means of propping up old chivalric traditions in a time when they are otherwise disenfranchised,”2) Marwari Businessmen- “for imitating and supporting these traditions in their quest for status and power and for contributing their wealth and commercial acumen to perpetuating this custom”, and finally3) Brahmins – “for leading an air of legitimacy to the ethos of Sati as a way to bolster their own dwindling importance in the modern world” (Oldenburg:104).Many also claim that if there are no witnesses to the actual act of Sati it would not possess the meaning it does (Oldenburg: 105).

Conclusion

The opinions and the popular beliefs around Sati have been the topic of great debate for centuries.Sati has been argued as being against women, but in some cases women have chosen to carry out this practice themselves.The information provided shows that Sati is still very controversial; the process of a wife killing herself for the sake of her husband and her family was generally respected and seen as devotion.This opinion has since changed and is seen now as social pressure.Though Sati is rare, if not nearly non-existent in today’s Hindu communities, it is still being talked about and understood. On a personal level Sati is not generally seen as pro-women, however, ultimately it may be argued that it is her decision.Reality however has stated otherwise, as seen through the laws passes by the British government, though it should be noted that if a pious wife wishes to follow in his footsteps as Roop Kanwar decided there is nothing that can really stop her.


Works Cited

Datta, V.N. (1988). Chapter 5: Public Reaction. In Sati: A Historical, Social and Philosophical Enquiry into the Hindu Rite of Widow Burning. Riverdale Company: Riverdale Maryland. Pp. 136-150.

Hardgrove. A. (1999). Sati Worship and Marwari Public Identity in India. Journal of Asian Studies 58 (3). Pp. 723 – 752.

McLeer, A. (1998). Saving the Victim: Recuperating the Language of the Victim and reassessing Global Feminism. Hypatia 13 (1). Pg. 42- 55

Oldenburg, V.T. (1994). Chapter 5: the Roop Kanwar Case: Feminist Responses. In John Stratton Hawley (editor). Sati, the Blessing and the Curse: the Burning of Wives in India.Oxford University Press: New York. Pp. 101-130.

Stein, D.K. (1978). Women to Burn: Suttee as a Normative Institution. Signs 4 (2). University of Chicago Press. Pp. 253-268.

Further Readings to be Consulted

Major, A. (2004). “Eternal Flames”: Suicide, Sinfulness and Insanity in “Western” Constructions of Sati 1500-1830. International Journal of Asian Studies 1(2), Cambridge University Press. 247-276.

Mani, L. (1998). Contentious traditions: The debate on Sati in colonial India. University of California Press: Berkeley.

Sharma, A. (1988). Sati: historical and phenomenological essays. Motilal Banarsidass: Delhi.

Related Topics

Suttee

Dowry Death

Widow Burning

Hindu Marriage

Hindu Rites and Ritual Practices

Dakshayani

Mahabharata

Related Websites

http://www.sikhnet.com/Sikhnet/discussion.nsf/3d8d6eacce83bad8872564280070c2b3/D1DA33DDDB0A7A7B8725696B005F4E9C!OpenDocument

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/520458.stm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suttee

http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/hindu/sati.htm

http://www.indianchild.com/sati_in_india.htm

http://adaniel.tripod.com/sati.htm

Article written by Nerissa Bhola (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Anandamayi Ma

To her devotees, Anandamayi Ma, was not just considered a highly spiritual woman but a true incarnation of a deity or God. Anandamayi Ma was born on April 30, 1896, to a devoted Vaishnava Brahman family, in Kheora, Bengal (present day Bangladesh). At birth she was named Nirmala Sundari, and would not be called Anandamayi Ma until much later (Hallstrom 23). According to accounts of her devotees, everything about Ma, in her early years was spiritually auspicious. One instance of her future greatness was when she was nine or ten months old, a holy man visited Ma’s family. He was seated close to little Ma and she crawled up like she was intimately familiar with him. He then picked up Ma and, “placed her feet reverently on his shoulder, head and other parts of his body in an extraordinary show of devotion and veneration and then sat her on his lap.” After seating her in front of him, “he began to perform puja or worship to her, bowing down before her.” He then said to her mother,

“This whom you are seeing before you, this is Ma [the Divine Mother]

and is so not [only of] men and women but also as permeating and

transcending the universe. You will certainly not be able to keep her

bound to family ties. She will definitely not remain here.” (Hallstrom 25)

Despite receiving religious instruction only from her parents, “she displayed an uncanny knowledge of religious matters,” (Hallstrom 25) and often was witnessed in bhava, a state of ecstasy or trancelike states, which were described as supernatural in nature. One particular form of worship, kirtan, devotional songs, would put her into a state of pure spiritual ecstasy. She was known to often wander off, singing devotional songs. Her states could last a short time but as she became older, these instances lengthened. Some relatives felt that when they were around Ma during these instances, they experienced a loss of body consciousness (Hallstrom 28).

At the age of twelve, her marriage was arranged to a man named Ramani Mohan Chakaravart from a distinguished Brahman Bharadwaj family. An auspicious day, February 7, 1909, was picked and they married. Ma remained with her family until she was fourteen, and then she went to live with Ramani Mohan’s family, entering the household stage of her life. Ramani Mohan’s parents had died, so Ma was placed in the instruction of Ramani Mohan’s eldest brother’s wife, Dadamahashaya. Ma excelled at housework and became a pleasant, hardworking wife in her brother-in-law’s house, where she was very well liked. Ma often fell in states of Samadhi, but they believed the states were just bouts of extreme exhaustion or absentmindedness (Hallstrom 32). She stayed with her husband’s family until she joined her husband in Ashtagrama, in East Bengal, in 1914. This was the first instance that Ma and Ramani Mohan were around each other for a substantial period of time since their marriage. Devotees point out that Ramani Mohan was unaware of Ma’s extraordinary state. He assumed he had married an ordinary illiterate village woman, but he quickly became aware of her spiritual power. The first time her tried to approach her sexually, “he supposedly received such a violent electric shock that he put for the time being all thought of a physical relationship out of his mind” (Lipski 6). He thought that it was because Ma was so young and that she would become “normal” in time, but their marriage was never consummated; sexual desire never arose again in their marriage (Lipski 6). Despite the lack of sexual relationship, Ramani Mohan cared for Ma, loved her very dearly, and accepted their unconventional marriage.

Anandamayi Ma murti (image) in Varanasi
Anandamayi Ma murti (image) in Varanasi

It was also in Ashtagrama, where Ma was first recognized as a “spiritually exalted woman” and received the name Ma given to her by a man named Harkumar. He became the one to bring attention to the “ecstatic states or bhavavastha of Anandamayi Man”(Hallstrom 34). He arranged a kirtan, where Ma was first publicly observed in a state of bhava. For those around her, her state of bhava was a frightening experience, as she either fell to the floor in convulsions or sat motionless, “her face and eyes bathed in a radiant glow” (Hallstrom 34). At subsequent kirtans, Ma experienced similar state of bhava.

Close-up of Central Face of Anandamayi Ma image (Varanasi)

Between 1918 and 1924, Ma began experiencing her most spiritual activities. It was also at this time that Ma became more centered on her spiritual life and moved away from her household duties. In 1922, Ramani Mohan was advised to get Ma initiated by the family guru as soon as possible. On August 3, 1922, Ma experienced self-initiation, a feat not experienced before, especially as a woman. At this time, Ma began so display siddhis, or spiritual powers (Hallstrom 38-40). Five months later, on January 3, 1923, Ma initiated her husband and she changed his name to Bholanath, a name for Shiva. Later that month, Ma entered into a three-year silence or mauna. (Hallstrom 41) Their initiations marked the transition of their marriage into a complex relationship. Ma remained an obedient wife, always asking Bholanath’s permission before any undertaking, but she was not bound by his decisions, and always found ways to persuade him for approval. On the other hand, Bholanath was spiritually inferior to Ma, who also became his guru (Lipski 7).

By 1924, Ma began to gather devotees while living at Shasbagh Gardens. Many people were invited by Bholanath to see the extraordinary spiritual powers of his wife. She warned him not to invite so many people, stating, “You must think twice before opening the doors to the world in this manner. Remember that you will not be able to stem the tide when it becomes overwhelming” (Hallstrom 43). Many devotees believed Ma, was an incarnation of Kali and called her Manusha Kali, or “Kali in human form,” others believed she was “a self-realized being of extraordinary spiritual power” (Hallstrom 43). In 1926, devotees witnessed Ma’s inability to feed her self, as her hands would no longer work as they used to, leaving the task to Bholanath and her closest devotees, who fed her until her death (Hallstrom 46). On her thirty-first birthday, a special kirtan and puja was performed in her honor and again on her thirty-second. 1928 also marked the year Ma began her years of travels and transition to the Renouncer stage.

Throughout the next ten years, Ma traveled extensively throughout Bengal and India. Bholanath followed her transition and entered into a period of silence and pilgrimage under Ma’s instruction. Many time he asked her not to travel without him, but she warned that she would leave her body if he refused her. In the years after 1933, Ma, Bholanath, and many of her devotees made many spontaneous pilgrimages, full of religious festivals, kirtans and satsangas. On April 23, 1938, Ma predicted that Bholanath would become seriously ill. True to her word, Bholanath died fifteen days later on Mar 7, 1938 of smallpox (Hallstrom 51).

After the death of her husband, Ma’s life experienced little change. She continued her constant traveling, until the number of devotees swelled to huge numbers, which reduced her spontaneous travel. Ashrams were built throughout the country and a central administrative organization was created, the Shree Shree Anandamayee Sangha, in February 1950. The Sangha was able to establish two Sanskrit schools, a hospital and a periodical called Ananda Varta (Hallstrom 52). By 1973, there were twenty seven ashrams around India. Ma had no involvement in the Sangha or subsequent administrative organizations; however she founded the annual Samyam Varta, a week-long retreat, held in a different place every year. During the week, Ma and her close devotees would instruct devotees in spiritual practices (Hallstrom 52).

On July 11, 1982, Ma gave her last public darshan. Her health had begun to deteriorate seriously; she asked to be moved to her Kishenpur ashram where Bholanath had died in 1938. It was on August 27, 1982, Ma died, in the room directly above where her husband had died. According to her wishes, Anandamayi Ma was buried and a shrine was erected, which has become a place of worship and pilgrimage, known for its spiritual power (Hallstrom 52).

Anandamayi Ma’s greatest influence on Hinduism was the creation of a way women could become important figures of worship. According to female devotees, they believed Ma was incarnated in the form of a woman to give them spiritual equality to men. They were able to experience an intimate closeness with Ma which her male devotees could not experience. According to her male devotees, they longed for an intimate relationship, but cultural norms prevented this. Ma, being a woman, benefited and inspired all women. This gave Ma’s female devotees the chance to be close to God, which they had little chance, because of the male domination of the Hindu religion. Ma also provided a motherly loving relationship to women which they might not have had after their marriage, living with their husband’s family. The feeling of loss of a biological mother was lessened for Ma’s devotees, because she became their spiritual mother (Hallstrom 204). Ma’s female devotees ranged from her closes followers who willingly devoted their whole lives to Ma, to women and men in their householder stage. Ma’s most devout follower, other then Bholanath was, Gurupriya Devi, or Didi, as she was affectionately called. Didi was one of Ma’s brahmacharini devotees who chose to live a celibate life and was able to have a lifelong relationship with both her biological and spiritual mothers. Devotees claimed Ma provided a safe and prideful life for unmarried daughters, who would have been an embarrassment to her family (Hallstrom 204). Ma’s followers, who were in the householder stage, could also have a close relationship with her. Despite Ma’s unorthodox position in her marriage to Bholanath, she held many orthodox views on how women should like their lives as wives (Hallstrom 210). She believed women should fulfill their duties, but could still participate in spiritual activities, such as kirtans. Ma often held these for her women devotees in Decca, a radical idea at the time, but made sure the kirtans were held at night, as not to disrupt their daily duties (Hallstrom 211).

Ma was said to have been very beautiful women that had a radiating presence that attracted people to her. She was always kind, with a contagious laugh and emanation of God’s divine power. The intimate relationship she had with her female devotees allowed greater access to Ma, therefore, greater access to God (Hallstrom 203). She will always be remembered as a true women guru and saint.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Hallstrom, Lisa Lassell (1999) Mother of Bliss: Anandamayi Ma 1896-1982. New York:

Oxford University Press.

Lipski, Alexander (1988) Life and Teaching of Sri Anandamayi Ma. Delhi: Morilal

Banarsidass.

Murkerji, Bithika (1980) From the Life of Sri Anandamayi Ma, Volume One. Calcutta:

Shree Shree Anandamayee Charitable Society.

Murkerji, Bithika (1981) From the Life of Sri Anandamayi Ma, Volume Two. Calcutta:

Shree Shree Anandamayee Charitable Society.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Bholanath

Ananda Varta

Darshan

Shree Shree Anandamayee Sangha

Kirtan

Bhava

puja

Anandamayi Ma as a saint

Anandamayi Ma incarnation as a woman

Anandamayi Ma’s rejection of castes

Anandamayi Ma’s renouncer life

Gurupriya Devi

Kali

Siddheshvari

Bhakti

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.anandamayi.org

http://www.om-guru.com/html/saints/anandamayi.html

http://www.wie.org/j10/anandamayi.asp

http://www.poetseers.org/spiritual_and_devotional_poets/ind/srianand/sriaq

Written by Stephanie Ralph (Spring 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.

Birth Rituals in Hinduism

Hindu culture is full of rituals, traditions, and daily routines that seek to enhance and create the best circumstances for an individual while alive. These rituals are very orderly, taking place to move the individual from one stage of life to another. This personal movement, known as samskara, is ultimately to help the individual obtain liberation (moksa), and become free from the birth, death, and re-birth cycle. It is no surprise that birth would have many rituals surrounding it, as parents, extended family, and those involved with a new born would want to provide the best possible conditions for a baby to progress in life and achieve moksa. From the time of pregnancy until the child (if a boy) is ‘born again’ by the performance of the upanayana ritual, people near the new born perform many rituals and rites for the benefit the infant since it is not able to do so for itself. It is the purpose of this paper to describe some of these rituals that are preformed from the beginning of pregnancy until the delivery, as observance to these rituals plays a key part in an individuals life.

Women in Hindu society are complex as they have a duality in their roles. On one hand they are viewed as fertile, compassionate caregivers, yet on the other hand, they can be viewed as hostile, malicious destroyers (Wadley 113).An examination of Hindu women in the context of caregiver shows that along with caring for herself, her primary role is to care for her husband and children; this is why we see such concern surrounding childbearing. When a women suspects she is pregnant, it is not announced immediately, but rather the women leaves it to those around her to notice that, “she has not observed the usual monthly pollution period, is sometimes nauseous, or is widening at the waist”(Jacobson and Wadley 143). Once a women’s pregnancy is known, it is common that her brothers will take her to her parents home for the pregnancy (Tewari 259), however this is not always the case. No matter where the mother is located, she is treated and cared for in a special way to prepare for the coming child. Attention is paid to protect her and her unborn child from coming into contact with evil spirits, even to the point of abstaining from foods that could harm the baby (Jacobson and Wadley 143). The pregnant women, or jacca, is not to be our after dark, is not supposed to walk past pipal, or babul trees (since they are supposed to house evil spirits), and should always keep a piece of iron with her to ward off any spirits (Tewari 258).Upon learing of the pregnancy, one of the first rituals preformed for the jacca is called arathi. Arathi serves the purpose of removing the evil eye, and is similar to a western baby shower, since it primarily centers on the jacca receiving gifts of good fortune, as well as special foods to eat (Dhruvarajan 88).

When the jacca enters into the seventh month of pregnancy, arathi is again preformed, and further attention is given to prepare for the coming of the child. Other rituals such as rit, and kanji may also be preformed, which are very similar in the gift giving nature of arathi. In preparation for the delivery, a special birth-chamber, or sovar, is set up for the jacca and her baby. The sovar is a room that is separate from the rest of the house, preferably without windows, as the delivery should be completely private and away from the public. Much care is taken in the placement of the bed, making sure that it is not placed under the main beam of the house, and that it is not facing south, as these are believed to have a bad effect on the jacca (Stevenson 2).

When the time of delivery has arrives, the jacca enters the birth-chamber accompanied by her midwife (dai), and separates herself from everyone else in the household. This is because labor is a highly polluting experience, so polluting that the jacca is now referred to as a jachcha, or one in “a highly polluted and polluting state, similar to that of the lowest untouchable castes”(Jacobson, 144). Because of the highly polluting nature of delivery, the dai usually lives in a nearby low caste village, and travels to the home of the jacca at the time of delivery (Jacobson and Wadley, 144). If complications arise during delivery, a wide range of action may be taken, from breaking open the mouth of the great grain jar, to putting a lotus flower in water, hoping that as its petals expand, the mouth of the womb will also expand (Stevenson 2). While such traditional methods are preferred, if the jachcha faces complicated problems the dai may turn the pregnancy over to professional medical treatment.

Once the baby has been delivered, attention is given to what time the birth took place, as this will determine an accurate horoscope for the child, which, to a certain extent, will determine when other samskara rituals are preformed. On the day of birth itself, the family Brahmin priest typically holds a small ceremony for the new mother, in which he ritually brews an herbal tea in the company of the women of the extended family (Jacobson and Wadley 146). During the time following the delivery, the mother and child continue to be separated from the rest of the household (as mother and child are still regarded as being in a highly polluted state). It is believed that nine months worth of polluted menstrual blood is discharged at the time of birth, and therefore the mother and child must be purified before the return to the household. The main actions taken during this purification process called sor, are a series of baths and oil massages preformed by the dai, each progressively removing more pollution (Jacobson and Wadley 147). When the mother and child are believed to have been sufficiently cleansed, the dai, “breaks the mother’s old glass bangles…[and] rubs the mother with an ointment of turmeric, wheat flower, oil, and water to cleanse her skin” (Jacobson and Wadley 147). The baby itself is similarly cleansed by being rubbed with a ball of turmeric and dough, and receives an oil message. The mother and child are then changed into clean clothes, with the dirty, polluted clothes and bedding being thrown away. The birth-chamber itself also undergoes a purification by the dai, who “[applies] cow-dung slip to the floor and up onto the base of the walls.”

Upon the completion of sor, the mother and newborn are returned into their household and further rituals are planned, depending largely on the gender of the baby. In the case of a boy being born family and friends are invited to celebrate with the family, however in some instances the birth of a girl has limited celebration, or none at all (Tewari 260). This is based on the fact that a boy is seen as being able to perpetuate the family line and be a provider, where the girl’s role is traditionally less dominant. However while further life rituals are conditional, the birth rituals observed are unconditional as they seek to provide the best conditions for the baby to born into.

References and Further Recommended Reading

Dhruvarajan, V. (1989) Hindu Women and the Power of Ideology. Granby, Massachusetts: Bergin & Garvery Publishers Inc.

Jacobson, D., & Wadley, S. (1977) Women in India . Daryaganj, New Delhi: Manohar.

Jamison, Stephanie (1996) Sacrificed/ Wife Sacrificer’s Wife: Women, Ritual, and Hospitality in Ancient India. New York: Oxford University Press.

Leslie, Julia (1991) Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

Rose, H.A. “Hindu Pregnancy Observances in the Punjab.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britian and Ireland Jul-Dec 1905: 271-278.

Stevenson, S. (1971) The Rites of the Twice-Born. New Dehli: Oriental Books Corporation.

Tewari, Laxmi. “’Sohar’: Childbirth Songs of Joy.” Asian Folklore Studies 1988: 257-276.

Vats, S., & Mudgal, S. (1998) Development of Women in Modern India. Faridabad: OM Publications.

Wadley, Susan. “Women and Symbolic Systems: Women and the Hindu Tradition.” Signs Autumn 1977: 113-125.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Samskara

Moksa

Dharma

Jacca

Jachcha

Sor

Arathi

Dai

Sovar

Upanayana

Vivaha

Antyesti

Purusartha

Asrama

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.deekaypages.com/samskara/default.htm

http://asms.k12.ar.us/classes/humanities/worldstud/97-98/religion/hinduism/Rituals.htm

http://atheism.about.com/od/hindusandhinduism/a/IndiaRituals.htm

http://hinduism.about.com/od/basics/a/rites_rituals_3.htm

http://www.hindugateway.com/library/rituals/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samskara

Article written by: Ken Baker (April 2006) who is solely responsible for its content.

Hindu Asceticism

In traditional Hindu life, there are four stages which a Hindu would, theoretically, complete in order to acquire the greatest chance of attaining the ultimate goal of moksa (liberation). These stages include the sisya (student) stage, the grhasta (householder) stage, the vanaprastha (forest-dweller) stage and the samnyasin (renouncer stage). This last stage of the samnyasin is one of total renunciation of social and material things. It would typically be this time in one’s life when one would dedicate oneself entirely to attaining moksa, particularly by engaging in specific practices. One such set of practice that these renouncers would often adopt was asceticism. However, it is important to note that ascetic practices are not limited to the samnyasins. Many laypeople also practice forms of asceticism, such as Vrata [On Vrata and the Pativrata Ideal, see Rodrigues 2005: 160-167], to achieve higher objectives. Nevertheless, in general, the asceticism practiced by renouncers is usually more concentrated and intensely followed. This essay will be focusing mostly on the asceticism of the samnyasin. Therefore, any reference to asceticism or ascetic practices will refer to the customs of the standard samnyasin, unless otherwise stated.To go into great detail of all the differentiations and variations of ascetic practices would probably construct a small book. I can only give a brief background, explain the practices that are most widely used, and give the example of a famous ascetic who has contributed to modernization of the practice.

Before discussing the particularities and practices of asceticism, it is important to look at the background and origin of this practice. According to David M. Miller and Dorothy C. Wertz, in their book Hindu Monastic Life, the word “ascetic” is a translation into the word sadhu, which actually translates as “holy man” (Miller and Wertz 2), a term often used to describe a renouncer.This can give us an idea of what the literary origin is, but to discern the actual foundation of the practice is quite a bit harder.As Patrick Olivelle informs us in his translation of the Samnyasa Upanisads, there are many theories about where the practice of asceticism originated (Olivelle 19-22).He breaks these down into two main theories: that asceticism is a development of the Vedic tradition, and that asceticism is a newer practice than the traditional Vedic religion which “challenged and transformed the Vedic religion” (Olivelle 20).Olivelle sides with the assertion that ascetic practices did not develop out of the old Vedic tradition, but that they are a recent custom which tested and criticized the old Vedic ways. Even so, Olivelle states clearly that ascetic practices could not have appeared out of nowhere and says that “[he does] not subscribe to the view put forward by some scholars that ascetic modes of life were non-Aryan in origin” (Olivelle 21).Olivelle suggests that, even though asceticism has close ties with sacrificial religion and even though the Vedic religion set the conditions in which asceticism is set, asceticism acts as an original element that challenged some of the old Vedic traditions, such as sacrificial theology.

With this brief background of asceticism we can begin to discus what asceticism really is.To become an ascetic means to give up completely, as mentioned before, social and material things. The ascetic is then meant to meditate and concentrate on attaining the final goal of moksa. Since ascetics do not have anything at all, except perhaps a begging bowl and a staff, they rely totally on the lay community to provide for them food and sometimes clothes and shelter. As Vail F. Lise says in his article “Unlike a Fool, He Is Not Defiled: Ascetic Purity and Ethics in the Samnyasa Upanisads”: “ascetics are told to remain in solitude as much as possible, meditating and dis-identifying with their bodies. Nonetheless, Upanisadic passages about the virtues and behaviour proposed for samnyasis are unexpectedly rich in ethical reflection” (Lise 374). Lise is commenting on how, although ascetics are prescribed to not care about any worldly thing, they are taught to be moral, just, and wise among other men. Lise explains this further by saying that “the liberated renouncer is a master of silence, quite patient, and wise in matters of Brahman” (395). In response to this, a question that might arise is: how would one know about these rigorous ascetic practices and ways? The answer is in the Samnyasa Upanisads which “provide a basis in Vedic revelation for the institution of renunciation (samnyasa) and for the rules and practices associated with that state” (Olivelle 5). Therefore, the Samnyasa Upanisads are used as a guideline as how to live the life of the holy man. These Upanisads have been studied rigorously and elaborated on as the practice of asceticism grows and popularizes. Nonetheless, one of the only ways to fully understand true asceticism is to watch and learn from a genuine ascetic. It is important to remember that the customs mentioned are the typical routines practiced by Hindu ascetics. There are many people who do not follow the samnyasin path quite so rigorously and there are those take it to the extreme.

There have been many significant Hindu ascetics in the Indian history; for example, Mahatma Gandhi who helped India fight for independence from Britain [For additional information on Mahatma Gandhi see Robinson and Rodrigues (2006) pg 160; and Rodrigues (2005) pg 47-48, 422-424, and 249-250]. In their article “Karma Samnyasa: Sarkar’s reconceptualization of Indian asceticism” Shaman Hatley and Sohail Inayatullah discuss the life of the guru (teacher) Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar. Sarkar was a Tantric [On Tantrism see Robinson and Rodrigues (2006) pg 158-159] teacher who lived in the 20th century and who revolutionized Hindu asceticism. Hatley and Inayatullah go into detail about what Sarkar thought that asceticism really was, as they say, “the ascetic stands as a critic of society – not merely a post modern literary critic but one that questions the basis of current society by attempting to transform it” (Hatley and Inayatullah 14). In this way, Sarkar is saying that asceticism is not only about the physical state of renunciation, but also about the exercise of proper mental ethics. The article also emphasizes how Sarkar’s studies did not hold much interest in the traditional ways of Hinduism, but wanted to transform the religion by using asceticism to “eliminate elements based in social custom (such as asrama) and myth” (Hatley and Inayatullah 14).By studying Sarkar, Hatley and Inayatullah have introduced an interesting, modern, way to look at the practice of asceticism.

Overall, the practice of asceticism is a broad topic with a rich history and development.Ascetic practices have been used to help change and develop the Vedic Hindu tradition.Even the concept of the samnyasin has become increasingly revolutionized as more people become interested in these ascetic ways.This practice has, recently, even travelled to the West. Westerners are becoming increasingly interested in Hindu practices. Many books on ascetic practices such as meditation, renunciation, and cleansing of the mind now line the shelves of Western bookstores.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER READINGS

DeBary, William (1966) The Hindu Tradition. New York; Random House Inc.

Hatley, Shaman and Sohail Inayatullah (Feb 99) “Karma Samnyasa: Sarkar’s

Reconceptualization of Indian Asceticism”. Journal of Asian & African Studies

(Brill). 34:139, 14

Kaelber, Walter (1989) Tapta Marga: Asceticism and Initiation in Vedic India. Delhi; Sri

Satguru Publications

Miller, David and Dorothy C. Wertz (1976) Hindu Monastic Life: the Monks and

Monasteries of Bhubaneswar. Montreal and London; Mc Gill-Queen’s

University Press

Narayan, Kirin (1989) Storytellers, Saints, and Scoundrels: Folk Narrative in Hindu

Religious Teaching. Philadelphia; University Press

Olivelle, Patrick, trans (1992) Samnyasa Upanisads: Hindu Scriptures on Asceticism and

Renunciation. New York; Oxford University Press

Robinson, Thomas and Hillary Rodrigues (2006) World Religions: A Guide to the

Essentials. Peabody, Massachusetts; Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2005) Hinduism: The eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics; Online

Books, Ltd.

Vail, Lise (Fall 2002) “Unlike a Fool, He Is not Defiled: Ascetic Purity and Ethics in the

Samnyasa Upanisads.” Journal of Religious Ethics. 30:373-397, 25

Related Topics for Further Investigation:

Atman

Brahman

Dharma

Guru

Sadhu

Swami

Yogas (Karma, Jnana, Bhakti, Raja, Kondalini, Hatha)

Yogi

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic:

www.founder.proutist-universal.org

www.prout.org

http://www-scf.usc.edu/~hso/faq.htm

http://buddhism.kalachakranet.org/pre_buddhism_history.html

Article written by Jahliele Paquin (April 2006) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Tradition of Sati

The Hindu tradition is a complex religious system that has many rites of passage and traditions. Among these customs are death rituals that consist of performing a specific ceremony or making a sacrifice for a loved one. One of these sacrificial rituals prescribed for a widow is called sati. Sati is a ritual in which a woman may choose to burn herself alive on her dead husband’s funeral pyre to free him from all his sins. This sacrifice is an indication of a wife’s devotion to her husband.

The practice of sati has created a debate over whether it is an acceptable religious ritual or an unacceptable Hindu practice. The defence of sati lies in sacred texts that are read by most people following the Hindu tradition. Arguments against sati are based on changing social norms and a history of people such as Rammohun Roy who fought for the elimination of sati. From the time it was first practiced to modern times, sati has become more controversial, and was eventually outlawed.

The oldest section of the Vedas is known as the Samhitas and there are four texts under this section.The Rig Veda Samhita is one of these four. It contains 1028 hymns in ten books written “by priests for specific needs of the ritual services” (Embree 5). Rig Veda 10.18.7 provides a passage called the Sati hymn in defence of sati. There it states,

“Let these women, whose husbands are worthy and are living, enter the house with ghee (applied) as corrylium (to their eyes). Let these wives first step into the pyre, tearless without any affliction and well adorned.”

This verse is saying that devoted wives should step into their deceased husbands pyre as a personal sacrifice to their husband. This is understood as an argument in favor of sati. In this scripture, sati is described as a wife entering the funeral pyre, a pile of wood used for burning a corpse during a death ritual. Sati was practiced because it is outlined in sacred scripture. The Rig Veda explains rituals practiced by the authors, the Aryans, and since sati is included in one of the hymns, this can be used as a justification for sati.

The second sacred text in Hinduism that defends sati is the Atharva Veda Samhita. It is also from the same collection of Samhita as the Rig Veda but it “consists largely of spells and incantations” and has to do with situations of people, offering assistance and support (Embree 5). The funeral verses in the Atharva Veda are given in Kanda 18, Sukta 3 of this text.

“This woman, choosing her husband’s world, lies down (nipad) by you that are departed, O mortal, continuing to keep [her] ancient duty (dharma); to her assign you here progeny and property.”

Sati is mentioned in both the Rig Veda and the Atharva Veda, both sacred texts that are vital to the Hindu tradition. The reason why it was practiced for so many years was because of discussion in these texts. The debate over sati began when reformers started questioning scripture and pointing out what was considered to be wrong with the tradition.

Another piece of literature in Hinduism is an ancient epic known as the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata has become accepted as smriti meaning that it is highly respected, although it was not regarded as directly revealed to the ancient Rishis. This epic is about a great war between two families known as the Dhritarashtras and the Pandus (Embree 137). Sati is mentioned among the many stories throughout the Mahabharata that teach and share wisdom. The fact that sati is discussed in the Mahabharata, a popular choice of reading for the Indian people, presents more evidence that sati was an acceptable religious tradition.

The first mention of sati in the Mahabharata is in the story of the pigeon and the hunter. Sati is described in the Mahabharata as a “ritual suicide” following the passing of a wife’s husband and it is a way for her to “follow him to heaven” (Sutton 87). Bhisma, one of the Pandu brothers, tells the story where the pigeon’s wife decides that no moral woman could still live if her husband was dead and so she decides to throw herself into her husband’s funeral fire (Sutton 87). The result of her actions is that she is sent to svarga-loka (celestial world) alongside her husband in a “celestial chariot” (Sutton 87). The Mahabharata is acknowledged as a highly regarded piece of literature to people who follow Hinduism. The mention of sati within its pages can be understood as another justification for the tradition.

Sati is discussed further in the Mahabharata when wives of main characters commit the ritual. From the two families come two royal brothers who end up trading the leadership of the kingdom (Embree 137). One of these brothers, and the father of the five main characters, is Pandu (Embree 137). Pandu’s second wife, named Madri, decides to commit sati, as do the widows of warriors and Vasudeva (Sutton 430). Since the act of sati was perceived to be rewarded in the afterlife it has led to thoughts that there were “social pressures exerted upon widows” (Sutton 430). An incentive to perform sati was the spark that ignited a debate among people in and outside the Hindu tradition.

Even though sati is discussed in Hindu texts such as the Rig Veda, Atharva Veda and the Mahabharata, people began looking more closely at what these verses were really saying. The defense for sati is found in sacred texts but social norms and different opinions were formed. As the history of sati is examined, it is clear that new government and reformers would change the legal acceptance of sati.

Sati was generally practiced from the eighth century to the seventeenth century but mostly by upper classes (Embree 98). The areas where sati was commonly practiced was in Rajasthan, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Gujarat (Hawley 35). In these areas, the discovery of sati stones prove the existence of the ritual. Sati stones are similar to tombstones but have images of sati being performed on them (Hawley 35).

It is difficult to identify the number of women who actually performed sati. The collection of data did not begin until the ninteenth century, thus complicating the process of determining numbers from before that time. The number of recorded burnings that occurred in 1815 was 378 and tripled to 839 in 1818 (Hawley 21). Traditionally, sati was performed by higher caste women; a study was completed in order to prove this phenomenon. In 1823 an investigation into the tradition proved that 64 percent of these events were “predominant among the brahmins (teachers), kayasths (warriors/rulers), vaidyas (farmers/merchants)” (Mani 22).

When focusing on the history of India, it is apparent that the presence of Muslims in India would become important to the eventual prohibition of sati. The people known as the Mughals invaded India in the sixteenth century (Embree 230). One of the leaders from this reign was named Akbar, and he ruled from 1556 to 1658 (Embree 230). He was significant to Hinduism because of his views on sati. Akbar took a passive role in preventing sati but tried to ascertain that women were not being forced into participating in the tradition (Hawley 53). Another Mughal leader was Jehangir, who took steps in stopping sati by persuading women with “gifts and land” (Hawley 140). The Muslim influence in India was positive for eliminating the tradition of sati.

Britain began colonizing India in the seventeenth century but it was not until the nineteenth century that Britain’s influence reached its peak. Colonization brought specific views, especially Christian and western ones, and this ignited controversy over practices and traditions of Indians. Sati was one of the issues that got to the point when Britain decided to create a law prohibiting the practice. In 1829 sati was officially prohibited (Mani 24). The abolition of sati can be seen as a great moment for Indian women or as a restriction on religious freedom. The elimination of sati can be seen as beneficial because bad many people viewed sati as a gratuitous ritual to be practiced. In some cases of sati, there was an element of force being inflicted on the widow. Since colonization, there has been an increased awareness that supported the movement towards prohibition.

Rammohun Roy was an influential man who worked timelessly to bring about the prohibition of sati. It was primarily Roy’s efforts and campaigning that led the government to officially ban the practice (Hawley 140). He denied passages from sacred texts because, in his opinion, they were too vague, thus giving no excuse for sati to continue (Mani 50). He believed that widow burning was not a necessary ritual in traditional Hinduism.

Once sati was prohibited, it was recognized by most as a negative practice. This created an public awareness of widows who may be forced into, or who may have already been forced into performing the ritual. Although some Indians believed that sati was an acceptable ritual, the example of Roop Kanwar has caused a realization about the rare cases in which women were being manipulated into a ritual that they did not wish to perform. In 1987 it was reported by Roop Kanwar’s in-laws that she had performed the ritual sacrifice by choice after her husband of eight months passed away (Hawley 101). Since she had a large dowry and her husbands death was questionable, there was controversy over whether or not she was forced or drugged into sati (Hawley 122). Even though this led to more debate over sati, it still increased awareness of women’s rights over 100 years after it was prohibited in India.

The tradition of sati, known by the English title of “widow-burning”, has raised many questions over its true meanings and justifications, and the significance it has to the Hindu tradition. The defence of sati is shown in texts such as the great epic Mahabharata or sacred texts as the Rig Veda and the Atharva Veda. Since these writing are held as authentic canon for the Hindu tradition and they illustrate passages promoting sati, it was not considered wrong to practice sati. On the other hand, even before the colonization of India and the introduction of western education, new ideas and opinions promoted anti-sati views, resulting in the official prohibition of sati. The beliefs of influential people and their efforts in banning widow-burning is an indication of the anti-sati views of a reforming nation. In addition, the banning of sati and the debate it caused has created a heightened awareness of women’s rights in India. The combination of women, death and faith makes sati an incredibly controversial tradition, and one that has attracted the attention of the whole world.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READINGS

Embree, Ainslie T. (ed.) (1966) The Hindu Tradition: Readings in Oriental Thought. New York: Random House Inc.

Joshi, K. L. (ed.) (2000) Atharvaveda Samhita. Delhi: Parimal Publications.

Mani, Lata (1998) Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hawley, John Stratton (ed.) (1994) Sati: The Blessing and the Curse: The Burning of Wives in India. New York: Oxford University Press.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (ed.) (1981) The Rig Veda. London: Penguin Group.

Sutton, Nicholas (2000) Religious Doctrines in the Mahabharata. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Related research topics

Rammohun Roy

sati stones

Rajasthan

Roop Kanwar

Mughals

British colonialism

Related websites

http://muslimsonline.com/babri/sati.htm

http://www.geocities.com/~abdulwahid/hinduism/hindu_women.html

http://www.vivaaha.org/sati.htm

http://hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/h_suicide.htm

http://www.hinduismtoday.com/archives/1987/12/1987-12-04.shtml

http://www.sikhnet.com/sikhnet/discussion.nsf/By+Topic/6F93C74D4C983F838725664D00776C63!OpenDocument

http://students.vassar.edu/~reli350/trover/sati.html

Article written by Brooke Brassard (April 2006) who is solely responsible for its contents.

Sati

Sati is an ancient ritual that is now outlawed throughout India and the East. Sati, or suttee as the British call it, is the act of a widow cremating herself on her husbands burning funeral pyre (see Embree 98). Sati is a Sanskrit word that has many meanings, one of them meaning goddess. Therefore, when a women would perform this rite, the word sati could mean either the ritual itself, or what the woman would become (a goddess) through performing the ritual (Hawley 30). Western thinking found this ritual appalling, which type of thinking is what led to the passing of the Sati Abolition Law in 1829. Since that time there have still been a few instances of widows performing sati, and by some Hindus today it is still revered as an honorable act (Narasimhan 71). During the time period when sati was allowed, there were many reasons why a widow chose it over a solitary life. There are also many reasons why it was outlawed, and cases of sati being performed since then.

Hindus have many rituals, and are particularly detailed in the way in which the rituals are performed. One account of how the ritual of sati is performed started with the men, usually Brahmins and male relatives, preparing the pyre. Women then washed the widow’s feet, and the Priests would explain to her what to do. She would lay down alongside her husband, with “her right hand under his neck, his right arm over hers, and his right leg over her” and the male relatives would then start the fire (Leslie 179). Throughout this, the women would continue wearing bangles, or jewelry of some sort. The wearing of such things shows that one is married, and in this case is a symbol of the women’s continuing state of marriage (Hawley 35).

There are cases in which women did not voluntarily perform sati, but this was uncommon. There are other uncommon cases in which a woman would want to perform sati, but be persuaded not to by friends and family. In another account, a Queen attempts to explain to her grieving son, why it is that she is performing sati, while trying to convince him to let her do it: “Daughter, spouse, mother of heroes, how otherwise could such a woman as I, whose price was valour, act?… Thus every limb has fulfilled its mission I have spent my store of good works, what more should I look to… I cannot endure… to make unavailing lamentations for a burnt husband. Going before, like the dust of your father’s feet, to announce his coming to the heavens, I shall be high-esteemed of the hero-loving spouses of the gods. Therefore dishonour me no more . . . with opposition to my hearts desire” (Embree 99-100).

The ritual of sati stemmed from the negative attitudes towards being a widow. The idea of sati is not a monolithic one, and many books of scripture have different ideas on it. Some ancient scriptures, however, do promote sati due to the negativity of becoming a widow. One such scripture is, The Laws of Manu, which is an ancient book of Hindu scripture that dictates how individuals should act. In this book of scripture it is taught that widows cannot speak the name of another man. If a widow remarries she is disgracing herself and her Lord (Wilkins 211). Hindu widows wore white saris, little or no jewelry and removed the red spot on their forehead that had been worn since marriage (Ganeri 7). There are customs by which every Hindu lives that are written in such books of scripture as The Laws of Manu. Some customs by which widows had to live by were, only eating one meal per day, and two days a month going completely without food (Wilkins 211). Even in the year 1987, over one hundred years since the abolition of sati, one Hindu woman stated that it was better to die than to be a widow. She said that widows are not permitted to wear nice clothes or eat good food and must stay inside for the rest of their life (Narasimhan 28). Pativrata is a Sanskrit term for the ideal woman and encompasses the thought that “if her [the pativrata] husband . . . is dead, she should also die” (Narasimhan 29). Although there are many negative factors to widowhood, performing sati gives you a positive way in which to deal with becoming a widow. A women who performs sati is not only honored and respected, but is thought to dwell in heaven for thirty-five million years [This number comes from the fact that she should reside in heaven for as many years as she has hairs on her head, which is thought to be 35, 000, 000 (Wilkins, 1887)] (Wilkins 223). When one performs sati, she becomes a goddess and may thereafter be worshipped as one, by having shrines or temples built in her honor (Hawley 34-36).

During the Reform Period in India, Ram Mohon Roy was a very influential man, and son of a wealthy Bengali Brahmin family. He lived from 1772-1833, during which time the British were heavily influencing Indian culture, education and society. Ram Mohon Roy was the founder of a famous society called the Brahmo Samaj (The Encyclopedia of Religion 479). Throughout Ram Mohon Roy’s lifetime he rejected many traditional Hindu beliefs. “He was the first Indian to publicly denounce [sati]” (Narasimhan 102). His ideas of widow remarriage and forbiddance of sati were highly influential in its future abolition. Many European travelers also witnessed sati and believed that it was inhumane (Embree 98). In 1829, Lord William Cavendish Bentick passed the Sati Abolition Law of 1829 prohibiting this ritual [This act was also called the Bengal Regulation XVII of 1829.]. Despite this law, there were still occurrences of sati, leading to the Sati Prohibition Act of 1987 (Narasimhan 53).

There are still some modern cases of sati, such as the highly publicized case of Roop Kanwar in 1987. Kanwar was a young Hindi woman, eighteen years old, and had only been married for 8 months. Shortly following her husbands death, she decided to perform this self-immolation ritual (Hawley 103). Throughout the world many groups, societies and individuals strongly opposed this action. In contrast, many Hindus respected and revered her. Soon after she performed sati, a widely distributed newspaper wrote and editorial on the death of Roop Kanwar, giving their approval and respect for what she did [This newspaper is called the Jansatta and is highly read and distributed throughout North India. This act became heavily debated leading to many articles, essays and books on the Roop Kanwar case.]. It states: “Roop Kanwar did not become a Sati because someone threatened her… [S]he purposely followed the tradition of [sati] which is found in the Rajput families of Rajasthan . . . It is quite natural that her self-sacrifice should become the centre of reverence and worship”(Hawley 105). Many individuals still cling to ancient thoughts and traditions and greatly revere the women who choose a different path than widowhood, the still commonly respected way of a Sati.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Nelson, Lance E. (1998) Purifying the earthly Body of God: Religion and Ecology in Hindu India. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Ganeri, Anita (1998) Journey’s End: Death and Mourning. New York: Peter Bedrick Books.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2005) Hinduism – the eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books Ltd.

Leslie, Julia (1991) Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women. Cranbury: Associated University Presses.

Mani, Lata (1998) Contentious Traditions. London: University of California Press Ltd.

Wilkins, W.J. (1887) Modern Hinduism. Delhi: B. R. Publishing Corporation.

Narasimhan, Sakuntala (1990) Sati, Widow Burning in India. New York: Penguin Books India, Ltd.

Embree, Ainslie T. (1972) The Hindu Tradition, Readings in Oriental Thought. New York: Random House Inc.

Hawley, John Stratton (1994) Sati, The Blessing and the Curse: The Burning of Wives in India. New York: Oxford University Press.

Eliade, Mircea (1986) “Roy, Ram Mohan.” The Encyclopedia of Religion. New York: Collier Macmillan Canada, Inc. V. 12, p.479.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Sruti

Smrti

Parvati

Ramayana

Dharma

Karma

Sati

Ram Mohan Roy

The Laws of Manu

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.kamat.com

http://muslimonline.com

www.hinduismtoday.com

www.sati.org

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sati

Written by Crystal Haitsma (Spring 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.

Hindu Vratas

All kinds of vows of fasting and asceticism are practiced on the occasion of diverse religious festivals celebrated during the course of the year. These vows can be performed on the occasion of the Hindu rites, which are related to specific stages in life; such as birth, name-giving, first eating of solid food, puberty, the beginning of Vedic studies, marriage, and cremation. Among these, vratas are incredibly a striking part of the Hindu religion. Even today, millions of Hindus abide by the rituals and implement all kinds of vratas.

In Hinduism, the term vrata has been widely known since the early Vedic Period. In the Rgveda, one of the oldest classical texts in Hinduism, the word vrata occurs just over two hundred times alone or in combination with other words (Kane 5). This implies that the term itself, effectively, is at least three thousand years old. Furthermore, the word vrata is also referred to in other respected groups of texts such as the Samhitas, Brahmanas, Upanisads and Sutras (Pearson 44). The term vrata has been mentioned in various literatures for several centuries until today, however, many still do not understand the true implication of vrata; even scholars today often debate on the authentic meanings of this word.

Vrata is viewed uniquely by the distinct castes and regions in the diverse parts of India. Pearson explains that “…the concept of vrata in the Rgveda is closely connected with the larger metaphysical concept of the cosmic order, righteousness in the Hindu tradition, and with the governed and governing activity of the gods” (Pearson 45). Vratas throughout the Hindu tradition is contemplated as part of dharma (righteousness) for each individual, placing each of the gods to their highest level. Moreover, Pearson defines vrata as a rite that is performed on a regular basis to achieve particular objectives, following respective rules that have been transmitted from one generation to the next (Pearson 45). Vratas have been an important feature of Hindu religious life for a long while; however, the beliefs and practicing of vratas is often associated generally more often with Hindu women. In Sanskrit, more universally, vrata denotes a “religious vow”. Vrata signifies a set of rules and discipline stemming from the verbal root ‘vrn’ which literally means ‘to choose’. These vows are said to be imperative ritualistic obligations serving on the sacrificer for several reasons.

Many may wonder the purpose of performing vratas. The rationales behind and the kinds of vratas vary depending on the precise caste system or region in India to which one belongs to. Pearson in her study, “Because It Gives Me Peace of Mind,” states: “Some Vratas seem to be related to individual status and primary roles—so that one god’s Vrata may be quite different from another’s, or the Vrata of a male cowherd different from that of a female teacher.” For instance, Navarata (nine nights) vratas may be common in North India, while Nagpancami vratas may be common in South India [Navaratri literally means ‘nine nights’, this vrata is observed in most parts of India from the first till the ninth day of Ashvin (Brown 230). It commemorates the victory of Durga over a demon. It is also known as Rama Navami, it is popular in northern India. Nagpancami is an old festival common in South India celebrated for the purpose of appeasing snakes (Pearson 291)]. Nevertheless, some vratas do have common purposes. In general, vratas found throughout India are optional ritual observances. Placing the respective deity to its supreme degree, vratas would commonly involve certain rituals such as fasting (upavasas), worship (puja), the recital of narratives (kathas), and the giving of gifts such as money, food items and clothing to specified recipients (Pearson 229).

In Northern India, vratas are closely associated to bhakti devotional rituals and comprise a crucial element of many devotional practices (Wadley 147). Wadley further explains that most vratas are also performed to gain moksa (liberation from the cycle of life and death), to recuperate life, to alleviate past karmas, and above all, most prominently and commonly to please the different gods and goddesses (Wadley 148). It is believed by many individuals in India that vratas aim for the improvement of life which may alter destiny, or help maintain rta (the cosmic order). This betterment, nevertheless, requires the abolition of previous sins that have led to current difficulties. Moreover, through observing vratas, one could also expect to gain bhukti (objects of enjoyment), mukti (liberation from life and birth), and the destruction of sins (Mishra 61). The basic aim of a vrata, more often than not, is to influence some deity to come to one’s support as one traverses the ocean of existence (Wadley 149). One’s faith and devotion signals to the deity the sincerity allied with the vrata. It is then commonly assumed by these loving devotees that the respective deity will reward their faith and service with some kind of boon (reward).

Vratas are also undertaken to venerate the birth of a deity; for example, Janmastami (the birth of Lord Krsna), which is held yearly. Furthermore, vratas may also be performed on a certain day of the week for the deity associated with that day which may serve a specific purpose. In India some of the most common such vratas include: Monday Vratas sacred to Lord Siva and Friday’s Santosi Ma Vrata conducted for making wishes come true (Brown 252). In Hinduism, the days of the week are ruled by the planetary deities and are also indirectly related to the main deities of Hinduism (Walters 47). Fellow devotees may choose to fast, or also abstain from certain substances like fish, meat, or even onion and garlic on the day dedicated to the deity they are addressing with their vow. For example, Somavara (Monday) is dedicated to Candra (the moon) and to Lord Siva. Fasting on Monday is directed to all general spiritual purposes. On this day, when one performs vrata, the Somavara Vrata Katha is also heard or narrated. As part of the ritual, milk and honey may be poured to the linga (embodiment of Siva). Also meat, onion, and garlic are avoided for consumption on this day (Subramuniyaswami 111).

The rituals and traditions of devotion diverge from vrata to vrata, but most commonly, rites also differ based on the respective deity. For instance, Swarna-Gauri-Vrata is dedicated to Ma Gauri, another name for Parvati Devi. Similarly, the Vara Siddhi Vinayak Vrata is for Lord Ganesha and the Satya NarayanaVrata is for the appraisement of Lord Vishnu. Like these, there are numerous vratas exceptionally frequent throughout India.

For Hindus, particularly women, performing vratas is quite essential. From an early age, Hindu girls learn about the procedures, principles, and meanings of Vratas through observation of elder, experienced female relatives and gradual participation in the rites. They are taught that it is their duty and special ability as women to promote auspiciousness and well-being in the family (Kalakdina 22). The performance of vratas is an important part of this process because it involves bringing together special time, place and items considered favorable for keeping an environment charged with auspiciousness (Pearson 1993:233).

Although women are the predominant ones to perform vratas, male participation should not be underestimated. Hindus believe that anyone who has faith in a vrata and wishes to perform it as per the rules can keep the vrata. During the Vedic period, sacrifices were strictly restricted to men of the three upper castes, known as the dvijas (twice born) (Timothy, 570). As the generations passed by, the doors of the vratas were thrown open to one and all, thus bringing this aspect of ritualistic Hinduism to the lower castes and women (Timothy 571). Amazingly, women have become the leading ones performing these vratas today.

As mentioned earlier, the rituals of each vrata differ depending on the occasion. It is highly believed that these vratas do work; within the limit of their powers, deities are able to reward their devotees. Each vrata serves its own ideal purpose. Some vratas are performed to gain eternal happiness while others promise sons, good health, wealth or even the well being of a specific loved one (Robinson 182). For example, Karva Chautha is a significant vrata kept by many North Indian women to ensure the well being, prosperity, and longevity of their husbands. Karva Chautha provides the opportunity for all married women to get close to their in-laws. Possessing tremendous social and cultural importance, this festival is celebrated by keeping a fast, applying henna, and exchanging gifts. This vrata is categorized as a nirjala vrata, which literally means “without water.” During the day, customarily, women from the family gather to carry out a special puja (worship) and an elderly woman, usually the mother-in-law, narrates the legend of Karva Chautha (vrata katha) .Women break their fast only after sighting the moon in the evening and after offerings of water are made to it. They then drink water, indicating the end of the Vrata (Sharma and Young 22).

Distinct rituals like pujas and kathas are exceptionally essential constituents of these extraordinary vratas. Wadley explains “Khatas [i.e. kathas] are manuals detailing ritual rules and associated myths” (Wadley 1983:150). Some very popular vrata kathas are the Satyanarayan Katha, which contains the rituals of the monthly vrata and myths of the Lord Satyanarayan. Similarly, the Sukravar Vrata Katha contains the rules and katha for the performance of a vrata in honor of the goddess Santosi Ma, the Contented Mother (Narayan 17). Unlike most vrata kathas, the Santosi Ma vrata katha is only read by the worshippers themselves; priests are not involved in the worship of Santosi Ma. Vrata kathas like the Satyanarayan Vrata Katha, on the other hand, can be read by Brahmin priests or the worshippers themselves (Narayan 17). Principally, vratas tend to be incomplete without kathas and pujas.

While performing vratas, one must abide by several rules. However, as generations have passed, these rules have loosened considerably and thus embraced larger segments of contemporary society. Some rules, nevertheless, need to be adhered particularly carefully in order to protect the holiness of the ritual system itself. Primarily and most perceptibly, during the period of the observance of a vrata, one should keep clean and pure, observe celibacy, speak the truth, practice forbearance, avoid non-vegetarian food, and scrupulously perform all the rituals connected with the vrata (Subramuniyaswami 156). A vrata should never be left unfinished, nor should a new one be started before completing the old one. Fortunately enough, it is believed that if one is sick or too old, a close relative may perform the vrata on the other’s behalf. Finally, vratas are typically done at specific auspicious timings, places, and in modes laid out by astrological findings (Subramuniyaswami 156).

As the generations have passed there has been a significant decrease in the amount of Hindus that perform this auspicious ritual, nevertheless, the value of vratas has tremendously increased over the past years. As mentioned earlier, to women in particular, performing vratas has become a vital part of life. Vratas have become a daily routine and highly essential ritualistic observance for many Hindus throughout the world. Though in the past vratas were quite essential and many Hindus abided by it each day, many Hindus, with the guidance of elders, continue performing vratas even today.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Brown, Mackenzie C. The Song of the Goddess. Albany: State University of New York
       Press.

Gopalan, Gopalan V. “Vrat: Ceremonial Vows of Women in Gujrat, India.” Asian    
       Folklore Studies 37 no 1. 1978. Terre Haute: Indiana State University. 
       http://0-63.136.1.23.darius.uleth.ca/pls/eli/ashow?aid=ATLA0001435339

Kalakdina, Margaret (1975) “The Upbringing of a Girl.” In Indian Women: Report on
       the Status of Women in India, ed. Devaki Jain. New Delhi: Ministry of Information
       and Broadcasting. 

Kane, P.V. (1974) History of Dharmasastr. 5 vols. 2nd ed. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriendtal
       Research Institute. 

Leslie, Julia I. (1989) The Perfect Wife. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Lubin, Timothy “Vrata Devine and Human in the early Veda.” Journal of the American
       Oriental Society 121 no 4. 2001. Washington: Lee University.
       http://search.epnet.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=6260350

Narayan, Kirin Mondays on the Dark Night of the Moon. US: Oxford University Press

Pearson, Anne “Aspects of Hindu Women’s Vrat Tradition as Constitutive for an Eco-
       Spirituality.” Journal of Dharma. 18. (1993): 228-236

Pearson, Anne (1996) Because it gives me peace of mind: ritual fasts in the religious lives
       of hindu women. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Robinson, Sandra P. “Hindu paradigms of women: images and values.” Women, religion
       and social change 1985: 181-215. Albany, NY:  State University of New York Pr.

Rodrigues, Hillary (1999) “Because it gives me peace of mind: ritual fasts in the
       Religious lives of hindu women.” Review in Studies in Religion/Sciences religieuses
       28 no 2. 240-241

Sharma A., and Young Katherine K (eds.) (2003) Her Voice Her Faith: Women Speak on
       World Religion. Colorado: Westview Press.

Subramuniyaswami, Satguru Sivaya Living with Siva: Hinduism’s Contemporary
       Culture. India, USA: Himalayan Academy.

Wadley, Susan S. “Vrats: Transformers of Destiny.” Karma, an Anthropological Inquiry.
       Berkeley, Calif. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983. 147-162. 

Walters, Donald J. The Hindu Way of Awakening: Its Revelation Its Symbols. USA:
       Crystal Clanty Publishers.


Related Topics for Further Investigation

Navaratri Vrata
Sivaratari Vrata
Ekadashi Vrata
Karva Chautha Vrata
Nagpanchami Vrata
Agni 
Dharma
Karma
Rta
Santosi Ma
Durga Ma
Somvara Vrata
Dipavali 
Rama Navami 
Vrata Kathas
Sukravar Vrata
Swarna-Gauri-Vrata
Vara Siddhi Vinayak Vrata
Satya NarayanaVrata
Janmastami


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.brihaspati.net/vratas.htm

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/2583/fesinf_f.html

http://members.tripod.com/~esh/fesinf_f.html

http://www.svbf.org/sringeri/journal/vol1no4/festivals.pdf

http://www.integraldesign.abk-stuttgart.de/wildenstein/lectures/BW_2002/pdf/Vrata.PDF

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/db/bk09ch08.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MahaLakshmi_vratha

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganesh_Chaturthi

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rama_Navami

Article written by Anju Punjabi (April 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Six-Fold Policy of the Arthasastra

History and Background

Authored by Kautilya in 300 BCE the Arthasastra was written as a “science of politics” (Boesche 9-10). As the key advisor to the Indian king Chandragupta, Kautilya offered the Arthasastra as discussions on war and diplomacy. Kautilya’s desire was for his king to conquer the world, through teachings of “how to defeat his enemies and rule on behalf of the general good” (ibid. 10-11). As opposed to the idealism of Plato, Kautilya’s Arthasastra is typically classified as a book on political realism. It does not offer how the world should or ought to work, but rather how the world does work and the measures that a king must sometimes take to maintain common good and the state (ibid. 13-14).

Kautilyan Foreign Policy

Kautilyan foreign policy offers the theory that “an immediate neighbouring state is an enemy and a neighbour’s neighbour, separated from oneself by the intervening enemy, is a friend” (Rangarajan 542). The conqueror would thus affect the line of allies and enemies, as well as the differing types of allies and enemies a conquering king has. Kautilya describes a Circle of States like a wheel with the conqueror at the hub. His allies are pulled towards him along the spikes although they may be parted by enemy territory (ibid. 561). When appropriate, the conquering king shall apply the six methods of foreign policy, regularly known as the six-fold policy, to the various components of his Circle of States. These methods work interdependently and bind others to the conqueror so he may do as he pleases with them when necessary.

Six-Fold Policy

Different teachers believe different policies. For example, Vatavyadhi taught that there were only two approaches to foreign policy: make peace or wage war. Kautilya however believes that there are spin-offs of these, thus providing six methods of foreign policy. These are making peace, waging war, staying quiet, preparing for war, seeking support, and the dual policy of making peace with one while waging war against another (Rangarajan 563). One’s circumstances will dictate which methods should be used.

To make peace, one must enter into an agreement, such as a treaty, with specific conditions. Treaties can have specific conditions, or will not have any obligations. Treaties without conditions are mainly used for gaining information on the enemy, so the king may strike after learning of the antagonists’ weak points (ibid. 581). Treaties with commitments allow a “wise king to make a neighbouring king fight another neighbour to prevent them from uniting and attacking him” (ibid. 582). The only time a king will make peace is when he finds himself in relative decline compared to his enemy (ibid. 563).

When a king is in a superior position compared to his enemy, he will attack and wage war (ibid. 568). There are three types of war as part of this second method of foreign policy. There is open war which has a specified time and place; secret war that is sudden, terrorizing, threatening from one side and attacking from another, etc.; and undeclared war which uses secret agents, religion or superstition, and women as weapons against the enemies (Rangarajan 568-569; Boesche 10). Kautilya approved weapons-of-war that tricked unsuspecting kings and fought in unconventional ways. The use of secret agents to befriend and then kill enemy leaders, “religion and superstition to bolster his troops and demoralize enemy soldiers” (Boesche 10), and women who seduced the enemy as means of war (ibid.) were all examples of they way Kautilya believed one should wage an undeclared war.

By neither making peace nor waging war, one acts indifferently to a situation and stays quiet. If a king feels that his enemy and he are equal and neither can harm the other nor ruin the other’s undertakings, then he shall choose to do nothing (Rangarajan 563-565).

When a king increases his own power and has special advantage over his enemy, he will take part in the forth approach of Kautilyan foreign policy by making preparations for war (ibid. 563). While preparing for war, the king must ensure that the enemies’ undertakings will be destroyed while his own will come to no harm (ibid. 565).

In contrast to preparing for war, a king may require the help of another to protect his own undertakings. This idea of building an alliance is Kautilya’s fifth method of foreign policy. A king seeking an alliance must ensure that he finds a king more powerful than the neighbouring enemy. Sometimes it is not possible to find a stronger king than the enemy; in this case one should make peace with the enemy (ibid. 573).

Lastly, having a dual policy of befriending one through peace and promoting one’s own undertakings, whilst ruining another’s mission by waging war against them is the sixth method (ibid. 563-565). Under this method the conqueror may have supplies and reinforcements provided from allies, prevent an attack from the rear where the Circle of States warns us there is an enemy as a neighbour, and have twice as many troops as the other. After discussing waging a war with allies and agreeing on terms a treaty is concluded. However, if the allies do not accept the obligations they are considered and treated as hostile (ibid. 575).


REFERENCES

Boesche, R. (2003) “Kautilya’s Arthasastra on War and Diplomacy in Ancient India.” Journal of Military History, 67, 1, 9-37.

Rangarajan, L.N. (1992) The Arthashastra: Edited, Rearranged, Translated and Introduced. New Delhi, India: Penguin Books India Ltd.

Further Readings

Jatava, D.R. (2003) Riddles of Indian Politics. Jaipur, India: ABD Publishers.

Kangle, R.P. (ed. and trans.) (1960-61) Kautilya’s Arthashastra. Bombay: University of Bombay.

Sharma, P. (1975) “Kautilya and modern thought.” Proceedings of the First International Sanskrit Conference, 2.2, 247-252.

Rangarajan, L.N. (1992) The Arthashastra: Edited, Rearranged, Translated and Introduced. New Delhi, India: Penguin Books India Ltd.

Roberts, James Deotis (1965-66) “Religious and political realism in Kautilya’s Arthashastra.” Journal of Religious Thought, 22.2, 153-166.

Related Research Topics

Kautilyan State and Society

King Chandragupta

Different Books/ Parts of the Arthasastra ( e.g. Law and Justice, Sources of Revenue, Departments of the Government, Defence and War, etc.)

Notable Websites

http://www.swaveda.com/elibrary.php?id=89&action=show&type=etext&PHPSESSID=76860abbd304db649f15371d328d

http://www.hinduism.co.za/newpage115.htm

http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~wldciv/world_civ_reader/world_civ_reader_1/arthashastra.html

Written by Janelle Tibbatts (Spring 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.