I read about “sati” in history class. My eleven year old mind was unable to comprehend the horror behind such an act. I, who is scared of minor burns (a fact that prevents me from being able to safely fry fish in the present time), couldn’t imagine sitting willingly on the funeral pyre of my deceased husband.
Traditionally, the idea was that of “self immolation” (upheld by examples of goddesses from Hindu mythology, like Parvati); in reality, most acts of “sati” were forced upon Hindu widows (mostly, child widows who had initially been married off to old men on their death beds) in pre 1829 Bengal. The practice wasn’t abolished in other parts of India until much later.
Nowadays, instances of “sati” are few and far between. Of course, you still have modern day versions of the practice where women die of mysterious gas explosions in the kitchen.
Not much has changed, I am afraid.
My poem, “sati,” is in Diverse Voices Quarterly . Read it here.