Sati, the Blessing and the Curse: The Burning of Wives in India / Edition 1

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Several years ago in Rajasthan, an eighteen-year-old woman was burned on her husband's funeral pyre and thus became sati. Before ascending the pyre, she was expected to deliver both blessings and curses: blessings to guard her family and clan for many generations, and curses to prevent anyone from thwarting her desire to die. Sati also means blessing and curse in a broader sense. To those who revere it, sati symbolizes ultimate loyalty and self-sacrifice. It often figures near the core of a Hindu identity that feels embattled in a modern world. Yet to those who deplore it, sati is a curse, a violation of every woman's womanhood. It is murder mystified, and as such, the symbol of precisely what Hinduism should not be.

In this volume a group of leading scholars consider the many meanings of sati: in India and the West; in literature, art, and opera; in religion, psychology, economics, and politics. With contributors who are both Indian and American, this is a genuinely binational, postcolonial discussion. Contributors include Karen Brown, Paul Courtright, Vidya Dehejia, Ainslie Embree, Dorothy Figueira, Lindsey Harlan, John Hawley, Robin Lewis, Ashis Nandy, and Veena Talwar Oldenburg.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This book is great—presents elegant and thoughtful essays on a very disturbing issue, one that my students ask me about endlessly."—Martha Ann Selby, Southern Methodist University

"Should be required reading for all those interested in women in world history. It expertly displays the recent controversies in a manner that illuminates both historical and contemporary issues."—Lynda Shaffer, Tufts University

"This book is not easy to put down: the pace of the arguments is brisk, the historiography is solid, the hypothetical materials are clearly argued and imaginative, and the sparks fly....Scholars of religion will find this work easily accessible. It moves far beyond the bounds of Indology....suberb..."—The Journal of Religion

"This volume serves to widen the perspectives on sati and to speak to audiences of varying kinds.... a must for scholars of Hinduism, of gender and religion, and of human rights worldwide."History of Religions

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195077742
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/1/1994
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 9.25 (w) x 6.13 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

John Stratton Hawley is Professor and Chair of the Department of Religion at Barnard College, and Director of the South Asian Institute at Columbia University. He is the editor of Songs of the Saints of India (Oxford, 1988) and Fundamentalism and Gender (Oxford, 1993), as well as numerous other books on Indian religion and literature.

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Table of Contents

Language and Transliteration
Introduction 3
1 The Iconographies of Sati 27
Comment: A Broader Landscape 49
2 Die Flambierte Frau: Sati in European Culture 55
Comment: Sati and the Nineteenth-century British Self 72
3 Perfection and Devotion: Sati Tradition in Rajasthan 79
Comment: Good Mothers and Bad Mothers in the Rituals of Sati 91
4 The Roop Kanwar Case: Feminist Responses 101
5 Sati as Profit Versus Sati as a Spectacle: The Public Debate on Roop Kanwar's Death 131
Comment: Widows as Cultural Symbols 149
Comment: The Continuing Invention of the Sati Tradition 159
Afterword: The Mysteries and Communities of Sati 175
Select Glossary of Indic Terms 187
Bibliography 195
Notes on the Contributors 203
Index 205
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