Sati and Austerities
The Smriti writers lay down that a woman after the death of her husband may
become a sati or may lead a virtuous life according to the injunction of the
Sastras. It is true that some Smritis and Puranas encourage the performance
of the sati rite, as when Brihaspati says that a woman is declared devoted to
her husband when she is his companion in his weal and woe, and she dies
when he dies, or when the Brihaddharma Purana declares that a widow who
follows her husband on the funeral pyre, though she commits a great sin, does
good to the departed soul. The authorities, however, prohibit those wives who
have not attained the age of puberty, are pregnant, or have very young
children, from becoming a sati. But the widow, particularly of either Brahmin
or Kshatriya varna, sometimes preferred to burning herself to ill treatment by
her relations.
    The practice of the sati rite can be traced with the help of historical
records throughout the late ancient period. The-wife of Goparaja, the general
of the Gupta king Bhanugupta, is known to have ascended the funeral pyre of
her husband in AD 510. The existence of a large number of sati memorial
tablets proves that the practice was popular in central India and in the Deccan
during this period. King Harshavardhana’s mother Yasomati burnt herself to
ashes as soon as it became definite that her husband would be passing away
within a short time.
    However, the practice of performing the sati rite was evidently not
universal. Many well-known ladies of this period, such as Prabhavatidevi (of
the Vakataka dynasty of the Deccan) did not practise this rite and at the same
time were highly esteemed for their devotion to their husbands.
    Under the rules of the Smritis a widow had to lead an austere life. She
slept on the floor and was not allowed to use a cot. She did not put on a
bodice and dyed garments, and did not use collyrium in the eyes and yellow
pigment on the face nor any kind of scent. She took only one meal a day.
Bana in his Harshacharita refers to the tying of the tuft of hair by the
widows. On the other hand, the Skanda Purana advocates the tonsuring of
widows. It seems that this practice did not come into use prior to the 11th
    The remarriage of widows is not advocated by the Smriti writers and the