The Iconography of sati• An Archaeological Study Of Sati Memorial pillars of Central IndiaPresented by; Ameeta SinghSarojini Naidu Government Girls College Bhopal MPIndia
The Iconography of Sati : An archaeological study of sati memorial pillars of central India• This article is based on my extensive field work as a part of my post doctoral research. I worked as an explorer to find out sati monuments and documented these memorial pillars as a source of history .I surveyed about 500 villages in last four years and wandered the region ,on a nomadic basis to collect the information. As a result I found about 3000 sati memorials in seven districts of central India. These memorials of sati show that the practice of sati was common in central India.
• Surveyed Districts • Bhopal , Neemach ,SagarArea of Research • Vidisha , Mandsour • Raisen , Rajgurh Central India • Ujjain , Shivpuri • Dhar , Guna • Chattarpur, Ashoknagar
Chanderi Sundarsi KhimalsaAmjhera Eran
Widow sacrifice was universalScandinavia – The legend of Balder in which Nanna ascend his pyre. Indo-German custom In Greek legend Evadne burned with her husband. Egypt The King Amenhetap’s tomb some slaughtered body of females were found. In China The widow who committed suicide had honorary gateways erected in their honor by imperial Command.
Depiction of sati by European travelers
The Iconography of SatiThese depictions on sati memorial were common in central India ,Gujarat and Rajasthan
Sacred relics of sati• Sati stones are usually found on the outskirt of small towns and villages and the people of these areas, usually the family members of deceased couple, worship these memorials with flowers and kumkum (vermilion) it is strong belief among the people that sati Mata (mother) worship will bring fortune for their family.
• The sculptures on these sati stones usually depict the husband and wife and sometimes the event in which her husband lost his life. A few even graphically portray the event such as a fierce fight which led to death of the hero and the depiction of lady with wifely devotion. Some of these stones bear inscriptions explaining the event and also the name of sati and her husbands name and title of the family. Based on the alphabets of the inscriptions , we are able to date the period of the sati stone was installed .They in fact are very important records for understanding the social and cultural milieu of the period
The earliest inscriptional record of sati in Central India Eran This inscription is carved on a pillar, records the death of Gopraja ,a noble of Gupta King Bhanugupta and his wife cremated herself on his funeral pyre. it is dated in the Gupta year 191 ( A.D.510-511)The earliest sati stone found in Balod a small village in central province. There are three inscriptions on it. The third inscription is in characters which James Prinsep ascribed to the 2nd century A.D. This inscription is therefore very important as being the earliest sati record yet found.
sati stoneswith inscription and without inscription depicted the sun, moon, hand, flower and coconut. In second panel a lady embraces the feet of herloving husband Chanderi museum
The divine signs of sati• Hand with bangles in upright position• Sun ,Moon and Stars• Standing couple• Shivling or worship of Shivling• Mirror• Lemon• Coconut• Husband’s profession ex.
Bangla;The Sati groundThis place has many memorial pillars in group scattered between the village and the river. Inscribed and with sculptural panels depicting various scenes such as warriors engaged in battle, dying as heroes and enjoying in heaven the company of heavenly nymphs or worshiping a shivling. The inscription suggest a battle was fought here in 1281 A.D.and the king Gopaldev won and his followers who died in battle were commemorated here. About 139 sati stones also found here refer same battle in which wives of some of the dead heroes cremated themselves as satis.
Some interesting facts about sati“Immolation is not always confined to widows; among few suttee which have occurred last year,1829 (One at Amjhera and the other at Khachrod) have been mothers who burnt to death of their only sons” Sir John Malcolm Memoirs of Central India
Earliest record of mother sati • Sesai in Guna district a mother sati memorial is found with inscription recording self immolation of mother (name last) sorrowing for her two sons who were killed in battle datable to 6th century A.D.
Mother sati stones at Amjhera
Mother Sati’s the earliest mother sati memorial was found in Sesai (Gupta age)
Johar Cenotaph at chanderi It is a marking site of mass immolation of Rajput ladies during the battle fought between Babar The Mughal Emperor and Medinirai in 1527 A.D.
• For instance I found many sati memorial pillars at chanderi a medieval fort city, depicted that these memorial were set up during the reign of the great Sultan Giyasuddin of Mandu who ruled over Malwa and Chanderi (in central India)• The larger sati memorial pillars also gave a sculptural representation of the manner of death of the satis husband. In that way we can learn whether he was a horse solider or foot soldier and what kind of weapons in use at that time.
Sculptural representation of satiThe panel also depicted husband and wife doing worship of shivling (symbolic representation of Lord shiva) this indicates that the sati is united with her husband in the heaven. Some sati memorial pillars depict only a woman’s hand with bangles placed between emblem of sun and moon and a short inscription with the date of burning of the sati with her husband. But some of the longer records gave the name of the village and the reigning king, they also gave valuable aid both to history and geography
Inscribed sati memorial
Sati stones showing Shivling worship and inscription bears name of sati and his husband
Hand with bangles depicts the blessing of sati
Table 1 sati stones of central IndiaDistrict Village No. of sati Period stonesRajargh Sundersi 40 10th to 17th Jirapur 20 17th 18th centuryVidisha Ahmadpur 15 17th 18th centuryDhar Amjhera 37 14th ,17th , 18th centuryAshoknagar Chanderi 34 13th to 18th centuryKhimalsa Sagar 51 1453 to1823
Sculptural representation of sati• The memorial pillars usually divided in three vertical panels The lower panel portrays ,the scene of battle. The husband of sati shown prominently either on foot, on horse or on elephant back . In case of king or Generals an umbrella is shown over his head. The top panel represents the heaven Sun and Moon . The representation of sati which is common in India from north to south is the right hand of sati bent upward to the elbow sometimes holding lemon between the thumb and forefinger.
Sculptural representation of sati• The holding of a lemon is a symbolic representation of offering themselves to their husbands. Lemon is also used for sacrificing ritual in Hindu religion. The husband usually shown on her right by holding the right hand of sati or placing his left hand over shoulder of sati. If the hero is having more than two wives committing sati then all of them were shown.
Sati’s of khimlasaThe Sager district contains large numbers of sati stones. Khimalsa an old town , contains the largest numbers of sati stones ;51 of these are inscribed. Almost all are dated but in about a dozen pillars figures are illegible. The dates range between 1453-1823 A.D. Some of them mention the names of the Mohammedan Emperor Shahjahan, Nourangshah (Aurangzeb)and also the names of Sarkar the district to which khimalsa belonged. The sati’s of khimalsa belonged to various castes such Kori (weaver) Nai (Barber) Silat (mason) ,etc. In some of them the caste name is written, in others the caste marks are carved, such as a hammer and anvil for a blacksmith, razor for a barber, and so on.
Medieval references of sati in central India• Ibnabatuta While passing through the city of Amjhera he witnessed three women committing sati whose husband were killed in fighting at Sumera of Sindh. I have registered 37 sati stones in one funeral ground here.
Sati cenotaphs at Amjhera
Royal Cenotaphs at Amjhera• At the funeral of rulers attendants also used to burnt with wife or wives. This stone depicts a attendant, carrying fan (chanvar) burnt alive with the ruler.
The royal sati
Sati stone with inscription
Depiction sun and moon symbolize the glory of sati as long as they exit
Sati ritual depicted a lady sitting amidst the fire holding her husband’s body
Sati earthen ware memorial sketch by Fanny Parks 1820
FOUR FACED SATI MEMORIAL• Earliest example of Sati memorial cubical shaped with depiction on each face.• Mainly of 11th and 12 th century period.• Profession and daily routine can also be found.
“During my long sojourn in India I haveobserved that nearly all the satimonuments are placed on the westernbank either of a stream or of a reservoir,with the face towards east.” Cunningham
Sati stones usually found near watersources. I found about 20 sati stones andcenotaphs near this reservoir at Chanderi
Sati in converted Muslims• There are some examples of Muslim sati also Cunningham mentioned some Muslim sati tomb in central India. This indicates that these converted Muslim followed the Hindu faith.
The handprints of sati which left out by the satis later engraved on Fort walls
Handprints of satis
Deceased Wife 2Wife 1
Example of Anugaman ( to follow), women committing sati with husband’s turban or shoes.
Dated 1885 A.D day Monday name of sati “Dayali” husband’s name ( illegible)
Sati worship in rural India• When a woman committed sati a memorial erected in her memory, and worship made to her as a goddess. Partly this is worship of general homage and respect, partly it is for specific benefits, of which female fertility is important.