42.) Satī and Sāvitrī as Ideal Hindu Women

Satī and Sāvitrī are ideal Hindu women. Agreed. But are we identifying the correct ideal when we talk about them? Are we drawing the right lesson from their lives?

The first lesson one is told and taught to draw from their lives is that of love and loyalty for the husband. In the case of Satī, this is exemplified by her burning herself to death rather than witness the indignities being heaped on her husband. In the case of Sāvitrī, it is exemplified in her resolve to bring back her husband even from the land of the dead. This then is the kind of love and loyalty Hindu wives should display towards their husbands.

But is this all that there is to the story? Let us look at the way they acquired their husbands. In both cases, they chose their own husbands, and in both cases they chose them over the objection of their fathers. In the case of Satī, the father, Dakşa, had actually pronounced a curse on the would-be husband because he had not paid homage to father Dakşa on a particular occasion.

Meanwhile Satī grew up and set her heart on Shiva, worshipping him in secret. She became of marriageable age, and her father held a swayamvara, or own-choice, for her, to which he invited the gods and princes from far and near, except only Shiva. Then Satī was borne into the great assembly, wreath in hand. But Shiva was nowhere to be seen, amongst the gods or men. Then in despair she cast her wreath into the air, calling upon Shiva to receive the garland; and behold he stood in the middle of the court with the wreath about his neck. Daksha had then no choice but to complete the marriage; and Shiva went away with Satī to his home in Kailās.[1]

In the case of Sāvitrī, her father asked her to find a groom for herself, as people felt too intimidated by her for him to find a husband for her. Interestingly, Manu says that if the father cannot find a husband for her, the daughter should find one for herself. And she does.

This raises two points for us to consider: (1) Should not the ideal of Sāvitrī be construed as suggesting that women should be encouraged to choose their husbands for themselves, rather than let the parents do so, and (2) Is it possible to be so devoted to one’s husband as Satī and Sāvitrī were, if one does not choose one’s husband on one’s own?

[1] Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and Sister Nivedita, The Myths of the Hindus and the Buddhists (New York: Dover Publications, 1967) p. 288.

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One Response to “42.) Satī and Sāvitrī as Ideal Hindu Women”

  1. Vishal Says:

    I always thought that sati was a verb, had no idea that it’s derived from the name of a (presumably) fictional person. Thanks!

    I don’t follow your logic though – are you approving of the demand of loyalty like Sati and Savitri for husbands? And you argument is – if we approve of that, than why not choosing-their-own-husbands?

    My POV is that nobody should do anything just because Sati and Savitri did that – be it self-immolation or swayanvar (choosing their own spouses)… No imitation, no imposition.

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