Saka, also known as “sati” or “suttee,” was an ancient Hindu funeral custom practiced in certain regions of the Indian subcontinent. The term “saka” is derived from the Sanskrit word “sat,” which means “good” or “truth.” It involved a widow self-immolating herself on her husband’s funeral pyre or voluntarily embracing death shortly after her husband’s death. The practice was seen as a demonstration of the widow’s devotion and loyalty to her husband, and it was believed to bring her spiritual merit and ensure her husband’s journey to the afterlife.
Historically, the practice of saka was more prevalent among certain Hindu communities in India, particularly among the warrior and noble classes. It was often associated with the idea of “pativrata,” where a wife’s loyalty to her husband was considered a virtue and a sacred duty.
Jauhar, similar to saka, was a custom practiced by Rajput women in medieval India. It involved the mass self-immolation of women, along with their children, during times of war and siege. The practice of jauhar was adopted as a last resort when a fortress or kingdom was facing imminent defeat and capture by enemy forces.
In the context of Rajput history, jauhar was seen as an act of bravery and a means for women to protect their honor and dignity. Women who performed jauhar chose to die together rather than face capture, enslavement, or dishonor at the hands of the invading forces. It was considered a form of collective sacrifice to protect their chastity and avoid the potential horrors of war and captivity.
Jauhar was often performed alongside “saka” (immolation of the husband’s pyre) when a Rajput king died in battle or by suicide, or in cases of extreme circumstances like the invasion of the enemy into the kingdom. It was also an act of defiance against the enemy, showcasing the unwavering spirit and courage of the Rajput women.
While both saka and jauhar were practiced in earlier centuries, their prevalence declined over time. Saka was eventually outlawed by the British colonial administration in the 19th century, as it was considered an inhumane practice. Similarly, jauhar became less common as warfare and the political landscape changed in India.
Today, both practices are largely relics of the past and are not part of mainstream Indian culture. They are remembered primarily through historical records, literature, and folk tales, and they continue to be subjects of scholarly and cultural discussions. In modern times, they are often viewed as controversial and are criticized for their gender implications and the challenges they present to gender equality and women’s rights.