5. The Rigveda: Widows don’t have to burn

Publication: The Asian Age

Articles on Hinduism
Date: October 23, 2002  

In August, 2002, one case of committing sati and two failed attempts to commit sati in Madhya Pradesh were reported by the media.

Reports also appeared that the Rajasthan high court allowed prayers within premises of Rani Sati Mandir of Jhunjhunu district, but prohibited organising fairs, distribution of pamphlets and performing chunri ceremony at the temple till final orders.

Some people assert that richa X 18.7 (seventh richa of sukta 18 of chapter ten) of the Rigveda commands a Hindu widow to mount on the pyre of her deceased husband. In fact, the word vidhwa (widow) does not independently occur in this richa at all. So how can this richa be related to widows?

The word vidhwa does appear in many other richas of the Rigveda. One website quotes Kane’s translation of this richa as, “Let these women, whose husbands are worthy and living enter the house with ghee applied as corrylium (to their eyes). Let these wives first step into the pyre, tearless without any affliction and well adorned.” From the moment of death of her husband, a woman is no more called “a wife” but a widow. So the phrase “these wives” in the above translation of Kane cannot be interpreted to refer to widows.”

In fact, sukta 18 commands a Hindu widow to return to the world of living beings; the Rigveda confers on her all the properties of her deceased husband. The third richa (X 18.3) commands “May those who are living remain separate from the dead…” (Rigveda Samhita by H.H. Wilson and Bhashya of Sayana edited by Ravi Prakash Arya and K.K. Joshi). Dr Wendy D. O’Flaherty, Ph.D., in her book, Rigveda (Penguin Classics, page 52) mentions, “Those who are alive have now parted from the dead.” Shri Ram Sharma Acharya of Bareilly in his Rigveda (in Hindi) translates, “Mritak ke pass se jeevit manushya laut aavey…” This command of Rigveda to leave behind the dead is equally applicable to Hindu widows as they are also living. Read More…

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