Searching for Satī
Research in India has a way of taking its practitioners in unexpected directions. Several years ago I began what I expected would be a straightforward historical look into the early stages of British colonial rule in India, focusing on what British civil servants and amateur scholars learned about Hinduism and how they learned about it. As I read around in books, East India Company reports, memoirs, and correspondence from the latter part of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the period during British interests in India expanded from trade and profit to administration and revenue collection, I kept running across eye-witness accounts and discussions of the Hindu practice of the burning of widows on the funeral pyres of their deceased husbands. The sources I came across from the earlier part of this period generally agreed that the practice, however despicable to Europeans, was a part of the Hindu religion where such women were venerated for their devotion to their husbands.