One of the most disturbing sights in Rajasthan took place earlier in this series when we saw a small suttee handprint. Just the thought of a person immolating their self makes me ill. This even turns my stomach whenever I read horrific stories about someone pouring gasoline on another person and even severe third degree burns since I’m deadly afraid of fire. Burns are also one of the most horrific and painful injuries to a body.
There are seven gates into the Mehrangarh Fort and the final gate is called the Lohapol (Iron Gate) that leads to the cremation ground. As you pass through the gate, it would be impossible not to notice the 31 red hand prints carved into the sandstone.
If you never heard of the Hindu practice of suttee/sati, read and weep. When a Maharajah or one of the aristocracy died, his widow and many times concubines, had no further place in society. She was expected to dress in her best clothing, dip her hand in henna, and leave a handprint at the gate. The handprint was later cut around by stonemasons to make it permanent. From there, she would walk to her husband’s funeral pyre. When Maharaja Ajit Singh died in 1731, six of his wives and 58 concubines burnt themselves to death on his funeral pyre. I had read of this practice in books but when I took my hand and placed it over the small handprints of these poor women, it brought me to tears.
Some women threw themselves into the lit pyre. Others sat stoically on the pyre cradling their dead husband’s head and waited for the fire to be lit. I just can’t visualize a person doing this of there own free will unless someone was kind enough to drug them into a stupor before it took place. They had no say. They had no choice. It was considered an honor to die this way and I’d like to know who came up with the word honor to describe being burnt to death. Surely not another woman! Even though this practice was made illegal by the British governor general in 1829 and eventually banned by the Indian Government, the last recorded case of self-immolation in occurred in 1988.
ex-Marine and I have traveled throughout India many times and I cannot tell you how many articles have appeared in the newspaper telling about a mother-in-law, who dissatisfied with her daughter-in-law, pours boiling oil over her body or sets her aflame. Yes, I know we have terrible stories elsewhere in the world, but somehow this seems to be more prevalent in India. All those pathetic little handprints… How terrifying it must have been…