“Sati” Memorials – II

A variety in rendering the memorials for deceased women as cursorily discussed earlier, presents itself in the countryside of Kutch. The traditional “raised arm” motif is continued through the medieval period repertoire of memorial stones, with the addition of other “icons” which go on to form a “type”. The inscriptions on the memorials appear to be prolific by the end of 17th century CE (I plan to elaborate on the dating of the memorials and other details from the inscriptions in my later posts). The use of sandstone, locally available in the area, is common for the memorials. Interestingly, a “cookie-cutter” model comes to fore on further examination of the memorials. A template seems to be used by the sculptors in the area. It will not be surprising to find specialized sculptors in-charge of embellishing the memorial stones on commission, in the medieval period.

Godhara347a (fig.1)The Sati stone from Godhara is simplistic, with the iconic upraised arm. Circles on the right might depict “bindi” on the forehead of a traditional Hindu married woman. Speculations, that the associated imagery on the memorial stones point at the status of the woman at the time of her death, are popularly discussed. This piece lacks the inscription panel; probably owing to the antiquity or that the memorial was a generic rendering.

These two Sati memorials from Bayath show a stylized variety in the depiction of Sati memorials. Numerous bangles around the arm and pattern on the palm may signal at the married status, in line with the regional tradition. The iconography of the symbols accompanying Sati’s arm might be to reiterate the same. A necklace in one memorial stella and kumkum casket on the other may be interpreted to signal the woman’s status as “suhagan” (married), which is revered as an ideal of womanhood. The upper register on the memorial stone generally depicts a sun and the moon, symbolising eternity. The same has been read to stand for the eternity of the piety embodied by the woman or that the boons for fecundity emanating as a result of worship will blossom eternally. These memorials seem devios of inscriptions, probably masked under the white layer of paint as they stand today.

Godhara358a (Fig.4)An intriguing example from the district of Kutch shows the Sati sitting on a pyre with her husband (?) or child in her lap. The inscription mentions the name of the village and how great her sacrifice has been. Eulogies such as these are commonly appended with the memorial stones in the area. The Hero stones are generally more specific about the details of the event; and inscriptional records on Sati stones are generally attributed to the unprecedented importance of the woman in the community – either as a chaste wife or due to the virtue of her familial background.

Other varieties of the memorials in this milieu suggest “Sahamarana” or death with the husband on the same pyre. Let us delve into that shortly.

Speculations abound in reading Sati stones and the fluid iconography. Your ideas as to how one can read a particular symbol from different cultural contexts will enhance the discussion further!




Published by Kalemighty

Penned thoughts from South Asian culture. Follow for thoughts on Archaeology, Anthropology, and Pedagogy around the world

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