Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains/A Suttee
Formerly the European traveller in India, who saw, on approaching one of those numerous ghauts or landing-places which form so striking and so peculiar a feature of its rivers, a more than usual concourse of people assembled, might entertain the disgreeable expectation of finding the preparation for a Suttee. The abolition of this dreadful rite throughout the Company's territories, has prevented the enactment of many hideous scenes, which are still common in the states under native jurisdiction. Though the sacrifice may be performed in any convenient place, the banks of a river are always chosen in preference, bathing being one of the preliminary observances enjoined to the victim.
The Suttee commemorated in the accompanying engraving, was performed in the immediate neighbourhood of Baroda, during the period in which Sir James Carnac, then a major in the Company's service, was political resident. The circumstances connected with the immolation now recorded, which are related by Capt. Grindlay, who was present at the last sad scene, are of a very romantic nature, and calculated to invest what is generally a mere brutal exhibition, with a high degree of interest. The Suttee was a young Brahminee woman from the Deccan, married to a person of her own caste, holding an appointment as writer under one of the military chiefs of Dowlah Rao Scindiah, and absent from his home at the time. One night the death of her husband was communicated to her in a dream; and, strongly impressed with the truth of the revelation, she became a prey to anxiety and grief. Shortly afterwards, as she was returning to her cottage with a pot of water upon her head, an occupation always performed by females of her class, a circumstance happened which confirmed her worst apprehensions. She had placed her necklace, the symbol of her married state, on the top of the jar, and, a crow alighting, flew away with it. This dreadful omen produced a conviction amounting to certainty, that the fatal event had taken place. Throwing down the vessel, and loosening her hair, she returned to her desolate home, declaring her intention to join her husband in the grave.
The circumstance being reported to the British resident, he immediately repaired to the house of the presumed widow, with the humane intention of dissuading her from her rash resolution. Finding his efforts unavailing, he engaged the assistance of the native
prince, who also readily undertook the benevolent mission, appearing with a large retinue at the door; and when his representations failed to produce the desired effect, he surrounded the avenues with his attendants, in order to prevent the unhappy woman from flying to persons who would encourage her in her design. Aware that the abject state of poverty to which a Hindoo widow, who can inherit nothing, must be reduced upon the death of her husband, is often the true cause of her sacrifice, the prince generously offered the means of future subsistence, urging at the same time the duties which she owed to her family, whom she would leave unprotected; and the uncertainty of the loss which she deplored. The widow remained unmoved and unconvinced, and, on being assured that she would not be permitted to ascend the fatal pile, drew a dagger from her side, and, with all the vehemence which passion could lend, declared, that her blood, the blood of a Brahmin woman, should be upon the head of him who offered to prevent the sacrifice. Few Indians are proof against fear of the consequences of driving an enthusiast to this act of desperation. The curse is supposed to be almost immitigable; and, perceiving her determination, the prince withdrew.
Self-sacrifice is considered so honourable among every class of Hindoos, that the widow, although rushing almost companionless to the ghaut, was soon surrounded by thronging multitudes of kindred, friends, and spectators. She formed a small image of rice, to represent the body of her husband; the pile was prepared; and, having gone through the usual ceremonies and ablutions, she repaired to the fatal place, immediately in front of the arch, in the centre of the plate, and resigned herself to the devouring flame. In the course of three weeks the tidings arrived of the death of the husband, which, strange to say, corresponded with the date of the dream.