who is about to become a *Sati*]
[Excerpt from Letter 5, Ikkeri, Nov. 22, 1623:]
 As we return'd home at night, we met a woman in the City of Ikkeri, who, her Husband being dead, was resolv'd to burn her self, as 'tis the custom with many Indian Women. She rode on horseback about the city with open [=unveiled] face, holding a looking-glass in one hand, and a lemon in the other, I know not for what purpose; and beholding her self in the glass, with a lamentable tone sufficiently pitiful to hear, went along I know not whither speaking or singing certain words, which I understood not; but they told me, they were a kind of Farewell to the World and her self; and indeed, being utter'd with that passionateness which the case requir'd and might produce, they mov'd pity in all that heard them, even in us who understood not the Language.
She was follow'd by many other women and men on foot, who, perhaps, were her Relations; they carry'd a great Umbrella over her, as all persons of quality in India are wont to have, thereby to keep off the Sun, whose heat is hurtful and troublesome. Before her, certain Drums were sounded, whose noise she never ceas'd to accompany with her sad ditties or songs; yet with a calm and constant countenance, without tears, evidencing more grief for her Husband's death than her own, and more desire to go to him in the other world than regret for her own departure out of this: a Custom, indeed, cruel and barbarous, but withall, of great generosity and virtue in such Women, and therefore worthy of no small praise. They said, she was to pass in this manner about the City, I know not how many days, at the end of which she was to go out of the City and be burnt, with more company and solemnity. If I can know when it will be, I will not fail to go to see her, and by my presence honor her Funeral, with that compassionate affection which so great Conjugal Fidelity and Love seems to me to deserve....
 November the sixteenth , I was told that the above-mention'd Woman who has resolv'd to burn her self for her Husband's death, was to die this evening. But upon further enquiry at the Woman's House, I understood that it would not be till after a few days more, and there I saw her sitting in a Court or Yard, and other persons beating Drums about her. She was cloth'd all in white, and deck'd with many necklaces, bracelets, and other ornaments of gold; on her head she had a garland of flowers spreading forth like the rays of the sun; in brief, she was wholly in a Nuptial Dress, and held a lemon in her hand, which is the usual ceremony. She seem'd to be pleasant [=cheerful] enough, talking and laughing in conversation, as a Bride would do in our countries. She and those with her took notice of my standing there to behold her, and conjecturing by my strange habit [=attire], what the meaning of it was, some of them came towards me. I told them by an Interpreter, that I was a person of a very remote  country, where we had heard by fame [=rumor], that some Women in India love their Husbands so vehemently, as when they die to resolve to die with them; and that now having intelligence that this Woman was such a one, I was come to see her, that so I might relate in my own country that I had seen such a thing with my own Eyes.
These people were well pleas'd with my coming, and she her self, having heard what I said, rose up from her seat, and came to speak to me. We discours'd together standing, for a good while. She told me that her name was Giaccama, of the Race Terlenga, that her Husband was a Drummer; whence I wonder'd the more; feeling [that] Heroical Actions, as this undoubtedly ought to be judg'd, are very rare in people of low quality. That it was about nineteen days since her Husband's death, that he had left two other Wives elder than she, and whom he had married before her (both which [=of whom] were present at this discourse), yet neither of them was willing to die, but alledg'd for excuse that they had many Children.
This argument gave me occasion to ask Giaccama (who shew'd me a little Son of her own, about six or seven years old, besides an other Daughter she had), how she could persuade her self to leave her own little Children? And told her, that she ought likewise to live rather than to abandon them at that age. She answer'd me, that she left them well recommended to the care of an Uncle of hers there present, who also talk'd with us very cheerfully, as if rejoicing that his Kins-woman would do such an action; and that her Husband's other two remaining Wives would also take care of them. I insisted much upon the tender age of her Children, to avert her from her purpose, by moving her to compassion for them, well knowing that no argument is more prevalent with Mothers than their Love and Affection towards their Children.
But all my speaking was in vain, and she still answer'd me to all my reasons, with a countenance not only undismay'd and constant, but even cheerful, and spoke in such a manner as shew'd that she had not the least fear of death. She told me also, upon my asking her, that she did this of her own accord, was at her own liberty, not forc'd nor persuaded by any one. Whereupon I inquiring, whether force were at any time us'd in this matter, they told me, that ordinarily it was not, but only sometimes amongst persons of quality when some Widow was left young, handsome, and so in danger of marrying again (which amongst them is very ignominious), or committing a worse fault; in such cases the friends of the deceas'd Husband were very strict, and would constrain her to burn her self even against her own will, for preventing the disorders possible to happen in case she should live; (a barbarous, indeed, and too cruel Law). However, that neither force nor persuasion was us'd to Giaccama, that she did it of her own free will; in which, as of a magnanimous action (as indeed it was), and amongst them of great honor, both her Relations and her self much  gloried.
I ask'd concerning the ornaments and flowers she wore, and they told me, that such was the custom, in token of the Masti's joy (they call the Woman, who intends to burn her self for the death of her Husband, Masti [=Maha-sati]), in that she was very shortly to go to him, and therefore had reason to rejoice; whereas such Widows as will not die, remain in continual sadness and lamentations, shave their Heads, and live in perpetual mourning for the death of their Husbands.
At length Giaccama caus'd one to tell
me, that she accounted my coming to see her a great good fortune, and held
her self much honor'd, as well by my visit and presence, as the Fame which
I should carry of her to my own Country; and that before she died she would
come to visit me at my House, and also to ask me, as their custom is, that
I would favour her with some thing by way of Alms towards the buying of
fuel, for the fire wherewith she was to be burnt. I answer'd her, that
I should much esteem her visit, and very willingly give her some thing;
not for wood and fire wherein to burn her self (for her death much displeas'd
me, and I would gladly have dissuaded her from it, if I could), but to
do something else therewith, what her self most lik'd; and that I promis'd
her, that so far as my weak pen could contribute, her Name should remain
immortal in the World. Thus I took leave of her, more sad for her death
than [she was] herself, cursing the custom of India, which is so unmerciful
to Women. Giaccama was a Woman of about thirty years of age, of a complexion
very brown for an Indian, and almost black, but of a good aspect, tall
of stature, well shap'd and proportion'd. My Muse could not forbear from
chanting her in a Sonnet, which I made upon her death, and reserve among
my Poetical Papers.
|== Pietro dela Valle index page == Glossary == fwp's main page ==|