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Title: 'Pious flames' : changing Western interpretations of widow burning in India to 1860
Author: Major, Andrea
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2003
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This study deals with the changing ways in which Westerners in India sought to understand and represent the Hindu rite of sati (widow-burning). Beginning with the fables of the medieval period the thesis goes on to illustrate how the heterogeneity and ambivalence of the Early Modern travellers’ response, which viewed sati primarily in sociological terms, gave way to a more homogeneous and essentialist interpretation during the 18th Century, which represented sati primarily in terms of its religious significance and its resonances with patriarchal gender ideology. It then goes on to look at the great debate about sati that took place between 1805 and 1830 and the way in which 18th Century preconceptions about sati religious status formed the context for Government policy on the subject during this period. I also look at the popular discourse on sati and the ways in which British fascination with it during this period reflected underlying social concerns in Britain at this time, including worries about women’s nature and gender relations, religion, suicide, madness and corporeal punishment. The thesis then goes on to look at the ways in which abolition in British India affected attitudes to sati in the Princely States, with a discussion of how Bengali and Rajput sati was differently interpreted (the former as degraded, the latter as heroic). It is my intention through this study to illustrate the processes through which colonial understanding was formulated, and to represent it not as reliant primarily on the changing relationship of power between West and East, or as a unidirectional process dialectic and multivariate process in which India impacted on thoughts and ideas in Europe as well. By showing that changing attitudes to sati were dependent as much, if not more, on social and cultural trends at home as they were on the political relationship. We can understand Western reactions to sati as being as much about the recognition and interpretation of similarity as the assertion of difference. Thus the traditional view of colonial knowledge formation as based on racial divisions can be reinterpreted as one crossout by issues of gender and class, and a myriad of other social and cultural concerns, providing a more complex and varied image of the East-West encounter.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available