Sati Was Not Enforced in Ancient Nepal
Sati (also popularly spelled as suttee and defined as the ancient custom in the Hindu religion of a wife being burnt with her dead husband) does not seem to have been enforced in ancient Nepal, i.e. during the rule of the Licchavi dynasty (ca. 300-879 A.D.). We have about 190 stone inscriptions from this period (Vajracharya 1973).1 The only Licchavi inscription which has a reference to the sati system is the inscription of Manadeva I at the Changu Narayana temple in the north-eastern corner of the Kathmandu valley. This inscription (inscription no. 2) has probably the first reference (in the ancient Indian subcontinent) to this system, although it does not refer to the commitment of sati but abstention from it. In this inscription dated 464 A.D., Queen Rajyavati, mother of King Manadeva I, is depicted as deeply grieved at the death of her husband King Dharmadeva, and was ready to follow the dead husband, that is commit voluntary sati (immolation).
The incident is described in verses 6-11 of the inscription, which are reproduced in translation in the following paragraphs:
The last line of the verse 11 not only concludes the story saying that the queen stayed back, but also indicates the essence of sati vrata (the vow of a sati). Sati is essentially a woman who is completely faithful or loyal to her husband, as the verse reads: "Observing the vows of a sati, that is, with her husband in her heart, she lived very much like Arundhati." This is an evidence of the fact that loyalty was the essence of a sati, not self-immolation in Nepal under the Licchavi. It is unlikely that King Manadeva, who ruled ca. 464-505 A.D., would have enforced the sati system since he himself stopped his mother from doing so.
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