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Book cover of Ashes of Immortality: Widow-Burning in India

Ashes of Immortality: Widow-Burning in India

by Catherine Weinberger-Thomas, Jeffrey Mehlman (Translator), , David Gordon White (Translator)

Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Pages: 329
Hardcover
ISBN: 9780226885681






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Overview of Ashes of Immortality: Widow-Burning in India

"At last, she arrives at the fatal end of the plank . . . and, with her hands crossed over her chest, falls straight downward, suspended for a moment in the air before being devoured by the burning pit that awaits her. . . ." This grisly 1829 account by Pierre Dubois demonstrates the usual European response to the Hindu custom of satis sacrificing themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands—horror and revulsion. Yet to those of the Hindu faith, not least the satis themselves, this act signals the sati's sacredness and spiritual power.

Ashes of Immortality attempts to see the satis through Hindu eyes, providing an extensive experiential and psychoanalytic account of ritual self-sacrifice and self-mutilation in South Asia. Based on fifteen years of fieldwork in northern India, where the state-banned practice of sati reemerged in the 1970s, as well as extensive textual analysis, Weinberger-Thomas constructs a radically new interpretation of satis. She shows that their self-immolation transcends gender, caste and class, region and history, representing for the Hindus a path to immortality.

Synopsis of Ashes of Immortality: Widow-Burning in India

Translated from the French edition (Editions du Seuil, 1996). Widow burning () in India is often a topic of horror and fascination for Westerners, allowing for the facile orientalism so effectively criticized in Edward Said's (1979). Weinberger-Thomas (Hindi, Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, Paris) attempts to see through Hindu eyes, and thereby provide an experiential and psychoanalytic account of ritual self- sacrifice and self-mutilation in South Asia. Drawing on fieldwork and analysis of classical texts, the author asks readersto consider a Hindu worldview wherein humans and deities cross the border between earth and heaven, reincarnation follows the laws of , and violent self-sacrifice is a path to immortality. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

Library Journal

The spectacular phenomenon of Indian women committing suicide by entering their dead husbands' funeral pyres strains the limits of cross-cultural understanding. In an effort to unravel the complex symbolism surrounding this disturbing practice and its innumerable variations, Weinberger-Thomas (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales) has studied mythology, philology, scripture, art, pamphlets, published eyewitness accounts, court records, mass media, and interview data. The sacrificial widow's motivation is explained in terms of her sense of guilt at her karmic liability for her husband's death. By unleashing her ghost upon her enemies, she may also use suicide to protest or redress perceived mistreatment or injustice. Finally, she can redeem, purify, and immortalize herself through her sacrifice. Weinberger-Thomas's analysis is objective, balanced, and sophisticated. Unfortunately, however, she provides no unifying framework or overview: cases are recounted repetitiously and without a clear direction, and vital facts are sometimes hidden in the disorganized structure, while narratives are embellished with anecdotal and seemingly inconsequential details. Although erudite and readable, this book is difficult to navigate. It is also aimed at specialists and advanced readers. Recommended only for academic and larger public libraries.--Jay H. Bernstein, Fordham Univ. Lib., Bronx, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\

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Library Journal

The spectacular phenomenon of Indian women committing suicide by entering their dead husbands' funeral pyres strains the limits of cross-cultural understanding. In an effort to unravel the complex symbolism surrounding this disturbing practice and its innumerable variations, Weinberger-Thomas (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales) has studied mythology, philology, scripture, art, pamphlets, published eyewitness accounts, court records, mass media, and interview data. The sacrificial widow's motivation is explained in terms of her sense of guilt at her karmic liability for her husband's death. By unleashing her ghost upon her enemies, she may also use suicide to protest or redress perceived mistreatment or injustice. Finally, she can redeem, purify, and immortalize herself through her sacrifice. Weinberger-Thomas's analysis is objective, balanced, and sophisticated. Unfortunately, however, she provides no unifying framework or overview: cases are recounted repetitiously and without a clear direction, and vital facts are sometimes hidden in the disorganized structure, while narratives are embellished with anecdotal and seemingly inconsequential details. Although erudite and readable, this book is difficult to navigate. It is also aimed at specialists and advanced readers. Recommended only for academic and larger public libraries.--Jay H. Bernstein, Fordham Univ. Lib., Bronx, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\

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