Sati – Sri Lankan Literature


A pictorial representation in the Moghul style

This then is the picture: a touch of cerulean
Along the upper margin indicates the pond
In which they plunged her dressed in rich attire
And golden ornaments. Her palanquin Stands empty, upper left
draped in white flowers.
Brahmins and relatives, an eager crowd of friends
Form a bright circle – ochre, scarlet, green Stroked deftly.
They lift their hands ‘Admiringly towards her, yet some are seen
To carry torches, some clay pots of ghee, and ranged in double line about the field
Black-bearded Brahmins brandish sword and shield.

And now the purohita Brahmin bearing holy fire
Raises his hand in signal; the pyre
Is lit (dead centre), contents of the pots
Are emptied on dry wood, and saffron frames
Flare upward. Arosy glow
Spreads out across the burning field
Enveloping the corpse, an aged man
(In neutral pigments). His fair-skinned wife
With flowing raven hair and slanting Moghul eyes
Still in the very prime of life is dragged towards the pyre is lifted high,
Then cast upon body. Her fierce cry
Is drowned in acclamations – they smother her screams
(The fire blazes fiercely now in tints of blue and red)
Her smooth skin puckers, flames flow from her head
And when she struggles wildly to be free
The Brahmins raise their swords, confining her
To burn. And burn. And burn. Until she is quite dead.

The caption to the picture elucidates
That while the widow preserved calm and a serene
Demeanour while the long procession wound

Its way unto the burning green
When she beheld that dreadful scene Was made to leave her palanquin,
Her looks were fixed upon the pile In terror.
All that while They tore the jewels from from ears and neck
And pulling, dragging, prodding from the back
They made her walk three times around the pyre
Before committing her unto the fire.

Much later
The ashes were sifted, and remnants of bone
Placed in slim copper urns, some to be thrown
Into the waters of Ganges – sacred river,
Purifier and giver
Of life – and some to be ground
Into powder mixed with new rice boiled in ghee
And eaten by twelve Brahmins

Author Anne Ranasinghe

Summary and Analysis

The Indian traditional ritual Sati Pooja. A Hindu custom in which the young wife of a very old dead husband leaps into his pyre and commits suicide. Usually she is forced by her in laws to do so.

The woman in Indian society is treated with the utmost cruelty and inhumanity.

Conventional Hindu customs which are beyond humanity
Brutal customs still exist even in the civilized society.

Appropriate words and phrases:
dressed in rich attire
draped in white flowers
bearded Brahmins
brandish sword and shield

simple and descriptive with ornate wording


The poem, Sati by Anne Ranasinghe describes a sati pooja which was a very barbarian custom that existed in India. It was a custom in India that a very old man marries a teenage girl and when the husband dies the wife has to jump into the pyre and burn herself.

In this poem the wife is a beautiful young princess who is victimized to Sathi pooja. At the end the ashes of both bodies are thrown into the river ritually. Some of the ash is mixed with new rice and eaten by twelve Brahmins ceremoniously. It is the most disgusting phase of the ritual.

This poem describes a very inhuman funeral ritual of Hindu culture in India. It describes how a very young beautiful princess is richly and ornately dressed and taken to the pyre of her dead husband in a palanquin. The wonder is it is her own relatives and friends who celebrate this abhorrent occasion ceremonially. They seem to consider this a noble
occasion and a religious ceremony. The most disgusting thing is that the Brahmins are offered milk rice mixed with the ash of the dead and burnt at the end.

Actually, this is not a religious ritual but a criminal act, murder. As from the ancient history of India it is apparent that it is Brahmins who changed the religion so as to suit their opportunist brutal needs. It is a relief that this custom was legally banned by the British government declaring it a punishable offence. Yet, it is a regretful fact that even today such
occasions are reported even rarely as acts of conventional , brutal people who are blinded with baseless faith.


Important points – Sati pooja is Indian practice. When husband died the young and beautiful wife also has to jump into husband’s funeral pyre and die according to their tradition. This is anevil practice II which prevails in remote areas of India. 

The woman in Sati who 
still in the very prime of life 
is dragged towards the pyre, is lifted high then cast upon his body. Her fierce cry 
is drowned in acclamations — they smother her screams 

All these, in presenting something essentially innocent that is distorted and destroyed, rouse in the reader a sense of recognition as well as of waste. We accept without question then the need for a relentless assertion of positive values, the need for blazing indignation against oppression and cruelty and callousness. 

In the end, the most important feature of Anne Ranasinghe’s poetry is its celebration of what it is. There is strong religious elements, the stress on rituals and observances and sacred places. Though the sense of loss or the expression of anger, come across strongly, what is more important we feel is the charm of what is lost, the innocence that is traduced and those elements though they are distorted or destroyed they have been so positively expressed. 

Author biography

Anne Ranasinghe is a German born Jewess living in Sri Lanka for more than 50 years arid was married to the late prof. Ranasinghe who taught at the University of Colombo. She has become a legendary figure in Sri Lankan literary circles purely because of her talents, versatility and her concern for human behavior and human rights. She is generally accepted as one of the Sri Lankan leading poets in English and her winning prizes internationally has also made her known outside the country, particularly in Germany. She is a German born Jewess living in Sri Lanka for more than 50 years.