Thursday, December 10, 2015

Sati Stones of Kashmir



The colonnade of Buniyar Temple, situated along the Baramula-Uri road on way to Mohra, housed something that caught my eye: ancient sculptured stone slabs. In traditional Kashmiri architecture for temples suggests that colonnades surrounding a temple housed images of deities. Now, these empty colonnades at Buniyar house these stone slabs.


I need to find out what they are. These stone slabs are found all over Kashmir. A lot of them now placed in temples and worshipped. As usual, Kashmiris haven't documented much, the stones are simply called 'memorial stones', I know a discovery awaits.


One of the stone slabs at Buniyar depicted a horse man with the upper panel of the slab depicting a woman. It is an iconography associated with 'Sati-Stones' of India. In ancient times when a woman burned for her husband had died, at the spot where she died, a stone memorial was put. 

Rajatarangini mentions Sati was practiced in Kashmir, yet there is not memory of it in the Pandit community. However, a more modern history tells us 'Sati' was almost revived by Pandits in around 1830s. * Still no memory of it.

Kashmir is know as 'Satidesh' (County of Sati). The mythical origins of the valley come from the story of Sati, the first wife of Shiva who immolated herself. Yet, no memory of 'Sati' practice. 

Still, these stone memorial stand testimony to a time when women were burnt alive and then worshipped.

I am not the first person to notice the 'sati-stones' of Kashmir. One of the first archaeological reports on ancient monuments of Kashmir did mention the probability that these were 'sati-stones'.

Rai Sahib Daya Ram during his survey of monuments of Kashmir in around 1915 wrote:

"Another class of antiquities of this late period which are very common  everywhere in Kashmir, are a kind of memorial spans which might have been sati stones. […]The face of the slab is divided into two compartments, the upper one containing a standing figure of Bhairava with this usual emblems, and the lower a female figure seated between a bird and a dog, the vehicle of the diety referred to. In some examples, the female is represented as seated by the side of her deceased husband."

Daya Ram in 'Pre-Muhammadan Monuments of Kashmir' ascribes the stone slabs to 14th century, the late part of Kashmir History, towards the end of Hindu rule when no big shrines were anymore constructed.

To understand these memorial stones (as with understanding the ancient architecture of Kashmir), we have to look at our Hindu neighbours.

Near Kashmir, Mandi in Himachal is famous for 'Sati-Stones'. They would put up memorials for dead warriors and their burnt wives. 

In a paper on tombs at Hinidan in the Las Bela, on right bank of Hab river, about 73 miles from Karachi. The tombs were interesting because they belong to an era when Islam was new to the region and the rituals for the dead were a mix of native belief and Islamic rules. On some of the tombs, there were human figures drawn. Jean Philippe Vogel in Archaeological Survey of India, Annual Report 1902-1903 writes:

"In Kangra and other Himalayan tracts such slabs are commonly found in the courtyards of temples, near tanks and under banyan and pipal trees. That in many instances the stone exhibits more than one figure, is explained by the fact that women, who became Sati, were represented on the same slab with their husband. Curious examples of this kind is the so-called Sati slabs of the Rajas of Mandi. here they are called barselas, because they are worshipped for one year (bars), but the general name by which they are known in the Kangra valley is muhra. Near nagar, the ancient capital of Kullu, there is a collection of muhras, several of which have a figure said to represent either a Rani who died before here husband, or a Raja who became an ascetic. On some of them the effigy of a horse will be seen at the bottom of the slab as is always the case with the Mandi stones. "

It's interesting that the place called Mohra in Kashmir is not far from Buniyar. Such memorial stones were more common in Lar Pargana of Kashmir. 

Rajatarangini tells us 14th century was a turbulent time as the local powers where constantly at war with each other and Islam was introduced in Kashmir. Men were dying in wars and women were getting burnt. 

 This brings us to the other kind of memorial stones found in Kashmir: the 'Hero-Stones'


Two more slabs housed at Buniyar


These stone slabs were put up where a great warrior fell in war.


Sati Stone

Some memorial slabs kept at SPS Museum, Srinagar

Hero Stone


These stones are essentially dead men and their dead wives, tales of war and bloodshed, reminders of gruesome ancient customs and traditions. These are episodes from Rajatarangini, our past.


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"During the administration of Dewan Kirpa Ram [(1826-1830)] Kashmiri Pandits resumed the ancient practice of Sati in all likelihood persuaded by the Sikhs and the Punjabi Hindus." [A History of Sikh Rule in Kashmir, 1819-1846, R. K. Parmu]

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At Verinag.
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