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The legend of Kasu Ma sati in Pakistan’s Sindh

Kasu Ma is said to have immolated herself in the 18th century, after her son died in battle. She took on what was traditionally a wife’s duty because her daughter-in-law refused to die on the pyre – a bad omen which Kasu Ma hoped to negate with her own death

Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro

An elderly woman leaned against the pillar of Kasu Ma sati, her head bowed down in prayer, oblivious to her surroundings. As I approached her, thinking to ask about the sati, she turned around and signalled for me to sit down. Her name was Shani Bai, she told me, and she was a member of the Meghwar community and a devout devotee of Kasu Ma sati. She had come to the shrine, in Sindh’s Mithi district, from the nearby town of Chelhar to pay homage.

Sati is a funeral rite, practiced by some Hindus, in which a recent widow immolates herself on her late husband’s funeral pyre; the term can also refer to the widow herself. The ritual is named after the goddess Sati, who, according to Hindu mythology, burned herself to death after her father insulted her husband, the god Shiva. Although strict proscriptions against the rite now exist, sati dates as far back as the fifth century, if not earlier, and was practiced regularly in parts of India until the 20th century. Even today, sati veneration is widespread throughout the Sindhi district of Tharparkar, where nearly every village has a memorial stone commemorating a sati.

As she sat in front of the shrine, Shani Bai told me she paid her respects to Kasu Ma whenever there was a problem in the family – and she is hardly alone. Many women of her community visit the shrine of Kasu Ma regularly in hopes of finding solutions to their worries and travails. During the annual mela, almost every caste of Hindus swarm to the shrine, where Maganhars, who have traditionally provided musical services, sing bhajan (devotional songs) and chhands (folk poetry) in honour of the sati. Continue reading

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