Widow about to burn herself on her dead husband's funeral pyre, India, 1774-1781.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Engraving by Poison after a painting by Pierre Sonnerat (1748-1814), showing the custom of Suttee or Sati. Abolished by law in British India in 1829, the practice was not universal throughout Hindu history; it probably originated from a more ancient source and was absorbed into Hinduism. Its ostensible purpose was to expiate sins, ensuring reunion after death. Patriarchal attitudes to women and the perceived worthlesnes of widows, however, also encouraged the practice. Killing a favourite wife on her husband's death is not unique to India. Illustration from Sonnerat's 'Voyage aux Indes Orientales et a la Chine, fait par ordre du roi, depuis 1774 jusqu'en 1781' ('Voyage to the East Indies and China, made by order of the king, from 1774 to 1781'), published in 1782.