'A Woman going to burn on the funeral pile of her Husband', 1811.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Engraving showing the custom of Suttee or Sati, whereby a widow was expected to throw herself onto her dead husband's funeral pyre. Abolished by law in British India in 1829, the practice was not universal throughout Hindu history. Suttee probably originated from a more ancient source and was absorbed into Hinduism. Its ostensible purpose was to expiate the sins of the couple, ensuring their reunion after death. Patriarchal attitudes to women and the perceived worthlessness of widows, however, also encouraged the practice. The custom of killing a favourite wife on her husband's death is not unique to India. Illustration from 'Encyclopaedia Londinensis, or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature' published in London, 1810-1829.