Satis as Goddesses (Satimatas)

Handprints of satimatas.

Pilgrims traveled from all over India to the village of Deorala to be in the presence of a new goddess, Roop Kanwar. The act of sati had transformed a teenage girl to a divine being and thousands came to honor her sacrifice. By destroying her body, Kanwar was able to transcend the wretched position of widow to the honorific position of goddess.

That women who perform sati have been worshipped as goddesses is evident in the many shrines in Rajasthan and surrounding regions8. Roop Kanwar herself was known to visit sati shrines before her death, paying homage to the power of sacrifice that these women hold. This awe of self sacrifice is so great even Kanwar's own father is supposed to have taken consolation from the fact that his daughter had became a devi9.

Worshippers believe these goddesses, or satimatas, extend their "powerful maternal protection over people other than their husbands after they gave up their human lives"10. Widows in India are perhaps the most disempowered group of people, so what is it exactly that converts their impotence into a powerful protective force?

Sati worshippers believe it is sat, a word that means "essence" or "truth", the essential inner nature of a good wife that propels her to be able to not only mount the funeral pyre, but to also light the fire herself through the energy of her sat11. It seems this inner truth is what acts as the impetus for the act of the immolation. Yet it is not sat alone makes a goddess, it appears to something more.

Hundreds came to watch Roop Kanwar burn in the flames with her husband's head in her lap, and thousands more came to simply catch a glimpse of her bedroom. The awe that these people hold toward a satimata has to with her ability to sacrifice her body. This is why satimata shrines are built, this is why a sati is big business. The actual act of a burning female body is what captures the devotion of worshippers, and therefore, it is her burning body that transformation a piteous widow into a divine being. It is the pain of the fire that creates a goddess.