Rituals are embedded in a particular time and space, and so are their objects and meanings. The ‘chronotope’ we focus on here is the occasional—partly self-chosen, partly societally forced—ritual death of Hindu widows along with their deceased husbands. Although never widely practiced, widow-burning caught the imagination of Europeans as illustrating both Hinduism’s ‘barbarity’ and its ‘high conjugal ideals’. Although satī had been outlawed since 1829, in 1987 a new case inflamed opposing sentiments. In 2002, in a passage called ‘Ritual Criticism and Widow Burning’, Ronald Grimes drew attention to it as a rite of passage that calls for normative comments and ritual criticism. Since then, in circles of ritual studies Hindu, widow-burning has occasionally been repeated as one of the ritual practices in need of condemnation. In order to put this rare practice, banned since almost 200 years ago, back into a proper time–place perspective, both its ritual details and its sociocultural contexts are revisited. Finally, we propose some case-specific factors that could serve as retrospective ritual criticism. We conclude with a plea for time–space sensitivity.
- Ritual criticism