"At last, she arrives at the fatal end of the plank . . . and, with her hands crossed over her chest, falls straight downward, suspended for a moment in the air before being devoured by the burning pit that awaits her. . . ." This grisly 1829 account by Pierre Dubois demonstrates the usual European response to the Hindu custom of satis sacrificing themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands—horror and revulsion. Yet to those of the Hindu faith, not least the satis themselves, this act signals the sati's sacredness and spiritual power.
Ashes of Immortality attempts to see the satis through Hindu eyes, providing an extensive experiential and psychoanalytic account of ritual self-sacrifice and self-mutilation in South Asia. Based on fifteen years of fieldwork in northern India, where the state-banned practice of sati reemerged in the 1970s, as well as extensive textual analysis, Weinberger-Thomas constructs a radically new interpretation of satis. She shows that their self-immolation transcends gender, caste and class, region and history, representing for the Hindus a path to immortality.