The New Student's Reference Work/Suttee
Suttee (sŭt-tē′), meaning a virtuous wife, a once common usage of India, in accordance with which, on the death of her husband, the faithful widow burned herself on the funeral-pyre with her husband's body, or, if he died at a distance, was burned on a pyre of her own. The custom was practiced in India as early as the time of Alexander the Great, and was grounded by the Hindus on sacred books and laws of theirs. But no countenance to this barbarous rite can be found in the oldest and most sacred Brahman books. Nevertheless suttee, though not enforced on an unwilling victim and not practiced except in certain castes and families of old descent, was made almost necessary for well-born widows by the force of public opinion, unless they were willing to risk their own happiness here and hereafter. The rite came from a belief, common to many savage races, that it was well to send wives, slaves, horses, favorite weapons etc. with great men into the other world, by burying them with them, burning them or slaying them at their tomb. In 1823 about 900 widows were burned in India. In 1829, through the efforts of Lord William Bentinck, any encouragement of suttee was made murder. The custom is now rarely practiced.