Jains to the Rescue: On Sati, Pati, and Jati Saviors of Maharana Raj Singh and his Son Sultan Singh

Lindsey Harlan, Connecticut College
Friday, January 18, 2013 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm
317 Thomson Hall

This paper focuses on the goddess Gevar Bai, a Jain sati who is identified in her temple with the goddess Ambaji and credited with aiding Udaipur’s Maharana Raj Singh after he rashly executed his son Sultan Singh, Udaipur’s most widely worshipped Sagasji (hero deity). Gevar Bai’s stories credit this Jain sati (wife/ascetic) with enabling the king to atone for his misdeed by successfully constructing the vast reservoir Raj Samand, during a time of drought. Because ,time and time again the lake’s embankments had crumbled, Brahmins advised the king to find a pure woman, a sati who could consecrate the reservoir and fortify its banks with her integrity (sat). Having learned about the Jain sati Gevar Bai, Raj Singh requested her to stand in the reservoir while the water rushed in, but before agreeing to do so, she extracted from the king a promise to fund a costly Jain temple to glorify her husband (identified by a temple inscription and histories as the Jain Prime Minister Dayalji). Although the paper focuses on Gevar Bai’s delivering the king from his guilt, ennobling her husband, and ultimately sacrificing her life, it locates key elements of Gevar Bai ‘s stories in a dense and complex narrative milieu, one that includes tales about the post-execution resurrection of Sultan Singh by a Jain mendicant or jati. This Tantrik used his skills to enable Sultan Singh to finish a board game with him before proceeding to burn alive on the pyre. The jati’s power undoes and so rectifies Raj Singh’s execution, ultimate responsibility for which has, in any case, been increasingly blamed on Aurangzeb. The hero’s sati-like immolation, along with the burning of Brahmin who joins him on the pyre, invests Sultan Singh with extraordinary agency (shakti) and demonstrates his integrity (sat) while establishing Brahminical authority over the popular Udaipur shrine. The paper analyzes resistance to and negotiation with authority in the form of the king who is held culpable by devotees but still beloved for his role as Aurangzeb’s nemesis. The critiques and challenges found in the Sati and Jati stories, typify stories about Sultan Singh and Udaipur’s many other sagasjis, whose tragic deaths continue to critique political authority not only in the “Golden Age” of Rajput hegemony but also in the “Kali Yuga” of the city now.

Lindsey Harlan is professor of religious studies at Connecticut College.

Sponsored by the Jackson School of International Studies.

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