Human sacrifices in history
Certain elements of barbarism largely remained uncancelled even with
the dawn of human civilisation. The barbaric practices of human
sacrifice and self-sacrifice on religious and social grounds were
encouraged by powerful authorities of most communities in history.
It appears almost fair to say that some strange religious beliefs
noticeably disguised brutality and violence. There was a hidden practice
among ancient Japanese people to commit suicide as a penance for
violating (intentionally or inadvertently) the general rules in the
battlefield. Japanese militants called Bushido were compelled to commit
partial suicide if ever the particular militant failed to keep up
honourable fighting in the battlefield. Here, someone had to complete
The Samyrai, compelled thus to commit suicide first cleaned himself,
enjoyed his favourite meal for the final time and wrote his ultimate
death poem. Within this practice called Sepuku, the condemned militant
was given a sharp tool to open his belly and a person appointed by him
to complete his sacrifice beheaded him.
This practice shows that the honour ability and dignity in the battle
field were held as important as the life of the fighter in the early
The Mayans, another developed people, pinned a strong faith on
invisible natural powers and natural phenomena. They produced the
world's first calendar and incorrectly predicted the world's end in the
Mayans fervently believed in invisible divine powers which were
considered to be in operation within deep cavities of the earth. They
believed that the deep pits or cavities were an entrance to the "other
world" or heaven and made certain individuals leap into them to live a
blissful life in the other world. Those selected to leap into them were
individuals who had achieved certain victories and honours in the
battles. This too is an inhuman human sacrifice in history.
A team of religious extremists in India who were fervent devotees of
Goddess Kali, engaged in secret slaughter that accompanied a total sense
of devotion to the goddess. For centuries these "killer devotees"
wandered through multiple regions of India and pleased their goddess
(Kali) by secretly killing people. They did this by tactfully winning
the confidence of pilgrims and traveller groups and spending nights with
them. Interestingly enough, the religious group built a close rapport
with pilgrims and selected the "Sacrifices" to be strangled to death at
Julius Caesar, the Roman emperor ordered that all slaves and
attendants be burnt alive once their master died. The practices of human
sacrifice carried out by Celtic priests were absolutely in-human and
lives of thousands of people were sacrificed in multiple forms.
There were strange ceremonies that involved human sacrifice. For
instance, certain individuals were ceremonially drowned to death in the
name of the god Mutachus and some were hanged as a tribute to the god
Zeus. Sometimes slaves were packed into a structure resembling a human
figure and the entire structure was set on fire while the people stayed
trapped inside it.
Another form of human sacrifice - rather a self-sacrifice-is the
famous" Sathi Pooja in India where Indian women displayed their faith
and devotion to their husbands by leaping on to the blazing funeral pyre
of their husbands. This practice of self-sacrifice was in operation in
India and some Asian countries until it was officially banned. The woman
burning in the blazing fire of her husband's funeral pyre was
posthumously called Sathi Bharya (faithful wife) and was awarded the
best status that a living woman could not have reached during her
The Indian women appeared to believe that joining their husbands in
death would assuredly bring peace to him and the woman would have a
better, peaceful life at the next birth. Therefore, the ancient Asian
woman aspired to burn herself in the fire of the husband's funeral pyre
and it became a widespread practice specially in India until it was
banned by the Indian government.
The women are compelled to commit suicide within the framework of
concepts and attitudes of traditional Asian society. This itself was a
social tragedy because widows were viewed with certain amount of
contempt within Asian Society. The people directly related to the dead
person would consider it a substantial bad luck when the widow still
lived in the house of the deceased and would expel the widow.
The trend for self sacrifice was common in Fiji island where widows
were killed by their own brothers. This practice bears resemblance to
the Sathi Pooja in India in all respects but the difference is that the
widow had to be killed by her own brother living with them in the same
house (within the format of extended family system).
The tragedy surrounding Sathi Pooja is that the widow had to leap
into the blazing fire even against her will and if she avoided this
custom, her relatives stayed prepared to hurl her into the fire.
The practice which reigned supreme particularly upto 17th Century,
accounted for the loss of millions of lives of 'innocent' people.
The Indian communities specially the women were of the conviction
that Sathi Pooja was god's will and doing anything to reverse the ritual
meant opposing the god.
During the twentieth century, the Indian woman was entitled to the
privileges of free education and the customs related to self sacrifice
decreased considerably. But uneducated women in remote recesses
continued to practice self sacrifice because they coveted the title of
honour which they received after death.
The concept of self sacrifice once again became a topic for wider
discussion when a girl named Roop Kanwar leapt into the funeral pyre of
her husband in 1987. A large crowd expecting to witness the self
sacrifice had thronged around the funeral pyre and the eighteen year old
widow suddenly covered herself with rising flames.
The Indian government appointed a commission to track down those
responsible for this event and took measures to punish her relations for
allowing her to commit suicide.