India Fire and Faith

Out of immolation, a goddess

The ancient Hindu rite of suttee, requiring a woman to immolate herself on the funeral pyre of her husband, was abolished in British India in 1829. But early this month, when her young husband died suddenly of gastroenteritis, Roop Kanwar, 18, a bride of just eight months, declared her intention to revive the grim custom. By that afternoon thousands of people had gathered to witness her immolation. After taking a ritual bath, the woman dressed once more in her bright red bridal finery. Sitting atop the funeral pyre with her husband's corpse, his head on her lap, she asked her teenage...