“Echoes of History: Pietro Della Valle’s 1623 AD Expedition to Ikkeri and the Tragic Tale of Sati”

Pietro Della Valle

In the year 1623 AD, Pietro Della Valle, an Italian traveler, embarked on a remarkable journey to Ikkeri(the Capital of Keladi) during the Hiriya Venkatappa Nayaka period. Little did he know that his encounter with a local widow would lead him to witness a practice deeply ingrained in the culture of the time – the ritual of sati.

Its during the festival of lights Deepavali in the capital of Keladi-Ikkeri he encountered a ritual practice of ‘Sati’ in the city.

She rode on horseback with her face uncovered holding a looking mirror in hand and another hand with a lemon, carrying a big umbrella over her and it’s a ritual practice procession around the city for the farewell ceremony.

It was said that she was to pass this manner around the city and the Della Valle didn’t mention how many days pass this. At the end of the day, she was going out of the city and being burnt amidst greater championship and solemnity.

On the next day enquired about her house and visited their house In that place, I witnessed her seated within a courtyard, while another individual played a drum in her vicinity. She was adorned in pristine white attire, bedecked with a plethora of necklaces, bracelets, and various gold embellishments. Atop her head rested a garland of flowers, their arrangement reminiscent of the sun’s radiant beams. To put it succinctly, she was entirely attired in bridal finery, cradling a lemon in her palm, a customary gesture for such ceremonies.

She introduced herself as Giaccama (also known as Jakamma), belonging to the Telinga (Telugu) lineage. She informed me that her late spouse had been a drummer, a revelation that piqued my curiosity further. It struck me as remarkable, given that acts of heroism, such as the one she was undoubtedly exhibiting, are quite uncommon among individuals of humble backgrounds. She revealed that it had been nineteen days since her husband’s passing. He had previously wed two other women before her, both of whom were present during our conversation. Interestingly, neither of them expressed a willingness to undergo the ritual self-immolation, citing numerous children as their reason for abstaining.

This circumstance led me to inquire of Giaccama, who proudly introduced her young son, approximately six or seven years of age, in addition to a little daughter she cared for. I questioned how she could find it within herself to depart from her tender children. Her response was that she had entrusted their care to a present uncle, who was also engaged in our conversation, exuding a cheerful demeanour. I persisted, focusing on the youthfulness of her offspring, hoping to sway her from her resolve by arousing her maternal compassion. I recognized that there is no more compelling argument for a mother than the profound love and affection they hold for their children.

It indeed stands as a profound honor, a sentiment echoed not only by Giaccama herself but also by her family members who hold her in high esteem. I ventured to inquire about the significance of the intricate adornments and vibrant flowers she wore. In response, they conveyed to me that such embellishments are part of a customary ritual, symbolizing Masti (the term used to refer to a woman who has resolved to sacrifice herself in the flames following her husband’s demise). Her current state of bedecked attire was emblematic of her impending reunion with her husband, a prospect that engendered a sense of celebration. This is in stark contrast to other widows who choose to continue living in a perpetual state of sorrow and lamentation. They shave their heads and dwell in constant mourning as a testament to their enduring grief over the loss of their spouses.

Finally, Giaccama arranged for someone to convey to me her sentiments, stating that she regarded my visit as a stroke of great fortune. She considered herself greatly honored not only by my presence but also by the recognition that my visit bestowed upon her. The reputation of her story, which I would carry back to my homeland, added to the sense of prestige she felt.

I assured her that I would do my best, with the limited power of my writing, to ensure that her name would live on eternally in the annals of the world. And so, I bade her farewell, departing with a heart heavier than hers, left disheartened by the unyielding traditions of India that so mercilessly affect women.

Giaccama (Jakamma), was approximately thirty years old. Her complexion, though darker than the norm for an Indian, almost approached black, yet her countenance bore a pleasing demeanor. She stood tall, with a well-formed and balanced physique that showcased her elegant proportions.

~ Source: The Travels of Pietro Della Valle in India

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