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It is during his return trip to Agra that Manucci, like so many Europeans before him, witnessed one of the most disconcerting Hindu practices, sati, the controversial custom of widow immolation on her deceased husband’s pyre. That custom, though involving only a minority of widows (specifically of the Brahmin caste), was widespread and deep-seated among Hindus and, as the Mughals realised on several occasions, difficult to eradicate.

Among all Indian acts of ritual violence, sati was the most striking and upsetting for European observers. They were suspended between horror for the widow’s suffering and admiration for her bravery. Manucci was no exception, and in more than one passage of Storia do Mogor, he lingered over rather crude descriptions of this cruel practice. Nonetheless, unlike other European accounts, he did not limit himself to describing with morbid accuracy the ritual of immolating widows; though revealing moralistic and chauvinist accents, he also asked himself what fate was reserved for those widows who refused immolation:

After a husband’s death, a widow adopts one of four courses. Those most sprightly and vigorous burn alive with the corpse of the defunct husband (. . .) Widows who on their husband’s death lose their modesty, depart as soon as…

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