Uhhh, I think this is a VERY symbolic scene, and it's not a far stretch to assume it has its roots in suttee. If you had a woman who was accused of heresy and while leaving the church she caught fire and burned, wouldn't everyone say that was an allusion to witch burning?
This woman is leaving her husband, in essence he is "dead" to her, and has been dead for 16 years (the length of time he has cruelly denied her his physical affection and love, one of the most selfish acts he could have done). When she catches on fire, he picks up granny and lets her burn, apart from being a very selfish and sinful person, he is also a slave to a tradition that ONLY serves men. She has symbolically burnt up long ago for her husband, and now he is allowing it to happen for real. To me it symbolized that she had been sacrified for him and was now burning on his grave, the grave of their marriage, the grave of a husband that was now dead to her. This was her sacrifice, and she is reborn and rewarded by now being with Sita. And what a reward that is, Sita is one of the finest women I have ever laid my eyes upon, and years after seeing this movie she still haunts my mind.
Suttee aside, I think the real reason this was such a big deal in India (apart from the lesbian theme) is because men are still "the king" over there, and any suggestion that a woman should rightly rebel against that is very upsetting. I doubt many women were rioting due to this film; I'm sure the participants were men who want to continue to objectify and oppress women.
Any place in the world that condones this type of treatment of women is NOT place of enlightenment, but rather a place of darkness and evil. Christianity gets a bad rap, often because of the backward fools that espouse their own version of the truth for their own gain, but the Bible very specifically forbids either a husband or a wife to deny their spouse sex, except for a VERY short time of fasting (that's three days or less). It doesn't just say that you *shouldn't* it is *forbidden* to deny sex from your mate. Of course if your spouse is physically abusing you or cheating or whatever, then that rule is superceded by another concerning sinning against your spouse. In other words, women who are being abused and so forth are not under the obligation to continue to have sex with their mate. The point is, what Ashok did to his wife is a sin in Christianity and forbidden specifically in the Bible. I don't think a lot of people know how liberating Christ's words were to women, and how wrong it is that any Christian man oppress, abuse or condemn his wife. Read The Song of Solomon sometime if you want to see God's view of how a man should desire his wife, it's hot stuff in places and celebrates the physical, emotional and intellectual beauty of women, and the sexual desire one should have for their wife. I'm not trying to cut another religion down, or evangelize for Christianity's sake, I'm just saying that a good way to decide if any religion is worth anything is to observe it's attitude towards women, and how it teaches women should be treated. Any religion that condones the ill treatment of women and the denial of physical love for one's spouse is not a religion of love or of truth IMO.
"...nothing is left of me, each time I see her..." - Catullus
Umm. I don't think its accurate to draw conclusions about a religion from how the people "practicing" the religion behave.
What Ashok did was his decision and don't forget how Radha thought it was a good idea as well. Until she realized that she only went along because of guilt and the sense of purpose to serve her husband. These are not common practices in India. The Householder path (one of the many) in Hinduism says that a man and wife after having raised kids and no longer serving society, can retreat into the forest and become sanyasi. Ashok reasoned that since he cannot have children, he might as well skip ahead to the ascetic part of the householder life. I don't know what else Ashok could have done. To continue to have sex would be just as wrong because they don't love each other, they were in an arranged marriage. But don't get me wrong, they believe love comes 'after the wedding.' But even then, that would fail because they don't have kids to look after and they don't have a romance as a back up to save their marriage.
Christianity teaches that the purpose of sex is to bond the husband and wife, but also to procreate. In Ashok and Radha's case, if they continued to have sex, it would be a sin because they couldn't have children.
I have to disagree with all of you. I don't think the scene had any reference to sati for the reasons you think. Sati is when a wife willingly jumps into her husband's funeral pyre because she doesn't want to live the horrible life of a widow (or she supposedly wants to serve her husband lovingly in the afterlife). Of course there's the expectation for one to jump into the pyre, but that never happens anymore. It only happens on occasion in remote villages. Symbolically, I can see how Radha sacrificed 16 years of her life (symbolic of the sati sacrifice), but thats only if you see sex and romantic relationships as life itself. And the fire scene did not even occur until after Radha decided to free herself from a loveless life. So how was that a willing sacrifice? Certainly a part was missing. And certainly thousands of women in arranged marriages are denied this, its not soly due to Ashok's celibacy.
Also, I don't see how this is related to the dowry murders. The men who did them, were greedy. But ashok by all means wasn't. He was brought up under the conservative ideology (which is not attributed to hindusim, one of the most unstructured and liberal religions of the world, but rather, indian society) that a wife's happiness depends on her husbands. In the end the reason why he walked away with granny is because he was confused about the homosexuality bit. And the women were brought up to think this as well. Ashok and Radha wanted a purpose to their marriage since they both lacked romantic love and children, and thats a good intention. Men who commited dowry murders gained money, but Ashok did not gain anything by walking away from burning radha. Fro what I see Ashoke lost his respect for Radha and gained confusion.
I would say the fire scene was an allusion at best to the dowry murders, which were very common during the 1980s.
The main symbolism of the fire is definitly from the Ramayana and the Trial by Fire that Sita was put through (or that she did voluntarily).
and on a side note:
"Christ's words were to women, and how wrong it is that any Christian man oppress, abuse or condemn his wife."
In that context, Christ was a social commentator, a prophet of those times. It's not only wrong for a Christian man, but for any man to oppress, abuse, or condemn his wife. And viceversa. Hinduism does not condone this. There are men in all societies (and yes, even in christian ones) that abuse their wives. Its a universal human thing, not a cultural or religious thing. I think you are confused on that aspect. I suggest you read up on Hinduism and Indian culture and the differences before you start critisizing the treatment of women. It happens everywhere.
Don't forget, India has women in many places of political power, including Indra Gandhi as Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi as the Indian National Party Congress Chairman. Compare that to many nations in the western world, India is pretty *beep* ahead. The majority of women in the cities (especially in Southern India) are pursuing university education and jobs.
Fire presented one very backward and conservative side of Indian society. But it doesn't not represent all of it. And I should also mention culture in India is not all homogenous. There are several states and at least 24 separate langauges (never mind dialects). But try not to generalize. Look for the universal themes and issues this film beautifully presents.
have you ever been to india or studied hinduism? you sound like someone whose first exposure to hinduism or indian culture was through this movie. you talk about how "christianity gets a bad rap because of some backward fools", does it not occur to you that the exact same thing can be applied to hinduism and the people depicted in this movie?
hinduism never had anything resembling the spanish inquisition, the crusades, or the mass forced conversions around the globe robbing people of their native culture. using that logic i could just as easily call christianity a religion of "darkness and evil" and say hinduism is better. nowhere in the vedas or upanishads does it condone the oppression of women. do some research before you try to judge.
and if you don't mind i would like you to quote in the bible where it says that you can't deny sex from your mate, but that you can deny it when you are a victim of spousal abuse, so i can see whether that's true or whether you just decided to invent it to make your own religion look better, as christians are so often prone to doing.