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During the 17th century Louis XIV of France sought to strengthen the power of the monarchy in France and to enhance France’s position in world politics. In 1664 Jean Colbert, his finance minister, established the French East India Company to develop French trade with India. Besides providing information on India for Colbert, Francois Bernier’s observations on sati influenced generations of Europeans. Educated first in physiology and later in medicine at the University of Montpellier, Bernier (1620-1688) considered himself a modern man of science. In 1658 he sailed for Surat on the west coast of India and by March 1659 he joined the entourage of Dara Shukoh, a imperial Mughal prince, as his personal physician and wrote a vivid account of the succession war among Dara Shukoh and his brothers for the Mughal throne. He then produced several long letters about economic conditions and religious and social customs in northern India. The excerpt below is from his letter dated October 4, 1667 to Monsieur Jean Chapelain that is entitled “Describing the Superstitions, strange customs, and Doctrines of the Indous or Gentiles [Hindus] of Hindoustan” “From which it will be seen that there is no Doctrine too strange or too improbable for the Soul of man to conceive.” Colbert had employed Chapelain to draw up a list of authors who should be considered for state pensions. The title and subtitle of this letter indicate that as a scientist, Bernier was highly critical of Hindu religious practices including sati. He claimed to have witnessed several instances of sati and to have persuaded one Hindu widow to refrain from self-immolation in order to ensure that her sons would receive a pension from the Mughal governor of Delhi. In this excerpt Bernier contrasts one Hindu widow who exemplified the voluntary sati with more reluctant widows and the options that they pursued and their

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