Sunday, February 9, 2014


I've tried to describe the Jain ritual of Sallekhana, which is fasting to death. The vow of sallekhana is taken when one feels that one's life has served its purpose; when one has no wishes/ambition/desires left, and no responsibilities remaining in life. It is also allowed in cases of terminal disease or great disability. The purpose is to purge old karmas and prevent the creation of new ones. If you want to know more about it, you may read 'The Nun's Tale' in a book called 'Nine Lives' by William Dalrymple. You may also see the wikipedia page on Sallekhana. Here's the link- 

Sallekhana is not suicide. 

Sallekhana can never be 
a violent reckless freefalling 
plunge into that self-destructive 
hellward spiral born of despair. 

Yes, Sallekhana is a fast 
unto death, but is death the End? 

Isn't the human body a mere 
vehicle that takes the soul on 
its journey towards the greatest Truth? 

Can one life ever be enough 
to know all there is to know? 
For the body is an object 
that will slowly come to ruin. 
One day it will fail to serve you. 

Death by Sallekhana is just 
like phasing out an old car as
lovingly and gently as one 
weans a babe off the Mother's breast. 


  1. wow, I've never heard of this before and you've described it very well, thanks for the enlightenment

  2. Wow, I had never heard of this either...what you write makes a lot of sense, but I would have a hard time watching happen with someone I cared about. I am really struck by your last two stanzas...thinking about them.

  3. I'd never come across the words that describes this. Thought provoking piece.

  4. I had never heard of this, really makes you think. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful words.

  5. This strikes me somewhat like elderly Eskimos who would walk out into the winter at the end of their have written this well. I especially like comparing the body to an old car that has run car and I are in about the same state of disrepair! 500,000 kms on our mileage indicators.

  6. I had never heard about 'sallekhana' before. Thank you for your introduction through your poetic words. "Can one life ever be enough / to know all there is to know? ' - probably not but I suppose this is part of what makes life exciting.

  7. I have not heard about this before. that's why we are always learning new things from this community.
    thought-provoking piece of writing. your words do ring true. the body is just a vehicle "that will slowly come to ruin."

  8. Utterly wonderful piece, Mad. I always enjoy your voice and perspective, your grasp of subtle meanings and ability to clarify. I am certain that yours is an old soul as you are wise beyond your years.

  9. I had no idea about this Sallekhana ...but your interpretation of the ritual turned out to be amazing ! wonderfully done Madhu :-)

  10. I am sure some people can will themselves to die. Will research Sallekhana.

  11. It does sound so unlike suicide, done with consciousness and letting life/death take its natural course. I have heard of it but didn't know it had a name. Older people sometimes do it naturally. Scott Nearing of Living the Good Life did it.

  12. I have never heard of this practice, but I have to say, as a supporter of people's right to die as they wish, it must take tremendous courage to starve to death. I agree, it is not suicide; it is the final cleansing of our time on earth. This I must look into more. Thank you for the introduction to my new thing to learn today... and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. This concept, along with this poem, moving. Amy