JauharJauhar (sometimes written jowhar) was originally the voluntary death on a funeral pyre of the queen or the royal women of defeated Rajput cities or forts in order to avoid capture. The term is extended to describe the occasional practice of mass suicide carried out in mediaeval times by Rajput women, or entire Rajput communities when the defeat and capture of a besieged city was certain.
The practice is usually described in terms of the women alone, but taken together with the death of the men on the battlefield. As generally described, the fighting men went out to certain death on the battlefield, while their wives died on funeral pyres. In some cases, all those who were capable of fighting went out to die on the battlefield, and all those who were not fighters, including children, the old and the sick went to the funeral pyres. There is extensive glorification of the practice in common histories. The extent to which any members of the Rajputs avoided death, such as by hiding among the remaining population of the city, is not usually described.
Jauhar was limited to the Kshatriya Rajputs, the upper and ruling classes and castes of the society of Rajputana (modern Rajasthan), and neighbouring areas. These included most of the fighting and warrior classes. The remainder of the people, who were generally Brahmins and the lower castes, did not participate in the practice, and hoped to survive the capture of the city. In some cases, such as with Chittaurgarh in 1568 the captors put the entire remaining population to death. Accounts of the captors finding a deserted city with no living residents are not true.
Despite occasional confusion, this practice is not directly related to the widow-burning practice of Sati. It is however related to high emphasis set on honour, including female honour in Rajput society. Both practices have been most common historically in the territory of modern Rajasthan. Both practices are derived from the common practice of cremation of dead bodies in Hinduism. Voluntarily going into a fire and thus removing the need to dispose of one’s own body, represents a taking of final responsibility for oneself, or is a final act of independence from society, or from the enemy.