Death Ceremonies

Considering the number of times I’ve been through the death/post-death/death-anniversary ceremonies over the last three odd years it’s quite surprising that I haven’t really blogged about it. Maybe I considered the topic to be way to personal to blog about. Maybe I was so busy fighting relatives that I didn’t have the opportunity to observe things.

So most of the time during the death ceremony was spent with me shifting my sacred thread from left to right, and back, and back. The  basic idea is that for all death-related stuff, one is supposed to wear the thread from right shoulder to left waist (it’s normally worn from left shoulder to right waist). But then, considering that it’s a religious ceremony, large portions are also spent praying, and when you are praying to the gods, you are supposed to wear the thread the right way.

And then these two kinds keep alternating, so you spend a lot of time just doing that! To aid this and to save time, the upper cloth is tied around the tummy (like an auxiliary dhoti) rather than over the shoulders. And by the end of every such ceremony, you would have figured out when you’ll have to switch the orientation of the thread.

Then during the annual death ceremonies, there are two brahmins who help in officiating. Apparently there’s something special about these brahmins. Once, a couple of years back, one of these guys failed to turn up on time because of which the entire ceremony was getting delayed, and I hinted to an uncle that since he too is a brahmin he should deputise. And then this uncle (a rather religious character) gave me a long lecture about the processes and sacrifices that these “special” brahmins (who are paid a pittance – their daily rate is about half of what an average junior skilled worker (carpenter, painter, etc) makes) have to go through to allow them to perform their duty.

Now, it is as if one of these brahmins plays god and the other plays the devil (something of the sort). The “god” is always addressed with the thread in the normal position while the “devil” is addressed with the thread from right shoulder to left waist. The “god” is worshipped with rice, while the “devil” is worshipped with black sesame seeds. It seems as if the devil is somehow supposed to represent some kind of companion of the people in the afterlife – in whose memory the ceremonies are being performed.

This time we had struck a package deal (inclusive of all ceremonies, offerings, gifts, lunch, consumables, etc.) but on earlier occasions we were plagued by the priests trying to blackmail us by demanding that we give them expensive gifts, over and above the fees that we had agreed upon. And then once, by drawing upon a clever analogy, I managed to convince one of them that the gifts that I’d given earlier were like advance payment for services and that I’d pay only the balance. Unfortunately some relatives ridiculed me for fighting with the priest and made me pay him the full amount (yeah it was my money. none of these relatives coughed up a naya paisa)

The ceremonies are in general disgusting affairs and the only way to go through them is to just go through the processes. Sometimes, thinking about what kind of a blog post to write on the process can help take your mind away from random wanderings.

3 thoughts on “Death Ceremonies”

  1. I agree. When my father passed away in Dec, I experienced all these emotions first hand – When my “faith/religion” made it harder to get over the loss than easing the passage. I was not as observant as you were, in making these observations but I remember being distinctly bugged by the random nature of the rituals, and more so by the greedy priests….

  2. I think there is a degree of masochism associated with these ceremonies, with a good reason.

    Some arbit thoughts on why these ceremonies are designed to be unpleasant –

    I remember you theorising about Dowry as the net price paid by the father to the groom for taking the girl off his hands. Similarly, a son is supposed to pay back his debt to his parents (for having fed him for 20 odd years) by funding their old age. If his parents die early, Hinduism views this as a lucky break for the son! It is the equivalent of parents writing off the son’s debt. The Death ceremony is one way of making the son pay for his stroke of “luck” atleast once a year by tolerating the unpleasantness of the whole procedure.

    The more I think of it, Hinduism seems to be the most worldly and materialistic of all religions.

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