Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Post death rituals in a Havyaka Bramhin family

This is intended to be a partly personal account of my observations of the rituals to be observed by the family of the newly departed in a Havyaka family. I say partly personal because while this account is supposed to list only what I observed without putting in what I felt at that point, my feelings will inevitably creep in. I further intend to make this not an account of the happenings immediately after the passing away of my maternal grandmother, but rather a generic depiction of havyaka rituals. This too might not always go according to plan.

First a short profile of the life of the dear departed. Mahadevi Joshi was born in BommanahaLLi village in region where Havyakas today are the predominant community in terms of landholding and to a lesser extent in economic and political power and to an even lesser extent in numbers. Though we cannot be certain of the year, various calculations and estimates place it anywhere between 1920 and 1924. Having lost her parents when she was a little more than a toddler to an epidemic of some sort, she went to live with the family of her maternal grandparents (the Ajjanamane). She married my grandfather at a very young age and as is the custom, moved in with the extended family that my grandfather was part of. My grandfather would later part ways with his brothers and establish a separate homestead. My grandparents were prolific in procreation and contributed liberally to India's population which witnessed tremendous growth in the middle decades of the last century. My grandmother would give birth 12 times, with 8 of her offspring living to a significant age. Of these the eldest two are males followed by half a dozen females.

The written word held no meaning to her due to the absence of any sort of formal education in her life. Her wisdom has been acquired by experience of a life rich in lessons even if it was not always rich in materials. She always had a proverb for everything and her behaviour was pragmatic if within the boundaries of her own world view.

I have always believed that a lot of the emotional behaviour that we see in people around us is to an extent conditioned by our exposure to popular culture such as through movies, literature etc. Since these often have exaggerated levels of display of emotion they have the effect making the consumer of popular culture a person given to freer expression of sentiments and even buying into a normativity where such sentimentalism is the norm.1 This theory was bolstered by the stoicism of my grandmother. To be sure I have not seen her weathering bad times financially. But long before I was born there was such a time, and by all accounts she had accepted her lot and made do with what little she had with nary a complaint. Not given to ostentation in appearance or speech, her attachment to people was founded more on a sense of duty than on affection.2 This duty based attachment often saw her doing more for those she felt the attachment towards than most people do for those they have affection towards.

With her health not being able to escape the vagaries of age, she had more or less been bedridden since 2008 and her health had been declining considerably since then. Then on the 22nd of February 2012, she was liberated from this world.

The immediate post death rituals are a bit hazy for me and have been collected by hearsay as I reached Sirsi several hours after her passing. However, one may surmise that a family member closes the eyes of the deceased and the limbs are laid out in a prone position to facilitate other rituals. The body is then clothed in white if it is a male, unmarried girl, or a widow. It is laid out on a stretcher of sorts. The heads of the sons of the deceased are shaved and they too clothe themselves in white. It may be interesting to note that whereas in the western world, black is the color of mourning, it is white which is a funerary colour in Indian tradition.3

The body having been placed appropriately, the visitors do their part in aiding the departed on their way to the afterworld by pouring water from toe to head. Care is taken here that once water is taken in the mug for the purpose of pouring on the cadaver, the mug is fully emptied there. The manner of pouring water also shows us the seeds of another superstition prevalent among my community. It is forbidden to wash from the legs upwards when we bathe. This is because it is only the dead who wash from the toes upward. As you read on, you shall find several other superstitions of this sort. A pot with coal and ashes is lit with several accompanying incantations which I have no way of recollecting nor reproducing here. But from what I was able to glean, they do no add to our understanding of this particular ritual.

Here starts sequence that might appear strange to those familiar with other rituals of the Hindus. As a general rule, the sacred thread of the twice born castes is worn over the left shoulder. The standard direction adopted while circumambulating any deity or object is a clockwise direction. Protocol usually demands that the eldest take the lead when persons are jointly involved in a ritual. Over the course of the various post death rituals we may see that these rules are overturned and even practiced in reverse. Of course the larger general rule might be that death is an inauspicious occassion and the practices associated with death are therefore contrary to the auspicious practices recommended for other occassions. The sons wearing the sacred thread therefore wear the sacred thread passing over their right shoulder on occassion and the children of the deceased (along with the spouses of the male children) walk around the body alternately anticlockwise with the youngest first and oldest last and clockwise with the oldest first and the youngest last. A pot with charcoals is which is lit is of ritual importance at this phase. The stretcher carrying the corpse is lifed by four pall bearers chanting “narayana narayana narayana” Or “Shiva shiva shiva” as the case may be. The crowd follows them with the same chant.

A word about the preists who conduct these ceremonies here. I learned later that officiating in such ceremonies is not very common nor is it very popular among the preists. First, there is the ritual pollution associated with these events. Secondly they themselves might not be too happy to frequent places of death. Some also believe that it is inauspicious to carry about or even have in one's house a written copy of the incantations and prayers associated with the funerary rites. This leads to a scenario where many among the priests are not really familiar with the practices and therefore it might in some cases be difficult to find a priest direct these formalities.

In carrying the body to the place of cremation, the body is lowered midway at a place where three roads meet and some rituals including the ones where the children of the deceased circumambulate the body, the sepultural party moves on towards the place of cremation. This intermediate ceremony includes a ritual bath to the dead body and from what I could gather is to propitate the demons and wild animals that the dead body be not distrubed till cremation. Coins of small denominations are dropped on the body and are later to be found strewn on the path for several days after. Puffed rice is also similarly strewn on the way.

Once having reached the spot of cremation with the body, the bedding and clothes of the dear departed are discarded. The rational basis of this practice is self evident. This was a way of preventing the further spread of the disease that might have consumed the expired party. Here, having placed the body on an altar of wood specially constructed for the pyre, logs of wood are piled upn the body to facilitate better combustion. The eldest son, or the person who will light the funeral pyre then having once again taken the permission of the deities to cremate the deceased picks up an earthern pot which is filled with water. He places it upon his right shouder and walks around the funeral pyre thrice. After finishing each revolution around the altar, a person with a small sickle makes a hole in the earthern pot he is carrying which lets out a small stream of water behind the person carrying it. After having gone around thrice, the pot is dropped without looking back. It may be mentioned here that in all instances including on the altar, the corpse is placed facing a southerly direction. The pyre is then lit. All the people are then given a symbolic bath by sprinkling of water on them. The eldest son then offers water and til seeds (yaLLu neeru) in the name of the family. The people assembled are handed some incense sticks, camphor and some bits and pieces of some sort of wood. The people then wait for the popping sound which indicates the flames burning the skull of the cadaver. They walk around the pyre tossing all of this into the flames before they offer their salutations with a namaskara. I have to admit here that I was just going with the flow without any clue of what I was doing. In offering the namaskara to a funeral pyre, is one conveying respect for the deceased or to the elements that are absorbing the mortal remains? Or is it the deities that one is beseeching at this point to accept the soul that is coming their way? Is it our way of acknowledging the supremacy of the cycle of lfe and death? Are we just doing it because the person before us did it? While we would like to think that it holds one of the deeper meanings tallied earlier, Occam's razor would lead us to the last. Who knows how many other rituals can be explained in this manner. Some items, including a pot, are left behind at the place of cremation. We shall get to know the significance of this as we go through the rituals.

Once this is done, the people gathered file out and back to their homes. Here they take a bath before they do anything else, for ritual purity. Food is cooked afresh and items cooked before the bath are discarded and not used. Food cooked now is technically not a full meal though it could be as filling. This essentially means that rice is not consumed as rice is considered the constitutive element of a major meal. The roots of this practice can possibly be attributed to two things. Firstly the grief of the bereaved impairs their digestion and it would be inadvisable to have a heavy meal. Second is the idea that the pollution of death be it the germs of the disease that might have caused the recent death or the sense of a deathly miasma which pervades the residence which might make the food cooked in such period impure and not to be consumed in significant quantities. Being a doubter in several regards myself I shall not seek to defend any of these practices as I might have already mentioned but I shall try my best to understand them.

Thus having completed the sacraments of the day of occurrence of death, the bereavd family retires. Here another aspect of the observance of general austerity is seen. The eldest son, who takes a central role in all the rituals relating to this does not use a mattress to sleep but rather sleeps on a blanket. Over the next few days I would learn that he does not venture outside the boundaries of his home and neither does he partake of any complete meal (i.e. Rice) for one part of the day which usually makes for an abridged dinner.

On the morning succeeding the cremation, the family visits the site of the cremation once again. The purpose of this second visit is to ensure that the fire has adequately consumed the mortal remains. A fire is started afresh if necessary and the unburnt parts are reintroduced into the new smaller fire. The practices that start from this second day onwards follow a similar pattern which will continue till the the 12th day with some deviations in between. The general pattern is as follows – The sons, after their first bath of the day, in a wet loin cloth, offer a small pooje and sankalpa in the name of the deceased to aid her on her journey. Cooked rice and a fried sweet dish called suttevu are then offered as food for the deceased. For the purpose of conveying the food to the dead, crows are employed (or is it the dead who come as the crows?). The calling of the crows is an interesting phenomenon in itself. A sound which may onomatoepically rendered here as “hoooy” is uttered at a high volume which seems to signal to the crows that the cooked rice has been placed for their consumption.

There is another set of rituals which go on only for a couple of days. This is the ritual at the tri junction of roads midway to the cremation ground. This pooje essentially reminds the spirit of the deceased that their remains have been burned and (a little mean if you ask me) that her relatives have now given her up. The intention behind this is that the departed doesn't linger on as a preta.

The afternoons are reserved for reading of the Garudapurana. I shall provide a short introduction to this purana here although I might again warn you that I read it not with the eye of a believer but rather that of a person curious to see what insights it might offer into the beliefs and practices of the followers of the readers of this text. The Garuda Purana is one of the Vishnu Puranas and the text itself is a conversation between Vishnu and Garuda who is his transport. Garuda's mother has been a pious lady but who nonetheless goes through several punishments after her demise. Garuda intending to know the cause of this asks Vishnu who elaborates upon several issues around death. The Garuda Purana begins with an account of what one may expect immediately after the moment of death. The sinful are warned that the moment of death itself will be very painful for them and they will be visited upon by messengers of Yama bearing nooses and rods. They lead him on by the neck and he is reduced to a pitiable state, hungry and thirsty. Here he receives the rice balls offered by hs descendants if he has been free of sin. The sinful then wander about in a forest till the end of the yuga. These rice balls, offered for ten days after the death, also have the effect of forming the body itself in the other world. This body is not the material body but an ethereal body. The dead is then led through many horrors, over the next two chapters, such as the land of excessive rain, desert, forest of sharp blades4. Of these, one may be said to be of ritual signifance. This is the Vaittarini river. A really dystopian picture is painted of this river. It is said to contain a flow of blood, pus and faeces. The banks have heaps of bones upon them.5 The sinful end up falling into this terrible river. The sinful person then has other tortures inflicted upon him. Yamaloka then while similar to hell in this aspect isn't analogous to the western concept of hell in other aspects. While the western hell is a destination, yamaloka is an interim where a person having taken punishment for his sins and having learnt his lessons can proceed on his journey and be reincarnated. During this time the pure and the sinful alike receive the rice ball offerings of his descendants. This goes on for an year (Which is why the maasikas take care of the requirements of the ethereal body for an year). 6 The next chapter deals with the various sins some of which are morally abhorrent even by standards of today and some of which might not make sense to the modern person. Some else might be politically incorrect today. For example, killing is a sin which is accepted as a bad even today. Greed was a sin then but it is today recognised as the driving force of the market based economic system. Drinking the milk of the tawny cow is described as a sin but it makes no sense today rationally or ritually. The Sudra is prohibited from studying the vedas which was a sin then but is politically incorrect today. One can find several instances that may be put into any of these categories throughout the list of sins. The next chapter dealing with the specific punishments for these sins is presented as a list of signs by which one may identify a person who was a sinner in the past life. Here some acts are introduced anew as sins which weren't contained in the list of sins. It is also important to mention here that these so called punishments are punishments only within the normative hierarchy of life forms that is part of the same beleif system as prescribes these punishments. A doubter like me might not see much reason to view a birth as a dog as much worse than a life as a human but that is not the stance which the Garuda Purana takes. According to the Garuda Purana human birth is the best a soul can attain and amongst humans a Bramhin male is the most desirable birth.7 There are of course several people who are steadfast in their belief of this order. Indeed the lady in whose honour this text was being read here wished aloud in her lifetime that she should either be born a Bramhin in her next life and were it not possible, she would like to be born a cow. Considering that the Garuda purana is such a grim text, it is not surprising that a prevalent superstition holds that one should not read the Garuda purana in a time other than in the days immediately after a death.

Garuda asks the lord that for mere mortals mired in their daily lives, it is very difficult to stick to the righteous path as their minds are clouded. They might inadvertently or in a time of weakness commit some sin. Is there then no remedy? The lord in all his magnanimity then prescribes a huge list of sacraments and sacrifices, upon reading which the right thinking person will immediately think that the list of punishments was not so bad after all. But then we Indians are nothing if not good “adjustors” and several such “adjustments” are introduced into the sacraments so as to make them performable.

A description of these sacrifices is best given along with the description of their actual performance and hence you shall read about it then. For now we shall return to Day two which was also the day of purchases for the several sacraments to be undertaken later. Arrangements were also made for customized postcards to be printed announcing the demise of Mahadevi Joshi. They also informed that the rituals of the 12th day shall be conducted on the 4th of March. One does not invite people to such an event and a mere intimation of the news is to be considered an invitation.

Another custom associated with the passing of a person is the gift of clothes known as Dukhada javaLi “mourning clothes”. The family members of the deceased do not celebrate festivals for a year. Festivals were traditionally the time to buy clothes and it would therefore make sense that people make gifts to the bereaved family who wouldn't be getting new clothes for the rest of the year. The post card informing people about the passing of my grandmother also mentioned that it would not seem appropriate in this case to accept such mourning clothes. The reasons that various relatives gave for this decision of not accepting these “mourning clothes” were different but all equally valid. One said that it would be a disrespect to go overboard on the mourning when the expired lady had passed after leading a full life. Another said that it is appropriate only when the bereaved family is not able to fend for itself. One of the main reasons that everyone voiced was that they had too many clothes as it is and a fresh onslaught of clothes would be only end up as clutter around the house. Yet another reason, voiced only partly was that clothes that are gifted or donated often do not match the taste of the recipient. Myriad industrial, economic and cultural developments have contributed to humans developing a diverse and subjective taste in apparel and it is very difficult to guess what a person would like to buy even if you see what he or she wears usually.

The third, fifth, seventh and ninth days are customarily days of visits from friends and relatives. The visit is of the nature of expressing condolences and making small edible gifts to the bereaved family. Since in this period the bereaved family does not cook any sweets, several visitors bring sweets or even chocolates. Some bring fruits and some others bring local or seasonal specialities such as sugarcane juice (Early march is a season for sugarcane juice in the region). The deathly miasma, if I may call it that, renders the bereaved family ritually polluted for various purposes. Some of these visitors will not accept any food from the house of the deceased and will go away without consuming anything. Yet others will simply peel the fruit that they themselves brought and eat it. The culinary ostracisation is observed not only by those come to offer condolence but also sometimes by labourers and others who might have occassion to visit the house. Even the street singers who otherwise find a happy audience, will not sing in the house of the dead, which probably is more to respect the solemnity of the passing, and won't accept any food or beverage as they customarily do which is linked to miasmic pollution.

The practices of offering a pooje and a sankalpa followed by an offering of rice balls and fried sweets to the dead via the crows continues on these days till the tenth day. The deities in the house are covered up and regular pooje is not carried out nor does anyone offer sandhyavandane. The family does not attend weddings, thread ceremonies and other auspicious functions. The sons of the deceased do not shave.

The rituals of the fourth day are important and deserve a telling. It starts with the offering of a special pooje to the departed both at the place where three roads meet midway on the path to the place of cremation and at the place of cremation itself. This is accompanied by the construction of a “house” of sorts with three sticks as pillars covered by a red cloth at both places.

The priest then explained that when children construct houses as part of their games, they are discouraged from constructing three stick houses as a three stick house is the house of the dead. Now while this may be interpreted as a superstition that construting a three pillared house will lead to a death. A simpler and more likely explanation is that where the three stick formation holds meaning as a post death sacrament, to see such a house in front of a house or by the side of a road would signify to the passerby of a death in the house or in the village. If children were to put up such houses for the sake of their games, it would give out a wrong message to the passers by who in earlier days might not have had other means of knowing of the death.

Continuing with the rituals of the fourth day, under the directions of the priest the bones of the dead which remain after all the flesh has been burnt off, are collected taking care to exclude the ash. If you remember from earlier in this essay where I mentioned that a pot was left behind at the spot of cremation, you will identify it as the pot that is used now to collect the bones. An offering of tender coconut is made to the spirits who dwell at the place now. The reader will here excuse me for my hazy rendition of the ceremonies of this day. I was running around a bit and failed to catch the rituals first hand. By my callousness I neglected to learn of it from someone else later. What I do know is that having collected the bones in a pot, the mouth of the pot is covered with a piece of cloth that is tied over it. It was a matter of interest that the cloth covering the pot was of a brinjal-purple color which was dear to my late grandmother. This pot, is to be buried with an identifiying stick either at the base of a peepul tree or near the source of water at a prescribed distance from the spot of cremation. This does not make sense to me. Would it not be prone to being dug up by animals if it is near a water source? A tile is placed on top of the pot perhaps to ensure that the pot and it's contents won't be damaged by rain or some weight from above.

Being an agrarian household, though not dependent on agricultural income alone, several items required for the sacraments and ceremonies were either within the house itself or were sourced non-commercially from similar agrarian households of relatives. However, there still remained a great number of purchases to be made. These purchases were mainly made on the 2nd day. I shall try my best to reproduce the list of purchases here in full but it is bound to remain incomplete. The purchases included 16 madi and accompanying shalyas, 40 bronze mugs. One big copper pot which was exceedingly pretty,8 a vessel to milk the cow with, a large bowl to feed the cow, half a kilogram worth of every specimen of the Navadhanyas (These are a set of 9 grains), 16 loin clothes and their upper body accompaniments, bedding material which includes a bed, bedsheets and pillow, a shirt, a few bronze mugs of a different shape, two bells for the cows, silver images of gods, a small silver figurine of a cow, a ring, a saaligrama (which is a smooth round shaped stone), haaLe bowls and plates, a small silver figurine of a boat, a few sarees, and a couple of lengths of cloth to be draped around the cow.

The purchase of the cow itself was done separately. An uncle searched far and wide till a spotlessly white milch cow with a calf was found. I kept shut about my newfound knowledge that in the scriptures, it is a black cow that is prescribed when the gift is to be made to a Bramhin. Indeed a white cow while appealing to the complexion biased eye, is not prescribed as an ideal gift to anyone.

A few words may also be expended in detailing the manner of selection of priests. The priest who officiated over most of the ceremonies was different from the one who was the family priest. There were a couple of people normally of the priestly persuasion who being related to the deceased, felt it inappropriate that they themselves take part in the ceremonies. They however volunteered to act in the role of consultants, if I may so name them. They suggested the names of quite a few priests and some more were invited from the maTha. An attempt was made to involve all the important priests from the area or those having some sort of linkage with the family. Care was also taken to invite only such priests as were likely to impart some meaningfulness to the ceremony. Warnings were received in respect of some priests who were avoided in entirety.

On the tenth day, the sons of the deceased are given a shave not only of their faces but also of their heads. The barber who does this shaving commands a steep fee indeed as he does not attend to any other customers on that day. He is also made a gift of a shirt, coconut, betelnut etc. The original prescription is that along with a ball of rice, a ball of meat should be given. However as meat has been proscribed by dietary laws later developed it is substituted by ball of the black lentil. The other oblations offered continue as in the past 9 days.

On the eleventh day, the various daanas or gifts are made to the Bramhins through the various ceremonies. However the actual presentation to the Bramhins is done on the 12th day. The important gifts are as follows. One priest with a family is given the bedding material. The significance indicates that it should ideally be a priest who is likely to procreate in the future. One priest is given the cow and the calf and all the accessories that go with it. Other priests are given the navadhanyas and other items.

On the 12th day all the children of the deceased are assembled and take part in the ceremonies. They together make 390 small balls of rice and 16 mid size mounds of rice. The sixteen mounds are for the 16 maasikas and the 390 are for each day of the year (with that year having an adhika maasa). They are arranged in a circle and notionally submitted as being an offering to sustain our ancestor in the world beyond. These are then given to the crows to be conveyed to the departed soul.

I should add here that throughout these 12 days the rituals involve a whole lot of coconuts and uncooked rice which is used in rituals and then given to the priests. I have neglected to mention them here for two reasons. One is that they don't always have much significance. Second and more pertinent here is that the instances are so numerous is that I lost count and have no chance of remembering it now.

The actual presentation of the daanas of the previous day is done on the 12th day. The presentation itself has several accompanying rituals. The cow and calf to be gifted, for instance, are anointed with vermillion and turmeric by several ladies. They are then handed over to a predetermined priest. Similarly the bedding is presented to a priest couple with several offerings on it. In this instance it so happened that the priest who was given the cow and calf was also the family priest and the priest who was given the bedding was the priest who officiated at most of the rituals from the very beginning. It is not necessarily so. Several other priests were considered for these gifts before these were settled upon. The Godaana is considered very important and is supposedly capable of erasing the sins of 21 generations of ancestors. The aforementioned copper pot was gifted to a temple. The cognate descendants9 then performed their Sandhyavandane having been prohibited from doing so thus far. The deities of the home were uncovered and pooje was offered to them.

Lunch on the 12th day was the most public of all the ceremonies undertaken thus far. It registered the largest number of footfalls as was expected. This is also a segregated lunch with the priests being fed separately out of separate utensils containing food that has been set aside for the priests alone. This then is the meal that is of ritual significance as prescribed in the Garuda purana and elsewhere.

On the afternoon of the 12th day, was a program that can be called the equivalent of a memoriam. The smaller gifts though notionally gifted on the previous day, were presented then. These included the bronze mugs, navadhanyas, madi vastra etc. More preists had been assembled for this and after the eldest son had gifted these to the priests and sought their blessings, it was the turn of the other children of the deceased. Each offered a fruit by way of gift to each priest and sought the blessings of each of the priests. With each of 8 children seeking the blessings of 17 priests, we may calculate that there were 136 blessings in that row alone.10 The main priests then spoke a few words about the nature of death, the observances, the ritual significance and what it means to lead life ahead. The eldest son then spoke a few words about his mother which moved all present, including the present writer, to tears. Then everyone assembled sought the blessings of the main priest. These blessings were accompanied by dry fruits and in the case of the family members currency notes of varying denominations. After initially conjecturing that the priest had given money of his own accord, we came to know that the money had been handed to him by an uncle for the express purpose of giving along with the blessings. This, it appears, is not an established custom and I failed entirely to grasp the significance of it.

The thirteenth day had some important rituals followed by a reasonably public lunch attended by a about 40 people. Some of these were those who were not able to make it on the previous day. Two photos of the deceased adorned with flowers which had been installed in prominent places were shifted to a more convenient place.

The fourteenth day had some rituals which were important only from the point of view that they mark a closure of the ceremonies to be conducted immediately after the demise. More important than the rituals themselves, would be the customs surrounding the 14th day. On the fourteenth day, having offered worship to the deities and having lit the lamps, it is customary to visit some relatives. In this case we (I tagged along with the children of the deceased) visited the households of the uncles of my late grandmother where she spent most of her childhood. On the way we leave an oil lamp and a stick at a tri junction of roads, the significance of which was totally lost on me and seemingly lost on everyone else as nobody seemed to be able to explain it to me. We also visited the house of the priest who had officiated at most of the rituals.

Tradition demands that the bones and ashes of the dead, which if you remember were kept in an urn in a hole dug near the place of cremation, be disposed off in Gokarna. It was felt that since it would be difficult to aggregate all 8 offspring of my late grandmother again, this occasion would be utilised for the purpose of disposal of these remains also. On the 15th day we set off to Gokarna. Usually this trip where the ashes are disposed off is undertaken a year or more after the cremation, sometimes taking several years. The priests there were contacted and the priests who customarily perform the last rites of the family were informed. The priests there made arrangements not only for the rituals but also for the food and washing up. The rituals are performed next to a body of water which is distinctly unhygenic known as the Kotiteertha. It is said that the water used to be clear once upon a time but now it is best left untouched. The rituals themselves are a little peculiar. Though they require the presence of several bramhins, these are done away with by substituting these Bramhins with notional Bramhins which are coconuts placed at spots demarcated by darbhe grass. These “Bramhins” are fed in a ritual completely separate from the actual feeding of Bramhins later. From this body of water Kotiteertha we then proceed to a place which is traditionally the spot of dispersal of the ashes and bones. This latter known as the Tamraparni is the horrendousVaittarini come to life. The bones of several people having been disposed here, it is not able to dissolve them all at the rate at which they are being dumped and they stay there rotting making for a horrible sight even for those with tough stomachs. Having disposed the ashes and bones here, we had lunch and made our way back home.

This does not end the rituals performed for the dead. For sixteen months a maasika is performed though this may be stopped after a few months. Every year a shraadha is performed which is to take care of the soul. But those are a different story alltogether.

In the ultimate analysis of all these rituals I would say that they are needlessly elaborate and not feasible for performance for anyone not situated in the particular circumstances this family found itself in. This family was not wanting for money or time. They had access to space and natural resources by which they could fulfill many of the requirements. Even so they had to resort to several “adjustments”. It would also not have been possible to conduct these rituals in such a manner had the death been of a young person or come unexpectedly in a sudden and shocking way. We should ideally try to locate these practices in the context of times in which they were developed and try to retain only those that are relevant even today or try to adapt them to today's socio economic conditions. In any case, it is entirely unnecessary to think of the conduct of these rituals as obligations upon oneself. There is also a negative side to this whole practice. The Garuda purana, instructive as it is, is a very good example of all that is systemically wrong with Hinduism today. Apart from being blatantly casteist, it tries to enforce a morality upon the believers with the threat of sanction after death. While it may have held sway in the past, it is not as respected in this age. The rethink of these practices is bound to happen. At some level my recording of these practices has been with the purpose of providing a first hand account of the old practices as practiced today so that when the rethink comes, the agents of change realise what they are changing from. It would be sad indeed if the new practices that come don't learn from the mistakes of the old. I hope I will be forgiven for severely cutting down on the rituals when the time comes for me to to perform them or indeed even doing away with them alltogether.

This essay is now far too long to have been entertaining or even interesting, if you have indeed read the whole essay. I hope you found it informative.

1This is quite contrary to the idea that lives are becoming more mechanical in recent times. Where once it was completely improbable that a husband should express his love for his wife on a regular basis not only in the honeymoon period if any but also in thick of domesticity, younger couples with greater exposure to pop culture see such expression of love as ideal even if not always practical.
2One might say that this is slightly insensitive on my part. I say that such a reading would only happen if the reader themselves were being judgmental and assigning normative values to the distinct bases of attachment. I for one feel that the sense of duty is as good or even more natural not to mention practical on a long term than an affection which is these days (mis)categorized as being naturally human. The second problem one might have with such a statement would be its veracity. Well, it's just might be my experience. Someone else might have had a different experience.
3It was at the funeral of Yasser Arafat where Lalu Yadav in a spotless white kurta appeared distinct amongst other world leaders all dressed in black.
4Bharat Darshan anyone?
5The smart ass in me here injects that this sounds pretty much like several pilgrimage centers in India.
6Upon reflection I realized that much of this is not consistent with either the Advantage philosophy nor even other Vedic sources like the parable of Nachiketa from the Kathopanishad. This should not lead us to think that all this is hogwash but should only tell us of the various strains of Hinduism.
7This is the form I have attained for the present birth. But there is no way I am attaining this high birth again. The punishment for deniers, disbelievers and doubters is quite severe. And Bramhins who do not recite Gayatri such as myself become a crane. And for the sin of speaking ill of the caste system I'm doomed to be a pigeon in one of my future births.
8By coveting that which has been given away as a gift, I am bound to be born as a snake in my next life. Or something very similar.
9If my legalese is too legalistic I may elaborate that cognate relatives are those that are related by blood only through male lineage. Such as sons, sons of sons, sons of sons of sons, father, father of father etc.
10That is so important is it not Vikram?

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