Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Rituals in Death


I picked lot of things from my grandfather, including a love for books. In death, he offered me some bits about the death rituals of Kashmiri Pandits. He also gave me a fear. Although he read a lot, he remembered little. And in the end he forgot everything. Because I too forget, I write...

Daddy and Badi Mummy clearing snow. Winter 1988. Srinagar.
With his youngest daughter-in-law and youngest grandchild.
21,  July 2013. Jammu
Mourning: the house is essential divided into two parts. One section for women and one for men. Frequent wailing sounds can be heard for women's side. In the men side there is mostly talk of bitter sweet past, sorry present and doomed future. 

5th August. 2013. Shakti Nagar Cremation Ground, Jammu. 
5th day
We go to the cremation ground to collect his bones and ashes. Among the bones is a bone known among Pandits as Porush (Man). It is part of upper vertebral column. The bone holds a special meaning as in its shape it is said to resemble a sleeping man, a symbol of departed body. While placing the body on pyre special care is taken by putting in in right posture to ensure that the Porush remains intact after burning.

Cleaning of the spot by sons
The spot as it is left by locals of Jammu - the Hindu Dogras

The spot as it is left by Pandits. Honey, sweets and candy is left
(possibly so that ants can do rest of the cleaning)

White radish or Mooli is an absolute essential part of the 5th day ceremony
 and is a must offering for the departed on this day. 




Mahakal Bhairava and his dog (s) at Cremation Ground



Still Day 5.
Ghat on Chenab river. Akhnoor.
Site for immersing the ashes.

In older times, in Kashmir, ashes where sometimes kept buried in a wall of the house till they could be immensed at Gangbal Lake in September.  Or, at Shadipur.
Pandit ji is a lot miffed when he finds out one of the daughter-in-laws is also present for the ceremony. It is pointed out to him that she took care of him like a daughter.  He says Kashmiri women come from the clan of Nagas, the snakes. Hence that headdress. Hence the separation.
Father and uncles remember Pandit ji as a haughty little kid growing up in lanes around Habba Kadal. Of course, his indignations are ignored. He believes in rules of Manu. He believes Kashmiris may be Jews, may be even Russian. He believes.  

Prasadh at the end of the ceremony. Walnut.

Day 10.
The departed is a Preta till it becomes a Pitr on completion of all the rites and joins the realm of previous Pitrs. A process that takes a year. The main rituals last for 13 days. There are talks among Kashmiri Pandits that 13 is becoming too difficult to manage. Working people can't be home for 13 days, that it should be reduced to 4. But the old guards and priests don't agree. 

Garuda Purana is remembered and recited.


Hindu afterlife Punishments given in Garuda Purana.
A poster found at a little shop in Jammu.  Febuary 2012.
Mother tells me punishment for those who waste salt is that they pick you up by your eyelashes.

An interesting custom on this day has the sons walking in between rows of relatives lined up on two sides. The relatives are supposed to put money in their pockets discreetly as they walk past. In a way they help them bear the cost of feast for relatives that follows the next day. 


Meat being prepared. 
In Kashmiri tradition if the meat is not prepared on this day then no meat can be prepared for next 5-6 months. So meat is prepared.
The cook was earlier worried because a relative of his was badly injured in a recent earthquake in his hometown Kistwar. By the end of the day, he is worried because there is news of communal disturbances in his town. By evening the disturbance spreads to Jammu. Mahaul goes Kharaab. In evening I go out to city to get some more Mooli from Mandi but return back half way because there are gangs on bikes roaming around with knives.

Evening feast. The Pandit ji also eats meat. 

Day 11. Army is out on the streets. The cook doesn't come. Aunts take charge of cooking.
The news in local paper is confusing. All it talks about is 'majority community' and 'minority community'. If you don't know the demographics of the area, you are forced to imagine who killed whom.

When the last ceremony is over and the Pandit ji leaves, a token pebble is thrown at him as he crossed the main gate...probably so that he does not return soon.



In none of these ceremonies is my grandmother involved. She was married to the man for about 64 years.

Day 12.

The entire city is shut. Early morning, I start out on a long walk to airport with father to catch my flight out of a trishanku'ian town.

-0-

January 17, 2014

It's been six months. Today, we cook fish in dinner,  offer it to the dead and feast. Pandits call it the day of 'till'. 

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