Matured Traditions?

Does our great five-thousand-year-old civilisation has matured traditions? Tradition is the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation or the fact of being passed on in this way.

These traditions are like fruit. Fruits must be eaten, consumed; otherwise, they will get spoiled or rotten. But we forget that to begin with some of these traditions are despicable and are not like a ripe fruit!  Like fruit, traditions become rotten if not changed with time.

I was reminded of a friend who died a few years back, all of a sudden. He was in the early 60 s, and his wife was in the late 50 s. It took its own time for things to stabilise in the family. The sudden death had changed many things in the family, but they were financially comfortable. Life for the lady changed drastically, socially. From Mrs, her title changed to the widow for the society. On one side, she was grieving, and on the social side, things became topsy turvy! In India, all through the year, there are a lot of festivals. Suddenly she realised that people stopped inviting her for celebrations because she had become a widow. The first change expected of the widow is that she should not put vermillion or कुंकू (Marathi custom of putting vermillion) on her forehead when the husband dies. It is supposed to be a privilege of married women or unmarried women. But widows are not supposed to follow that custom. By the way, the lady was running one company as a professional, so honestly, she did not care.

The custom explained above must have started ages back, and continues in most homes, irrespective of the lady’s stature in the society. When and why the tradition started is difficult to predict. But in olden days, a lady without a husband was a liability to the family, and she had no rights. Widow marriages were taboo. In fact, in certain areas in India, the wife would jump into the burning pyre of the husband’s body (many times she was pushed into the pyre). The unfortunate tradition known as Sati was prevalent until about 200 years back.

Opposition to the practice of Sati by Christian evangelists, such as Carey, and Hindu reformers such as Ram Mohan Roy, ultimately led the Governor-General of India Lord William Bentinck to enact the Bengal Sati Regulation, 1829, declaring the practice of burning or burying alive of Hindu widows to be punishable by the criminal courts. These were followed up with other legislation, countering what the British perceived to be interrelated issues involving violence against Hindu women, including Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act, 1856, Female Infanticide Prevention Act, 1870, and Age of Consent Act, 1891. Despite government laws, Sati practice was reported in certain parts of Rajasthan even in the 20th century.

The origin of patriarchal society must have begun from the days when humans started farming. The male body has always been more massive and robust than the female body. But the female body is designed for the most important and the most stringent function in our lives, the childbearing. Females have been mentally and even physically stronger than males in some respects! I am sure that most of the males won’t even think about giving birth themselves!

Males would perform functions outside the home, and the females would manage home and children. Somehow this got converted into a thought process that males are strong and vital, and females are weak and not so important in the society. But history had forgotten that human life expectancy was low in olden days when these traditions started. The real strength or weakness of a human is known past the age of 50 or now maybe 60!

Now consider my friend’s wife, overall situations have now changed. People live longer and healthier. The age of 60 is now new 50, and people keep on working, living normal lives. They drive, they go to the gyms, and they work professionally or run businesses. They travel locally and internationally. For people residing in cities whether you are strong or not hardly matters; people want to be healthy to work hard and enjoy life. In rural areas, though there is a lot of physical work still needed, things are slowly getting mechanised; so, the strength is not going to be so important over some time!

With such changes in society, why our so-called traditions should not change? When a spouse dies, it is tough and challenging for the remaining spouse to manage life. So, should our traditions try to help them back to normalcy or should we follow old methods to make their life difficult? Traditions are nothing but a way of life, but when the way of life changes, traditions also should be changed. There are no written rules in our religious scripts that after the death of the spouse, certain things should not be done. Death is life’s process, like birth or falling ill. It is like migrating to some other place in their own country or a different country. The difference is that this migration is permanent. We don’t see or meet that person again, ever!

I read one interesting story. Times of India, ex-chief editor Dileep Padgaonkar died some years back. His wife organised a party for Dileep’s friends and family a month after his death. Dileep had suggested that she should invite people and prepare food, and serve drinks that he preferred. I am sure that these people must have really liked the idea suggested by Dileep. In some parts in the UK, if a person dies past the age 80 after living a healthy life, the family throws a party called Golden death party!

People’s thinking is changing, albeit slowly. Our friends now openly discuss falling terminally ill or dying. What does this mean? People are trying to modify the way we live, the traditions! Some of my friends have already told their children about their sickness in old age. They have said that there should be no mechanical intervention like ventilator support!

On the similar lines why the widowed wife of my friend should not be invited for festivals, celebrations and functions? Is it a crime that her husband died? Why do we treat death with deference? Why are we afraid of death? Yes, death is the final adieu to life. Death is the last life process but should it be used to make living difficult for those living? It is a matter for those living to decide how to tackle the situation and manage things. Death should not be used to cut off the living from society! It is a personal matter for that family; tradition should be to take death in stride! I am very much aware that handling sudden demise of young people is tough!

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Death Rituals Revisited!

Hinduism and for that matter, the human race has been full of rituals. But the event of death is handled by humanity in many ways. Birth and death are two things common to humankind, irrespective of caste, creed and religion. We are following same rituals which have started thousands of years back. The birth rituals do not seem to be elaborate compared to death rituals. Why is it so? Even with modern scientific knowledge, we only know about the science part of the death process. But we do not understand the moral component, the dilemma of handling the death of loved ones. What happens after death? Is death good, bad or evil?  

One thing is for sure; death is an irreversible event that we cannot change, we cannot get the dead person back among us. Humans have different views about what happens after death. There are various stages in the rituals followed. Rituals probably start with the actual passing of a person. In modern times, some people donate their whole body to research. Some offer their organs which can be used by the needy. I am not sure what rituals take place when the entire human body is donated. But when the person gives away organs like the eyes, the medical procedure gets precedence over the rituals. Another change that I have seen in recent times is that we perform some rituals at home. So when we take the body to the cremation ground, no pooja is performed. We put the body directly for the cremation.  

Some Hindu organisations have modified the rituals to suit the modern times. These organisations want the family to understand what the procedures are. The priests explain these procedures to the family and the near ones. But all these rituals are not so elaborate compared to what we follow in old rituals.  

From olden times the 13th day after death has been crucial for Hindus. This day marks the end of the mourning period. The ceremonial feast marks the end of the mourning period by inviting family and close ones. This meal is an excellent way of trying to come back to normal after a death. After lunch, the guests are expected to give a small gift to the hosts — good idea of continuing with normal life.  

The younger generation does not prefer even this semi-modern ritual. This generation feels that this method is not ok. I discussed this with a young couple, who thought that all this was unnecessary. The couple had attended one such ceremony. The priest chanted the shlokas, the mantras, the hymns in Sanskrit, translated it in Marathi during the explanation where necessary. More than 50% of people present were not involved in the proceedings. The venue selection also added to non-involvement, as the peaceful atmosphere was absent.  

I always have questions in mind about all these rituals. I tend towards being an atheist, but I respect other people’s views too! There is no doubt that death is a sad event or I can say that it is not a happy event. But should the passing away be treated as something evil? When death occurs at a young age (There can be a difference of opinion about the word young), or I can say out of turn death, there is a shock, awe at the event! It becomes tough for all to accept such deaths. Under these circumstances coming back to normalcy can be tough but as usual, there is no option! Such deaths are painful to take. Others will find it difficult to tell the family of the dead person to overcome their sorrows; others will accept them for trying to find solace in some rituals. Ultimately everybody concedes such deaths as destiny. 

But when death occurs at an acceptable age, (Ok, Ok what is acceptable?) situations should be handled differently. Current average age at the time of death in India is around 67; with this reference, if the death occurs past 80, that should be acceptable. Everybody is going to die at some stage. So if death happens while the person is not bed-ridden, or if the person has had no long, painful years of illness, death should be celebrated! In certain parts of England, death beyond 80 years under the circumstances mentioned above, is observed formally as an event for celebration. It is called Golden Death party. 

I am not talking about aping the west, but why not celebrate such deaths?  Writer and Editor Dilip Padgaonkar’s family threw a party to family and friends, after his death, as per wishes of Dilip. In the party, food and alcohol loved by Dilip were flowing. Changes are happening in society, but they are very slow. The number of people taking part in such changes is minuscule, considering our population.   

From my discussions with people, and what I read, the traditional rituals are performed because, well they are being conducted all these years. The old methods of rituals need three to four days to be completed. In olden days, everybody had enough time. Going to work or office did not consume much time. Hence the rituals were elaborate and time-consuming.

In most cases, people performed rituals out of fear. Society looked at death as evil, an impure happening. If a cause of death was a contagious disease then considering death as polluted was understandable, though the description is incorrect. Hygiene standards in olden days were poor; these poor standards were the cause of contagious diseases. People performed many purification rituals (even today these are followed). I remember the death of a 74-year-old person who died a natural death. He was a non-believer. His family cremated him as per his wishes; cremation did not involve religious stuff. Nobody expected major rituals on the 13th day. When we got an invite to the 13th-day event, we had a surprise in store. They have two homes, one his bungalow and other his family home. The family performed the same ritual called “Shant”, twice. One at each house. When we checked the reason for the change, they performed the rituals because marriage was supposed to take place in the family at a later date. The evil in the form of death had visited their home; hence the residences were “purified”. Are we in the 18th Century? The family is supposedly highly educated.  

In today’s newspaper, I read a piece of exciting news. I am always excited when humans go away from rituals in which they don’t believe. A couple did a very noble deed. The husband lost his father due to old age. The couple calculated the cost of all the rituals. They arrived at a figure of Rs fifty thousand. They donated a much-needed hot water solar system to a residential school. Kudos Sir! The couple is from a small town, and we cannot describe them as a modern couple. Such people are showing the way to society. 

Friends, don’t become only outwardly modern. Change internally, follow your instincts. Look at the whole thing from wastage point of view. In various rituals Hindus perform यज्ञ; they sacrifice multiple items to the fire God. Every year millions die. We sacrifice many things like Ghee, Oil. These things are a total waste. We have a lot of people who do not get sufficient food regularly. People should donate the wasted food to the needy. Is the wastage of such priceless resources done because of fear? Is it justified? 

Jinx !

A couple of days back a new Metro line was inaugurated in Delhi’s NCR area. The occasion was graced by India’s Prime Minister, Chief Minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh and Governor of Uttar Pradesh. The line starts from NOIDA in UP and terminates within Delhi limits. The news item also said that this is the first time in more than 20 years, Chief Minister of UP has visited NOIDA. NOIDA is city of about one million population and no CM would go there, because those CM’s who visited NOIDA, lost their Chief Minister ship, immediately after the visit. So, the story spread that such visits are jinxed. In such a large city in the state, the Chief Ministers did not visit a major city due to “jinx”! This is simply unbelievable!  

On one side we are talking of Metros, Super Computers and on the other side we are talking of jinxes! Black cat crossing the path, evil eye causing havoc in lives! We are more scared of jinxes than of illnesses! Is it a way of finding someone or something to blame? In our universe there is some power which controls everything. Nobody knows anything about the power but we try to “control” it by taking action or performing some rituals. When something unpleasant happens, we call it a jinx. But when unexpected good event happens, we are not worried, we feel this happened because of my hard work. Problem is that we do not take life in stride, always try to look for easy solutions to anything unpleasant. It can be a ritual, it can be blaming the jinx.  

When we are true to ourselves, we know that chilly/lemon combination does not make the “evil” go away. Tying a black doll on the main door of our home does not force the evil to go away. The problem starts with the definition of evil. What is evil? Definition of evil is anything that happens out of turn in life, anything bad happens in life is evil. But what is bad? Is death of a parent bad? Yes of course, it is. But if the death happens at the age of say 80 plus, is it not a normal life event? Should this be treated as evil?  I don’t think so. In certain areas in Britain, death happening after the age of 80, without any serious health complications, is celebrated. There is party organized by the family which is called Golden Death Party! It is to celebrate good life lived by that person. In our culture also, after any death, lunch is arranged on a specific day, e.g. 13th day, and some sweets are served. The logic behind this is that we should bring the life back to normal routine, after the death!  

LimbuMirchi

In life when things happen out of turn, death of a young person in the family, sudden loss in business, a divorce in the family, sudden loss of an opportunity for higher studies, such things do happen. When such events occur, we feel that life has cheated us! To make sure that such events do not recur, we start following certain rituals. But does it really help? Sometimes events occur which are natural calamities, sometime due to market forces in the world; illnesses occur out of blue. By performing rituals, are you so sure that they are not going to recur? Events occur due to the reason that they are destined to happen in one’s life! We know of people who have never taken any alcohol, dying of liver cirrhosis. We know of non-smokers dying of throat or lung cancers. We have seen extremely fit athletes dying of heart failure on the field itself! This is destiny!  

The other day, I read an article about what people have done at Mandhara Devi, a famous deity near Satara, in Maharashtra. When it becomes dark people are sticking chits on trees, cursing whoever they want in writing and hoping that they will die in accident, or their houses will burn and so on! This is the reverse of the ritual. People feel that if they wish bad things for people in the mandir, their foes will really face problems! They forget that so called bad things happen as they are defined in one’s destiny and not by someone wishing bad things.  

One thing is for sure. Jinx and allied rituals are there in all cultures, world over. Human race cannot accept things happening out of turn; one interesting thing about rituals is black colour is used predominantly in rituals world over. Black Cats are supposedly bad omen but black Kohl dot on the forehead of babies is supposed to drive away the evil! 

 

In India, we see many Trucks with the famous writing on their back sides  बुरे नजरवाले तेरा मुह काला to drive away the evil! But that does not prevent some stray truck from ramming on the back side of the same truck! Let’s take things in stride and drive away bad stuff; it does not happen by way performing rituals.

BuriNazar