South Indian Village Funeral

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Recently, in the village in which we live, a woman died. She was the mother of a man we work with, Ramesh, in the Quality of Life Trust. That afternoon we heard the drums, typical of such funerals, and Ramesh called us and asked us to join him. We walked about two hundred meters to the village and spent the next few hours there. We asked for permission to take photos, and some of these are in this article.

As we enter the village we see people gathered under an awning. The mother’s body is in the center of the group on her bed. People are gathered around the body grieving and paying respect.


Ramesh is sitting with the men. He’s in the middle.


Drummers are important to the funeral. Their music announces the death to the village. After the drums start, people come from up to one km away to join in the ceremonies.


Often the sexes are separated. Here, naturally, the women and men seem to select different areas to sit.


Much of the activity of the afternoon was in preparing the car that would take Mother to the crematorium. First a wood frame is built.


The village boys seeing the camera naturally want to pose for a picture. Here they are looking tough. We’ll make some prints of this photo and give one to each boy.


They have started to decorate the car. Notice in the foreground bamboo sticks covered with flowers. These are bent and inserted into the frame for decoration.


The women, grieving, would approach each other and stand and beat their chest in a gesture of mourning. Then they would get into a group hug circle and sink down into a squat. They would moan and cry together, swaying back and forth.

This death was particularly painful to the village women. Mother was only in her mid fifties, young to die, even for an Indian village woman. She had had a hard life – her husband died 15 years before and she had to support the kids without much help from anyone. Somehow she was able to send at least  one of her boys, Ramesh, through college. Ramesh said that she was very sad though, due to her deep poverty, and especially due to the fact than none of her children were married, and she had no grandchildren. This made her fail like a failure as a mother.


The villagers are working on the decorations for the car. Here they are bending the flower-sticks and inserting them into the frame on the back of the car.


Now they are adding the flower malas to the central frame on the car.


Decorations are nearly done.


As new  people join the funeral the drummers escort them in, and ‘drum them’ into the group. Here a man is dancing as people bring puja items into the funeral.


Now they start to prepare Mother’s body. They will clean up the body, re-dress her in a fine sari, then perform puja, before placing her body on the decorated cart.


Ramesh (second from left) is here helping prepare his mother.


The men are getting puja items ready.


Water for the puja is being poured. This was not only sprinkled onto mother, but onto the people in the crowd. They especially sought out Mother’s three children and made sure they got pretty wet.


Now Mother is fully prepared.  Such loving care was taken in this preparation. And this was something that almost everyone in the village took part in. Very much this was a village ceremony, not just something done by the family.


Mother was then carried to the car. I took part in this. She seemed so tiny, so light. She had been ill with cancer, supposedly, and stopped eating three months ago. Ramesh and his two siblings had taken her to several doctors for cures, and, as a last resort, took her to a “miracle shrine” when the doctors didn’t improve her health.


Now the car is off to the crematorium. The drummers will lead the way, then the car and the mourners.

The bodies are cremated on the ground in a nearby graveyard.

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She died this morning. The funeral was in the afternoon and evening. The cremation was the evening, the day of the death. This same-day funeral and cremation is typical for funerals in Tamil Nadu.

Related Post:

South Indian Shraddha

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One Response to “South Indian Village Funeral”

  1. Travelmans Blog - Travel around the world » Blog Archive » South India Travel Tour Information Tips Says:

    […] tourists, beggars, salesmen and palm readers, but becomes even busier during temple festivals. Madurai has flight connections to Chennai and Mumbai, and train and bus connections around South […]

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