In India there are two main death ceremonies, one done on the day of the death or the day after, and then a Shradha, a ceremony where food is offered, usually occurring 10 – 14 days after the death. I suspect that one reason for this ceremony is so people who were unable to come immediately after the passing of the body are able to come and join the rites.
A. Ramana dropped the body on 15 February. The ceremony for his interment was posted a few days ago (click here to view). A Shradha was held on 24 February, 2010. This posting shares these rites with those who are interested.
The Shradha consists of an elaborate pooja, with people close to the deceased playing key parts in the pooja, and then a food offering. If the Shradha is held for a villager, the food offering would be to the crows (symbolizing the spirits of ancestors). For a holy man, the food is usually offered to sadhus. This is what was done for A. Ramana. In a Shradha for a villager, the key role would be played by the person’s son. With A. Ramana, this role was played by two key people in his life in India: Jan, who runs the Tiruvannamalai AHAM ashram, and Vivian, A. Ramana’s personal attendant for the last several years.
Getting ready for the Shradha
We arrived a few minutes before things were to get going. Few people were there and things were pretty calm and quiet.
A few sadhus were sitting an an area set aside for them. They were to play a key role today, those being fed in order to bring spiritual benefit to A. Ramana.
The samadhi has had much work since last week. Now there is a raised platform with steps that has been built, and a lingam has been installed.
The lingam is nicely decorated with flowers.
The covered porch area has chairs set out, and a few people are sitting and talking as they wait. A pot of chai is set out for people to drink.
People start arriving. V. Ganesan is one of the first. Standing with him, to his right, is KVS, a well respected figure from
Ganesan pranams A. Ramana’s samadhi.
Sadhus sit and wait. The white bearded one to the right kept flashing a thousand-watt smile at me all day.
More people are sitting under the porch.
Radha Ma (Radha Giridhar), a woman seen by many here as a holy woman, sits between Carol and KVS. Her house is very near to the AHAM ashram.
Theresa, from the AHAM ashram in North Carolina is here with a video camera, recording the proceedings.
Mani, from Ramanasramam, arrived with his wife. He is speaking to Jan in the photo below.
More sadhus have gathered. The one all in white, some say is the successor to Coconut Swami. I posted recently about him in this posting. I do not know his name. I observe that he seems to have some special place in the sadhu community, leading chants and singing.
Mani and V. Ganesan talk. They are two of the three grandnephews of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Mani and Sundaram run Ramanasramam. V. Ganesan has followed the spiritual path.
Swami Ramanananda, who is supervising the Shrada today, checks out the samadhi.
He and Ganesan chat before everything starts. They may be coordinating, since Ganesan will also play a key role in today’s Shradha.
Many bags full of pooja items are brought in. The swami in green. helping with the Shradha is Rajasekar Swami.
People stand in the shade, waiting for events to unfold.
Pooja items are set out on the samadhi. This man is slicing lemons into halves for later use.
The samadhi is cleaned and the flowers removed before things get underway.
The lingam is washed to start things off. Jan (in white) and Vivian (in red) are to the right.
The lingam is first anointed with oil.
Then washed again. Throughout today’s pooja, all the items go from the pujari, through the hands of Jan and Vivian, and then onto the lingam. They participate fully in every step along the way.
Next, a fragrant sandalwood paste is poured onto the lingam, and spread around it.
Then washed off.
Next is a bright yellow turmeric paste.
After washing, another dense paste is applied. I am not sure what this is.
After another washing, curd (yogurt) is applied. Note that an elderly Indian woman, Pachiama, who lives near the ashram, adored A Ramama, and knew him for many years, now has involved herself in the proceedings.
The washing (now with an extra hand).
More water poured on the lingam.
Fragrant oil is poured into a bowl of sacred ash (vibhuti), for later use.
The juice from several tender coconuts is poured onto the lingam.
And the lingam is washed.
The lemon halves are squeezed onto the lingam.
And the lingam washed again. These poojas sure use a lot of water!
Now a fruit salad is spread onto the lingam.
People watching. The sadhu in yellow, to the left, is named Ramana (one meaning of Ramana is “He who revels in the Self”). They called him over to lead chanting during the pooja. “Arunachala Siva, Arunachala Siva, Arunachala Siva, Arunachala.”
The fruit mixture is collected. It will later be used as prasad, and offered to those who attend this rite.
As the lingam is washed, Radha Ma and two other women watch.
Now is a milk bath.
Then, after the washing, honey is poured through the three hands onto the lingam.
Then another bath.
The vibhuti mixed with aromatic oil is then caked onto the lingam. It is then collected for later use.
After the last bath, the lingam is then dried. It is then dressed, with two dhotis – one around its ‘waist’ and one around its ‘shoulders’.
Flower malas are ready to be put on the lingam. Ramana continues to chant.
Many malas are put on the lingam.
Vivian puts a mala on the lingam. One last act of attending to A. Ramana. This mala was from Ramanasramam, from Bhagavan’s shrine.
Jan puts a white mala on the lingam.
Then an enormous mala is brought out …
and placed on the lingam.
Next, handfuls of flowers (roses, I think) are placed onto the lingam. This is an honor first given to those closest to A. Ramana.
Vivian carefully places flowers.
Bananas, too. Look at that bed of flowers!
Around the edge of the samadhi, a row of roses is arranged.
What a beautiful display of flowers to honor A. Ramana. You can see the top of the lingam peaking out.
Now pictures of A. Ramana are brought out and placed on the samadhi.
A sadhu stands close to the samadhi for a good look.
Next, decoration of the photos of A. Ramana.
Sadhus look on.
These sadhus start singing, led by the white-covered swami.
Then, after asking the swamis to pause, V. Ganesan started a chant as he, Jan, Vivian and the pujari started throwing more flowers and sacred leaves onto the samadhi.
Swami Ramanananda has a seat in the shade, and is happily watching. The pooja has gone off without a hitch, and I think this has made him happy.
Ramana continues to chant. You can see the intense devotion in his face as he sings.
More flowers are tossed onto the samadhi.
A few sadhus come to the samadhi and also toss flowers onto it.
The white dressed swami looks on.
More sadhus watch, dressed in different shades of saffron robes.
The sacred camphor flame is offered to A. Ramana…
while a coconut is being broken to add to the samadhi decoration.
V. Ganesan bows to the samadhi.
As do Jan and Vivian.
Then people walk around the samadhi and take an offering of camphor flame unto themselves, and dot themselves with sacred ash and red kum kum.
A line of sadhus watch, standing in the shade of the building.
Ritual feeding – The key element of the Shradha.
The fruit salad prasad collected from the lingam is then offered to the attendees…
while an eating area is being set up under the porch.
The sadhus walk in.
And take their seats.
Several rows of sadhus are seated. I think I heard that 54 sadhus were invited today.
I love the white beard on this sadhu.
Food is placed on their plates.
They don’t start eating. They are chanting, led by the white-dressed swami.
Bags of clothes are brought in. These are two sets of saffron dhotis and clothes for each sadhu.
The clothes are given out.
These two sadhus wait their turn.
After receiving his bag, this sadhu looks in the bag to see just what he was given.
The white-dressed Swami continues to lead the chanting.
Now rice is being served. Lunch must be close!
Then something I did not expect happened. They brought out flowers, and placed one on each sadhus head!
Then dotted their foreheads with sandalwood paste,
and brought around a camphor flame to bless each swami.
Then the flowers were collected.
And finally it was time to eat.
Yum. The food and other offerings are made so that the swamis are thankful to A. Ramana and will add their blessings to him. (As if any more blessings are needed).
The sadhus then walk out, carrying their new clothes in the bags. They were each given ten rupees as well.
The smiling swami blesses me. Thank you, Swami!
More sadhus walk out, happy with the rites, meal, and all the gifts.
Some of the sadhus stop at the samadhi on their way out.
The samadhi is so beautifully decorated. It leaves a lasting memory for us all.
V. Ganesan talked to me this day about gratitude. He said that gratitude was an important part of Ramana’s teachings.
I think that we should be grateful. We have been given so much. We have been given teachers. We have been given holy scriptures, and listening to them (or reading them), reflecting upon them and deeply meditating upon them reveals the truth of these scriptures within our heart, and that we are never apart from grace, here, the grace of Arunachala. Finally the scriptures teach us that we ARE that Grace, without any differences. Gratitude helps us open our hearts to the truth, so that we can then stand as the Truth.
There are considerable costs involved in construction and ongoing support of this samadhi. Donations are needed to help fund this. If you are able to make a donation to AHAM, please go to their website, www.aham.com and see how you can help. Also you might want to read a tribute page they have posted. Click here to go to the page.