Spiritual Living – Dying Rituals
I was reading about the practice of the Parsi community who leave their dead for the vultures. The article mentioned about the species becoming near extinct and the community was looking at other solutions of disposing off their dead.
Unsure of whether the concern was about endangered species or endangered communities or endangered dead people, I sat pondering about the relevance and sacrilege of these practices.
It reminded me of the episode surrounding my mother when her mother passed away. My mother was a stepdaughter yet never asked for anything more or cribbed about neglect. She never ever voiced it out, or ever compared herself to the other siblings, as it did not bother her any little bit. Perhaps this was troubling my grand-mom (who was the stepmother) with self-guilt?
When my grandmother died, the whole family of 13 siblings with their respective families – spouses, children, grandchildren made up the huge family of mourners. The ceremony of ‘feeding the crows’ is a ritual in Hindu families. All the favorite dishes of the departed person are prepared and left on the terrace for the crows and only if the crows have partaken the meal, would the family feel the soul of the departed person is at rest.
I still remember how not a single crow ate anything when we did this ritual for my brother who died in a car accident. We all knew he was not at rest as there was a whole life ahead of him and he was unprepared to go, leaving his young wife and daughter in this world. But we were too shocked and grief-stricken to analyze it then.
When this ritual was followed for my grandmother, the crows flocked around the food served on the traditional plantain leaf, strutted around but did not eat. Anxious relatives started sobbing, and few prostrated on the ground and started begging for forgiveness, if they committed any blunder. Some suggested adding another item to the platter saying ‘Ma liked this, we missed it’. But nothing happened. The crows were all over the food but not one crow pecked at the food.
That’s when one of the relatives remarked, that my mother had not come to the terrace. She hadn’t because climbing the steep staircase of the ancestral house was quite an ordeal for my 75-year-old mother. Some of the uncles then went down, cajoled her to make the effort. She quietly climbed those painful steps and folded her arms in prayer and beseeched the departed person to partake the food.
Next moment, the crows started pecking the food and peace was restored in the family. Does this signify the practice? Does it imply that my grandmother was reaching out to her daughter, telling her: you are dear to me too.
How many Parsees must be wringing their hands in despair when they are unable to complete the rituals for their departed members?
Our ecosystem affects not only the living but also the dead. Practices aside, it is so important to care for living beings around us. Vultures or humans:)
It also brings us to the question of how we live our lives when we are alive.
Life matters. Living matters. And so does death.