Tuesday, August 01, 2006

July 30th

Goodies for the deceasedSunday 30th was the anniversary of my grandmother Nalinima's death. Actually we had quite forgotten but Tukaram and Parvati reminded us about it and said they would like to observe it with a puja. We just needed to be there for the ritual lunch. On this day, the dead person's favourite foods are prepared and put on a thali which is then laid out in the garden as an offering for the crows.

There is a small ritual where each of us is expected to show respect to the departed one by sprinkling a little of the red kumkum and some other powders, uncooked rice and water onto the plate before it is kept out. So we did all that and settled down to eat. The lunch was delicious - Nalinima's favourite dishes. There was a dal, some plain dosas with kofta curry, "patrado" which is made out of the leaf of the banana plant, sweet kheer. Quite a spread.

Saru, Parvati and Tukaram


Dwight said...

Do I spy chocolate on the thali!

Stardust1954 said...

Do I spy chocolate on the thali!

My eyes went right to the chocolate, too!

umarang said...

You guys are sharp. It was indeed chocolate. My grandmother's favourite food.

suresh said...

It is also the Karkadaka maasam.. the auspicious hindu month of Cancer in which south-indians dedicate a particular day to offering food for the ancestors..

I celebrated the same, wherein I offered cooked rice with sesame seeds, on banana palms, in the temple compound. People wait (hiding away behind pillar posts etc) watching for the crows who come one by one to eat the food. At Nashik, where I had been for my father's last rites, I was astonished to see that the first bite from such an offering is always taken by the king-crow (which is bigger than the normal crow, and blacker) and then the normal crows eat the left-overs.

It is interesting to note the reason why the food is offered. It is said that the soul of the deceased would not allow the crow to eat the food if he/she is still unsatisfied in the other realm. If the crow takes a bite from the offering, it is to be assumed that all is well with the soul-departed.

Ha ha! That is just something I have heard from others. You may want to verify this independently though..

umarang said...

Suresh you have a wealth of fascinating info about Indian customs. When my grandmother died the crows swooped down in a minute apparently to get at the food so everyone was quite happy. This time there were not too many crows around - so I dont know what happened. But once the soul has happily departed into the other world can it still become unhappy -I thought the rules of the Otherworld were different! That up there they were a bit more stable than us poor humans on earth.

suresh said...

Hi Uma,
There are different theories about why food is offered for the crows to eat, in the ceremony dedicated for the peace of the soul-departed.

One is that the dead appear as the bird after death to take the final offering of food for itself.

Another states the one that I described in the comment I wrote last… i.e. the souls watch over the foods offered to them, and don't allow the crow (regarded as the messenger of Yama, the God of Death) to stoop over the food to eat, until their final wish is fulfilled.

Other states that the food and water offered to the dead are for their smooth transition (journey) from one invisible sheath of body (preta) to another (pitr)… which lasts over several days or more.

However, then there are certain rites (like Homam) that can be performed (call it the final surgery, when medicines fail)… for the peace of all those dead and gone in one’s family lineage... i.e. for their peaceful departure from restless states (from the status of a fugitive to the status of pitr or ancestor.) These take care of up to 15 generations of ancestors etc.

For me, it is more of psychotherapy ... a ritual meant for human beings to think of all those who came before them in their family lineage and make peace with them all... (so as not to curse them subconsciously for one's state of affairs today). Perhaps that is what it meant for me.

When I offered food for them at the temple, or when I sat at the homam meant to absolve myself of all the curses (intention of bad tidings befalling the family lineage by people hurt), I pondered over all my ancestors and the people close to them or otherwise, who must have existed over different periods in history, in times of different beliefs and cultures, and all the suffering, joy and seeking that they must have gone through in their individual life-times. I wondered where they have all gone now, if there are other realms where they exist still, or are reborn…

I wondered if people related to me in my previous birth still follow customs to honour their dead, and if their observance of certain rituals mean that I am relieved of some of my previous-life karmas, so as to make it a smoother sailing for me in this life-time.

And in all this I see the Grand Celebration, celebration of life, death and creation. The vast creative energy manifest in man and Nature, that rejoice in creating- whether creating thoughts, rituals or life.

As the prayers in our ancient hindu texts says- Even when I am cursing somebody I am singing Your praise O Goddess of the Universe. Even when I am sleeping I am in Samadhi of you. When I am talking it is Your praise. Even when I am acting in ignorance it is your worship..

Each and everything we do, even washing our hands at the sink, is celebration of the Spirit of creation… An expression of life, Nature; that One Truth expressing itself even in the dead –est of forms like the stone (all those electrons and protons in its atoms moving in a thousand different ways!) …

When you look at the Universe you see that she is one vibrant Life-form… All alive and pulsating… rejoicing… whether in death or in life, in suffering or joy…