Kinship affinity is seen at its peak in funerals and other occasions of
social gathering. In all these ceremonies, there are fixed rights
and duties for the maternal relations example, a widow's white dress has
to be presented by the head of; her mother's family. They have to bear
a small part of the funeral expense either in cash or kind
as a token of sympathy.
Tamil tradition avoids saying that a person is dead.
Instead it is stated that the person has attained a position in heaven,
the world of Lord Shiva or that he has reached 'Paramapadham', the
abode of Vishnu or 'Pallipadi Yethinam' i.e. reached the land of dead.
It is considered a boon to die on Margazhi Thiruvadharai
day in December-January or on an Ekadasi day. Death during a festival
period in the village is considered unlucky for the dying person
since no music can be played before funeral houses; at such
periods and so the person has to die 'unsung'.
Death on a Saturday is believed to lead to another death
in the same household. The saying is 'Sanip-ponam Thaniye pokathu' i.e.
a dead body does not go singly on Saturdays. To circumvent the effects
of a death on a Saturday, a portion of the house where death has occurred
is dismantled or a new exit gate created to remove corpse. Sometimes;
a fowl; is tied to the bier and buried or cremated along with the
When a person dies, the chief mourner is his wife. She
breaks her bangles, loosens her hair and laments his death. The
period of mourning; is about 12 to16 days among the well-to-do castes
and lesser duration in castes which earn their bread through daily labour.
The traditional periods are observed only in the rural areas and more
rigidly by the leisured classes. In towns, there is a race against time
and the mourning period last a week and sometimes even less than that.
Attendance at the house of the dead is a compulsory social duty.
Every person visiting the house of the dead person during
the mourning period is believed to suffer from pollution. The first thing;
he is expected to do on leaving the house of the dead person is to have
purificatory bath. Only after this bath, he is entitled by custom
and usage to have a drink of even a glass of water or to eat and enter
the main parts of his own house.
After the kith and kin have assembled and had a last
look at the departed, the corpse is bathed, perfumed and attired
in new clothes. The widow is brought near the dead body of her husband;
and given white garments to wear ever-after. Kith and kin go round
the dead body thrice and then the body is placed; in a decorative
bier for the march of the funeral procession; to the cremation ground.
As per custom, the prescribed kith; and kin; act as 'pall-bearers'. The
women do not; go the cremation ground.
All along the funeral procession, the funeral music is
played in a monotonous rhythm. At cross-roads, the bearers
of the dead body circle the place thrice. This is done to misguide; the
spirits; and prevent further calamities to the village. Funeral
music is not played before the temples and temple services are suspended
till the removal of the dead body, if the house of the dead person is
adjacent to the temple.
In the case of those who choose to cremate the body,
it is taken to a place near the lake or river and put on a funeral pyre;
and burnt. Ashes; are gathered; on the second day; and dissolved in the
river; or lake. In the case of those who prefer to bury the body, the
body is taken to the out skirts of the village and buried
at the village cemetery. If an unmarried person dies, saplings are attached
to the bier to mark the unmarried status. Dead bodies of babies are carried
in a cradle of new cloth; prepared after dipping it in turmeric, babies
and children are buried and only the adults are cremated.
Setting fire to the pyre is preceded; by near and
dear; ones putting the last morsel; of rice into the mouth of deceased.
Small logs of wood and dried cow dung; are piled over the dead body and
usually the eldest son; takes a clean shave and sets fire to the
dead body. He carries a water-pot thrice round the dead body and breaks
it in front of it. After wards, everyone has a purificatory bath followed
by a ceremonial return to the house of the dead person.
During the mourning period, some of the participants
express their grief in song. In some castes, the principal mourner, the
lady of the house, sings songs of lamentation for years as and when
visitors call on her to convey their condolences. The spasms of
grief find expressions in her song, as she recalls various incidents
occurred in her husband's life.
If a pregnant woman dies before delivery,
a stone is put up in the highway to help the spirit
to sit in rest. This contrivance is called 'Sumai Thangi' and is erected
out of three stones. Two of them standing posture in the earth and leaving
the third across the top.
It is believed that deaths resulting from accidents
or suicides bring ill-luck to the house-hold and that spirit
of the departed hover around the wells, trees and other places
where such deaths take place.
Among the Brahmins and Muslims the funeral ceremony is
a very simple affair and obsequies are performed in silence
and not to the accompaniment of music. In villages usually there
are different burial grounds for different castes and religions.
The house where death was occurred is considered polluted
and cooking is not done for few days. The neighbours supply them food.
After the removal of the dead body and on certain subsequent
occasions during the mourning period, the entire house
and surroundings are given a wash and a small lamp is kept burning
round the clock. To appease the departed soul, water is placed
in a container. For the same reason, poor feeding is
done at the end of the period of mourning.
Sections of the Tamils believe in life after death
and in transmigration of the soul. It is widely believed that the
inner soul is born in the next birth as an animal
or a bird and that the cycle of rebirth continues till he gains
the qualification to mingle with heavenly beings.