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People



Death

 
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 corpse .

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.

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Last Updated on : 31 March 2015