Written by London swaminathan
Date: 2 APRIL 2017
Time uploaded in London:- 15-30
Post No. 3782
Pictures are taken from various sources; thanks.
There are very interesting funerary customs in Valmiki Ramayana. Since they are only minor details, many of us miss them. Some of the dead were cremated; some were buried. We don’t know why. Let us look at them one by one:-
Bhagiratha performing the funeral rites for his ancestors occurs in the Balakanda. Bhagiratha made the Ganges water to flow on the ashes of ancestors and liberated them. He also performed the funeral rites with the sacred water in accordance with the tradition.
Here we come across some important points:
1.Dissolving the ashes of the dead in Ganges water existed at least from the days of Bhagiratha. Even today Hindus dying in different parts of the world, make arrangements for their ashes to be dissolved in the Holy Ganges. From Vedic days, Hindus were mostly cremated.
2.Even During Bhagiratha’s days there was a tradition of performing funeral rites.
3.Water is used in all the rites.
- In the Rig Veda, the oldest religious book in the world and in the Sangam Tamil literature, we come across both burials and cremations.
When Dasaratha died….
Dasaratha’s body was immersed in a vat of oil for preservation.
“Raising the body of King Dasaratha from the earth, where it had been immersed in oil, seeming as it were asleep, the face like the colour of gold, he (Bharata) placed it on a magnificent couch, adorned with every kind of precious stones, and, plunged in grief, said to his father……”
(Ayodhya Kanda, Chapter 76)
Vasishtha said to him, “ O Valiant Prince, without hesitation or repining, carry out the funeral rites of the king that should be performed”.
Be it so! answered Bharata, and obedient to Vasishtha’s command, he summoned the priests speedily from all side with their attendants and sages. The fires for that Indra among men were prepared outside Agnyagara (Fire Chamber) and kindled in accord with the rituals by the priests and sacrificial attendants. Thereafter the servants placing the body of the king on a litter, with dejected minds bore it away, weeping the while; the people scattering gold, silver and cloths of many kinds went before the king, whilst others assembled sandal wood, sweet aloes and different fragrant essences with heaps of Sarala, Devadaru and Padmaja wood in order to build the funeral pyre. Then drawing near where the king lay, the Ritvijas offered sandal, stalks of water lilies, sweet roots and perfumes, and, pouring oblations into the fire, began the recitation of the silent prayer; thereafter, as laid down in the scriptures, the singers of the Sama Veda started their chanting.
Then the women of the inner apartments left the city in palanquins and chariots according to their rank, escorted by aged guards; and the priests circumambulated the royal pyre, keeping it on their left and the women plunged in grief followed, led by Kauslaya. Thereupon piercing cries, like unto ospreys, arose, which was the wailing of the women, who in their despair emitted innumerable plaints as they descended from their chariots on to the banks of the Sarayu River.
Having performed the water ritual (The Funeral rites consist of two parts, the burning and the cooling of the body by libations, called Tarpana. Each attending is required to offer an Anjali of water – that which can be contained in the hollow of the hands – to the deceased.), the wives of the monarch, as also the counsellors and priests, in company with Bharata, returned to the city, their eyes bathed in tears, and for ten days, observing deep mourning, slept on the ground.
(The Smriti lays down twelve days for the kings and sixteen for other Kshatriyas, but the sage Parasara fixes ten days for Kshatriyas in general).
1.Hindus and the Government of India observe a mourning period of ten to thirteen days until today.
2.Funeral pyre is made up of sandal, aloe, agar and other fragrant woods.
3.Holy water from different sources are used
- Our forefathers knew the technique of preserving dead bodies. Since Bharata had to travel very fast in Chariot from the border of Iran-Afghanistan to Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh (India), Chief Priest ordered the body to be preserved in medicinal oil.
- Royal women also came in palanquins to attend the funeral.
6.Note that there was no Suttee (wives dying with husband in the funeral pyre); all the three queens returned home after bathing in Sarayu.
7.Tarpan (water oblation) continues until today. We can’t see such a continuity in any other parts of the world. For over 5000 years the ceremonies are kept almost intact. Only now it is changing because relatives have spread far and wide.
- Going around the dead body in the anti-clock wise direction is done even today.
Chapter 77 of Ayodhya Kanda gives following details: –
Ten days have passed; on the eleventh day Bharata and Shatrugana fainted during the ceremonies; those who watched them also felt sad. The bothers fell like Indra Dwaja (standard).
This simile use in the chapter twice shows Valmiki lived long before other poets. Indra dwaja (flag of Indra) is knocked down during the festival. Tamils also celebrated according to Tamil epics. But later it stopped.
On the 13th day, the virtuous and gentle spiritual preceptor Vasishtha said, “O,Lord, this is the thirteenth day since the death of your father. Why do you delay in collecting the bones and ashes? All beings, without exception, suffer three things. Once cannot eschew them.”
Three things= Hunger and thirst, Pleasure and pain, Life and Death.
Then helped by the Chief Minister Sumantra both brothers completed the funeral rites.
In some communities, the ashes are collected on the second day and the ceremony finishes on the 12th day; on the thirteenth day, they do the purification ceremony.
We will see what Rama did with the bodies of demons, Bird King Jatayu and others in the next article.
Source book: The Ramayana of Valmiki, Translated by Hari Prasad Shastri