Monday, December 17, 2007

Some philosophy, some questions...but no answers...

I am back, after a rather long hiatus. The problem is that my grandfather was sick for a week, and passed away on Thursday last. A death in the family normally means a lot of guests, a lot of confusion and a lot of work. So, that was it. It was the first time in 25 years that I visited a crematorium. And quite frankly, the place is not as scary as I was led to believe. It is clean, with paved roads and a cemented place to sit. That brings me to all the philosophical musings of the past week. A visit to a graveyard is quite humbling. For one, you realise how lucky you are to still be alive. And then, you wonder why we chase money when all we are left with ultimately is a pot of ash (or six feet of land as the case may be.) Dad says it's normal for first-time visitors to get philosophical. This week was my turn.

Once the funeral was over, there began a series of negotiations over the post-death ceremonies (or whatever you call it). First, the shaastrigal claimed that the soul of the deceased had to travel a billion miles, during the course of a year to attain Vaikuntham. In order to facilitate the travel, we, as relatives of the deceased, are expected to provide the soul with slippers, bed, food, clothing, gold (I wonder why!), silver, a piece of land, a cow and some other assorted worldly items. How can the poor soul carry so much? Since we are not millionaires, but simple middle class people, the shaastrigal allowed us to pay a mere 15,000 rupees, instead of a portion of land, and a couple of kilogrammes of gold for the above-mentioned daanam. Very generous, I must admit!

Then comes this business about the soul suffering from sun-burns, hunger, thirst, calloused feet, tired legs and the like as justification for all the donations we are supposed to make. How the soul can suffer so much is beyond me. After all, the Bhagavad Gita, the most widely accepted Hindu religious text describes the soul thus:
"Nainam chhindanti shastraani, nainam dahati paavakaha, na chainam kledha yantyapo, ne shoshayathi maaruthaha." (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Verse 23)
Translated, it means,
"Weapons cannot harm the soul, fire cannot burn the soul, water cannot wet and air cannot dry the soul."
If that is true, then how can the soul suffer hunger, thirst, sunburns or injury. The learned men have no response. Is this then, just a way of guilting people into paying for wholly unnecessary rituals. I only have questions for the moment. Nobody is forthcoming with answers. And asking too many questions makes me a heretic. What has the world come to?

The other drama is one that is related more to social practice than religion and philosophy. Mum tells me that the Brahmins won't eat food prepared by Tamil Iyer women. Whether it is because the women are Iyer or because they are simply women is beyond me. Apparently, we, as Kannada Maadhwa Brahmins practise a philosophy incompatible with Iyer philosophy and any meeting of the two will have potentially disastrous consequences. So, the choice of caterers is rather limited. To men, who belong to the appropriate Kannada Brahmin subsect. I then asked if we can get someone we know to cook that day. There, we face yet another problem. Apparently widowhood is highly contagious and the said Brahmins will not touch food prepared by a widowed woman.

Makes me wonder if women should not boycott food prepared by, served by, or eaten by any widowed man, just to give them a taste of their own medicine. Refusing to cook for widowed men would do the job equally well. After all, men who believe that seeing a widow is inauspicious belong to a generation that did not know how to cook. That way the problem would be solved. In the absence of anyone to cook for them, they all would die an early death and the world would be relieved of a great burden. But seriously, will this attitude ever change? The one person who is most affected by a death is the spouse of the deceased. How is it fair to treat widowed women as a scourge? How is it fair to blame them for something they have no control over? Why are we still living in the Middle Ages? Can we ever drag ourselves into the 21st Century?

3 comments:

Nita writes said...

Hi Amri,

At the outset, my deepest condolences on the death of your Grandfather; may his soul rest in peace!

Its been a pretty wierd month for me too; I had two deaths in my family in a space of 10 days which was freaky by any stretch of imagination.

Anyways, I've just come to notice Subroto Bagchi's article and am reading it to the tee. You might get to see a critique on that real soon.

by the way, when do we get to chat next ? its been ages!

I said...

Uh. we have seperate plastic plates/sombu for non-believers of advaitham. Adi shankara will be proud.

ck2 said...

When did shastrigal ever have to do anything with Bhagavad Gita and hindu philosophy.
Priest is a clan created to fool the rest of the population. :)

Then of course, there are the rest of us, who will believe anything anyone says, along as they invoke the name of god and also add the tag 'apacharam'.

narayana, narayana... ellam un maya