Thursday, January 9, 2014

Hindu Women Performing Final Rites of Parents and Relatives- Why this is still a taboo in our society?

22 long years slipped into the history since a 15 year old girl took the courage to carry the funeral pyre in her hands to full-fill her father's last wish,  to be brave to do what all a son would do, to be emotionally strong to tell it to her relatives and neighbors on her decision and to convince her family to allow her to break the norms of Hindu Rituals and formalities during a person's final journey. 

That day she did not know what is being a change agent is;  she was not aware that the memory of the winter morning when she took the dip in the river after lighting the pyre fire would stay in her memory for ever;  she did not expect that what she did that day would be the news of the town and would be remember for years to come.   The young girl did not know if it is right or wrong.  She did as what her father murmured in the last hour of his life.  She embraced the act with courage to stand strong and do what even men would tremble to do.   Tears were locked behind the eyelids...words were few to share; hunger and anger both came no where.   She walked in front of the final journey carrying her deceased father, whose face still looked like a smile in his sleep. 

Hundreds of men and women followed to see the event that was unfolding; which never happened before nor would happen again in near future.   As the girl went around 3 times with the pot of water, tapped trice to final break it to pieces before the camphor and wood covered her dad's remains, she remained absolutely silent and calm.  Her uncles and friends who were with her advised her not to look back once the pyre fire was lit....after walking 10 feet, she forced herself and looked back, just to see the pyre fire engulfing up above  and that memory remained fresh for her life time.  Yes, that's the end of a wonderful father who was just cremated by her beloved daughter whom he raised almost like a son!

Now, the question is 'Does Hindu Religion allow or disallow girls / women from performing the final rites?'  No where in the Vedas - there is a description of women being disallowed to perform such acts, but mostly it is written time and again that men are to follow certain rituals and it is their responsibility to do the final rites.   It also states that when male heirs perform the last rites, parents soul will reach the gates of the heaven!  For those who don't have sons; a son-in-law , a male grand child or a close male relative performs these rites.  For them, they may not be understanding the person, have lived with them, would not have experienced the ups and down and then why the hell they should do this alone and girl children be abandoned from doing this pious act.

Once way I look at this, is that emotional aspects of a women.  When men perform these rites as their duty,  very soon they will come out of it.  But when it is women who involved in this,  this will be in their memory throughout their lives...and time is only the healer in both the cases.  What time it takes for a man compared to women to come out of such memories is questionable.  What has religion, caste or rituals got to do with human emotions that are so different between women and men.

Every tradition is changed as the times changes,  people's mind-sets and perceptions change.  Life-style changes,  world become a smaller stage to play, people are now welcoming any changes that suit their conveniences.  Every tradition had its birth based on people's necessity and this is not immune to this paradigm.  

There are certain rituals that are not followed when women perform these rites, like wearing the scared thread to do the mantras reading,  tonsuring of  the head, staying indoors all the 10-16 days till the ceremonies are completed etc.  Which again is an alignment to the way it can be done.   Systems are created to the convenience of man kind and they keep changing as needed. But like any change that will have its own resistance, it takes long time for the same to be accepted by the larger sections of the society.  

When this very Hindu society could abolish Sati, and allow widow re-marriages and today with the increasing onset of fight against dowry harassment, illegal sex, alarming rise of divorces, women are more and more aware of their rights and responsibilities.  Women are today prepared to do what ever they feel is right.  As long as it is not imposed on them in the name of formality, women today are ready to go above their emotional limitations towards what their hearts say is right and what their thoughts guide them to do. 

After 20 years since the 15 year old lit the pyre fire, this is one aspect that is still not largely accepted as a permissible ritual in the society. Many women have come forward and are joining the funeral possessions and not limiting themselves till the gates of their homes.  However, this is one aspect that is not widely debated, not openly accepted and not many women have the courage to do what their brothers and fathers do.   Girl children need to be brave, demand this as their right., stand up and be brave to do what their loved one's wish for than leave these responsibilities to some person who is just related by blood and caste and have no real emotions for the deceased.  It is time for a new call of duty which we women can definitely do

Now,  the 15 year girl old in the society is the writer of this post.  Yes,  on 10th Jan 1992, I braved to follow my heart,  full-fill my dad's last wish,  felt it right to do it as my responsibility and felt relieved for my family and friends did not object but stood by me and walked with me to the cremation ground and strangely I did not cry till I saw the ashes on the 3rd day.....probably I don't have that kind of courage now as a woman, but that's how our father raised us, all his three girls, equally in par with boys...We learnt to handle any thing and everything in life.  My mom stood as the biggest strength ever since he disappeared on that winter morning on 9th Jan , leaving behind his dream for us to achieve, his blessings that silently shower on us all the time., his foot prints that we don't miss to walk in and his aspirations and goodness that guide us unlimited.  

Miss you Dad.  Years may go, but your thoughts will be always there to aspire, your dreams for us to achieve more, Gone too soon, but never forgotten.  

Love You-   Umasree Sampath Kumar aka Umasree Raghunath .
With S. Yamini Krishnan and Jayanthi .S. Vimal


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