Ceremony

Although I am slowly growing into an agnostic-of-sorts, I try not to impose my views on others.  My father continues to be a sincere gnostic and conducts rituals scheduled through the year. While he could be lax about festivals, he is never lax about death-ceremonies.  With approaching 75, himself, there are way too many death ceremonies he performs – his parents, his parents-in-law, and his wife – five ceremonies every year.  I used to attend all the ceremonies diligently in the past, but now I opt out because they make no sense to me – I would rather help living people than perform ceremonies for dead ones.

However, I continue to go for one – my mother’s.  This is more to comfort my father (the living person) than as a mark of respect for my mother (the dead person).  A few years ago, dad would hire cooks for the event, but when  I returned to India, I offered to cook the ritual food for my mom’s ceremony – it seemed to give both my father and my grandmother who recently died, a lot of satisfaction and comfort.  Until a few years back, he would invite all and sundry to the ceremonies, but later, the attendees (other than the priests who solemnise the ceremony) became restricted to him, my grandmother and me (and sometimes my family, depending on the day it fell).

Today was my mother’s 32nd death anniversary. As with every year, I offered to take charge of the kitchen.  Much as I hate cooking, cooking for this particular event gives me a strange kind of satisfaction – a satisfaction that the man, who has none other to call his own anymore, feels like he has at least me, on the day he lost his partner.  So, taking a deep breath, I delved into the kitchen and single handedly cooked a ceremony meal* with a little help from the maid with tidying afterwards.

In earlier years, even until last year, I would feel miserable on the day of the ceremony – not as much as by missing my mother, but for not missing her.  It has been way too long – last year, I had lived 13 years with her, and 31 years without – there is not much I remember of her other that the fact that she was drop dead gorgeous and a go-getter. But as I keep interacting with my own daughter, who will be turning 13 in a month, I wonder what kind of woman she was – what were her dreams, her aspirations, and her feelings towards me other than the maternal love, which is universal.  What had she dreamed that I would become?  Have I fulfilled her dream?    What would my life have been like, had she been around?

This year, the grief of my grandmother’s death (more on that in a later post, I am sure) overrode the discomfort that accompanied my mom’s ceremony in the past.  My grandmother had been a proxy mother to me since my mom had died – she saw me through thick and thin, bathed my new-born, and was my go-to person until she died.  It has been ten months since she died, but I continue to feel powerful grief every so often, which may take more time to fade. As I cooked the shrardham meal today, I grieved more for the grandmother, who would, until last year, sit in the kitchen in her plastic chair and drive me crazy by talking all the time when all I needed was some silence in order to concentrate on the cooking.  I missed her jabber today.  It was too silent to concentrate.

The busy weekend is over.  The week promises to be busy, and the anticipation of work is slowly driving out the melancholia of the weekend.  This too, is passing.

 

*plantain curry, bitter guard curry, colocasia curry, curry leaf thuvayal, cucumber pachadi, poritha kuzhambu, milagu rasam, sugiyan, payasam, thenkuzal and rice.

 

 

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11 thoughts on “Ceremony

  1. The V Pub

    My condolences for your losses, LG. I find it difficult to go to ceremonies that celebrate those who have passed. I have my own, personal way to reconcile my losses, and no celebration will replace that.

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    1. LG

      Yes, grief is very very personal. But in a way, I can understand how these ceremonies came into being – they distract you from the grief by the sheer volume of work involved.
      Thank you. Grief is universal and transcends creed, race and nationality.

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  2. Hangaku Gozen

    I’m sorry for the loss of your grandmother. I understand how you feel: grief can only be felt when you really knew and were very close to a person. I used to feel guilty because I cried more over the loss of my dog than for my two grandmothers, who had died a few years earlier. But my grandmothers never learned to speak English and were of the attitude that “if you really loved me, you would be more Japanese.” (Even if their idea of being Japanese was more of a type common in the 19th century, since no contemporary Japanese girl or woman would put up with their ideas of femininity.) My dog never demanded anything from me except food and affection, and he returned the love beyond what I would ever expect from a human being.

    Japanese tradition has similar memorial ceremonies for deceased family members. Last year we were supposed to have a service at the Buddhist temple, followed by a dinner to mark the passing of my mother. Apparently, my siblings and Dad never organized one: it used to be my job to organize those, but since I left the house, no one had taken over the duties. I have no idea if anyone is performing the rituals for my father now. It won’t be me, since I no longer have any connection to the family.

    In the end I think it’s up to each of us to mark the passing of loved ones in our hearts. Sometimes it’s helpful to ritualize the grief, but the problem with rituals is that, over time, they tend to lose their meaning. I take more comfort in spending time with my own children and noting how certain habits and features remind me of their father or other relatives who have passed.

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    1. LG

      Interesting that you have rituals in Buddhist tradition. I thought Buddhism evolved as a rebellion against the ritualistic religion that existed at that time in India.
      Yes, the problem with rituals is not only that it loses meaning, but also becomes binding and guilt-evoking – if you don’t do this, you’ll go to hell.
      Spending more time with living people and doing more for them is more logical than doing meaningless things for the dead.

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      1. Hangaku Gozen

        In Japan Buddhism became the religion you went to when you had to have a funeral or memorial service. The traditional Japanese wedding is usually held in a Shinto shrine; also, the Japanese New Year’s observances are Shinto traditions, not Buddhist ones. (That doesn’t stop people from visiting a Buddhist temple on New Year’s Day to pray and offer sake to the spirits of past ancestors, which is again odd since Buddhism frowns upon alcoholic beverages. The offering of sake is a Shinto tradition, which shows you how confused and blended the two religions are in Japan.) A professor whose class I took for Japanese history had a rather dim opinion of Buddhism: he said it seemed to be related almost entirely to death and ideas about mortality, while Shintoism was connected to living folk traditions.

        My parents observed a very arcane form of Buddhism brought from Tibet, with a lot of magic mumbo jumbo and statues and sacred scrolls and the like. I think my father worried that no one would hold a memorial service for him on the months prescribed by his sect, so he became angry when I joined a Christian church. He didn’t go after my siblings in the same way, so he must have known I was the only reliable person in our family. But I have no interest in maintaining those rituals, especially since you have to pay the priest to hold a memorial service for your loved one. It’ll be up to my sister or brother, if they are even slightly interested in doing that for Dad. Which I seriously doubt.

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  3. Maha

    It makes sense that you miss your grandma more than your mom. We are not big followers of rituals either, we observe ones that carry personal meaning to us. Last week, Hari wanted to do something for my mil in honor of Day of the Dead from the Mexican tradition. We made rava kesari. Take care!

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  4. UL

    Thank you for this share, and am so sorry for your loss. As far as rituals are concerned, I take the ones That I love and let go of the ones I don’t. The ones that I love always have a logical explanation that I believe in. There are some wonderful traditions and rituals that I have inherited which I intend to pass them onto my children. When we can understand the intention behind the ritual, they are profound and beautiful – otherwise they are just rituals which can be categorized as superstitions. And I wasn’t always like this, I remember my younger days when i performed rituals just to keep my elders satisfied. But the habits of performing them became ingrained in me. As I grew older, I began to question them, and then adopted some that made utter sense to me and let go of others that I considered pure superstition. As human beings, we evolve and change – so I am not sure how I will be tomorrow or five years from now, But right this moment in time, I am fascinated by my culture, it’s traditions and rituals.Today I am curious to learn of its origin and its purpose or intention. I have immersed myself in it deeper than ever before and the discoveries I have made are some of the best. It has lead me down a path of self discovery, and one step closer to my forever quest of who I am. The past, the older generation, the history has many things to teach us, we just need to have the patience to sift through and find what works and what to let go. I find that many priceless traditions are lost because of the young impatience in ourselves. And to me that’s like losing a landmark or turning point in a journey to the ultimate destination in life ( self discovery of who I am). All those landmarks can only help and we don’t want to overlook them by casting them all away as rituals when in truth, they could teach us or give us a faster route. Sorry about the rant, but wanted to put it down. Hope it made some sense of what I am trying to get at? Thank you LG.

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    1. LG

      I have, I suppose, passed the stage of curiosity. The only reason I hold on to some traditional practices is because (a) they have been around and I don’t want to be the one to end it and (b) they are harmless. Rituals and practices that are against my policies, I stay off. For example, the moment I learned that one mantra chanted during “seemandham” – baby shower, prays to Indira to make the fetus a male, I stopped going to seemanthams. Too bad, I learned of it after my own was held.

      Each person has her own balance of faith and belief. I am still struggling to find mine.

      Thanks for the food for thought.

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