Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ladies Left at the Door

Kannadi Mama passed away in Toronto, few days back.

I always called him Kannadi Mama (Spectacle Uncle) because I’ve never seen him without the spectacles and it rhymed well and easily for a toddler, from which age his family is friends with ours. The best memory I have of him is that he usually stops by our house on his Raleigh bicycle, with a woven basket attached to the front bar, parking the two wheeler by leaving one of the pedals down to hold on to the paved sidewalk. Although a ten second event, I can replay it anytime with no lapse in details.

The funeral ceremonies of Kannadi Mama were held at a parlor in Scarborough, another multicultural melting pot of Greater Toronto. These parlors - large buildings with facilities to conduct many funerals simultaneously - once privately owned, are now part of a major U.S. chain of funeral arrangers. Having improved since the cooperate takeover, just like a wedding planner, the professionals at these establishments cater to multi-ethnic, multi-religious communities with their unique needs of last rites, ceremonies and procedures. Death being an event that received no impact from economical trends or recessions, theses parlors also churns out steady business, thanks to aging population of Canada.

Muslims and Jews bury their dead within twenty four hours. Hindus in other hand doesn’t have such restrictions. And due to globalization of families, it’ll be very hard and impractical to arrange and conduct funerals in such short notice and time. While researching on this subject, I found a good book, Saiva Funeral Rites with Explanations” written in Tamil with a one page summary in English, by Mr. N. Mahesan, an expatriate based in Australia.

While Kannadi Mama slept peacefully in his Mahogony box, in his trade mark spectacles, in traditional Tamil costume and garlanded by colorful flowers, while an unofficial funeral crier recited and chanted Hindu hymns, while a priest conducted poojas, while the only son of Kannadi Mama carried the 'kollikudam' - a clay pot - and splashed holy water around his soul-departed body, while he was symbolically lit by fire at the feet (the real pyre will be at a crematorium at another location), while all sobbed, cried and wailed, while the world came to a temporary halt, while the pall bearers assembled around, closed shut the coffin, then slowly rolled him away to the hearse, the ladies were stopped and left at the door of the funeral parlor.

According to Hindu custom, the ladies aren't allowed at the crematorium. Google doesn't help on this subject. Does anyone know why?

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