by Deep Bora
This article is dedicated to the memory of my late Father. He was the finest person I ever met in my life.
Chapters of death to the borders of the Cosmos
They say there is no existence of heaven — or hell, for that matter. That heaven and hell both exist upon earth and one has got to experience either one or both from the karma of human existence.
The seers of old stated with firm belief that somewhere out in the dimensionless worlds — where one goes after dying — other places exist. These places are however, nowhere near heaven or hell or even classified as such!
That the soul is a real term and an actual definition. That every living being possesses its own and individual soul. It is not round in shape — perhaps the size of your heart — and placed inside your body near the heart or the chest region. Or even the solar plexus region. No.
The soul is bigger in size and exists within the human body — applicable for us humans here upon earth. The soul connects us to the Almighty’s Domain — to God.
There are highly trained and spiritually evolved people who can see the soul — these are religious and holy people living in the flesh and blood, very much in our world.
You see, the seers of the olden times were the ones who classified the “thousand-petalled lotus” — a chakra — which exists apart from the individual soul. They also named the round, “golden halo” which appears just behind the head. It is very prominent and is also depicted as such — in the images, sketches and photographs of great saints and the gods who once walked upon the Earth.
The practicality — now termed a concept — which is more than thousands of years old, continues hence. The photographs of gods, saints, and great and holy men with immense religious powers. You shall inevitably find the golden halo drawn behind their heads. This signifies their purity.
I don’t say it.
Our ancestors state it with truthfulness and absolute conviction. I have simply pointed out the “descendency” to you — the readers.
That was a slight deviation.
* * *
The elderly gentleman breathed the last breath out from his lungs and finally lay still, unmoving. He was dead — the end of his life upon earth — and it also marked the beginning of another life in another world. A world which we may not contemplate now, at present, for we are live earthlings and we must complete our work upon earth: our “Karma.”
However, for us — the descendants of a great, great, (etc.) Grandfather forming a vansh — the work with the dead had now commenced.
First the religious ceremonies beginning at home which were necessary; an absolute must.
A brahmin pundit from the nearest temple was invited to accompany us to the cremation grounds where a huge stack of logs was kept ready. One amongst us had done the advance work early that day. We even selected the funeral pyre amongst few and reserved it well in advance. The body of “the loved and revered one” was gently lowered upon the stack of logs. Then we ensured his entire body was coated with pure ghee before more wood was stacked and the body carefully obliterated from sight. This was done in accordance with ages-old customs.
The brahmin pundit started with Sanskrit slokas and verses meant to guide the son (or sons) of the dead and who lit the funeral pyre. The son lit the pyre with a bundle of hay sticks after kneeling. He then completed the action of walking around the pyre thrice. On every “crossing” near the head area he applied the fire ever so gently.
Then there were others — well-wishers and relatives and family friends — who ensured the pyre was well lit and kept on at it for over three hours. Maybe four hours. Again, after sacred prayers were chanted by the pundit, we departed with a modified urn containing the ashes of the “departed one,” the “loved and respected one,”
That is the sacred duty which which every son or sons must perform for his father and mother, in a lifetime, sometimes extending to other members of his family too.
* * *
The situation at home was different.
Three days of complete fasting and on the third day after death of a “loved one” it is stated, “The soul of the dead rises towards the domain of God.”
You see, in accordance with the rites of the olden times, we had assisted our cousin to:
“Separate the soul of his late father from the now-dead physical body.” And since the body was converted into ashes after cremation, the soul was therefore set free to roam the lower astral planes.
On the third day after death the soul would gradually, perhaps, leave the lower astral plane and rise upwards. There were brahmin pundits now present in the house — in the largest room of the house — who chanted slokas and stanzas in pure Sanskrit. Perhaps the pundits were aware or perhaps they simply recited those beautiful-sounding and melodious verses. In reality they were guiding the soul out from the lower astral plane and further upwards, above the realms of humans and beyond Death. Up towards the realm of God, the Almighty
On earth, we were getting used to our near starvation diet, for only select fruit juices were allowed, and tea and water. No solids. This was strictly done in adherence to our age-old ceremonial traditions.
The elderly gentleman had died a natural death. Therefore our actions at this time were an honour to “our dead” for he could not eat earth fruits and vegetables any longer. However, all said and done, we on the other hand, had to remain alive!
The third day
The brahmin pundits ended a two-hour long recitation of very secret and sacred verses. These were mainly aimed at guiding the “departed one’s” soul away from the earth, upwards and beyond the borders of the cosmos. It is a thin dividing line between “human-earth life” and the world of souls.
We ended our three-day complete fast with milk, yogurt, curd and rice powder. There was an absence of canned fruit salad, curry, and such food. These were stored away by the elder women of the house — the aunts and grandmothers — someplace else. They were all now gathered here for perhaps a month.
We were all the grandsons, the great-grandsons, mother, aunts, grandmothers, unmarried daughters and unmarried nieces of our great, great (etc.) Grand Dad. They had left their own houses for a brief while and were camping in the house of the departed one purely on a temporary basis.
This family union therefore formed a vansh. Even today, beyond the jet set age and in 2004, those unmarried daughters, distantly related nieces, are our cousin sisters. (The married ones are also our cousin sisters but are married now.)
As a strict rule we marry outside our vansh to women from another vansh who are not even remotely related to us. The same principle applies to the women, too. Normally, the title of a family is clear indication of a vansh. The descendancy or lineage of a vansh is supposed to be between 10 to 15 generations. After that, it is said there is no distinct relation evident or remaining.
Except for the human DNA pattern!
* * *
However, the matter has not ended herein. We were still wearing our dhotis, again an ancestral concept of clothing. It comprises of a long white robe suitably amended and curled up to form a modern pant.
We ate nothing solid between one evening to the next commencing from the third day. Just water and tea. Sometimes, if one felt weak, milk was offered. The elderly and the old were more steadfast in maintaining the diet. Evidently they had witnessed and experienced more death ceremonies and rituals than we, the younger ones.
Every evening, just before the sun set we were made to eat rice boiled with vegetables: served with salt and pure country margarine. We all shared that “delicacy” every evening till the tenth day, for we were still “living with the dead.” We had even discarded our rosy, fluffy comfortable beds for the time being. We pulled our mattresses to the floor and slept there. The television was shut off. The radio was not deemed necessary. Even the neighbours complied, and we heard no sounds emanating from their windows. We were grieving. An entire “greater family.”
It is stated in the Puranas and the Vedas — two of our holy books — that on the third day of death the soul is separated from the body. However, the soul may wander into the lower astral planes or even the middle or higher astral regions till the tenth day or so. You see, the soul is not prepared to go to God’s domain yet!
Only in cases of very holy and highly evolved people — who know where they must go after death — do their souls reach up to God’s places; maybe before the tenth day.
On the tenth day after our “loved one” had died, we, the “vansh people,” finally ended our fast.
The pundits were again gathered in the largest room, primarily to accommodate the large family members and relatives and neighbours. Prior to ending our fast, the brahmin pundits chanted sacred rites from the Bhagavad Gita, one of our religious books. They (knowingly, with knowledge) or (unknowingly, yet performing their duties) invited the soul of the departed one to witness the honour and sacrifice that the direct descendants — the sons and unmarried daughters — undertook. To “see” the sacrifices which the son(s), wife, nephews, grandsons, nieces, etc. performed; the fasting, the rigid vows which were adhered to, the single evening meals — which were all part of a strict curriculum.
The pundits chanted more sacred texts from the Vedas and the Puranas. They were encouraging the departed’s soul to rise further, to leave the bondage of earth and visit God’s domain.
Seated cross-legged beside them on certain age-old designed cloth seats, we too were busy chanting certain slokas and performing other religious ceremonies. The pundits were there all the while, guiding us in our human actions for we were with the sons of the “departed one, the loved one.”
The neighbours, loved ones, family friends and relatives were all there as we ended the Doha ceremony. They were the ones who consoled us through the ten-day long period, offering fruits and rice and many other foodstuffs. This is a ritual which has been in existence through the ages. How long, I cannot tell. We too offer the same help to others when their time comes. Many amongst them were there immediately when they heard the “loved one” had expired. I was there when he breathed his last — one faint breath which simply flowed out as his chest heaved gently once. For the last time.
He was an elderly gentleman who had finished all the chores in his life-span. Yet perhaps he wished to live longer.
We ate rice and parboiled rice, curd, milk, sugar and tea. Fruits were plentifully available. Vegetable were finally being cut and sliced for the dinner, a completely vegetarian dinner.
The sons of the departed one — who performed the Mukh-Agni at the funeral site — and also performed the religious ceremonies in presence of the pundits, decided to abstain from an evening dinner. They preferred simple milk and bread instead. “You can’t gulp it all down so fast. It hurts!”
I understood what they meant. I was beside them: one of the vansh members.
(The 11th, 12th, 13th, or 14th day after death) In this case it was held on the 11th day.
More religious prayers were performed and ceremonial functions ultimately marked the end of the work for the dead.
“You should be relieved and happy to know the fact that your Dad has now finally passed over, through to the ‘lands of God’,” I consoled them.
There were adequate reciprocal thank-you answers fervently uttered under the breath. They, we knew, needed those kind words of advice and consolation. The “loved and departed one” was a great man in real life. We understood they were incapable to speak in longer sentences; and later we bid goodbye to the brahmin pundits for helping us through. Some amongst us recited the more difficult Sanskrit verses in consonance as the pundits made a final adieu.
We ate rice, curry, lentil (dal), vegetables and the entire lot in company of the invitees. However, the invitees were requested to eat first. This symbolises that we begin to eat normally again. Certain invitees who expressed their desire to join us during lunch at a later hour, were cordially received.
A good luncheon.
Now, for us the vansh people, the work with the dead had begun.
For one complete year, till the first annual Shraddha we made vows to refrain from the following: No marriages, no feasts, no eating out in restaurants, discos and public functions — except at the vansh families and their homes. And a host of other actions. These were simply to be adhered to, except when totally unavoidable.
“Discos are out but an official farewell party, well, you may attend it.” We were advised.
You see, we have to begin living our human life also! And stay alive.
The maternal Uncle’s house was one place we had loved since childhood and as per custom, we were allowed to eat there; provided our aunt cooked our meals herself. We didn’t want to eat what the servants cooked. Besides, that was not “allowed.” After all said and done, till the Tiloni or the “Third Day” fasting was over, the meal was brought from the maternal uncle’s house! That too is as per traditions.
* * *
“Will he be born again as your father in your next birth?” One of the close friends asked after the guests had departed. We, the teens and elders of the vansh had gathered around along with relatives. Our circle of close friends were there too. We had discarded our dhotis and wore normal clothes now.
There was a marked absence of rational answers. We the heard the workmen chatting far away. They were busy cleaning the place.
* * *
You see, birth and rebirth are like light and shadow. One is born to die and again, one dies to be born again; though not necessarily as the “father” in the next “round of life.”
It may be New Zealand this time. Perhaps in China in the next round. Then again in the U. K. or India the following rebirth cycle; one never really knows.
* * *
There are highly trained and religious people living upon earth who can determine a person’s — any person’s for that matter — past life or past lives even. Such people do not advertise their capabilities. Perhaps, in your entire life, you shall never meet such gifted people.
Compared to the present human population, such people are few in number. I would advise you not to even try to identify them. You cannot. Just be content in the knowledge that they are the seers of the present.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Deep Bora