By Rajesh Koul
It is said that if a person after death ‘receives’ all the rites and rituals as laid down in religious precepts, then the person has a smooth sailing across the ‘ocean’- Bhavsagar, and achieves salvation by way of being liberated from the cycle of births and deaths (transmigration).
My mother’s death happened almost a month ago. After her death, except cremation we couldn’t perform the other rites and rituals, as we couldn’t get the services of a priest, who was well-versed with the rituals, as performed by Kashmiri Pandits . As such we had to conclude the funeral services by fourth day. We had tried our best to secure the services of a Kashmiri priest, but couldn’t succeed. I discussed the issue with my wife, Usha and explained the situation to her. She replied in a very pathetic voice, “What can I say? Follow the path that seems to be right.” I informed her that some people had advised me to follow the path laid down by Arya Samaj and complete the process by fourth day. Her face was gloomy, and she said, “What can I say? It is better to have consultations with your elders who are in the other room.” Coming out of the room and reaching near the drawing room, while I was taking out my shoes, I heard the voice of Benitathi (my father’s sister). She was addressing uncle and Jijja Ji her husband, “What can you do with Death? As it is I was too excited and impatient about this marriage that much earlier, I had bought sarees for the occasions of Mehendiraat and Devgon. But poor lady was destined to die on this very occasion. Now, it is better that both of you attend the marriage ceremonies, only as men.”…. “How will you cope with Shivratri (6)? That day will be eleventh day of lady’s death”, said Jigaji. This conversation reminded me that the marriage of my cousin’s daughter was to be held and all were worried on that account. “You have to look ahead. She would think that she had no kin or well-wishers. It is a daughter’s marriage; we shall have to attend.” It was my aunty telling Bhaisahib, when I entered the drawing room.
It is said that any excuse is a good excuse. It seemed to be true, when I related my story of not being able to get the services of a priest, well-versed with Kashmiri Pandit’s way of performing funeral rites, and that I had been advised by few to finalize the rites by fourth day, as many others do. There was complete silence, heaving of long sighs and bending of their heads. This silence troubled me, rendered me speechless, and I looked around to see if somebody would come out with something. “Do in Rome, as Romans do,” this was voice of Jijajee who would often quote Shakespeare or Sophocles, when a serious or critical situation was being discussed. “Every country has its own traditions”, he would try to translate his quotes for those who couldn’t understand English. He went on, “Now that there is no alternative, it is better to complete all the rituals by fourth day”. Perhaps all were eager to return to their homes in time, after attending the marriage ceremony and funeral rites, because Shivratri festivities had begun.
On the fourth day, we had a Shanti Path and a Bhajan session in the evening, the way it is done in Haryana. After pooja and bhajan had been completed, everybody had Prasad’s (Naveed) and left for their homes to be able to participate in Shivratri festivities.
Now, I and my wife Ushaji remained in the home, alone so to say. For the first time we felt lonely, depressed, and gloomy, because ‘she’, whose presence made the home look like a busy place, was no more. Since that night Usha seemed to have lost her sleep.
She would suddenly awake and would sit on the bed for hours together. One day I asked her why she had suddenly lost her sleep. She didn’t answer for a long time. But then she uttered a scream and said, “I don’t understand why we were carried away by people’s advice. We should have observed all the mourning days in the prescribed manner. We weren’t poor or deprived. ….That graceful mother, whose heavy debt of love and kindness, we can never repay, and which will overwhelm us! …..As if she had no kin! ….One, who had cared for all of us ….looked after us!”
“The priest with knowledge of Kashmiri way of observing these rituals, couldn’t be found. What could I do? It was a cry in wilderness”, I responded angrily. “No, you didn’t make a serious effort”, she taunted me. “We could have gone to Haridwaar . People go there in large numbers”, she retorted. “All relatives had assembled in our home. How could we leave for Haridwar leaving them alone”, I said in an irritated tone. “Now, it is almost a month late. Why didn’t you say it that time?”, I added. She, as if she had suddenly awakened from a deep sleep, said, “Can’t we go now?”
“What for should we go now? The days for rituals have gone past”, I replied in short. “Those, who die in accidents or plane crashes- and their bodies are recovered late, do they not get rites and rituals as per norms?.What is needed is only the will to do……The mistress of the family, whose son is a highly placed officer, died as if she was a wayfarer”, she concluded in an angry tone. I kept on staring at her face, not believing that it was my wife Usha who was saying all that,….the same Ushaji who would have at least four quarrels a day over trifles with Ammaji- (mother). “….. What are you looking at”, she asked, “Couldn’t I say it properly?” ….The chain of my thoughts had shifted, I could not say anything. I simply booked two tickets for Haridwar online.
We left for Haridwar the next day, along with the necessary ingredients. We performed all the rituals satisfactorily engaging the services of Pt. Chudamani, who was well versant with our customs and rituals. I had my head shaved clean, as we do on tenth day and performed everything as usual. In Kashmir, 10th day would be observed on the bank of a river and all the friends and relatives would attend. On 12th day evening, after completing all the rituals, we left for a stroll on the banks of the Ganges. Usha made some unnecessary purchases from the local market. At some distance, under a tree a Sadhu was sitting in front of the ‘dhoni’ – (holy fire). His whole body was smeared in ash, perhaps making preparations for a bigger ‘havan’. Around him were his disciples and some people. Sadhu Ji was addressing the audience – (disciples and people), saying, “It is necessary that you should have three dips in the Ganges. The first dip is meant to purify the body. The second dip purifies the mind, and third dip is meant to sanctify your ‘view’- rather- your way of looking at the world. I had never believed in such things. So, I kept sitting at my place. Usha went to the Ganges and returned after three dips. Throwing wet clothes to a side, she addressed me, “Why don’t you go for the dip?” …. “Well, I had a bath in the Ganges early morning”, I said summarily. ….“As usual, everywhere you should get ‘noticed’, somehow or the other. “Go quickly”, she said in an angry tone.
Without saying anything, I left for having the requisite dips in the Ganges. I jumped into the water for a dip. The water was cold. I could not stand in the water for long. I had a second dip-almost the same as the first dip, but hiccoughs were reduced. I brought out my head from water and looked around. Everything seemed to be the same, as it was before. Third time, when I immersed my head in water, I felt a simmering rather a kind of tremor in the whole body, felt as if I had left for a long (yatra) journey,… as if I was flying. I felt as if I had two more legs and began to run fast. After that I felt more and more legs coming. But then, I felt as if I had countless legs, but small, very small in size …..I seemed to be crawling like a spider, as the body had become heavy. But my view – outlook on the world – was free and sanctified. But then I tumbled and came out of water at once and had a look around…..I felt, that everything was, as before – there was no change. I felt relieved. Suddenly, I remembered my late father, he would often say that – a man becomes an animal after marriage, because he gets two extra legs i.e. his wife ; then two more when a child is born, two more……and two more. And in this way, a spider’s web is woven and he gets involved/entrapped in it. I looked at myself from head to foot – everything was normal I was a human being who had just come out of the Ganges after three dips……After the dips, I was pure and unspoiled. All believe in that.
Now I had reached the tree where Sadhuji was sitting in front of the holy fire.
Sadhuji was saying : –
“A dog’s body is impure, but mind is pure.
A cat’s mind is impure, but body is pure.”
….Something reminded me of my childhood. In our childhood if a dog would accidentally enter the kitchen, everybody would shout at the dog and would hunt the dog out. But, after the dog’s departure all the utensils in the kitchen would be cleaned, complete kitchen washed and cleaned. But if a cat would touch a milk pot, the cat would be driven away. The milk would be dropped in the river and only the milk pot would be cleaned. ….Again, if a dog howled, everybody would say, “Om Namath Shivay”, because a dog’s howling would be considered to be a bad omen. Suddenly I came back to this world. Sadhuji was repeating the same lines –
“A dog’s body is impure, but mind is pure.
A cat’s mind is impure, but body is pure.”…. ”
Suddenly it came to my mind and I asked , “Swamiji, what about the human being ?” ….Sadhuji shifted his glance towards me. There was silence all around. Sadhuji closed his radiant eyes, and went into Samadhi.
…. Years passed, …..neither did Sadhuji open his eyes, nor did I get an answer to my question.
Translated by Jawahar Lal Raina
Rajesh Kaul is an Ex-Director and Head of Dept.
Media Centre,Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts,New Delhi.