Yesterday afternoon finally Agee – our old lady of unknown origin – kindly known as Agee – or grandmother – completed her cycle of life. She left us at around 3.30 – and by 9 the flames had all but consumed her. Agee had no family that we knew of – but her family here with all our children were around her as she was given her final send off.
The ritual and ceremony was simple – organic and of the earth.
Candles were lit at each corner of the place where she was lying – and burning incense was constantly there. We closed her nose, ears and mouth with cotton wool and smeared ghee (clarified butter) onto her legs and arms.
Our chappati lady seemed to be one of those who knew the right order of things – and she instructed others in the way to proceed. First priority was to gather the necessary things including most importantly – a big bag of dried cow dung – to cleanse and purify as cows are considered holy and pure.
The water to be used for washing the body was heated over a fire of five cowdung pats – and the area where the body was to be burned was cleaned, water splashed on the area – and then water mixed with cow dung also thrown onto the earth to cleanse and purify the place.
Then came the building of the funeral pyre.. which began also with cow pats – laid out – in a pattern with a candle lit in the centre.
Bamboo – dried grass – and pieces of plywood and other scrap wood then were carefully placed to build a good structure – surrounded by holding stakes so that the pyre did not collapse as it burnt.
Lastly another bed of grass was placed on top of the pile. And then we turned to bathing Agee – together we women lifted her to a place – behind a curtain – where we first rubbed turmeric with water all over her body. This was rinsed off.. and she was carefully dried – a head scarf tied securely around her head and she was wrapped in a new sari.
It was time to place her on the bamboo and grass covered frame – where she was covered with a white sheet and then a bright pink cloth – and blessed with flowers – a coin placed on her third eye, rose water – incense – and she was lifted onto the bier by our men.
More incense – and the wood and bamboos and more dried cowdung was spread over her – as well as ghee to help the flames. When the pile was high and considered ready the flames began .. it was very quickly too hot to remain close.. and we all retreated to the place above the burning ground to watch andstand vigil while the fire raged.
And then Game Sir threw an earthen ware pot hard against the rocks near the fire.. as it smashed – the significance was spoken.
The pot is like our lives – it breaks – as always the earthern pot will break. So too our bodies are impermanent.
After some time a loud crack was heard – the breaking of the skull – and the fire continued – as it died down and the bones began to be revealed – we drank chai in honour of Agee. And lovingly made jokes about her constant cries for “Chhaaaaiii” in the last days. There were finally calls made to various scattered members of our ‘family’ who knew Agee in the past three years to tell of her departure.
This morning as I write this – the flavour of the smoke from the cremation is still with us – and the only evidence remaining is a few small bones and the bones of Agee’s skull.
There are all the facts. This is how it happened. But for me – I could not help but compare this passing to how we deal with death in so-called ‘developed’ countries. The sterility, the dressing up of the body – the long drawn out process of funeral arrangements – the huge expense of dying – the legal process – and the attempt to somehow conceal the reality of dying during the whole process.
When I choose my time of leaving I should much prefer this way – just let me go –
Allow the body to sizzle and spark
and disappear into the flame
wave me goodbye
cover me in bright pink cloth
as a gesture to the lightness of life
and the joy of the passing
Don’t cry for me
but rejoice with me
as the light beckons
and I leave my body behind
For this body is as the earthen pot
It breaks upon the rock
and spirit flies
released to the light