Open casket during the first part of the service, the chapel walls trembled with song and prayer. Oil was anointed on the deceased’s face, incense burned and food placed in and around the coffin like a flashy picnic. By the media controls at the back of the chapel, I watched the monitor intently. The camera allowed us to watch what was taking place and I bit at my shellac manicure nervously. Is the poor dead guy going to catch on fire? Look at all that amazing food! Would the guests mind if I popped up to the lectern and grabbed a buttered roll? I had skipped breakfast. Suddenly the family opened the deceased’s mouth and I cringed…loudly. “The mouth suture! They’ll see the thread” I panicked, turning to my colleague.
“It’s okay. They’ve seen it all before,” he assured me, polishing his specs as if this was totally normal. Well, to the Hindu family it was. And the more I watched the more I wished the western world could embrace death the way this beautiful culture did. In Australia and many other countries, death is commonly ushered out the door quickly, taken care of by the funeral directors. At viewings I’ve had family shudder when I suggest they partake in the viewing as if I had just advised they eat a can of worms.“Ugh, no. Not for me,” they quiver. And here was a family feeding the dead so they had food to take with them to the next life. Food forever. Now that’s love.
The second part of the Hindu ‘celebration’ took place behind the chapel by the cremator. Next to the retort four family members continued to chant and pray. The area usually reserved for staff had been tidied and trays of bones covered. My heart started racing when I noticed someone was being cremated beside us. Would they notice?
The family draped in colourful satin and dripping with jewels poured a whole bottle of what appeared to be vegetable oil over the deceased, and again I cringed. The beautiful makeup the mortician had spent time perfecting is ruined! Fire starters were placed in the coffin, set alight and the retort doors lifted revealing the sleepy glow. Embers scattered on the cremator floor, the coffin was pushed in and engulfed in flames as the family watched, howling and holding onto one another for support. I stood in my polished shoes in shock. When the door lowered they shook our hands, thanked us and returned to the rest of the family waiting in the chapel.
I was shaken but so grateful for being apart of such a rich cultural experience. That night I immersed myself in research, reading all I could on Hindu practises and discovered the Western world really could take a page from the Hindu way of life. Believing Braham, the God of all things is everywhere and in everything. Death, (Samsara) is a blessing and the ultimate life goal to meet with the God and to be reincarnated. Food forever! Colour, karma and Peace! I think I may be a Hindu.