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Monday, November 11, 2013

Speech at Funerals – Is it a new Ritual?

Today is November 7, 2013. It is exactly five years since my “angel” passed away. It amazing how difficult it is for me to use the word, “died”! That sounds so final. It just does not sound final. It IS final. I know it; yet seem to deny.

During her final days, Ramaa (my angel) told me: “no speeches for me, please. No bhajans (prayer and chanting) either. Just feed our friends”. That was her last request about how the funeral should be. I agreed totally. My request to my children is the same. Please let me go in peace. Let the occasion be simple, subdued, dignified. Celebrate life with meals and friendship. No speeches, please!

I was at a funeral not long ago. The beginning was dignified. Soon, it deteriorated to the usual long-winded speeches! Why do we have to speak at funerals? When did it become a part of the death ceremony? It certainly was not so until about 15 or 20 years back. It has become a part of the procedure particularly in Indian funerals. I had the painful experience of attending a funeral in which the body was still there for “viewing”, when talks and music were going on for at least an hour or two! It was so bizarre and uncomfortable, we had to leave!

Why do we have to speak at all at funerals? Why do we have to speak for so long? Is it to please the dead? It cannot be, since the dead cannot hear us anyway. Is it to please the family? If so, most of them are not in a mental state to hear all this, particularly the humor. In fact they may not agree with the speaker’s assessment. Having lived with the deceased, they know the wrong impressions the speaker has. They know the real person. But, they are not going to get up and raise an “objection” even if they are given an opportunity to do so. The speaker will not and cannot talk about the “real’ person with the “warts and all” since it is not appropriate.

(The speeches are worse in weddings! Yes, it is a good time for the parents or the couple to thank the folks who came. Beyond that, what is the need? Actually, the way some of those folks speak about the virtues of the bride and groom, one would think that the speakers were talking about Rama and Sita, divine couples! ) 

Why we do we speak at funerals and weddings? Why do we speak so long and sound so “phony”?

That made me read and think about rituals. Rituals are necessary part of a society and culture. The word itself comes from a Latin root called “ritus”, which means “to fit together”.  It is meant to bind us with the cosmos and with the larger society. (Do you see the similarity of the root word to the Sanskrit word rthum, which means “sacred custom or Divine Law”).

Rituals are usually celebrated during important changes in seasons and during cosmic events (eclipse). Rituals are practiced during changes in our personal lives, such as birth, wedding and death. This is the basis of the 40 samskaras in the vedic tradition.

Rituals are meant to be spiritual. They are useful to bring a sense of group identity and togetherness. They are to connect us with the cosmos and the divine. They are to bring the families and the community together at times of happiness and sadness. They are helpful to get children involved and teach them the traditions which they, in turn, can pass on.

Have rituals lost their true meanings and spiritual connections? Have we changed these into occasions for showing off wealth, social connections and status, or our own ego?

1 comment:

albina N muro said...

This is the text of the speech I gave at my grandfather's funeral, along with some notes for anyone who has a speech of their own to right. more