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Remembering the dear departed

Sanjeev V Sardesai

Goa, as well as India, is a land where every opportunity to celebrate, and also to respectfully reminiscence, is done with dignity, nostalgia, and glamour.

This article throws light on the forthcoming rituals of All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2) which will be held here.

Each religious community carries out the final rites of the deceased by way of a fire or burials or in some cases offering it to birds of prey – the vultures. This practice definitely has exceptions in certain communities of far-east countries. Here in such cases, by pre-determined systematic methodology, the person opts to give up his life, through a series of stage-wise fasting and other methods. In India, it was followed in very early times and was called as ‘taking Samadhi’.

As per a researched episode on a Discovery Channel series, it is said that these remains of the deceased in far-east countries, are kept respectfully in the individual homes. However, this ancient technique of ending one’s life is on the decline.

It is surmised that these varied methods of conducting the final rites may perhaps have arisen depending on the geographic origin and region of establishment of the various faiths; and the natural amenities available in the surrounding areas.

If we scrutinise logically, it is seen that in India, the final rites are done through use of natural resources such as dry wood. The body is turned to ashes over a wood stacked funeral pyre. However, the Christian, as well as the Muslim communities, surrender their dear departed to Mother Earth through
burials.

In India, there is free availability of wood as the country is bequeathed with huge forests. Also the local residents of these lands consider fire as a ritualistic element of purification. Hence in all probability, and since ancient times, the concept of using fire and wood for the final rites by the people who followed the Hindu way of life may have been favorably accepted in India.

If we note, the Christian and Muslim method of final rites, there seems to be a similarity in the methods, which is by burial. Could the origin of this burial practice have started in the desert regions of Jerusalem and the Middle East regions, where availability of wood for fire was not possible, due to extensive sandy, desert regions? Hence, is it possible that they opted for burials in those sandy soils?

Whatever be the reasons, these practices have been followed from times immemorial.

The Parsi Community, originally from Persia (Iran) and who follow Zoroastrian faith consider fire as pure and holy, hence they do not use fire for the final rites. They also consider burial as a pollutant of nature. They thus lay the dead to rest in specially built up complexes known as a ‘Tower of Silence’. The dead are exposed to sunlight and then left for birds of prey such as vultures, kites and crows.

But with the disappearance of vultures, since the 1980’s, this community is seeking relief through other means.

In Goa, every year, a very solemn ritual takes place known as All Saints Day. This festival is celebrated to honour all the known and unknown saints of the Christian faith, on November 1. It starts on October 31, and the day is called as All Hallow’s Eve. This day is celebrated in the United States as Halloween Day. On November 2, Christians observe All Souls Day.

On this day, the Catholic families in Goa visit the respective cemeteries, where their dear departed have been interred. They then decorate the graves with fresh flowers, and prayer services are held in remembrance of those that have gone behind the curtain of time.

One can see very hectic activity in all cemeteries in Goa. In Panaji, the major cemetery is the one at the St Agnes or St Inez Church. Here we can see two cemeteries – the old one towards the north of the Church, while the new one under the control of the CCP, lies to the south side. The north side displays some amazing mausoleums with lovely carved statuettes; while the new one is now being beautified to create a beautiful atmosphere.

On November 1, we see many families busy cleaning up the grave sites and decorating them with fresh flowers. These aesthetic designs in flowers and petals create a very harmonious ambience in the entire precinct.

It is seen that in this busy world, every family always misses their close family and friends, as they pass from this world into the next. This is a message for us to practice sharing love with all our family members and friends, especially the elders of our families, before it is too late.

This solemn practice of remembering the dear departed, is held in every faith of the world. It is a very comforting ritual that ensures that we will be remembered after we are gone.

Let us bow our head in silence, and humbly remember all dear departed, as the Catholic Community celebrates All Saints Day and All Souls Day.

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