Monday, March 19, 2012

Katha Upanishad-What happens when one dies....

I lost my father a few days back.

That he was a great soul, a good teacher, more a friend than a father and that the loss is irreparable, etc though true and important, are extremely personal matters and not the theme of this post.

Then what is the theme?

A story from Katha Upanishad runs as follows. King Vahasrava performs a yagna in which he offers worthless gifts to Brahmans. Nachiketas, his son notices this and pesters his father to offer fruitful gifts. Vahasrava, in a fit of anger gifts Nachiketas to Yama. Nachiketas meets Yama and asks the most important question-what happens after death? Yama reveals the secret which is one of the best explanations offered by any religion on the post-death happening.

Thus Nachiketas learns the distinction between soul and body, the immortality of soul, the concept of moksha, etc.  from Yama.

And what did I learn after my father’s death?
  • We informed the relatives about his death. A standard question from them was “Is it going to be electric cremation or conventional cremation?” How is it relevant? In an electric cremation Asthi (ashes) is given within 2 hours whereas in conventional cremation it is given the next day. Sanjayanam is a ritual performed after obtaining the ashes. Hence in the case of electric cremation Sanjayanam can be performed on the same day and the relative can book return ticket the same night! Otherwise he/ she has to stay overnight!
  • We took the body to the cremation centre.
“Sir, you have one hour. The next body is arriving at 3.30. You need to finish all your rituals before that,” explained the attendant at the cremation centre.
“What time will you give the Asthi? By 5.30? I have to catch the 7.30 train back to Chennai,” requested an impatient uncle of mine.
  • By the time we got the Asthi and finished Sanjayanam, it was 6 in the evening. The Asthi was to be immersed in a river. My father died in Salem. We would have to go to either Mettur or Bhavani for immersion both of which were 50 kms away. The Pundit said that we could not keep the Asthi in the house overnight nor could it be kept in a neighbor’s house.
‘What if we keep in the boot of the car overnight and immerse tomorrow?’ suggested a very resourceful relative.
The Pundit perhaps had not faced this kind of a question earlier in his career. He tentatively agreed to the suggestion.
So the Asthi waited patiently in the boot of the car overnight!

  • We mentioned my father’s death in the obituary column of The Hindu. Every now and then some distant relative or an old friend would call to express his condolence and a typical conversation would go as follows:
“I learnt about Narayanan’s (my father) death…I’m sorry…?”
“……………..”
“Are you his elder son? What’re you doing?”
“…………………”
What’s your brother doing?”
“……………..”
 “How many children you have?”
“……………..”
“What are they doing?”
“………………….”
“Are you looking for alliance for the elder daughter?”
“………………….”
“I have a suitable boy in mind……”
And that was a condolence inquiry!

  • For a good part of his last few years, my father stayed alone in Valady, my native village. A neighbor and a servant maid looked after him reasonably well. While he paid them monthly for their services, he had told us to pay them a reasonable lump sum after his death.
What constituted a reasonable lump sum?
“Rs. 25,000 each,” suggested my uncle.
“Rs. 50,000 each,” was another suggestion.
“Do they deserve that much when especially for the last few months Narayanan was with his son and not with them?” questioned the uncle who had suggested Rs. 25,000 as the compensation.
Discussions. Points and counter points. Fact sheets. Their performance analysis of the past few years.
Finally it was decided to pay them Rs. 50,000 each.

  • As South Indian Brahmins we have to perform the last rites for 13 days. Every day the Pundit would come at 6.30 in the morning and the rituals would last for an hour. Thereafter we would be free till next morning. The  free time thus obtained would be spent on ‘atma vichar’- one day it would be Sankaran Kovil by-election, next day it would be UP election results, third day would be Rajini vs. Kamal vs. Vijayakant…..
  • My father’s pension account was in Valady. “It would be better to close the account when Hariharan is in India. So let’s do it during these 13 days. Otherwise Hariharan will leave the country and if the bank wants his signature on some paper, we will be stuck.” It was done.
  • “You need legal heir certificate to dispose of the family house,” said a lawyer relative. We contacted an official of Salem Municipal Corporation. “Sure, no problem. It will involve some ‘expenditure’.” We agreed to the ‘expenditure’. Then the official wanted my mother’s death certificate as she was also a legal heir. My mother died 25 years ago and we did not bother to get her death certificate then. “No problem. It will involve some more ‘expenditure’” volunteered the obliging Corporation official.
  • Everyone gave a farewell speech on the 13th day.
“Narayanan was a very, very independent person. He would not take help from anyone. I have to thank God that he gave me an opportunity to help him once,” said a relative.
“I was blessed with an opportunity to look after him once….,” said another relative.
What was the point? Were the phrases “thank God”, “blessed with an opportunity” polite garbs for the fact they in fact helped him?

  • “One has to be practical. How many days will one be brooding over his death? Will you stop eating, sleeping? What’s wrong in settling the financial issues? What’s wrong in laughing, gossiping, arguing…..? In fact Narayanan was a great philosopher. He did not believe in these rituals or the outward show of grief,” argued a close relative.
Perhaps he is right. One needs to be practical.

I am back on my job preparing cash flows and forecasts.

36 comments:

  1. Sorry to hear about your Dad's passing Sir. For some reason I am not really surprised about the selfishness of people even when there is a death in the family.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Akshay. I am still trying to digest the events. Writing about the same eased my feelings a bit.

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  2. Please accept my condolences. I can't say I understand how it feels to lose a father but I was raised by my grandparents so I can understand a little bit. And during the funeral duties of my grandparents the family was busy arguing over who got more and why my mum got more. Selfishness never ceases to astound me even after this.

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    Replies
    1. You seem to have experienced similar pain. I am taking somewhat longer time to adjust to the 'pragmatism.'

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  3. Sorry for your loss sir, whenever i comment on your post, i will add something funny, this comment will be an exception.
    I am not matured enough to convince you and i can see that you are fine, i believe that there will be some thoughts running on your mind, which you dint write.
    Life has become so fast sir, 50 years later i am not sure how all these rituals will be.
    I feel bad to read these, it makes something in my abdomen. i am scared of such stuffs, asthi and all tamil words related to death.
    i fear nothing for myself, when it is something for loved ones, i cant bear that..
    I know its a long comment.
    Sorry for that as well.
    His soul will find a nice place.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Deepak. You are quite understanding. Something bothers me. I really do not know what it is exactly.

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  4. more touching than i can handle...satire is defined here..i won't hesitate to appreciate it because of subject..i can't.

    my condolences won't make me any better than indifferent people around you.We are part of it and we can look at ourselves through write ups like this and instead of making a sorry face, just accept our ugly reality.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Shubam. Ugly reality...perhaps that is what is bothering me.

      Delete
  5. Condolences. Many times we wonder how we would face death of a close one. And that feeling makes us feel for others' loss.

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  6. Losing a father can be devastating never mind your age, his age, whether you were with him, away from him....Please accept my heartfelt condolences. Mourners can be callous. I have seen some who not only wanted to laugh and joke, but also wanted a sumptuous meal three times a day because the deceased liked to eat!

    Religious rituals are the least of the intrusions,but even there the commercialization is sickening.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Zephyr. You have summed it up aptly.

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  7. Hi Sir! First of all sincere condolences. May his Soul rest in Peace! No words can make you fell better at this moment. I had lost my Mother at the age of 18, 7 years back and I very well can relate to all the melodrama a relative can create in such situations. If one complains of severe head ache since they cannot eat until the body is cremated, the other would come to you checking until when should he stay?

    It doesn't matter anymore to me. And I also read in one of the comments where you said something is bothering you. I have figured out after all these years that when we lose a loved one, they take away a per of our soul with them.

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    1. A Part of our soul with them!

      May you and your family find all the happiness life has to offer.

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    2. Very sorry to hear that you lost your mother at a young age and face what I faced at 50 years. I can relate very well to the instances you have mentioned.
      Thanks for the comforting words.

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  8. I am extremely intrigued by your post..especially the question " what happens after death caught my eye..its something I have asked several times..a very very different reading after a long time..Thanks. Peace to you.

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    1. Katha Upanishad offers one of the best explanations on the question of what happens after death. You can read Swami Vivekananda's commentary on Katha Upanishad which is both interesting and informative.

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  9. I am very sorry that you lost your father,may his soul rest in peace...the aftermath has been very disillusioning for you...are we becoming insensitive & selfish & so materialistic by the day?Such experiences add to the sorrow.I hope you find peace in your heart.

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  10. sorry to read about your loss and equally sorry for the callous attitude...but you know what? the rituals somewhat ease the pain and the indifferent attitude of people actually points to that "life goes on"....it is sad really for the person who has lost the dear one but for the rest ...well there are times we are on that other side too...

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    Replies
    1. You are right...rituals somewhat ease the pain.

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  11. Heartfelt condolences Hariharan.

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  12. Have been reading your work, perhaps infrequently, for quite some time, Hariharan. I do not recall if I have ever left a comment on something I read, but I have enjoyed many of your posts.

    I do not know words that comfort but I do know that death is a doorway for all who experience it, those who die and those who live on. Death is a transmission of life. It acknowledges one's preparedness to assume a larger role, both the dead and the living. Truly enjoyed (the darkest of moments can contain the brightest of wit) this post too. I trust that you will find the lessons that this part of your life holds for you of value, Hariharan.

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    1. Thanks. Death is an acknowledgement of one's preparedness for larger role...new way of looking at.
      Thanks for reading my posts.

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  13. https://www.evernote.com/shard/s179/sh/6e92bd9b-f286-4b7a-85da-77420218223c/5dcaeecb9dae169b5530240e0a36aeab

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  14. Thanks for an excellent article! I appreciate your insights and agree with what you wrote. crematory phoenix

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  15. Extremely Sorry for your Loss Sir. For People of your generation, I'm sure your Father would have been a sort of Hero for you, in your own way. I can empathize what you must be going through (My dad went through a similar rough phase when my Grandpa passed away. Dad said, he felt he had lost his most trusted confidant and a sense of isolation was upon him).Life After Death might be easy for the one who has left us, but it is NEVER the same for those who are left behind. However practical one is, the dent remains forever.
    As for the relatives, It's the same case everywhere Sir. Only those who were truly dear to the blessed souls, will know their value and miss them!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks. Just as your dad said my father also was more a friend with whom I can confide. His parting has created a vacuum.

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  16. Sorry for your loss Sir!!


    When Katha upanishad told people what happens to the soul after death.. you have explained what happens to the other souls in the world..

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  17. Sir
    Sorry to hear about the demise of your father. your poignant expression of the events in the 13 days rightly reminded me of the days when my father passed away Last july . i know to come over this mental agony requires tremendous will power and strength and i pray to god to give you the same to overcome this personal loss of yours regards Sivakumar

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  18. hello Sir,

    Sorry to know about your father's demise. My father had passed away in 2007, at that time I didn't even got a chance to see him since I was living abroad and they couldn't hold his body for 3days or so. I underwent a long silence phase at that time but my friends made me to overcome this grief. After all life has to move on! Take care.

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