Tuesday 4 March 2008

Final Day of the Funeral

Death has a way of putting everything into perspective, doesn't it? I mean what is the use in being unhappy, angry, resentful when you're just going to die anyway. What a complete waste of time, of which I have plenty so I am no longer a dweller in da house of doom (so I may need another name for my humble abode!)

One of the many things that I love about Thai people is how they deal with death. I first witnessed it in the aftermath of the tsunami and have witnessed it in the village countless times. Their strength is incomparable and it awes me. Today that facade shifted. With his cremation, came the rivers of tears. Totally heartbreaking.

It was the final day of the funeral today. About 20 monks came to do the final chanting rites before the cremation at our local temple at 3pm. The monk part of the ceremony went for a couple of hours as they do some chanting first, then the head monk did a sermon (for want of a better word) and we had a super chattarama leader in the house today and a comedian to boot. He (head honcho monk) had everyone cracking up which was so brilliant to watch. I could only understand about 10% of what he was saying (southern dialect and cos he was a bit of a freak!) but J translated quite a bit for me. He was joking but had serious undertones about gambling and alcoholism and that people like to make a show of being so Buddhist, but then go to every funeral to gamble and drink. Much hilarity was to be had as he said he was aware that none such thing had been happening at this funeral! A har har, Casino Ville the funeral should have been called! If you look closely at the 2nd photo you can see the head monk sitting much higher then the other monks, next to the sparkly coffin.

Listening to so many monks chanting is the fastest way to teleport me back to reality. It lifts me up to the place that I wish was where my true self resided at all times. It also is a very timely reminder about why I love living here so darn much! Exquisite.

After the second lot of chanting finishes, important people in the community and family members come forward to make a donation to the monks. When this is completed the monks leave and then everyone lines up holding onto handmade paper flowers that they put through the candle flame to symbolise the burning of the body.

Then the final stage of the funeral is where the body is transported to the temple in a sea of vehicles as everyone from the funeral sends him off. The coffin is carried up the stairs to the temple furnace where the immediate family lifts his body out of the coffin and places him into the fire. The first time I saw this done I was so confronted, so speechless, so shocked. Imagine personally putting the body of your dearly departed into the fire yourself. I was astounded at the gravity of this process. The grief it would surely cause. But I think the act of doing it is so final that perhaps it gives them closure. I have been invited several times to be a part of this process but can not do it. The final picture shows the temple furnace up the stairs where the deceased's children, wife and siblings stand (after cremating him), where they throw cellophane wrapped coins to the crowd for prosperity, luck and to end the ceremony with smiles. A small ceremony will be held at the temple in the morning to retrieve his ashes.

I am truly blessed living in this amazing country.

4 commentaramas:

thailandchani said...

An amazing description! :) Yes, you are lucky to be living in that wonderful place! And thanks to you for writing about it so I can at least continue to live it through you for the time being (until I get back). :)

Mel said...

Thanks Chani :-) It's nice to be an armchair traveller (but nicer to actually be here!)

Jenny Beattie said...

I'm sure I've said this before Mel, but it makes me realise how eons away I actually live from proper Thai culture.

Fascinating stories, as always.


Carol said...

Blimey - I had no idea that they actually life the body out and place it into the fire!! I don't blame you for not participating in this bit - I don't think I would be able to do it either!!

C x