Monday, 3 May 2010

Death Rituals in Ladakh

The second death ritual that we shall encounter comes from a little Indo-Himalayan border village; Achinathang in Ladakh.

The main aspects of this death ritual focuses on the shi-zan, funeral feast. This is where the whole community gathers after the death has taken place; and helps the soul gain a decent rebirth. For the funeral feast, a large loaf of wheat bread is made, this could be a nod to the Christian Communion but I could find no evidence to suggest this.

Before the bread is passed around the group, part of it is broken off and dropped onto the ground; this is for the dead person. Not really sure what it is symbolic of; it could be to pacify the deceased soul before it proceeds to the rebirth. This is one of the weaknesses of Ravina Aggarwal work, she mentions some really interesting stuff in her accounts but fails to go in depth and ask the questions that would gain her the insights of knowledge.

After the funeral feast has taken place, the mourning rituals last for 49 days, as is the customary time length for a Buddhist death ritual. During the period of time, the entire populace of the village is under the caution of ritual pollution. The basic understanding of this concept is that any ritual performed whilst being ritually unclean results in the ritual being void. Ergo if any important rituals are carried out during this condition then they will fail and this could have extremely bad consequences on the society.

Ravina Aggarwal notes that:
The actions of living people have a lasting impact on the fate of the dead which must be decided within 49 days.

For the people in Ladakh, the funeral feast marks the 'transmigration'
of the soul from death to rebirth. If something was to go wrong during this ritual then the transition can harm the chances of a successful rebirth. Everything must go smoothly or else the living and the dead will suffer.

Again, this is the common theme that runs throughout all death rituals.

More information can be found in this journal:

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