In many tribal societies to this day, as in many mainstream societies formerly, there is a class factor that further complicates the matter of disposal of the dead. The privileged like royals in the Roman Empire and in the present times, the elders in the tribal world are burnt; while commoners are buried. The simple reason for this in tribal society is that the rites that follow cremation are long-drawn out and entail much expenditure on feasting and hosting relatives and friends for a number of days; on the other hand, the rites that follow burial are brief and so are less expensive.

Cutting across all these practices is the belief that dust may return to dust, but the show goes on for the spirit and it is our duty to provide for this when our family members depart from this world.

Egypt’s Pharaohs arranged to ‘take’ their entire riches and retinue along with them post-death to maintain their standard of living in the hereafter. Other tribes, children of a lesser god, like, say, the Hill Maria, follow the same principle on a humble plane. Their graves in current times can be seen with say, a bicycle to help the dear departed ride easy in the other world, a radio to keep him entertained and humming, a utensil so he can cook his meals and other such objects of daily use. It is a different matter that the ‘bicycle’ is perhaps no more than a discarded wheel rim or a worn-out tyre; the ‘radio’ no more than a broken outer case of a former-radio and so on, whereby the grave resembles a junk-heap. It is more symbolic.

In contrast, the Muria tribe follows better aesthetics. Instead of heaping symbolic junk, they plant menhirs or tall stones at the tomb and paint thereon colourful images of things the dear departed loved when alive: mostly, images of hunting, drinking and value time with women. The assumption, clearly, is that the departed person’s preferences here remain unchanged in the hereafter because the driving spirit is the same.

In a society where religion is magic-centric, it should not be difficult to accept that the spirit will be able to ‘use’ an image of a bicycle as meaningfully as a real machine.

Human Vanity

Whether the spirit can indeed enjoy such earthly amenities in the hereafter is something we cannot know for sure. However, one thing is certain: human vanity extends to the hereafter. The huge pyramids and countless tombs and mausoleums erected for the royal dead, as also the golden urns in which their incinerated remains were buried, testify to this. Often times, the grand tomb was commissioned by the ‘beneficiary’ himself.

Alexander the Great, who had desired that after his death his coffin be so designed as to exhibit his empty hands instructionally to the world, is perhaps a glorious exception.

Om Namah Shivay

***Write ” Om Namah Shivay ” if you ask for God’s blessing on your life today. Please Like, Tag and Share to bless others!



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