A large funeral pyre of 7 or 8 feet was erected to the north of the village. A procession was conducted through the village with the body in a slim wooden box flanked in the crimson red of the monk’s final robe. Many of the villagers followed the body, each with a colourful umbrella to shield them from the threatening grey skies above. The coffin was held by ten or twelve villagers who then sang and danced in rhythmic tradition to celebrate a life well lived. This dancing is only done for older people who have had a full life; when a young person dies the mood is more sombre.
After dancing, which is mainly done by the women of the village, they retreat whilst the body is stripped of its clothes. The body, complete with coffin, was added to the pyre which was then doused in a healthy amount of fuel to ensure a good burning. There was an almighty clash as the oxygen caught with the fuel to begin the combustion. Someone stays nest to the pyre throughout the burning process, which usually takes 24 hours; if it rains or doesn’t catch properly then it will need to be tended to until the earthly body is no more than ash to join with the soil. As we retreated, we traversed a longer path to avoid crossing the new hospital. Coming from a funeral, locals believe the black negativity from the other side should not be transferred to newly built places for fears of repercussions and bad omens. We have similar superstitions in my village in England. While neither I nor my student hold with these ideas, it is of course always a good idea to respect the views of the majority in such situations.
NEH Director of Studies and Teacher Trainer