Yesterday I shortly mentioned that we did not perform any rituals or ceremonies after the death of my mother which Hindus usually do. As we don’t consider ourselves Hindus and don’t believe in any benefit of all such traditions, we skipped all of that and just spent the days mourning our loss in our own way. Some people however asked about the cremation and according to which religion we performed the last rites for our mother, so I thought I tell you a little bit about all the things that people think we should have done and we did not do.
It actually started already in the morning of the 10th December. It had been only a few hours since Ammaji had passed, her body in the entrance hall of the Ashram. The day had started and the Ashram family members, who had all been sitting in the hall in a wake since about three o’clock, were now slowly joined by people from outside who had heard the news and came to say a final goodbye, express their condolence or help with whatever needed to be done.
We had already made up our minds about what we would do and had made arrangements for the woods to reach the burning place at the river on time and the pieces of the bier to reach the Ashram. Some of the men who had come knew how to bind the bier and prepared it while the women started preparing Ammaji’s body.
If you read a novel and would reach to this point where preparations for the cremation of a loved one were made in a traditional Hindu family, the author would describe how the family calls a priest, how the priest would give instructions on certain rituals to do before you leave and how the body should be prepared. At the burning place, too, there would be a lot of instructions, which can get very detailed and I am sure any author would love to create a dramatic picture out of it.
We did not do any of it and thus it was just very simple. Some of the people who had come however, could not help themselves but ask about some details. The women who were preparing Ammaji’s body for example asked for many different things, as it is usual to show all signs of a married woman on her body when she dies – and so they would do make-up, put colour on her hair, apply henna on her hands, put new bangles and even polish her nails! When such questions came up, we just told that we did not have any of this and whatever we had done was enough. A new Sari, a nice cloth on top – it was enough and whatever more you could have done would not have changed the fact that it was only her body that was left. We brought it down to the Yamuna.
The last rite for my mother was a family event, not a religious event. Unlike usual, my wife and daughter had come along, too, so that they could say their last good-byes. We three brothers performed the cremation without any priest, any rituals or any drama. The men of a family normally shave just before the ceremony but we did not do that. There is a big ceremony about how to light the fire and the prayers that you do with it. We just thought of our mother with much love, that was enough.
Usually, when the body and all wood is completely burned, the last flames are extinguished with water from the river. The Yamuna flows around Vrindavan and is considered holy, which makes people usually happy that they can use this holy water for their ritual. One religious person who was present at the cremation asked me to take water from the Yamuna and sprinkle it over the remaining flames. I answered that this was not the Yamuna but sewage water which I would not touch with my hands! Instead I took a bottle of mineral water from which I had been drinking – something else that you don’t usually do at a cremation – and poured it over the ashes. Other people did use water from the Yamuna and in the end we put the last bit of ashes into the river.
Several people asked us when we would do certain rituals and we told them we would not. Many knew well that we don’t follow any religion but still gave their advice on which ceremonies we should do. It may have been a very unholy event in the eyes of the religious people present. They may even say we were lacking respect for ignoring traditions and customs. For us however, it did not matter what they thought. Our mother died and nothing could bring her back, no ritual, no ceremony, no make-up, no shaving and no priest.
When my mother was alive, she fed the school and ashram children every day. When she left us, we closed the school for two days in her remembrance. Now the school is open again and the best way how we can respect the memory of our mother is to keep on feeding these children.
Serving poor children is our only religion.