Value of Funerals

| by Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam

( November 17, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) I read with interest, the article ‘Liberating lessons from Sheppard Avenue’, by Nila, of Toronto, published by Sri Lanka Guardian.
I was happy to note that Sheppard Avenue was about funerals. Happy because I had just completed chanting Sivapuranam for my uncle Duraipillai Subramani who passed away yesterday in Toronto. I sat in front of the ‘Family Section’ of our shrine room and chanted – thinking of Chukuru Mama (as we called our uncle). In that picture was Chukuru Mama’s father – Duraipillai Thaatha and his wife Yogammah Paatti whose mother Manicka Aachi established our family temple at Sangarathai-Thunaivi – in Northern Sri Lanka – around which many of our projects are developing. Out of all the pictures, one that stands out majestically is that of our Great Grandparents –Mrs. & Mr. A.M.Pillai who is my role model for helping the needy in Sri Lanka – especially in educational pursuits.
Nila says ‘whether in times in war or peace; prosperity or famine, what remains opened for steady business is the pale doors of funeral parlours. And whenever I visit these two in particular down Sheppard Avenue , I always happened to come across other funerals of our own (viewings) at the same place, all the time. While most of the elderly are seated inside the viewing hall, many middle aged men and relatively young folks with dark ties and gelled hairstyles milling outside the doors becomes a common sight.’
The Toronto funeral scenes described by Nila are similar to the ones here in Sydney. They are also similar to the one we had in Colombo for our Brother who passed away in a Vanni camp in 2009 and whose body was transported to Colombo for the funeral. Two siblings from Vattukkotai could not attend due to the turmoil in the country resulting from the Battle of Vanni.
All these funerals are lacking in ‘home freedom’ that I recall experiencing during my grandmother Manicka Aachi’s funeral in Arali. Arali was not immune to bomb attacks and some of our homes have been leveled to the ground. My grandmother’s is now home to someone else unknown to us. But the temple established by our grandmother is still with us and is supporting our family and the community around the temple. We connect naturally through our belief in Vairavar-Kali residing in that temple.
Nila asks ‘Do the economical comforts of a life in the West make us settle for the natural death of our cherished culture, language and traditions?’
The simple response that comes to my mind is ‘Traditional values that we carry forward over generations that are now a natural part of us are eternal ’. To me it is about the seen, the known and the realized. Majority Australian Tamils do follow the outer culture – the dress, language and religion. Only a few actually carry the deeper Common Values that hold us together naturally as a community. I myself carry forward my great grandparents from both sides. My paternal ancestors who followed Thesawalamai principles, help me value and feel supported in my Sri Lankan work. My maternal ancestors help me value and feel supported in my migrant life. I am the best example known to me that true belief has power beyond time and place. Each time I meditate on my Great Grandfather A.M.Pillai – who as a first generation migrant from Jaffna, established a Business Empire in Burma and supported the education of many families back in Ceylon – I feel confident in my work in Sri Lanka and its value to Australia. It takes time for me to see the outer forms of the value of my work to the folks in Sri Lanka. But at that time of doing the work, the support comes from within me – including through my ancestors. The outer common forms and ceremonies help us keep to the common path and draw on each other’s strengths and make up for each other’s weaknesses. They are not the final destination. The destination is feeling Universal/Free. Those with whom we traveled to this destination get priority status to access us as facilities.
Our current benefits from cultural groups need to be no more than our current costs, if we are to integrate with wider society – be it in Sri Lanka or in the countries we have migrated to. Resources above the levels needed to generate benefits needed towards integration, need to last beyond one generation. In most instances, those who draw from previous generations feel the confidence that the values of their work would be carried beyond their generation. When we migrate – at least some of it is shared laterally. Current work in Sri Lanka without the ancestral or global support is of no value in Australia and v.v.
When we share laterally, we progress towards becoming global citizens. To the extent we share with belief in previous generations – our work has eternal value. As per my assessment, I did this here in Australia – to uphold my investment in Sri Lankan education. I ended up establishing for my own future use as an Australian that first generation migrants could be Equal Australians in substance and not just legally. Towards this I had to do higher work as an Australian to make up for the shortfall in investment by majority race in Government, in Equal Opportunity principles and values. After knowing their highest limit, I accepted that shortfall by sharing my additional investments. Hence to my mind, ‘Australians’ are of the same value/status as I and v.v. Those who consider themselves as Australians and recognize me as an Equal Australian until known otherwise for better or for worse, are Australians to me. I naturally share my powers with them. I naturally go to them during their times of need. With others, I need evidence to distribute any excess I may have – even if they are of Lankan origin.
Nila asks ‘The proud heritage; the ancient history of our continuing linguistic traditions; the illustrious bounty of our art forms; the underlying rich themes and flows of our land – are these also slowly getting buried with the deceased? Is there any meaningful and thought after argument that all these could be effectively transferred to the second ‘Mac’ generation, growing up here in the technological mega births down super intel milky ways.’
There are those who, like the voter who does not participate in National Governance beyond her/his vote, merely represent the community’s outer forms. At that level, if our deaths are greater than our births – then we do lose numbers and vote power. This could influence the ‘vote-power’ we have with those driven by votes/numbers/popularity/social support/ weapon power. Within these losses, loss of social support is felt more by the aged when one of theirs dies and loss of brawn power is recognized by the young when one of theirs dies.
During funerals Hindus chant Sivapuranam and followers of other religions, their own prayers. Sivapuranam is prayer to Lord Shiva – the Destroyer of Body Consciousness. It is my belief that when we rise above the physical – we become more active intellectually and when we rise above the intellect we are ‘free’. When the body is stilled, the mind becomes active and when the mind is stilled we merge with our Truth/Soul within. During funeral ceremonies, we combine our prayers and minds to help raise the work of the person who has passed away and with it our work also – above the physical and intellectual. Then it comes with us forever and also is shared forever with the community we leave behind, through those amongst the community who love us as part of that community and/or who believe in us as part of that community.
Given that I believe in my ancestors, I believe that my work in common will be carried forward by those who love me and/or believe in me. To the extent we make our work ‘common’ we make it deep when we are conscious of One. Hence we know that what hurts us would hurt others who believe in us. Good Governance leads to this Oneness. That’s when a country becomes a Nation or a Race becomes Global.
Many Tamil Leaders refer to themselves as being part of the Tamil Nation. Likewise Sinhalese in Sinhalese Nationalism. At the moment, we are officially/legally only a race in Sri Lanka. To be a nation we need to be part of a group larger than that country – for example by including ourselves with Tamils in Tamil Nadu and other parts of the world. Likewise Sinhalese with other Sinhalese beyond Lanka. If so, we – Tamils or Sinhalese, need to lose consciousness of the Sri Lankan Government being our opposition. A nation is self sufficient and does not need an ‘opposition’ to recognize itself as being part of the Whole – the Globe. If majority outsiders ‘see’ us as Sri Lankans then we have to start from country level. If we have come beyond country level and include ourselves with Tamils or Sinhalese all over the world – then we would no longer be conscious of opposition at country level or lower, but only at global level through the two sides of an issue. We would not need a country level or opposition. On that basis Tamils would recognize racism wherever they live and not just in Sri Lanka. Sinhalese in turn would respect all Tamils as being part of a group larger than Sri Lanka.
Promoting ourselves beyond the physical is like death of the body. To the extent we continue to carry details of our past – beyond that which is needed to remember the value – we are failing to live in our present. We therefore need migration funerals through which we carry forward only the Values and not the physical details of what happened. Those who meditated on Lord Shiva during migration – would have consolidated their values towards global life.

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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