“It feels like a second life”. Thought me as I watched everyone around, wailing faces, sad faces, numb faces, faces that suggest a task has been completed and baby faces unable to understand what was happening around. But no face was looking back at me; instead, they were looking at my identical twin sleeping peacefully on the ground, facing the South direction.
It felt bizarre; I could witness everything without anyone else’s knowledge. Also, a life, if it was so at all, that no one else could see, know or feel. The famous Bollywood movie “ Mr India” had certainly made me very curious as a kid, but only then I realised how it feels to be “absently present”.
It took me some time to realise what had actually happened. Thanks to my grandmother who I used to call “Amma”. I remember the night I saw her, heard her, following the morning she died. No, it was no illusion at the age of 14 years and I was not under any influence.
Whatever little knowledge or perceptions I have of our culture, traditions, beliefs and mythology, I owe it to her! It says that the spirit does not proceed to the heavenly abode immediately after death but stays on for 13 days. This belief has paved a way to the tradition of bidding a final farewell to the deceased on the 13th day and is called ‘Tervi’.
My twin was made to wear new clothes and was placed on a frame by tying with a rope, the intersecting horizontal and vertical thin wooden logs. A priest was chanting some shlokas for her peaceful departure while my immediate family was encircling her and offering flowers, followed by all the others gathered there. She was then carried to the banks of the river Ganges on four shoulders and this procession mostly comprised of males, while the females stayed behind the boundary of my home. When we reached the Ghat, my look-alike body was placed on a much more elaborate pile of logs, which I thought was a waste of wood and I could not decide whether the people around were crying for her or for the trees. A man with a steel vessel full of Ganga-Jal encircled me while sprinkling the holy water around the circumference of the pyre while chanting still continued. Then the same man with a thick wooden stick hit her skull with one single blow, a ritual performed so that the deceased has no memory of the previous birth in his reincarnation. After the blow, the pile was set on fire and the men stood around, staring at the blaze. When flames receded and the body and woods mostly turned to ash, it was collected in a clay pot to be brought back home. On a tree nearby was hung some food in another clay pot and this was to be done twice every day for thirteen days. This was a gesture of feeding the spirit which is believed to be around till the Tervi, i.e., me! The men then started marching back home, and on their way back 1 of them shaved off his skull. By the time they were back, the ladies had washed the entire place as well as taken shower themselves. One of them stood outside with a pot of water which was used by the men for washing their feet before entering the house and then all of them went for a bath. For thirteen days the food was not cooked at home, a tradition of not turning the ‘Chulha’ on. Also, the food sent by others or ordered from a caterer was void of onion and garlic, ingredients considered ‘Tamsic’ by North Indian Brahmins and had very less ghee and spices.
Throughout this period, the man who performed the last rights used to sleep on the floor instead of the bed, have ‘sattvik’ food and have the last meal of the day, not much later than sunset. There was ‘akhand jyot’ where the body was initially kept at home and a diya lit twice every day at the place of the funeral. There were visitors almost every day and everybody sat on the floor with my immediate family. Also, the worshipping ceremony, which used to happen twice every day otherwise, had also taken a backseat for these thirteen days. Since the demised soul is perceived to be around and watchful till Tervi, it is advised by the elderly to not mourn the death as it may hurt the soul to see her near and dear ones cry because of her.
On the 10th day, known as ‘Nahaan’, there was a cleaning spree in the entire house and all the upholstery was changed. It was called the ‘Shuddhi’ day.
And then came my last day. My family had bought an item of everything a normal person uses, from a pair of clothes, towel, socks, shoes, toiletries, umbrella, torch, stationary, some vessels, bedding etc to some food articles; to be given to a female priest who was considered my representative that day. A Pooja was performed and a caterer was hired to cook an authentic Uttar Pradesh meal consisting Poori, Kachori, Pumpkin vegetable, a gravy preparation, curd, milk-based dessert etc in large quantity and everybody knew was invited for it after 13 Brahmins exclusive of my representative were fed with it. This ritual is known as ‘Brahmin Bhoj’. After the Brahmin Bhoj, all the utilities were decorated on a single bed with my representative sitting pretty on it and blessing my family after they took a round of the bed n touched her feet. All those things were offered to her and my family bid her a final goodbye. The ashes were submerged in the Ganges and we parted ways forever!