It’s been a while since I’ve left the city and come back to my small hometown of Kalimpong. Even here I live in a village outside the main town. It’s taken a while to get used to the slow pace, had to make a lot of adjustments and moreover had a price to pay for taking such decisions. Anyways, it’s moving on in its own beautiful way. Learning about living and dying!
Recently, there was a death in our village, an old man who died belonged to the Rai community. The funeral was attended by a huge number of people, the family, extended family, friends, wellwishers and a number of ‘gaule‘(neighbourhood folks).
The family where this death took place is simple and modest. One of the sons work as a carpenter in the neighbourhood, it then reminded me of my grandfathers words ‘malami raknu parcha hai‘, which means that you have to touch people’s lives so that you have a good turn out at your funeral. There’s no point in achieving great heights if you don’t have the love and respect of people who turn out in numbers during your last rites. This hit my conscious that this simple village man has made that much of a difference (not by wealth/fame) but just simply out of love.
It’s always also told that ‘bihey ma bhanda marau ma janu’ (that you should attend a funeral instead of a wedding, for the family will remember your presence).
After five days of mourning, the Rai community have a ritual performed which is called ‘CHINTA‘, performed after the death of a person. In this ritual the ‘bijwa’ (shaman) prays to the ‘devtas’ invoking them and the spirits while he gets into a trance.
The idea of the ritual is to ensure that the family through the shaman knows the spirit of the dead is happy, then to guide and show the path in meeting with their ‘pitri ‘ (ancestors).
It’s a tradition which is also dying in the modern world, as there are less number of people who wish to continue these practices. The ‘Bijwa’ and his colleagues came from another village, they walked for miles on a moonlit path.
Soon after they came, they started to prepare the ‘than‘ (prayer setup) using banana stem/leaves, bamboo, feathers of a bird, porcupine quills, some kind of horns, stones, rice grains, diya, coal, dhoop, coins, water, alcohol, sickle, dagger, ginger and some more items, the bijwa (shaman) starts to pray and bless all the items.
There are then a series of dialogues that follow between the family member and the bijwa and his colleagues. It’s first spoken in Rai dialect and later translated in Nepali, each time it’s about letting everyone know why something is being done in a certain way, thereafter seeking approval of if, only can it then be carried on further. This exercise takes places for quite a while until everyone is convinced and on the same page.
Soon after the ‘bijwa‘ (shaman) sits in his place he starts shaking and gets into a trance. Slowly he starts praying and blessing everything on the ‘than’.
He prays/blesses the ‘kasa ko thal’ plate before it’s passed on to his helpers to beat. His helpers beat on ‘kasa ko thal’ (plate) with a repetitive rhythm. He himself beats the ‘dhyangro’ (drum) and by then he’s already possessed and shakes vigorously, chants prayers and gets lost in another world.
There are times when he shakes uncontrably, times when he dances around in circles, times when he just jumps, walks around the room, stares at people. Weirdly he plays around with some kind of energy (not visible to the naked eye) which you (can) sense with the tip of two bamboo sticks, all along he carefully dances/walks with the bamboos in hand and plays with something by the tip of the bamboos which are made like pom-poms.
These sessions carry on for quite a while and over the course the dead person through this medium communicates for the last time for any unfinished business or anything that wants to be said to the family. Thereafter the spirit is guided passage to meet with their ancestors and rest in peace.
At the end of the day, you realise that ‘you live to die’, so it’s better to live well and touch hearts along the way for you to have a good funeral and passage to the otherside than being busy and not prepared for death while trying to make a living.