Recently the sister of my dear Ladakhi friend, Dolma (Disket’s mother-in-law), died. I was quite humbled to be allowed to attend the Ladakhi funeral on August 17th, and even more so, to be allowed to take pictures.
Well to do Ladakhis send to the monastery for a large number of Lamas to come to the deceased’s household and pray over the body for as many as five to seven days until the day the body is cremated. After the cremation, at the monastery, morning prayers continue to be said for forty-nine days.
I was invited to attend on the day of cremation. Dorje and I walked together to the deceased’s home at 12 PM. The rather big two story house had a large room on each level in which sat women mourners around the edge of the each of these two rooms (I suspect about 20 women in each) from which, I would hear occasional soft chants and prayers.
Upon my arrival, Dorje gave me a box of cookies to take in as an offering to the family. Disket directed me into the lower room where her mother-in-law, my friend, and the sister of the decased was sitting. I bowed to her as I gave my offering. Then I returned outside, to a large lawn area, where I was given a chair, cookies, and a cup of milk tea. Although there were a number of women sitting on the grass drinking tea or wondering about with small children, most of the people sitting around in groups on the lawn were men, drinking tea and chatting. Occasionally, I would hear the brief faint of drums,symbols, and horns in the distance.
At one o’clock exactly, Dorje came to me, “Hurry,” he said and quickly led me behind a cloth screen, then pushed me through the crowd so I had a front row view. There before me sat a tent with at least 30 monks and Lamas, who had begun chanting prayers to tibetan liturgical music in unison.
For about twenty minutes the monks and Lamas repeated their religious mantras for the deceased. Then suddenly, Dorje was at my side again, “Come, he said, “Hurry.” He grabbed my arm and hustled me past the house, up the drive to a location at the edge of the main road. “Wait here.” he advised me, and he disappeared into the crowd.
|prqying, while walking to the cremation|
|A famous family member walking to the cremation|
As I turned and looked back toward the house, the religious came in single file up the drive accompanied by their music and chanting prayers. As they came, they tuned left up the road toward the cremation platforms on the hill just below Shanti Stupa. Behind the monks and Lamas came the coffin, and following behind, all the men, including Dorje. It was then that I learned that only the men attended cremations; most of them carrying stcks of burning incense in honour of the deceased. While the women stayed behind, softly chanting prayers.
|the funeral pyre|
The next day, in a comforting gesture, I went with my young friends, Dorje’s daughters, to visit Dolma, Diskit’s mother-in-law. Others came and went, and during chats and teas we shared together in our everlasting friendship.
Sadly also on august 17th, our dear friend Carmen died surrounded by her loving family. Carmen, Joan and I have been friends for well over fifty years. Like the three musketeers, we were always there when ever one of us was in need. In times of joy, we laughed together, and in sadness we shared in each other’s sorrow. Joan and I miss you greatly Carmen, and we send you all our love upon your future path.