When things get mixed up

I’ve heard many people comment when they witness something that doesn’t fit in with how they think things should be done. This has been at funerals, weddings, at religious ceremonies in places of worship and during Khoro Bharats, which is a ceremony that occurs when the mother-to-be is seven months into her pregnancy.

I have noticed ‘differences’ and felt confused, curious and frustrated. The latter was because whoever I asked, was unable to explain what should have happened.

Recent experiences

Over the last few years, we’ve been involved in helping different family members organise funerals for loved ones. Some of what needed to be done was established, clear and ‘correct’ but other bits weren’t so straightforward, so I started looking for those who knew what needed to be done, and which parts had been adopted by mistake.

The main events

After someone passes away, there’s usually a Prarthana Sabha. This is the first event and often involves listening to devotional songs, a speech or two and details of the funeral are announced.

The funeral is usually a few days after the Prarthana Sabha. On the day of the funeral, there is an opportunity for close friends and family to pay their final respects and be part of some ceremonies that are done to help the departed soul attain peace. This may involve the body being brought ‘home’. Alternatively, it may take place at the funeral directors or in a room at the crematorium.

The cremation would take place later on that day, after which friends and family will have a meal together. This is often referred to as Chaas Rotla or Chaas Pivanu.

Organising the Prarthana Sabha

There are two popular ways of conducting the Prarthana Sabha. One involves the guests being able to pop in, meet the family who will be at the front of the hall and then leave when they’re ready. Usually, the family members are seated, and they get up to meet those coming towards them, after which they sit down again, until the next person comes to the front. Meeting the family is paused if prayers are recited and during speeches. The other way is set up in a way which means that guests can arrive whenever they want, but they won’t be able to meet the family members until the end of the event.

In terms of seating, male family members are usually seated, (if you’re facing the photo of the person who passed away), on the left of it, and the females are on the right. However, I recently attended a Prarthana Sabha where the photo was at the beginning of the line, after which family members who had partners sat in couples.

Decisions to be made and tasks that need to be shared out

How will you inform friends and family about the Prarthana Sabha? Will you ask the community organisation e.g. Oshwal or Navnat, to share the details?
How will you try and make sure that those who won’t have access to announcements from community organisations are made aware of the events to follow? It is wise to allocate a number of people from different family units, to contact others and keep them updated.
If you’re going to announce it through an organisation, have a look at previous ones and decide what information you want to include e.g. the deceased’s parents, siblings, the partners of their siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins etc.
Which of the styles described above do you want to embrace?
Do you want to have male and female members of the family (at the front of the hall) sitting together or apart?
Do you want to hire someone to sing or do you want to play music on a sound system?
Usually, if there’s a donation box, it’s brought out at the cremation and Chaas Rotla but there will be people who come to the Prarthana Sabha and won’t make it to anything else. For this reason, it would be nice to have the donation box available at all three events.
Where do you want to donate the money that’s raised? Can the person who’s wrapping the box, create a sign stating where the money will be donated and stick it on the box?
Which photo do you want people to see? Do you need to enlarge and frame it? If so, where will you get this done?
Where do you want the Prarthana Sabha to be? Decide a location and then look for a hall.
Who will go and see the hall, book it, put a deposit down and pay what remains of the total?
Decide who you want to be in the line the front of the hall. Traditionally, if a married woman passed away, her in-laws would be prioritised. If it was a man who died, his family would be prioritised.
Will someone give a speech and if so, who will that be?
Some feel that the Moti Shaanti should be recited at events like these. I’ve recently heard that it’s not advised to this because all the attendants won’t be pure in terms of having bathed prior to coming to the event, having fresh clothes on, they may have eaten meat or might be going through menstruation and so on.
If the funeral has been arranged, find out if notices can be displayed in the hall. If so, who will create, print and display the details about the funeral?
Do you need to put the chairs out in the hall or will the venue take care of that for you?
Who will make sure there’s a small bottle of water under each chair, along with a small pack of tissues?
Who will set the table up and put the photo on it? Will there be a garland of dry flowers on the photo? If so, who will set that up?
There’s usually a Divo or candle, which is placed in front of the photo. Who will organise bringing it, positioning it and manage it during the event?

The Viddhi before the cremation

Most people opt for an open casket and the body is brought home so that these final rites can be performed. However, for various reasons, people are now opting to perform these rites at the crematorium or at the funeral directors. The most recent funeral I attended didn’t have any of this because the person who died had expressed that she didn’t want an open casket.

What to consider if the final rites will be done

Who will lead the Viddhi? The Vanik Council have a pool of volunteers who can do this for you.
This is usually an intimate affair, so you’ll need to decide who you want there.
Who will call and inform those whom you want to invite to this ceremony?
Who will source and bring the items needed for the Viddhi? These include 2 pieces of white cloth that are 2m long, 1 Sukhad Haar, Sukhad Powder, Kanku (for women who survive their husband), a small amount of rice and mung beans, incense sticks, 2 kodia diva, cotton vaat for both Diva, 1 thaali, 2 vatki, matchbox and a white handkerchief for the Uthamnu.
The photo isn’t needed here.
Who will source and bring drinking water and tissues for those who may need it?
Who will bring Shradhanjali books so that everyone can join in when devotional songs are sung? Alternatively, is it worth deciding on a number of songs and sharing photos of them with those who will be attending, or printing out a collation of the songs for people to share?
The person who is performing the rites will guide you about who should make the Sathyo on cloth underneath where the coffin will be placed would be before it is brought in. You will then need to decide who fits the criteria described and ask them if they are willing to do this task.
Family members will be called forward for specific parts of the rites. I think it’s a good idea to find out what these parts are, so that those who haven’t been to a funeral before, have a little warning beforehand. This can be helpful for those who have been to a number of funerals before too, especially if they were done in a different way.
Decide who will lift and take the coffin to the hearse. Discuss this with them beforehand.

The funeral

Choose and book a funeral director as they will help in terms of booking the crematorium and giving advice about what needs to be discussed and decided.
The funeral director will ask questions like, ‘do you need somewhere to conduct the Vidhi if it’s not possible to bring the body home?’, because this may affect the booking of the crematorium.
Some people get flowers to put on the coffin. This wouldn’t be advised if you’re opting for a Jain funeral.
Think about who you would like to sit in the hearse and discuss this with them to finalise who it will be.
How will others arrive at the crematorium? Is it worth carpooling to avoid issues with parking?
It is likely to be an emotional day, so it might be worth considering finding someone who can drive the immediate family to and from the venues so that they don’t need to drive or think about any logistics that go with it.
Who will bring and set up the deity, photo with the haar, divo and donation box?
Assign someone to bring incense, one divo or candle, a handkerchief or donation box and the photo.
Who will the pallbearers be? Make sure they know beforehand.
How many rows do you want to reserve for close family members? Do you think you need someone to make sure that others don’t sit there?
Allocate some people to help the elderly find a seat. Be prepared that they may arrive late and you might have to ask someone to stand and make space for them to sit.
Who will be the Master of Ceremonies? If you have booked someone from the Vanik Council, they can do this for you.
How many speeches will there be and who will make them? These expressions that I’ve referred to as speeches could be in the form of a eulogy, poem or song.
Who will leave the hall to witness the cremation?
Who will bring and distribute drinking water and tissues to those who might need it?
Which family members will be in the line (to meet attendees) after the funeral?
Will you have one or two people ready to guide everyone when the funeral ends and they want to meet family members?
Traditionally, after a funeral, attendees would go home and wash. This was because funerals were conducted out in the open, so they would have ash on them. To symbolise this, someone is asked to, sprinkle a little Ganga Jal on people as they leave the crematorium. Others do this as they arrive at the Chaas Pivanu. It’s worth finding out if this still needs to be done, and if so, when is best.

Chaas Pivanu

The reason for organising Chaas Pivanu was to feed people who had travelled miles to attend a funeral. It was to ensure that they had the sustenance to make their journey home.

Nowadays, journeys are shorter, finding food is more convenient and most people can afford to eat out. Thus people are moving towards minimising the people who are invited to the Chaas Pivanu or not organising one at all.

What to consider if you’re organising a Chaas Pivanu

Discuss whom you wish to invite ie everyone who’s at the funeral or a select few. This will help you decide which venue to hire.
What will you have on the menu? Will you opt for a simple meal or will you offer lots of items and use it as a way to ‘treat’ friends and family to a ‘rich’ meal?
Will you make the food or hire a caterer? If you opt for a caterer, will they ‘only’ make and deliver the food or will they supply serving utensils, serving bowls, bowls to refill the serving bowls, plates, bowls, spoons, serviettes, containers to pack leftovers and so on? If they don’t provide containers or the staff to pack the leftovers, it’s worth asking one person to arrange for buying them and manage who will pack and distribute the food that’s leftover.
Also, will they come and collect the utensils that they provide or will you need to wash and return them yourself? If the latter, assign someone to do this, so the immediate family don’t have to be involved in it.
Do you want friends and family to serve the food or would you like the caters to provide staff for this? If the former, it’s worth giving people the heads up if you want them to serve. This will prevent the need to make decisions at the last-minute.
Also, if friends and family are serving, it would be handy to have one or two people who are dedicated to checking the bowls to see when they need refilling. Those same people can then organise for the items to be brought from the kitchen and refilled.
If you’re inviting a select few to the meal, delegate someone from each family to call and get confirmation of numbers so that you know how many to cater for.
Will the caters provide drinks and jugs and glasses?
Do the tables in the hall need to be covered with tablecloths? If so, do you need to provide them, put them in place and remove them before leaving the hall, or might the caretaker of the venue handle that for you? If not, do you need tape to keep the tablecloths in place, and will the venue permit this?
Will the food be delivered and stay hot until you’re ready to serve it or will you need to heat it up? If the latter, you’ll need a venue that has heating facilities and you’ll need the food to be delivered in pots and pans that suit the cookers in the venue.
If there are lots of people, will you need people to manage the guests e.g. by asking the elderly to queue up first?
Consider whether it’s worth having a couple of people to make up plates for the elderly or those with disabilities. If so, plan who they are, so there’s less to think about on the day.
If the caters aren’t taking care of clearing up, then it’s worth assigning someone to ‘man’ the table where used plates are stacked and food/liquid that hasn’t been eaten is put in the right place e.g. a bucket that can be emptied easily. If it’s possible to recycle the plates, find out if they can be put in the bin at the venue or not.
Consider whether you want a couple of people to walk around and collect used plates from the tables.
Who will manage tidying and clearing the hall at the end of the event? If the venue requires a refundable deposit, they usually want a member of their team to check the hall before they return the deposit.
If you want to have music playing in the background, work out what type of music that should be e.g. the genre, whether they should be instrumentals or not etc. Also, does the venue have a sound system that you can use for this? If so, have someone assigned to manage this.

Sog Utaarvaanu

Sog Utaarvaanu is a way of expressing that the period of mourning is over. Some people wait a few weeks before doing this and others do it on the same day as the funeral. It is a way of saying that it’s fine for family members to return to ‘normal’ life, which includes work, socialising and going to celebratory events, such as, weddings.

If you are going to follow this tradition, decide who will buy the Chanlas, who will put a Chanlo on the ladies in the family and when and where this will take place.

Common misconceptions about Jain funerals

At the Chaas Rotla some people create a plate with a little bit of each of the foods and drinks. They do this before anyone else queues for food and it’s placed by the photo of the deceased. There would also be a divo there. Some believe that this food can be shared with all the immediate family. Others believe that it should only be given to the females who haven’t been married. This is not a Jain custom.

A Jain ceremony doesn’t involve putting coconuts, Indian sweets or anything else that the deceased liked in the coffin.

Ganga Jal or Tulsi leaves should not be put in the mouth of the deceased.

A Jain ceremony would exclude the use of fresh flowers.

The food served at the Chaas Rotla should be pure vegetarian i.e. exclude eggs. In addition to this, the food shouldn’t contain root vegetables.

A couple of tips

To reduce the amount of things you need to remember, it’s worth having a box or bag, in which you put the items needed for each event. There’ll be items that are only needed for the Viddhi, others that will only be needed for the funeral and so on. Getting them organised in one place can save a lot of time, effort and stress. There will be other items that will be needed more than once. Those items can be transferred between boxes as and when one event has been completed.

Communication is key. To prevent thinking, deciding, and then having to revisit things and rethink what you thought was sorted out, it’s worth sharing what you’ve decided with those who matter, along with your reasons for the decision. This will make sure you have the support you need. Doing this will also give family members the chance to realise any potential errors and give you time to make changes in good time.

It might be worth setting up a group or broadcast list on a messaging app so that key members of the family know what roles have been allocated to others, as well as, knowing what’s been assigned to them.

Related content

Why thinking about death before it happens would be helpful
Death: what to do and how to manage it
What the Vanik Council has to share about funeral rites

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