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

The following things will need some consideration:

  • 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 don’t have access to announcements from community organisations are made aware of the events to follow?
    • Can you ask members of different family units to contact others and keep them updated?
  • What will you put in the ‘announcement’?
    • 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.
  • In the hall, do you want to have male and female members of the family sitting together at the front of the hall or would you prefer them to be separated by their gender?
  • Do you want music playing?
    • If so, do you want background music?
    • Do you want to hire someone to sing?
    • Or would you prefer to play recorded music on a sound system?
  • If you’re going to have a donation box, do you want to put it out at all the events e.g. the Prarthana Sabha, the cremation and the Chaas Rotla?
    • Where do you want to donate the money that’s raised?
    • Can you arrange for the person who’s wrapping the box to create a sign stating where the money will be donated and keep that with the box?
  • Will you have a photo of the deceased?
    • If so, which photo do you want people to see?
    • Do you need to enlarge and frame it?
    • If so, where will you get this done?
    • Will there be a garland of dry flowers on the photo? If so, who will get it and put it on the photo?
  • There’s often a table up that has a photo of the deceased person on it and 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?
  • Where do you want the Prarthana Sabha to be?
    • It might be easier to decide on a location and then look for a hall.
    • Who needs to be involved in seeing the hall, booking it, putting a deposit down and then finally paying what remains of the total?
  • Who will be in the line at 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 do this because all the attendants won’t have bathed prior to coming to the event, they may not have fresh clothes on, they may have eaten meat or might be going through menstruation and so on.
  • If the funeral has already been arranged, find out if notices can be displayed in the hall during the Prarthana Sabha.
    • 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?
  • Emotions may be high and members of the family, especially those who are sitting at the front, may need some support.
    • It might be worth having a small bottle of water under their chairs along with a small pack of tissues.
    • Who will you ask to arrange this?

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

A few things to consider:

  • Who will lead the Viddhi?
    • Does someone in the family know what to do? If so, will they be able to manage it?
    • If not, the Vanik Council have a pool of volunteers who can do this.
  • This is usually an intimate affair
    • If you decide to keep it intimate, who will decide who to invite?
    • Who will call and inform them about the 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 husbands)
    • A small amount of rice and mung beans,
    • Incense sticks
    • 2 kodia diva
    • Cotton vaat for both Diva
    • 1 thaali
    • 2 vatki
    • A box of matches
    • A white handkerchief for the Uthamnu
  • The photo isn’t needed here but the family may need tissues and water.
    • Who will bring the drinking water and tissues?
  • Who will bring Shradhanjali books so that everyone can join in when devotional songs are sung?
    • Alternatively, you could decide on a number of songs and share photos or printouts with those who will be attending
  • The person who is performing the rites will guide you about who should make the Saathyo on the cloth underneath where the coffin will be placed
    • It’s worth letting them know about this task before the event, so to avoid surprises or anyone feeling like they’ve been put on the spot
  • 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.
    • Again, I think it’s worth discussing this with them beforehand.

The funeral

A few things to consider about the funeral:

  • It’s worth booking a funeral director quickly as their help will be priceless. They’ll share their experience about how to choose the crematorium, how to book it, as well as, other things that need to be discussed and/or decided.
    • The funeral director will ask questions like, ‘do you need somewhere to conduct the Vidhi if you’re not bringing the body home?’ This is important as it may affect the booking of the crematorium.
  • Some people get flowers to put on the coffin.
    • Some Jains would discourage this
  • Think about who you would like to sit in the hearse and let them know beforehand
  • How will others arrive at the crematorium?
    • Is it worth carpooling to avoid issues with parking?
    • If so, ask someone to support with this task
  • 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, the photo with the haar, divo and donation box, incense, divo/candle and handkerchief?
  • 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? If so, delegate and let others support you
  • Supporting the elderly and those with mobility needs
    • It might be worth allocating people to help them find a seat.
    • Be prepared that they may arrive late and you might have to ask someone to stand to 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?
    • I’ve used the term ‘speech’ but it could be a eulogy, poem or song etc.
  • Decide on who will leave the hall to witness the cremation.
  • If you want to support family members with water and tissues, who will bring and distribute them to those who might need them?
  • Decide on which family members will be in the line (to meet attendees) after the funeral and let them know.
  • You might want to have one or two people ready to usher the attendees when the funeral ends.
  • Traditionally, after a funeral, attendees would go home, have a wash and change their clothes. 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. If so, when will it be done and who will do it?

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

Decisions to make about the Chaas Pivanu:

  • Decide who you want to invite e.g. everyone who’s at the funeral or a select few. This will help you decide which venue to hire.
    • 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.
  • 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 the food be Jain or have Jain options?
  • Will you make the food or hire a caterer?
    • If you opt for a caterer, will they make and deliver the food or will they supply the 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, it’s worth asking someone to bring some
    • Decide on who will manage packing and distributing the food that’s leftover.
    • If you’re using a caterer, will they come and collect the utensils if they provided them or will you need to wash and return them yourself? If the latter, assign someone to do this so that the immediate family don’t have to be involved in it.
    • If you’re using a caterer, will they provide drinks and jugs and glasses?
  • 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 on the day.
    • If friends and family are serving, it would be handy to have one or two people allocated to the task of 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.
  • Find out if the tables need to be covered with tablecloths. If so, do you need to provide them, put them in place and remove them before leaving or might the caretaker of the venue handle that for you?
    • If you need to take care of it, consider whether you’ll need tape to keep the tablecloths in place and if the venue will agree to you using tape
  • Will the food be delivered and stay hot until it’s ready to be served or will it need to be heated 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 a few people to manage the guests, for example supporting the elderly and those with mobility needs so they don’t have to queue?
  • If the caters aren’t taking care of clearing up, then it’s worth assigning someone to ‘man’ the table where the used plates will be 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.
    • Consider whether you want a couple of people to collect used plates from the tables.
  • Who will manage cleaning and clearing the hall at the end of the event?
    • If the venue requires a refundable deposit, they might want a member of their team to check the hall before they return the deposit. If so, who will make sure it’s left in the right condition?
  • 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.
    • If you decide of playing music, find out if the venue has a sound system of if you’ll need to bring something with you.

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 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 number 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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