Mandira Bedi: What Hindu scriptures say about ladies at cremations

Mandira Bedi carried out husband Raj Kaushal’s funeral rites

Indian actress and TV presenter Mandira Bedi lately hit the headlines for performing her husband’s final rites. Cremations are historically carried out by males, and girls are sometimes discouraged from even attending. However the place does this perception come from and what do Hindu scriptures say about it?

With a clay pot in a single hand and holding up the bier – a bamboo body – carrying the physique of Raj Kaushal with one other, Bedi wept as she did the rituals and lit his funeral pyre.

Kaushal, a 49-year-old filmmaker, died all of the sudden on 30 June from cardiac arrest within the western metropolis of Mumbai.

The actress obtained messages of heartfelt condolences and received reward for what many described as standing as much as patriarchy even whereas grieving.

Fashionable writer and columnist Shobhaa De wrote that the picture of “a grief-stricken Mandira doing her husband’s final rites challenged archaic norms governing our society for hundreds of years and despatched out a charged and highly effective anti-patriarchy message”.

“When Bedi lit her husband’s pyre this week, unknowingly she additionally lit numerous fires within the hearts of women and men who consider in themselves – and never in conventions which have held again our society for hundreds of years. These shackles immediately broke because the flames from the pyre touched the sky,” Ms De wrote.

Mandira Bedi’s filmmaker husband Raj Kaushal died from a cardiac arrest

For the report, Bedi isn’t the one lady to cremate a cherished one. When former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee died in August 2018, his adopted daughter Namita Kaul Bhattacharya did his final rites. In 2014, Pankaja Munde lit the pyre of her father Gopinath Munde, a senior BJP chief within the western state of Maharashtra.

Throughout the latest pandemic too, there have been many cases the place wives or daughters had been seen performing final rites – typically as a result of male members of the family had perished or had been themselves contaminated with the virus or had been unable to journey due to the lockdown.

However Bedi breaking with custom upset some conservative Indians and proper wing-trolls who ridiculed her on social media, insisting that the pyre ought to have been lit by her 10-year-old son. Some identified that it was in opposition to custom for a lady to even go to a crematorium.

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Hindu monks and spiritual students, nevertheless, instructed the BBC that there was no ban within the scriptures on ladies visiting a crematorium or performing the final rites of their family members.

So why are ladies discouraged from performing or attending cremations? The web is filled with weird theories, together with one that claims “ladies with lengthy darkish hair might be simply possessed by spirits roaming the crematoria”.

However Bhagwan Dutt Pathak, a retired professor of Sanskrit within the northern city of Mirzapur, says the explanations had been maybe extra mundane – that ladies principally stayed at residence and did the chores whereas males labored outdoor and took on work that concerned heavy lifting.

Prof Kaushalendra Pandey, who teaches Sanskrit literature on the prestigious Banaras Hindu College, says there are references in historical texts to wives performing the final rites if a person died with out leaving a son or a daughter or a male family member similar to a brother. Even daughters, he says, had the proper to do the final rites.

Throughout the latest pandemic, many ladies had been seen taking part in cremations of family members

“The traditional Hindu society was very liberal and girls loved super freedoms. Conservatism got here as a response to different religions, first to Buddhism after which to Islam and Christianity,” he says.

Manoj Kumar Pandey, a priest who specialises in funeral rites, says the present perception {that a} cremation needs to be carried out by the eldest son is rooted within the Garun Puran – a Hindu non secular textual content that offers with funeral rites, and is believed to be a minimum of 1,000 years outdated. The guide although is silent on the position of ladies and doesn’t forbid them from funeral rituals.

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Prof Pandey says Bedi was “proper” to do her husband’s cremation. “From the images, it seems that her attachment along with her husband was very deep. She was additionally attempting to guard her son who may be very younger. She’s a really completed lady and I consider what she did was proper.”

The rationale ladies don’t go to a crematorium, he says, is for their very own wellbeing as a result of they might be traumatised by the demise rituals as they’re “weaker and softer” – a view many ladies strongly disagree with.

Shailaja Bajpai, readers’ editor and editorial adviser of reports web site The Print, says though in smaller cities and rural India, ladies nonetheless not often attend funerals, in cities, it is now regular for them to be current.

“In actual fact now it is misunderstood when you do not go as a result of folks additionally come to the cremation floor to pay their respects and supply assist,” she says.

Ms Bajpai says she has attended many cremations, together with her mother and father.

“I went as a result of I wished to be there to say goodbye. For me it was the ultimate closure. However my feminine family members selected to not go. The idea that ladies do not go for cremations has come down from the previous and many ladies in our households do not query it and I respect their perception.

“It is our private particular person selection and it needs to be revered. We needs to be allowed to do what we wish to,” she stated.

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