Three days ago the elderly gentleman from the house across from ours passed away. This means that for the past three days, family members and close friends have been maintaining a 24 hour vigil sitting outside the house in the hem. At night we have been lulled to sleep by the quiet hum of voices and the comings and goings of visitors. There is something serene in the knowledge that these people will be there when you wake up in the morning.
Last night we were invited into the house, along with nearly every adult who lives in this hem, to pay our last respects. The coffin was on display in the front room and as the house is too small to allow everybody inside, the whole neighbourhood sat on stools outside and we each took our turn entering. The family met us at the front door and a granddaughter explained that her grandfather had been 89 years of age. Each of the close relatives wore white bandanas around their heads and some had been completely dressed in white over the previous three days.
Lisa and I were given 2 sticks of burning incense which firstly we waved three times in front of the family ancestral alter and left one stick burning there. Next, we moved to the foot of the coffin with its photograph of the old man and once again waved the incense up and down and placed it into a sand filled container. We then bowed three times to the image of the deceased with our hands held in a prayer-like position showing due reverence and respect before we returned to the crowded hem outside.
We both felt extremely privileged to be asked to take part in this small ceremony. It serves to reinforce the connectivity that we have with others in this small commune and certainly makes us feel that we are more accepted here than we realise. I know that when we came out of the house a lot of our neighbours thanked us for showing respect to the family of the deceased and that is a good feeling.
This morning at around 6am the coffin was removed from the house and the body of the old man was taken back to his traditional village for burial. Buddhist monks were on hand and the intonations of their prayers along with the sounds of bells and gongs could be heard up and down the hem. There was no band playing loud music on this occasion and the coffin was carried out of the house in silence where it was revolved once and the candle lit end was dipped three times towards the front door of the house. It was then carried out of the hem to the waiting hearse.
Upon reflection I can only imagine the amount of change that this old man must have seen in this troubled country during his lifetime. I do like the respect paid to deceased members of the family here, it is very civilised.
I have posted a Flash presentation here (565 kb)