THE FORGOTTEN TRIBE – MHAR – PART 10
DRESSING OF A DEAD PERSON AND BURIAL
No matter how loving a person - father, mother, brother, sister, wife, child, grandchild, etc. is, when he/she passes away, nobody is prepared to keep his/her body in the house for over 24 hours because of the stench it produces, unless, of course, the dead body is embalmed, but that practice, too, has been stopped; people now keep the dead bodies in a morgue – that there is no enough space in morgues is altogether another story.
Once a person was dead, people would go to Mhar vaddo and call one of their members
to clean the corpse and dress the dead. Usually, a couple would arrive. Such a person is now called an undertaker.
Before dressing the dead body, they’d place thick cloth padding at his/her orifices and secure it firmly with a “kashtti” (loin-cloth) so as to prevent oozing of fluids. As for the exterior openings, blood mostly oozes through the nose. This is stopped by placing cotton buds in both the nostrils.
The person also passed his/her hand over the dead person’s eyelids and closed them shut, as nobody likes to stare into a dead person’s eyes. If the eyelids are not closed immediately, it is difficult to close them afterwards.
Similarly, the chin is immediately pressed and held for a while in order to close the mouth. If the mouth keeps opening, a strip of cloth is tied to the chin and head. Dentures, if any, are fixed before the mouth is pressed or closed, as the whole body becomes stiff after some time.
The dead person is then dressed up. Infants are dressed in their baptismal clothes;
adolescents in their confirmation clothes, teenagers in colorful clothes, men mostly in a suit and women either in a vistid (dress) or a sari. Newly married women are dressed as brides and so are women who die at the first delivery of a child.
Nowadays, the above process is undertaken by an undertaker. In the past, a male or a
female from the Mhar community did it for us.
We now pay in thousands for a job that was done free of charge by the Mhar community
members. And what did we give the Mhars? Practically nothing! On the contrary, we
criticized and labeled them as ‘untouchables.’ Why? Just because they sacrificed
buffaloes to appease spirits of their ancestors and their demon deities and ate the flesh, including bones!
Today, anybody takes up the job of an undertaker but in the past it was mainly a Mhar’s job. They did not only bury Christians in cemeteries but they also prepared funeral pyres and conducted cremations for the Hindus
TRANSPORTATION OF COFFIN
As soon as a person died, one of the relatives/neighbors/friends went out of the house, snatched a “chuddtti” (leaf of a palm tree) from a “kavoto” (young coconut tree,) separated the “vhir” (stalk of palm leaf) and measured the dead body.
A person was then dispatched to a coffin shop to buy a ready made “kaixa” (coffin made of wooden frame and covered with black cloth and gold color paper bordering) per the measurements, or he placed an urgent order for a special coffin if the dead person was extraordinarily tall or fat.
A white coffin was ordered for infants, adolescents, teenagers, spinster and bachelors.
In the olden days, in the absence of transportation, a person from the Mhar community was hired to carry the empty coffin from the shop to a dead person’s home. He carried it on his head and walked all the way from Mapusa to Anjuna.
A “kaixanv” (coffin made mostly of teak wood) needed two persons to carry it due to its weight. As the person(s) walked with a “kaixa/kaixanv” on his/their head, people looked at him/them and said: “Konn tori babddo melo astolo!” (Pity, somebody must have died!)
Most coffin shops in Mapusa were located on the road starting from Benão shop and
ended behind the cemetery.
Speaking of coffin carrying, I remember an incident that took place on a highway around 40 years ago.
Bautist (Baptist) was walking on the road with a coffin on his head when it suddenly
started raining. One of the truck drivers stopped his truck and asked him to get in the back of the truck. Since it was raining, Bautist decided to sleep in the coffin with the cover on.
After a while, some laborers waved at the truck driver, who stopped his truck and asked them to get in the back of the truck as well.
Bautist, who had been sleeping in the coffin, wanted to know if the rain had stopped. So, he slowly lifted the cover of the coffin from inside and stretched out his hand to feel the rain. The moment the laborers saw his hand come out from the coffin, they screamed and jumped out of the running truck into the paddy fields and broke their limbs; one person died on the spot!
Thank God it was rainy season; the fields were full of water and the ground was soft, otherwise there would have been more deaths and serious injuries. Bautist is still alive to tell the tale!
CARRYING OF SORO FOR THE FUNERAL
In the olden days, palm fenni liquor was served at the end of a funeral.
A male was hired to carry a “panttli bhor soro” (basketful of liquor,) filled in bottles which were sealed with a “katheachi guddi” (coconut husk cork,) including bottles to be given away for a confre, which needed three persons to carry it - one person to carry the main cross and two persons to carry candle holders. A quota of one bottle liquor was reserved for the pede.
The person walked with a panttli on his head behind the funeral procession.
In Anjuna, for people on the south east side of the Church, once the procession reached the foot of the present staircase leading to the Miraculous Holy Cross, the person carrying the liquor would stop “odda pondak” (under the banyan tree) and he would wait there until the burial was over.
Most men stopped at the “oddachem zhadd ” on their way back home from the cemetery,
had “ek vo don kotteo bhor” (one/two coconut shell-full) fenni and walked away.
In Goa, it is customary to either throw out full contents of the first “kals” (cup,) or part contents of the kals. Some just dip middle finger in a cup and sprinkle the liquor by flicking it thrice. This is done in honor of the departed souls!
Some drink to their hearts’ content; get tight within no time and begin to ‘measure the road!’ Sometimes they begin to swear at the dead person!
“Confre” carriers also joined in for free drinks and collected their quota of free liquor bottle. This traditional practice has been discontinued now.
Who do you think was hired to carry fenni at a funeral? It was one from the Mhar
DECORATION OF GRAVE
In the past, a dead person’s family offered him/her at least three masses in the first year – (1) seventh day mass, (2) month’s mind mass, and (3) the first death anniversary mass.
Every coffin has a metal plate on its lid to indicate a dead person’s name, date of birth and death.
As soon as the dead body is brought out of the Church, his/her face is covered with a white handkerchief. Before the lid is placed on the coffin, one of the family
members/friends makes sure that the metal plate is detached from the lid along with
the crucifix and metal wreath and brought home.
On the eve of the seventh day mass, the metal crucifix with dates is fixed on a wooden cross, which is painted in black – the higher the class of the deceased, the better crafted a cross would be. Nowadays, wooden crosses have been replaced by steel ones. The cross was then handed to a Church pedo with a request to plant it at the head of the deceased person’s grave.
The pedo was asked to decorate the grave. He would gather some mud on top of the
grave and beat it with a “pettnnem” (pounder) so as to give it a firm shape. He then
placed a “kapa” (black piece of cloth with white cross painted in its middle) on the grave.
He decorated the grave with flowers and also planted candles all around, which he lit before the priest and crowd entered the cemetery for blessing of the grave.
Of course, people gave tips to the pede for doing the job but weren’t they sweet to do that job for us in the cemetery?
Today, people decorate a grave with the help of relatives/friends. Does that make them pede?
In the olden days, a priest carried Holy Communion to the sick/infirm on foot or in a machila (palanquin). He placed the Host in a container, held it in his hands and covered the sacred vessel with a Benediction Veil also known as the Humeral Veil.
The sacristan who accompanied the priest carried a little “kampinn” (bell), which he rang every now and then to signal the priest’s arrival with the Holy Communion.
When people noticed a priest was approaching them with Holy Communion, they
immediately knelt down and bowed in respect. We don’t see this kind of respect these
The pedo rang the Church bell as soon as a priest left the Church. He then climbed down the stairs hurriedly and joined the other three pede to carry the priest in a palanquin, which some considered as slavery.
When palanquin carrying was discontinued, the night-duty pedo still accompanied the
priest at night.
SACRAMENT OF THE INFIRM
The Sacrament of the Infirm is for someone who is sick, old, suffers from mental illness, someone having to undergo a major surgical procedure, or someone who feels they would benefit from it. Anointing of the sick is a sacrament of healing. In it a priest says special prayers and anoints the sick with oil blessed specifically for that purpose. This Sacrament can be repeated many times.
The anointing of the sick can be administered to any member of the faithful who, having reached the use of reason begins to be in danger by reason of illness or old age. A new illness or a worsening of health enables a person to receive the sacrament a further time
In the olden days, as soon as a priest left the Church on foot or in a machila to administer the last rites to an individual, the pedo rang the Church bell at which people uttered:
“Padr Vigar/Padr Kur konnank tori sontesanv ghevn bhair sorlo astolo; Devan taka
mornantlo vattanvcho vo tannem prann soddlo zalear tachea othmeank sorginchem raj
favo zanvchem.” (The Parish Priest/Curate must have left the Church with the Sacrament of the Infirm; may God save him/her from death or if he/she is dead, may his/her soul rest in peace.)
In those days, people approached the Church any time even after midnight - 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. and the priest was ever ready to administer the last rites. Nowadays, despite having transportation at their disposal neither the parish priest nor the curate has the time to give the last sacrament to the dying!
Weren’t the Mhars God-sent people to remind us to pray for the weak and the dead?
To be continued …………….
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