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Breaking Stereotypes, Christian Woman works at Hindu Crematorium in Chennai

As per Hindu rituals, a woman is not really banned from entering a cremation ground but is generally not allowed to

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Hindu Cremation. Photo: Wikipedia
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From birth till death, the circle of life is guarded by many rituals of the faith that one believes in. In Christianity, a deceased is buried, in Hinduism, he is cremated and so on. In practicing the final rites of the deceased, it is often not allowed for women to enter the cremation ground or perform any rites. Behind breaking this stereotype, there is the story of the 34-year-old Praveena Soloman who chose to take her career to a crematorium ground in Chennai, as documented by BBC on August 04, 2016.

Solomon assisting the cremation and handing the urn of ashes to a relative. Image copyrights: Nathan G
Solomon assisting the cremation and handing the urn of ashes to a relative. Image source: Nathan G

It was when an organisation named Indian Community Welfare got the contract to revive and run a 120-year-old crematorium that had gradually turned into a dumping ground, and Solomon, who was associated with the above mentioned NGO for 12 years, got the opportunity to work here. A total of 4.5 acres, the ground was reconstructed, security cameras were installed, got clean toilets made as well as protected with boundary walls; it was ensured that it doesn’t turn back to the drinking spot that it earlier was.

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An English graduate from University of Madras and a mother of two, Praveena Soloman started working at Valankadu crematorium ground located in the Anna Nagar in 2014, a very busy place where Soloman is the administrator. She looks after all arrangements before the dead body is readied for the funeral. The entire day of the funeral goes hurriedly, where the body is laid for the procession and a mourner beats with percussion instruments and blows a shell to announce the arrival of the body.

As per Hindu rituals, a woman is not really banned from entering a cremation ground but is generally not allowed to. People justify this with the reason that women have a delicate heart, so they can retain the image of a body burning and often its parts falling off the pyre or even the foul smell of the body. But despite people’s remarks, the death threats, and accusations, Solomon chose to defy the predetermined notions and came and worked here, mentioned the BBC report.

Priest Irushankar Narayanan says he is proud of Solomon. Image copyrights: Nathan G
Priest Irushankar Narayanan says he is proud of Solomon.
Image copyrights: Nathan G

Appointing Solomon as an administrator here was a way to create a peaceful and safe environment for women who could now pay the last tributes to their deceased loved ones, said ICWO chief AJ Hariharan to BBC. It has become more of a trend for women to enter the cremation ground and pay final rituals in the obituary.

Solomon further added that it was emotionally overwhelming, to begin with the cremations. On the first day at her job, she cremated 7 corpses and cried every time with the people, who cried for the departed souls of someone close. The time of crisis was during the Chennai floods, when a total of 246 bodies was cremated, nearly double than the usual number.

prepared by Chetna Karnani, at NewsGram. Twitter: @karnani_chetna

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  • AJ Krish

    Soloman needs to be appreciated for her strength and courage to continue in this profession despite the death threats.

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Puja for The Spiritualism, Not for Vulgar Entertainment

The westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures" and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those "holy books" only in the drawers of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods' idols !!!

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Hinduism
he westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures"

By Salil Gewali

Any auspicious days in Hinduism are expected to be observed with a complete purity of action and thought. The same holds true for other religions too. As per the Hindu scriptures, the believers are required to stay away from any kind of sense gratifications, particularly when the specific days are dedicated to Gods and Goddess such as Navratri, Laxmi Puja, Krishna Janmashtami, Shivaratri, to name a few. The pathway to devotion and spiritualism should not be “desecrated” by the blot of the brazen entertainment. The scriptures logically explain why it is antithetical, and its adverse consequences.

Hindusim
Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.

 But, what a huge irony, rather a blasphemy that many people these days have started to choose the auspicious days of Gods to satisfy their base senses. Without a wee bit of regret, a certain class of people holds almost every auspicious day as the most “unmissable” occasion to booze with the friends, and what not, and stagger back home, lol! Such bizarre practices are fast catching now than ever.  Sadly, hardly any conscious people and spiritual organizations stand up and take the right measures to check such godless deviations.

What is quite unpleasant is that such a kind of unholy practices are often being facilitated by certain “Hindu intuitions” as well. On this past Laxmi Puja, the “propitious time” to perform the ritual had fallen between 6 PM to 7:53 PM. Yours truly decided to use that span of time for meditation. But hell broke loose. Apart from fireworks around, the Bollywood songs in high decibel burst forth from a certain Hindu institution quite frustrated the mission.

Hindusim
Sadhu Sanga Retreat, 2016

 One senior citizen laments – “Nothing could be irreligious than the fact that a favorable time for “puja” is also being used for the wrongful purposes. We rather expect the “Hindu institutions” to teach our children Bhajan, Kirtan, and other spiritual activities, not the loud and feverish parties and disturb others.”

Another college student adds “Having been much disturbed by the noise pollution, I have persuaded my parents to shift our place of residence to elsewhere, not at least near holy places with an unholy mission. I have started to see such institutions with the eyes of suspicion these says.” Is it that our institutions are unable to use their “discretion”, and as a result, they fail to differentiate between right and wrong?  One is deeply apprehensive that Bollywood songs and vulgar dances might as well be included as a part of the “puja ritual” as we have long accepted the fun of fireworks bursting as an integral part of Laxmi Puja which in fact is just an entrenched “misconception”.

Hinduism
Hinduism is expected to be observed with a complete purity of action

Needless to say, our roar for consumerism has almost drowned the whisper of inherent spiritualism. We are only just sending out the wrong messages. I’m afraid, the whole culture itself might be looked down with derision by other faiths. It might just become a subject of ridicule! It is no exaggeration, such negative notions against the “wrong practices” are all what we often read these days in several newspapers and social media. Do we want others to demean our profound spiritual heritage thus?  I believe it calls for a serious soul-searching.

Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.  It warns in the strongest terms that mankind should absolutely be careful not to fall under the influence of any short-lived sense gratifications. Or else, our endeavor to “practice and preserve” the sanctity of a religion/spiritualism will be a futile exercise.

However, on the other hand, the westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our “scriptures” and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those “holy books” only in a drawer of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods’ idols !!!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’.

Twitter:@SGewali.