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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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Shankaracharya: A remarkable genius that Hinduism produced (Book Review)

The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara's philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.

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He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita
He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita.

Title: Adi Shankaracharya: Hinduism’s Greatest Thinker; Author: Pavan K. Varma; Publisher: Tranquebar Press; Pages: 364; Price: Rs 699

This must be one of the greatest tributes ever paid to Shankaracharya, the quintessential “paramarthachintakh”, who wished to search for the ultimate truths behind the mysteries of the universe. His genius lay in building a complete and original philosophical edifice upon the foundational wisdom of the Upanishads.

A gifted writer, Pavan Varma, diplomat-turned-politician and author of several books including one on Lord Krishna, takes us through Shankara’s short but eventful span of life during which, from having been born in what is present-day Kerala, he made unparalleled contributions to Hindu religion that encompassed the entire country. Hinduism has not seen a thinker of his calibre and one with such indefatigable energy, before or since.

Shankara’s real contribution was to cull out a rigorous system of philosophy that was based on the essential thrust of Upanishadic thought but without being constrained by its unstructured presentation and contradictory meanderings.

He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita. He wrote extensive and definitive commentaries on each of them. Of course, the importance he gave to the Mother Goddess, in the form of Shakti or Devi, can be traced to his own attachment to his mother whom he left when he set off, at a young age, in search of a guru and higher learning.

The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara's philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.
Shankara wrote hymns in praise of many deities but his personal preference was the worship of the Mother Goddess.

Against all odds, Shankara created institutions for the preservation and propagation of Vedantic philosophy. He established “mathas” with the specific aim of creating institutions that would develop and project the Advaita doctrine. He spoke against both caste discriminations and social inequality, at a time when large sections of conservative Hindu opinion thought otherwise.

Shankara was both the absolutist Vedantin, uncompromising in his belief in the non-dual Brahman, and a great synthesiser, willing to assimilate within his theoretical canvas several key elements of other schools of philosophy. He revived and restored Hinduism both as a philosophy and a religion that appealed to its followers.

Also Read: Hinduism: The Nine Basic Beliefs that you need to know

Varma rightly says that it must have required great courage of conviction as well as deep spiritual and philosophical insight for Shankaracharya to build on the insights of the Upanishads a structure of thought, over a millennium ago, that saw the universe and our own lives within it with a clairvoyance that is being so amazingly endorsed by science today. The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara’s philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.

Shankara wrote hymns in praise of many deities but his personal preference was the worship of the Mother Goddess. The added value of the book is that it has, in English, a great deal of Shankara’s writings. Unfortunately, most Hindus today are often largely uninformed about the remarkable philosophical foundations of their religion. They are, the author points out, deliberately choosing the shell for the great treasure that lies within. This is indeed a rich book. (IANS)