Wednesday December 19, 2018

Do we ritualise death to quell our own Sorrows and Anxieties?

Simple rituals, even those that are invented or made up can reduce people’s feeling of grief, say Harvard University experiments

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A Cemetery. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
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  • Veneration of the dead is one of the integral parts of religious practices all over the world
  • The earliest evidence of burial comes from Upper Palaeolithic burial sites dating back thousands of years ago
  • Studies show that we ritualise death for our own sake, to quell our own sorrows and anxieties

From mummification to ‘sky burials’, human beings have always shown some form of obsession when it comes to the dead. Mortuary rituals are universal across cultures, but how the dead are dressed vary widely.

While expensive lined and cushioned mahogany or walnut caskets often used in modern Western burials, the Zoroastrians used to place corpses atop specially constructed Towers of Silence for the scavenging birds, said a Scroll.in report.

The Dani people of West Papua, New Guinea also had to cut off their own fingers after the death of a loved one. This seemingly severe and incomprehensible ritual applied to any woman related to the deceased, as well as any children.

For some cultures like those of the Melanesians of Papua New Guinea and the Wari people of Brazil, the best way to honor the dead is by eating them.

Sky Burial Image Source:Wikipedia Commons

For thousands of years, Tibetan Buddhists practice ritual dissection, or “Sky Burials” — the tradition of chopping up the dead into small pieces and giving the remains to animals, particularly birds. Sometimes, the body is also left intact.

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According to Scroll.in, the earliest evidence of burial comes from Upper Palaeolithic burial sites dating back thousands of years ago. The grave goods and other similar burial practices indicate at least rudimentary afterlife beliefs. Even now, veneration of the dead is one of the integral parts of religious practices all over the world.

Death is also central to Christianity. After all, the crucifix is an instrument of torture and execution. Christians also observe special days dedicated to death, such as Good Friday. Rather than celebrating the anniversaries of their births, most saints’ days fall on the dates of their deaths

The Psychology Of Rituals

“Funerals, I had decided, are for the living.” ― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Studies show that we ritualise death for our own sake, to quell our own sorrows and anxieties. There is increasing evidence that rituals serve to regulate our emotional reactions. According to experiments conducted at the Harvard University, simple rituals, even those that are invented or made up can reduce people’s feeling of grief, said the Scroll.in report.

Rituals also serve other purposes and are indications of stress relief. Certain studies show that when people become more rigid and repetitive when put in stressful situations , they are in fact relieving stress and reducing anxiety. Rituals may also serve to stave off our own anxieties concerning mortality.

Furthermore, as rituals call for social gatherings, they create a comfortable atmosphere that binds people together over the loss of a loved one. Hence group rituals, particularly those involving synchronous behavior, also foster a sense of social cohesion that can help us to feel more physically formidable.

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According to Scroll.in, another purpose of ritualising death could be that it helps us to deal with the feelings of guilt associated with disposing of a corpse. When a process is formulated and followed for generations, the central focus is shifted from disposing the corpse to saying goodbye to the one we loved. By doing so, they cease to be people and become objects that we can dispose.

Despite the wide diversity in the traditions of disposing the dead or to bid a last goodbye, it seems that death rituals are meant to make us feel less helpless in the face of our grief and pain.

-prepared by Ajay Krishna, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @ajkrish14

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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.