Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Death in family: Why are we denied celebrating religious festivals -and life

Thakur Ranjit Singh

As the coloured powder (gulaal) and dust from dance of Waitakere Holi in Auckland on 4 March, 2018 settles down, there is an important but controversial issue on celebrating and enjoying this religious gift to Hindus.

There appears to be a community-imposed restriction on celebrating Holi after death of a relative. This affects me directly, as my Kaki (paternal –aunt), Mrs Shiu Kumari (Budh Ram) Singh passed away in Surrey Canada on 20 January, 2018 and my Bhabhi (sister-in-law), Mrs Pushpa Wati (Hari) Singh passed away in Fiji on 4 January, 2018. Kaki was 85 while Bhabhi was 75 - both of them lived to a ripe age. Bhabhi passed away 2 months ago while Kaki passed away just 6 weeks ago.

Lord Krishn recited knowledge of  Gita to Arjun . While we listen to Gita on the mourning of the dead for 12 nights, we refuse to follow its teachings. Among others, it says: "death is inevitable, stop crying for the dead, stop lamenting, shork nahi karo, only body dies, the soul is everlasting, it is like changing old clothes and putting on new ones." So, why we defy these teachings and have a showpiece of mourning during Hindu festivals.
In situations like this, many tend to do what had been custom and practice - they refrain from celebrations because of fear of what others will say. And they deny the fun, message and colours of this great Holi festival to the extended families - mostly to the new generation.

Many in our society are afraid of what others will say-sab konchi boli.-log kya kahenge. We tend to stop living for ourselves and become puppets of the community.

Are we being two-faced hypocrites – preaching one thing and practising another? Should not we follow the teaching and directions of our religion and scriptures? When somebody dies, Pundits preach Gita scriptures at top of their voice.
Yours truly, Thakur Ranjit Singh (left) with his Bhabhi (sister-in-law) Pushpa Wati, in Ba, Fiji over a year ago. She passed away in Fiji on 4 January, 2018

Devine religious lessons are preached to the relatives in mourning – of what Lord Krishn orated to Arjun , and which we call Bhagavad Gita, one of the most revered scriptures for Hindus. 

He preached: death is inevitable, stop crying for the dead, stop lamenting, shork nahi karo, only body dies, the soul is everlasting, and it is like changing old clothes and putting on new ones . So, there is no need to mourn, as death is predetermined, inevitable and will happen to all of us.

The gist of Gita is: out with the old, in with the new - change is inevitable. We are told and preached - Parivartan Duniya ka niyam hai. How many follow this? Why do we insult Bhagavad Gita? Why are we selective, embracing new technologies, while practising “Stone Age” customs?

BANSI REUNION IN BA, FIJI. Part of the large Bansi clan (Bansi was Thakur Ranjit Singh's paternal Girmitiya grandfather, who came to Fiji as an Indian Indentured labourer in 1915. Bansi clan has celebrated two Bansi Reunions. One was in Vancouver, Canada in April,2015, and this one in Ba, Fiji in August 2016. In the centre in white is the family matriarch of Bansi family, Thakur's Kaki (Paternal aunt), Mrs Shiu Kumari Singh, wife of Budh Ram Singh Bansi. She passed away in Surrey, Canada on 20 January, 2018. Are we to deny the whole Bansi clan of Holi and other religious festivals, despite what Lord Krishn preached about death? You be the judge.
We sacrifice our happiness and that of our children in the name of parampara, tradition, lokariti and outdated practices. Many such practices defy logic in this modern world, and run contrary to religious teachings. Despite migrating to supposedly advanced countries like Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand, why are Fiji Indian Hindus still slaves to tradition, refusing to embrace rationality and reality of the modern world, in line with the teachings of Gita? 
Through pressure of the community, we are forced to adhere to some old and nonsensical ways masquerading as tradition. Against our will, we are made to follow ways set up by those who died long time ago, and who would have wished we remained happy, and not mourn them.

Holi Hai.. Rang Barse....Thakur Ranjit Singh (right) with his wife, Shashi Kala Singh, celebrating the religious festival of Holi at Waitakere Indian Association Holi in Henderson, Auckland, New Zealand on 4 March, 2018. He broke away from tradition, and celebrated Holi with his family to celebrate the lives of these loved ones who departed between 6-8 weeks earlier. Anybody has any objections? Raise it with FIJI PUNDIT.
We need to change restriction placed on celebration of Holi (and Diwali) because of death (or birth) which is a natural inevitable phenomenon. Many will not play Holi colours or cook any sweets at home. What is this mourning for? What did they learn in 12 nights of Gita path? And why mourning only has to kick in while celebrating Holi or Diwali? Immediately after Holi, many will pull out BBQ stands, getting ready for Easter. Or getting ready with goat or chicken. There is no restriction on having birthdays, anniversaries, Thanksgiving dinner, weddings, engagement parties, dancing, drinking and merrymaking. Why do we have to remember the dead relatives only during Holi and Diwali? Even marriage is halted for one year [But that, some other day]. 

Celebrating Holi in Auckland on 4 March, 2018 with family despite recent deaths in the family. Back,(left) Thakur Ranjit Singh and son-in-law, Ravi Chand. Front, from left, Thakur's daughter, Ragni Singh Chand, granddaughter, Rania Roma Chand, and wife, Shashi Kala Singh. As elders, we owe a duty of care to expose our culture to the new generation, and not restrict it in name of tradition and outdated practices, defying religious teachings.
I, despite having recent deaths between 6-8 weeks ago in the family, openly played Holi colours to set a trend in our community. I walked my talk. I know those who died after fruitful long lives are in a better place, their memories are with me and I used Holi to celebrate their lives. They would not have wanted to deny their children, grandchildren and hundreds of their relatives from living a normal life after they are gone. They sure would have wanted us to be happy - and play Holi.

Please follow in the footsteps of our forebears, or Girmitiyas. They were whipped, punched, kicked and heavily suffered under the British and Australian Colonisers. They lost many loved ones and “jahajis”(travelling companion) to death. If Bansi, Bholai, Ram Pher, Paragi, Tulsi, Dihal, Sirpat, Mangaru, Khaderu and Gajadhar and other Girmitiyas had stopped celebrating Holi or Diwali because of death or sorrow, our colourful culture would have died over a century ago. But no, they continued the tradition. Hence, we need to follow them and stop this nonsense, and remember them on Fiji Girmit Thanksgiving Day on 14 May. [That also will be another FIJI PUNDIT posting].

Agreed, it is individual choice, some may need time, but please do not deny religious festivals to the new generation who do not know what mourning is. As for me, I cared little of what others thought. I openly and boldly celebrated Holi, the colours to celebrate the lives of my Kaki and Bhabhi, whose souls and memories rejoiced with me at Waitakere Holi. That is the happiness they would have expected for me, as well as their families.

To the others, I remind them of Rajesh Khanna dialogue from Bollywood movie, Safar:

Zinda apne aap ko kabr mein gaar dena kurbani nahi andhkaar hai. This says, burying yourself in a grave or dying with the dead is not expression of sorrow or sacrifice. It is foolishness and darkness. The living ones are not meant to die with the dead.

You are free to ignore the teachings of Gita and mourn for those who have gone to a better place. You are also free to deprive your family of religious festivals, while yourself enjoying in other worldly fun.

FIJI PUNDIT urges practising Hindus to appreciate and understand the teaching of Bhagavad Gita, and stop old, outdated and irrelevant practices defying its teachings and lessons.
I refuse to be that pretender. Hence, I celebrated Holi despite death in the family. You are free to make your choice.

Please keep your culture and traditions alive, not by restrictions, but by following what Lord Krishn preached in Gita.

And that was: Stop being a Dhongee - stop being a double-faced person. Have faith in God and his teachings-and stop mourning the dead - and celebrate their life.

 [About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is the blogger-FIJI PUNDIT, and a trend-setter in thoughts and deeds on reforming the community to conform to the changing world.]

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