Every year, November 2 is observed as ‘All Souls’ Day’ in the Christian Calendar. This day people worldwide honour and remember in prayerful commemoration, the lives of the ‘faithful departed’ into the world of the dead. A solemn service of lauds or vespers is held in church where the names of those who died the previous year are read out and a moment of silence is observed in remembrance and gratitude to God for their lives and souls. After this, family members make a pilgrimage to the graveyard where they tidy the grave, light candles, place garlands or wreaths and pray for the souls of their loved ones.
At the time of death, in most cases, relatives ensure that burial is done in the best possible way. Mahogany or pinewood is used to make the casket with coffin trimming of the finest velvet and lace, and coffin furniture of shiny brass fittings. The tomb over the grave is built of brick and granite facing, with a stela or headstone engraved with the name, dates of birth and death and an epitaph. The inscription is usually a Bible verse, poem, quotation or just a few words in lament or praise of the deceased. The top of the gravestone bears the ‘R.I.P’ acronym for the Latin words, Requiescat in pace meaning ‘Rest in peace’.
While some graves are flat and plain with just a simple cross at the head, others can bear additional embellishments like a false sarcophagus, allegorical sculptures, memento mori or marble statues of angels in grief, cherubs and doves.
A lot is done in sincere hope and an attitude of prayer for the departed to ‘Rest in Peace’, but today graves are being ‘Ripped into pieces’. The graveyard has seen the emergence of a new genre of thieves — Grave Robbers! Though graveyards do have a high wall enclosure and a sentry at the gate, they have become the haunt of not dead spirits but thieves, alive. Within minutes of the grieving relatives returning home after the burial, leaving construction of the grave to workmen, the grave robbers descend there. The grave, being fresh is easily re-dug and the brass fittings are removed from the casket and re-sold in the flea market. Garlands and bouquets are removed and re-sold again in the cemetery store. Expensive granite grave stones and marble statues find their way into the market to be re-sold. And, as if to hold honour among thieves, the booty is shared among all!
A few points to ponder, this All Souls’ Day:
In spite of the graveyard being the last place on earth I would like to find myself in after dark, it is the most peaceful place on earth before dark. For everybody is silent within the walls of the graveyard, both dead and alive. It is THE place for pondering. For here lie diverse people who in life were all different in appearance, status, ideologies and professions and yet united in death. The graveyard, being the storehouse of the dead on earth, is a focal point of lamentation, mourning and remembrance. As if in mockery of life as just a nugatory journey, it is the place where a person, after living a full life, goes from ‘dust to dust, ashes to ashes’.
A person who in life joined the rat race for success, after death, lies still lowered into the ground. A person who was always in a hurry, lived the fast life, huffed and puffed to get his work done, pushed others in front of him and broke queues to get ahead, in death, lies still, silent awaiting for the final judgment of souls. In life a person who worked 24x7 to buy himself mansions, farms and land, lies in a coffin buried in an allotted 8'x4' space, 6' below the ground, for eternity. In life, a person who shopped endlessly to buy clothes to fill his wardrobe wears only a single attire in death. In life, a person who acquired fame by starring on the cover page of an illustrious magazine, lies with his face hidden, unseen below the ground. In complete contrast to the life outside its gates, the graveyard is devoid of ‘who’s who’ titles, architect-designed shelters, SUVs, designer clothes or coveted diamond jewellery ... all material things we kill ourselves for to possess during the short and fleeting life on earth.
It serves as a reminder that living a life of selfish abundance is like chasing the wind. No matter what we do, while we are who we are in life, living where we live, who we live with, in the end every person is equal in death, lying beside somebody else in a graveyard common to all.
I also do believe that while commemoration, remembrance and paying respect to the dead is very important, being compassionate and loving to those still alive around us is even more important. What happiness does a parent or grandparent profit with the most expensive bouquet of orchids and carnations to adorn his/her grave where he/she cannot see its colour, smell its fragrance or feel the love it imparts? What is the use of building an expensive tomb over the graves of parents and grandparents when all their life they lived in an old-age care centre, and not at home? Is there any gain in shedding countless tears and speaking words over graves of those who cannot hear, sympathise or appreciate them? A more meaningful gesture would be to felicitate our loved ones while they are with us, be it with flowers in love or in appreciation of what they mean to us. It could be a pending letter to a grandparent, a phone call or visit to a parent, a get-well wish to an ailing uncle, a bouquet to an aunt, a card to a friend or just a few words of appreciation and encouragement to a depressed colleague in office. Rather than being treated badly in life and then being buried in an elaborate grave that will only get ‘ripped into pieces’, our loved ones will ‘Rest in peace’ in a simple grave if all their living life they were treated with kindness, thoughtfulness and respect. I hope this year, All Souls’ Day will be a day to honour not only the deceased but also those alive for, isn’t it a futile effort to seek the living among the dead?
(Dr. Satya Sudhir is an architect and her email is: email@example.com)
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