Twenty four years old Shashmita was too stubborn to buckle under the mounting pressure of her male relatives. With tears flooding down her puffed up face and her eyes glued to her father lying still in bamboo stretch that was ready to be carried to the crematorium, she went on deflecting the barrage of ‘Nos’, ‘Nots’ and ‘Nevers’ of her kith and kin.
LAST RITES NO MORE EXCLUSIVE FOR SONS
Niroj R. Misra
Cuttack: Twenty four years old Shashmita was too stubborn to buckle under the mounting pressure of her male relatives. With tears flooding down her puffed up face and her eyes glued to her father lying still in bamboo stretch that was ready to be carried to the crematorium, she went on deflecting the barrage of ‘Nos’, ‘Nots’ and ‘Nevers’ of her kith and kin.
When relatives, riled at her mulish stand to light the funeral pyre of her father, went on raving and ranting, she was tongue-tied in a stoic stance. Come rain or shine, she would never yield to any arm-twisting and desist from torching the mortal remains of her father. Her mother Kavita in the corner of her house wiped tears off her face, sprang to her toes and stuck out for Shashmita’s stand that everybody there dubbed as impertinent, ‘irreligious’ and heretical.
She contended that her daughter, being the only child of her parents, had all rights to perform the funeral rites. This defused the sound and fury of the protesting chorus, and Shashmita finally consigned the mortal remains to the flames. The case of Shashmita in millennium city Cuttack not only exemplifies, but also amplifies the new trend in Odisha where sons enjoy the exclusive right and responsibility to perform the funeral rites of their dead parents.
“When my daughter Bhabna expressed her desire to light the funeral pyre of her father, nobody objected to it,” said Bhakti Das in silver city Cuttack, whose husband Bhuban Mohanty, a UCO Bank employee, died of multi-organ failure. Her daughter Bhabna Mohanty is a software engineer working as the Senior Manager for Ford in Chennai. “Heaven will neither fall nor will the earth crack, if daughters do the last rites of their parents. If daughters can take the responsibility that sons shoulder traditionally, why should they be debarred from doing the last rites of the parents?” argued 28 years old Nirmala Mishra, a college teacher in political science in Bhubaneswar, who herself had set the funeral pyre of her father ablaze. When asked whether he had ever objected to performing the requisite ‘puja’ on behalf of his client, when the daughter of a family held the torch to set the pyre of any of her dead parents, priest Sankarananada of Cuttack wiggled his head to reply in the negative.
Why should I object? It is the sole discretion of my client’s family to decide who should set the pyre afire,” said Sankarananda who is popularly called Sanku Nana. He regularly performs funeral rites on behalf of clients out of which more than 15 cases narrate the stories about daughters holding the torch to set fire to the pyre. If such cases had happened in the olden days, it would have touched off a tinder box with all purists and puritans wagging their tongues vehemently and captiously in reaction to this seismic change in the traditional tabooed society, according to Manoj Patavardhan, a scholar in Sambalpur.
However, Pradosh Nanda, a scholar and astrologer in Cuttack, trashed all the contentions that challenge the participation of daughters in the performance of last rites. “It is neither anti-veda nor anti-scripture, if a daughter does this. If the parents have no sons or nephews, their daughters can be and should be allowed to shoulder this responsibility,” he said.