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Funeral Customs among Lower and Upper Caste Families in Tamil Nadu

T. Ponnaiah

TAMIL TRIBUNE, April 2002 (ID.2002-04-03)

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Do you know that there are significant differences in the funeral customs among lower and upper caste families? I am talking about funerals in Tamil Nadu villages where the old customs are still practiced (not in metropolitan areas). 

In the so-called "upper caste" families, the dead body is taken to the final resting place without much fanfare. There is usually a small or large gathering of friends and family but the "funeral procession" is a sober, quiet affair. On the contrary, among the so-called "lower castes" (or "untouchables" or "dalits"), the funeral procession is accompanied by musical instruments and much noise. Do you know the reasons for this difference?

I heard the following explanation years ago from Kumari Mainthan, a rather lesser known writer-speaker but with some good and original ideas. In the bad old days, lower caste families were not allowed to celebrate their wedding functions with music and gaiety. Only the upper castes were allowed that privilege. It bothered the lower castes and they longed for some gaiety in their functions too. So they decided to conduct their funerals with music and noise. This is the root for the diversity in funeral customs between the lower and upper castes.

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