Despite being settled overseas, the Tamil diaspora loves to recreate the life they left behind in India. Here’s a glimpse of their lives, celebrations and struggles on foreign shores.
Indian immigrants living in the US, particularly in the Indian-dominated geographies, are really lucky to have funeral services that provide specifically for Hindus to perform rituals in their traditional way. Of course, these are recent chapters added to the life story of an immigrant. It’s all a number game. With the numbers in the community increasing, the demand for Hindu funeral services also gained recognition in the last decades. Thanks to the professionally-run Hindu ‘cremation homes’, the families in grief receive solace by performing the last rites of loved ones as per the customs and tradition.
It’s not just the shock of losing the loved ones but the unanswered questions on how to handle this situation in a foreign land that troubles many. Most of the Indian families still have a huge extended family well-connected back in India and the separation makes one completely devastated. In such moments, a well-prepared funeral service provides respite by offering the right counselling and arranging for the final rites as per the individual family’s traditions.
“We are glad to have spotted these services in our community here,” said Ramanath Sankar, a New Jersey resident. “Professional funeral service providers, on signing the service contract, take care of receiving the body, preserving and preparing for the bath, dressing and arrange for public view. They connect the family with the priests, arrange for flowers, garlands, sandalwood, and all the small and big things that need to be organised.”
“Any request to tie saree, nose ring, earrings, toe rings for the deceased women will be done by the funeral home unless the family wants to do it on their own. Bodies of the deceased men will be suitably dressed per the traditional norms. It’s amazing to see the young non-Indian professionals dressing the dead ones in the Indian way,” said Ramani Rajan, who had to use the services recently. If families want to perform the last rites in their homes these service providers will arrange accordingly.
Funeral services cost $4000 depending on the elaboration chosen and in the eligible cases, Medicaid covers the cost according to the relevant plans.
“The importance of professional companies become important as most of us are living alone without extended families who usually are great support during such moments. The way these professionals work things out is not just a show of compassion but actually a great support in crossing the difficult moments,” said Amritha Balan.
The sprouting of Hindu temples in a large way has provided for the availability of priests who come home to perform rites not only during the time of demise but also for the after-cremation ceremonies. People also use the services of these priests for the performance of the yearly Thithi regularly for years to come.
One of the greatest beliefs of Hindu traditions is the provision for life after death where the rituals are elaborate and having funeral services professionals who could understand and care for every detail is a great happening. Earlier, people with staunch religious beliefs had to work on bringing by air the dead ones to India. With these services now available, more people choose to perform last rites in the US itself.
“The Indian community is so well-knit and the quick response and help from friends and relatives at these times are amazing and unseen. They have a strong belief in their customs and one needs to be time-sensitive and swift in serving the community,” said Christine Cuoco, the funeral service Director, Ruby Memorial at New Jersey, who is in the industry for the last 19 years.
“Unlike the western concept where they take more time in organising, sending invitations and the process extending for almost a week, Indians believe in performing the rites quickly. They keep the funeral simple, yet big crowds of friends and relatives assemble and more importance is given to observance of rituals. Clearly the focus is on helping the departed soul reach a better next life,” said Christine, adding: “Now, the Hindu cremation, as per tradition using the sandalwood, pyre and setting the fire on the body by the son or daughter or use of an electric switch to cremate the body is all possible in the US.”
“The gratitude of the families and the words of thanks they send us after the event have always made me feel how important was the profession I have chosen for myself,” she said.
The ashes are preserved in these homes until the families want it back to be taken to India to be immersed in the holy waters.
No doubt, immigrants create opportunities to follow their tradition, no matter how far they are from the Indian soil. The deep roots of culture and tradition are never left-back. With the Indian funeral services coming to their aid lately, the cycle seems to complete well.
— The writer is a journalist based in New York