Justori Newsletter: Issue 2

 

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TIMELINE 2017

A year ago, following our survey on storytelling and listening, we put together the concept of Justori and started searching for the right partners for its development. A young team of 12 technologists from Kolkata, India, was awarded the assignment on 17 January 2017. Co-founder of Justori, Gautam Aitch, based out of Albany, USA, took charge of the operational aspects of Justori, whilst I coordinated all our efforts from Mauritius. Uday Gujadhur, Gilbert Ahnee and Padma Ghosh supported amply.

Our Development Team, Kolkata

The basic Android version was launched in Mauritius on 15th April. In May, the promotional activities of Justori was moved to Nantes in France to be closer to a confluence of different international languages and cultures. The choice of France as the base was soon justified as Radio France International carried out a review of Justori and a major organization dedicated to preserve oral memories of Brittany became a member.

Justori Coverage, November 2017

Today, the Justori family includes over 50 nationalities. Our story chest, covering 30 genres, contains over 360 stories primarily told in four languages: English, French, German and Bengali. But so many more, in other language – from Les Antilles Creole to Hindi – are also available. Given the ease with which stories can be recorded and existing audio-files uploaded, we are sure that Justorians will keep finding innovative uses of this versatile medium. The Learning Justori series published on our YouTube channel (Justori News Channel) will further help members to enjoy some of the advanced features of this highly intuitive application platform.

“ If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten. ” – Rudyard Kipling

ADVANCED FEATURES

Interview by Radio France , Paris

In September, the basic iOS version was launched. Since then, we regularly upgrade Justori by adding on new features and improving existing functionalities. The Lounge feature is now fully deployed on both Android and iOS. Members can not only receive notifications about stories in their preferred languages, but also about activities of Justorians they are following. Members can now also manage stories by marking them to be played later or downloading them for offline listening. Furthermore, Android users can use the Voice Note feature that enables Justorians to record any sound bite without having to create a story. These reusable V-notes can be used as sections while creating stories, as well as for sending out messages to followers. Android users can now also publish stories in Private Mode. This opens up huge opportunities for collaboration among Justorians and engagement over stories. All these features will be released on iOS by the second week of January. We will also release a new exciting Auto-Stream feature by the end of January. This will work like an alarm clock, automatically playing queued stories at pre-set times.

Justorians are encouraged to annotate and tag their published stories. This helps in easily finding stories. Also, Justori is designed to give maximum control over their Library feed. The sort tool allows Justorians to change the order in which stories appear on their feeds. Also, members can manage their preferences and non-preferences from Settings.

WAY FORWARD

Cross – sector Conference on Technology in Learning, Berlin

In early December, Justori was presented at the OEB Cross-Sector Conference in Berlin on Technology Support in Learning and Education. It was exciting to listen to different participants and the innovative uses they found – as a tool in diverse areas from delaying/preventing Alzheimer’s to strengthening community relationship for the police force to recording oral memories of migrant communities to disseminating informal knowledge. Various multi-lateral as well as regional organisations have shown keen interest in using Justori as an easy-to-use and highly versatile platform to help them attain their missions.

We are now working on our plans to make Justori more collaborative, engaging and participative. This will not be limited to just enhancing features but will also include Justori’s evolution as an organisation. Watch out this space. We look forward to your suggestions.

If you are a Justorian, we look forward to your active engagement in keeping storytelling members energised and listening to your voice renditions. If you are yet not a Justorian, please download Justori from the AppStore and be part of wonderful community of Justorians built around stories.

Warmest Season’s Greetings and best wishes for a great 2018.

https://www.justori.com/

Write to us: contact@justori.com

Pratik Ghosh, Founder

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Mythical Phalloi and Shiva Fallacy

amarnath

Translated and Adapted from Avik Sarkar’s original Bengali article – লিঙ্গপূজার ইতিহাস ও সাব অল্টার্ন শিব

It is difficult to ascertain, fearful of the wrath of the nature, when exactly in the tract of the human history, the sun, the moon, the wind, the seas, the fire and the rest became gods. But the days we became agrarian to feed ourselves defying the vagaries of nature and realized that procreating and producing a lot is the key to the survival of the fittest, it was the beginning of animist paganism.

DionysiaThe significant part of pagan rituals is the fertility cult. The purpose of it is to be blessed for plentiful plates and progeny. Strong prevalence of fertility cult in some way or other among all primitive human societies, surprisingly at the same time, cannot go unnoticed. Egyptian, Aztecs, Mayan, Phoenicians, Anatolians, Celtics, Germanics, Africans, Pre-Aryans – who isn’t there! The fundamental elements of this pagan procreative festivals are prayers to the mother-goddess, celebration of fertility and unbound sex through songs and dance, prayers and chants, symbolic and ritualistic acts in groups. Among Indian festivities, Holi, Bihu, Nabanna, Lohri, Pongal are all variant of this.

MahisasuramardiniThe principal myth based on this procreative belief system was killing of the lover by the mother goddess/goddess earth, and then to look out for him. It is a symbolic tale of life, death and reincarnation. Isis and Osiris, Demeter and Persephone, Cybele and Attis and indeed Ishtar and Tammuj all signify this belief system. Durga-Mahisashur is the Indian version of the same cult belief. It is a derivation from the Akkadian-Sumerian tale of Ishtar and Tammuj. From Anatolia or current day Turkey to Iran, the practice was to get the lover of the main protecting goddess of the land married to her lover and then kill the poor gentleman. An ox or a bull god symbolized the male god. At the end of the ritual a bull was sacrificed. The practice reached India either with the Sumerian traders arriving to Harappa or at a much later time with the Kushans, introducing the lion-riding goddess from the mountains of Afghanistan, Nanaya. Reaching the Gangetic plains the bull was replaced by a more popular South Asian animal, the water-buffalo. Since then the mother goddess became the buffalo-slaying (Mohisasur-mordini) goddess Durga.

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Lion-mounted Nanaya

The key features of the fertility rituals were to severe and scatter the sexual organs of animals across the ploughing fields, public display of nudity, parading with symbols of genitalia, polygamy and sexual promiscuity and indeed, worshiping of sexual organs. The history of phallus worship is quite old. Here is a small sample drawn from some of the oldest civilizations.

MinOne of the principal gods of Egypt between 2050 – 1500 BCE was Min. He was in every sense a dick-headed god. During the coronation, the pharaoh-designate had to ejaculate in front the idol of Min to prove that “Yes, he can”! It is not known what happened if he couldn’t but surely he wouldn’t have taken the test without sufficient practice beforehand.

Priapus of Greek mythology is a better known minor god. PriapusHe was a god of livestock, husbandry and indeed the god of phallus as well. Fathered by more illustrated Dionysus, the god of wine, he was the son of even more famous goddess of love, Aphrodite. According to the Greek mythology, cursed by Hera, the ever-jealous wife of Zeus, Priapus was born an ugly dwarf with an enlarged genital. The disease of painful prolonged erection is thus named Priapism. Abandoned by his mother, Priapus was brought up by a shepherd. He more than compensated his poor looks by his magical touch of fertility – to produce and to reproduce. Towns in Greece still celebrate The Dionysia, originally a rural festival in Eleutherae, Attica to kick-off cultivation of vines in the month of Poseidon (the month straddling the winter solstice, i.e., Dec.-Jan. – just when the poush-sankrati/pongol celebrations are held in India). The central event was the pompe, the procession, in which “phalloi”, the erected penis replicas of Priapus are carried.

Among the other famous penis parties, three of the Shinto followers are world famous. The largest, Kanamara Matusi festival of the steel phallus is held at Kawasaki. Hundreds Kanamaratake part in the parade wearing penis hats, carrying penis puppets, penis floats, penis costumes and licking penis lollipops. Penis icons are not in short supply, with all shapes and sizes made from iron, wood and inflatable plastic. Since nobody there shies away from sex or the sex organs, elderly Japanese alongside young couples can be seen seeking cures for impotence and infertility. The origin of the festival lies in the fabled “vagina dentata,” or toothed vagina, which supposedly castrated several poor young men on their wedding nights. The woman cursed with the toothed vagina (most likely a metaphor for syphilis, which was common then) went to see a blacksmith, who forged her an iron dildo in order to break the teeth of her inner demon, thus protecting the penis of her future suitor.

Hindu Trinity
Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva

But the country were the phallus is celebrated with greatest reverence is India. Here it is not just part of the fertility cult but also the icon of Shiva, the most revered of the holy Hindu trinity. Most of the aboriginal Indian goddesses are now shown as of Vedic origin. For example, almost all local female deities are now believed to be different incarnation of Parvati or Durga. Like Ishtar, these are “Mergers and Acquisition” of the local gods and goddesses by the Vedic race. Yet, it was not always a one-sided affair. The proof is Lord Shiva.

Among most of the aboriginal tribes of India Shiva was worshipped as an anicoinic god. He used to be worshipped at the forests, at the hills, at farmlands – in open air. It’s only the Vedic Aryans who imprisoned him inside the four walls of temples. The earlier parts of the Rigveda shows the disgust the Aryans had towards the aboriginals. The dark, flat-nosed tribals were called – Adaiva – Who are Godless;  Ayajwah – Who do not sacrifice; Anindra – Who do not believe in Indra; Murudeva – Who believes in fake gods; Mridhrabaak – Who talks non-sense; Anas – Who has blunt nose; and Shishnadeva – Who worships the phallus!

Interestingly, we find the same disgust expressed towards flat-nosed people in the Old Testament – Leviticus 21:  And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or anything superfluous (oversized phallus, may be?).

Nevertheless, the Indo-Aryans realized that the hatred couldn’t be sustained at such intensity for long. The Vedics came to terms with the practicality of the situation: to permanently colonize this massive land and large indigenous population, assimilation is required over annihilation. After all what can be a better tool of social control than religion? Hence Lord Shiva – the most influential of aboriginal gods was targeted as an M&A asset. He was quietly christened with three stripes of holy ash horiShiva Lingumzontally marked on the lingum. Thus abruptly at the end of Rigveda appeared Rudra. The god of fertility symbolized by the phallus was warmly embraced like a long lost brother found suddenly. Having recruited him, it occurred that he needed a function. What would be his job description? By then to simplify the Veda, advent of Vedanga in six parts had taken place – Shiksha: pronunciation; Chandas: prosody/meter; Vyakarana: grammar and linguistic analysis; Nirukta: etymology; Kalpa: ritual instructions and Jyotisha: Auspicious time for rituals, astrology and astronomy. This was further followed by the four early “made easy” manuals for each of the Vedangas – Shrouta (for the scriptures), Grihya (for domestic rites and rituals), Dharma (for duties and law) and Shulva (for Mathematics and Geometry). Finally came the Aagam – the assigning of five departmental heads: Nature was assigned to the goddesses; Control to Ganesha; Energy to the Sun; Governance to Vishnu or Vasudeva and a new department was set up for the new guy Rudra alias Shiva to run: Destruction – Winding Up. Thus came the five Hindu sects of followers of Energy (the Shaktyas), Ganesha (the Ganpatya), the Sun (the Sourya), Vishnu (the Vaishnavs) and Shiva (the Shaivas).

So, what are the documentary evidence of that Shiva was actually the principal god of the aboriginals who were socially and politically outside of the hegemonic power structure of the colonists? Instead of providing a mundane list of all gods of many minor tribes, let us look at the custom of Shiva worshipping among the three largest groups of Indian tribes, namely, the Santals, the Oraons and the Gonds (from where the Gondoana land is derived).

Marang Buru
An Ode to Marang Buru

India’s largest tribal race are the Santals. They worship the formless Bongas. Bongas could be good or evil. The fates of Santals are in their hands. They live in the hills, in the caves, by the waterfalls, in the forests. The head of Bongas is Great Marang Buru or Thakur Buru, alias Mahadeo. And there’s more to it. Marang means Great and Buru is mountain or a mountain dwelling Great God. Remember that Vedic Shiva is a resident of the Kailasa mountain.

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Tanginath

A simplified myth tells us that the Oraons were blessed by Lord Rama and they derived their name from chanting “O Ram”. It is very much possible that this was another ploy of the colonizing Aryans to dominate the Oraons – even the name of your race is derived out of our Aryan god. Anyway, since times immemorial Oraons are known to worship several phallus looking stones by the river Ghaghar. They call the place Devki or Deoki. It is the most sacred place of the ancient Oraons across the vast spread of the Chotonagpur hills. The phallus idol is called Tanginath. His countless deeds bear close semblance to those of Lord Shiva.

 

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Gond Place of Worship

The last of the major tribes are the Gonds. They live in the Southern Vindhya region. These are till date the worst exploited people of the Bastar region of Chattisgarh. Some census suggest that the Gonds are more in numbers than the Santals. The god of Gonds is Pen or Baradeo – the Great God. Like Brahma (one of the Hindu trinity), Baradeo is not much worshipped. His juniors, known as the Persa Pen are the ones who command the lives of the Gonds and the surrounding hills, the streams and the rivers, the vegetations and the woods. The leader of the Persa Pen is Palhandi Kupar Lingal. Lingal – Lingum – Phallus – get the drift?

A nice story tells us how he came of being. Once an angry Baradeo kept all of the Persa pens imprisoned. Baradeo’s son was Karta Subal. Once Baradeo presided over a conference of all the gods. But the Gonds found that their gods were missing. Having realized what has happened, Karta Subal engaged in prayers and from his left hand Palhandi Kupar Lingal appeared. Lingal helped to free the imprisoned Persa Pens from wrath of Baradeo. He was assisted in his mission by a goddess called Jangu Bai. Since then on Palandi Kupar Lingal is worshipped as the representative of mighty Baradeo and is lovingly called by the Gonds, Leengo – i.e. Lingum.

Panchananda
Baba Panchananda

Apart from these, in the districts of Midnapore, Bankura and Hooghly of Bengal, several local gods such as Vairav are worshiped. The striking semblance to phallus of the oldest idols of Vairav found in Organda is telling. Besides, the South Bengal is full of local phallus shaped gods as different forms of Shiva – Harijhi, BabaThakur, Panchananda, KaramRaja, Kudra, Baram, Bateshwar. The list is long. Worshiping Shiva or the Lingum is entirely a subaltern culture. The gentleman is the most ancient, aniconic protector of the downtrodden aboriginal races of India. For their vested interests, the Vedic Aryans lifted this blissfully happy-go-lucky god from his tribal fold and turned him into an  angry god of destruction. So, next time when in this priest-led Brahminical tradition asks us to pour a bucket full of milk on the Shiva Lingum, couldn’t we consider of offering the milk to the grossly under-nourished children of these utterly exploited backward tribes who have gifted us this god of peace and protection? Wouldn’t the Lord be happier then? It is said after all, that the essence of worshiping is “to serve each human as Lord Shiva”!

A CV of Lord Rama

Ramcharit ManasReciting Ramcharit Manas – the storytelling of Ram’s character is central to the Indian culture, particularly in North India and wherever primarily Hindi speaking Indian emigrants settled across the world from Surinam to Fiji, Mauritius to Trinidad. While traveling in Afghanistan in the 40s, Said Mujtaba Ali fondly reflected hearing recital of the Ramcharit Manas, “the tradition continues….”. But as Indian should we really be proud of Lord Rama? Here is my take on him.   

220px-Kaikeyi_vilapRam’s father, Dasharath in a moment of lust made two silly promises to his junior wife, Kaikei, that to make her son, Bharat the king instead of Ram and send the rightfully entitled eldest one away in exile. Now when the time came, Ram obliged despite objections from his subjects and advises from his counsels.

BharatEven Bharat, the step-brother to become the king, pleaded to Ram to take charge. Bharat finally acceded to rule only as an emissary. Ram was a king and his duty should have been first towards his subject and then his family. He failed miserably to weigh his priority and shunned his people. So he set off for a prolonged honeymoon with his wife Sita. Brother Laksman wanted to tag along. Ram was happy to have Laksman and didn’t care how his brother’s wife Urmila would cope without her husband for 14 long years.

220px-Surpanaka_ramayanaRam had been terrible to women – particularly the dark skinned non-Aryans. Before his marriage he killed Taaraka Rakshashi (a princess turned “ogress”) at the insistence of his Brahmin teacher. Later during his exile yet another Rakshashi – the sister of Ravana, Surpanakha finding Ram in the forest, fell in love with him. How dared she! In Ram’s presence Laksman mutilated the poor girl by chopping her nose off. This angered Ravana who in seeking revenge kidnapped Sita. Recovering Sita is what the epic Ramayana is all about.

Bali-sugriv1024While searching for Sita, Ram came across Sugrib whose brother Bali was a powerful and pious king. Now Bali and Sugrib fell apart over a misunderstanding and the latter was chased away. Instead of sorting out the family feud, Ram got Sugrib to challenge Bali in a duel. Hiding behind a tree, Ram shot Bali dead. Then got Sugrib to marry Tara, Bali’s beautiful wife. In return, Sugrib put his army at the disposal of Ram

MeghnadDuring the battle against Ravana, Ram was unrepentant (unlike Yudhisthir – the virtuous eldest brother of the Panadavas from the other India epic, the Mahabharata ) in indiscriminate killing of soldiers on both sides. Ravana had a very capable son, Meghnad. He was a better warrior than both Ram and Lakshman put together. He got both Ram and Laksman at his mercy. While he spared Ram under his mother’s instruction, he fatally injured Laksman, later to be resurrected. Ram conspired with Ravan’s brother Bibhisan who then led Laksman to an unarmed Meghnad at his prayer room for execution. Ram also endorsed burning of Lanka by Hanuman – a city unparallel in those days. In short, Ram behaved all along typical of any medieval king with little divine virtue.

lanka burningRam wasn’t even a great warrior. After all, just like his victory over worthy warriors like Bali and Meghnad, Ram was devious in his battle against Ravana. Ram secured a special arrow to kill Ravana which Hanuman stole by deceiving Ravana’s wife, Mandodari. Anyway, the subsequent treatment of Mandodari was just the same as say, what Yazadi women experiences at the hands of ISIS. Except Mandodari protected Sita all along during her captivity. During the final hours of the battle Mandodari, the Queen of Lanka, was allowed to be gang raped by the army of Sugrib. She was later against her will married off, a-la Sugrib, to Bibhishan who was directly responsible for slaughtering of her unarmed son, Meghnad.

Sita fireFinally, after all these blood letting, atrocities and looting of golden Lanka – all that any victor perhaps is entitled to inflict on the loser – when Ram returned to Ayodha, he abandoned his pregnant wife. She was then subjected to prove her chastity by entering into fire. Apparently, he did so to meet the demand of his subjects whom in the first place he abandoned without any hesitation to keep his father’s word. Ram’s hypocrisy is more stunning because one of the few noble acts he ever did was to release Ahalya – who was turned into stone by her aged husband for having an affair with Indra. Why then didn’t he stand by Sita? The only reason I can attribute to it is that Ram himself wanted to be sure and was ready to forego Sita if she were to be found “impure”. Even Ahalya died hearing of the humiliation Sita was made to suffer. Not once but twice!

ValmikiThat was a quick summary of Ram’s CV. The Ramayan is an enthralling and captivating epic as indeed the great poet Valmiki must have cherished it to be. A great time conquering story. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, we made the hero of that story our role model. Ironically, the supposed descendants of the poet, who in his earlier life was a bandit, remained historically excluded and oppressed in the Indian society. May be the dalits, the tribals and women in general in India can find some answers to their not so fortunate fate from the much recited and little questioned Ramcharit Manas.

The Journey Beyond

PRATIK GHOSH ·FRIDAY, 2 OCTOBER 2015

Shortly after I returned to Mauritius hopeful of his recovery, my father passed away in 1993. I couldn’t attend his funeral. This time I arrived two hours after my mother passed away at a Kolkata hospital. My younger brother Anik ran pillar to post to take care of our mother, particularly the last few months before she died. While I thought rightfully Anik should perform the last rites, he insisted graciously that I take charge.

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Baba and ma – Dr. Sujit (1935-93); Pratima (1936-2015) Ghosh – Wedding Day 12 September 1958

In Kolkata, funeral is more like an industrial process. The sheer mismatch between demand and supply, makes it impossible to let bereavement precede practical considerations. The overriding objective was to reach the crematorium as soon as possible in order to join a well-drilled out FIFO queue as early as possible. The rest of the events followed on. Closest of relatives, particularly those living reasonably nearby with own transport were expected to visit at home. The rest could join directly at the crematorium. Lack of mustering manpower at home wasn’t a problem. Most of the arrangements were outsourced from floral decorations to scattering of rice crisp during the journey to the crematorium. We left home as soon as our closest relatives could say their goodbyes. Unlike in Mauritius, no night long vigil, no hush voiced sympathies, no reciting from holy books. Nobody was quite sure of the rituals. Should her eyes be covered by leaves? Somebody put a pair of leaves on her both eyes. Somebody thought otherwise and removed it. Somebody tied her toes. Wouldn’t she trip to enter the gate of heaven? We listened to a few Tagore songs as we were reminded that it was getting late. So, we set off. Ram, our old retainer was visibly upset to see his matron of 50 years departing. So was the maid, Kali who had been with us for 25 years. The journey to the crematorium at Keoratala was uneventful as we discussed traffic, politics and upcoming Durga pujo celebration.

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Keoratala Crematorium

At Keoratala it wasn’t a busy day. So only one of the four furnaces were in operation. Ma, by then referred to as “Body” was rested on a wooden structure at the floor. Four other bodies were ahead of her. The waiting time was precisely calculated to be 3 hours plus/minus 10 minutes depending on body weights. Despite his poor health, one of my brother’s friends was already assigned the responsibility to oversee the event. His organisational skills were remarkable to the point in advising the amount of tips to be given to the priest and the “dom” over and above what they would have to be paid for their services. So the wait started as friends and family dropped by. Other funeral parties arrived and joined the queue and our “body” gradually progressed. Some of us kept a vigil and relayed us the status while we had tea by the roadside, chatted with friends. Finally our turn came. We were called to perform the rites such that there was no delay as soon the furnace was free. There were three bodies lying side by side just outside the furnace area. First a very young girl of hardly 22 years of age. Then ma, followed by an old man. The place was crowded and filled with murmurs. The traditional crossed leg sitting on the floor wasn’t possible – it was wet and dirty. So we sat in a hunch. The priest chanted the prayers. Hardly audible, mostly incomprehensible. We repeated whatever we made out of it. We placed a few things on her – possibly some rice mixed with sesame and milk. We went around ma touching her mouth with a fire by a flaming stick. Strangers looked on. The priest moved on to the old man next to ma and we took another recess. In ten minutes, the furnace was free. We carried ma onto the rail. The pillow was discarded. The dom pulled the lever and ma was jacked in. As the fire engulfed ma, the door shut. 45 minutes later we were called in to the back of the furnace to collect the naval – the only residue supposedly left. The dom made me perform a few symbolic rituals before giving me the naval in an earthen pot and asked for his tip. I tipped and then made the customary exit without looking behind as I poured water across my shoulder. At 6:30pm we headed for the Ganga to immerse the naval.

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Judges Ghat, Kolkata

The Judges Ghat was beautiful with a setting sun and a lit up Howrah bridge in the distance. Finally, I could be alone. I could grieve. I lowered on the river the earthen pot carrying the mud-wrapped naval. The dark water gently enveloped it, sending a few bubbles up. By the sound of the lapping water of the high tide and the serendipity all around suddenly made me realise that by Hindu custom this was not an end but only the beginning of a new journey which had already started for ma almost 12 hours earlier at 7am that morning of 30 August 2015.

At death Hindus believe that the soul is released from the body which requires a new body to make the next journey. Once the new body is formed, the entity is known as Pret. The objective of the family left behind is to help transcend the soul from the “Pret” state to join the ranks of our ancestors in heaven, known as Pitr (or fathers). So, here is how we we helped ma in performing that journey.

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Mahanirvan Math, Rashbehari Avenue

Mahanirvan Math has a large prayer area where simultaneously three completely segregated shradh ceremonies can be held. All arrangements were outsourced to the Math. From the offerings to the catering. The prayer area was already prepared when we arrived. The offerings neatly placed, positioning of every accessories as per scripture, completed.

The priest, respected Kamal Chakraborty, conducting the Shradh ceremony for ma had just the same qualification as ma, an MA in History from the Calcutta University. His Sanskrit was clear and rhythmical. As standard for all Hindu ceremonies, we started by cleansing myself – the puja performer, santifying the accessories to be used such as water, flowers, mattress, vessels etc., seeking blessings from presiding gods, the rivers and mountains of India and the three continents known to the ancient Indians (Asia – Ashwakshetra – the land of horses, Europe – Rathakshetra – land of chariots and Africa – Vishnukshetra – possibly meaning the land of dark men like Lord Vishnu) and inviting first the Sun god (together with his two wives, Sanga or Definition and Chaya or Shadow) and then our ancestors to be present for the occasion. The first part of the puja was facing the East, lorded by the Sun god.

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Shri Kamal Chakraborty assisting me

Kamal Babu explained in Bengali the six tasks to perform after death. We had already done the first two. First was the cremation (antoshti) when the body had to be discarded. The body is like a shirt worn by the soul. At death, the soul discards the body and we have to destroy it as we would do to anything worn out or of no use. It probably explained the general stoic disregard for the dead body that I witnessed at Keoratala.

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With Anik, Padma and Tara

The second task was performed during the first ten days after the death. Each day during this period, part of the new body for the soul is formed starting with legs and ending on the 10th day with the head when the soul gets the new body to make the final journey. Everyday during the 10 day period the soul is provided at the river bank with food in the form of “pindo” – a ball of rice mixed with sesame seed, milk, sweets and ripe banana. The custom these days of paying in arrears, is to offer all ten pindos on the day preceding the ekodishto shraddha – the final day of prayers “solely” for the departed soul which has by then reached the banks of the dangerous River Boitorini, across which is the infernal world, the realm of Yama – the god of death.

Our learned priest explained with a lot of care the four remaining tasks that we were to perform then. First, the soul must be prepared to make the journey across the fast flowing river, littered with hairs, flesh and blood: a) I had to pray for forgiveness for any lapses on my part during the mourning period.

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Sorosh Daan – 16 Offerings

Cash payment in lieu of a gold bar is the present custom. This acts like an insurance policy in case there had been any lapses (given the number of lapses we had, I thought this was a good deal!); b) an arrangement had to be made for a black cow to help ma’s soul to cross the river. Again cash payment is made to the priest here. Possibly a hawala system ensured that a black cow would be present at the banks of Boitorini for the cross over; c) I had to secure a long residence permit for the soul to stay in heaven by providing heaps of black sesame seeds (til), each representing a 1000 years of stay. All three deals had the same structure. We needed to call upon a witnessing god for each three sub-tasks. Agni, the god of fire presided the first and Vishnu, the two remaining. Each deal was then separately notarised through a prayer using haritaki (the wonder fruit). Finally, the priest was engaged to execute each of the tasks for which I needed his consent. On each occasion, I had to be assured by the priest that I have performed my duty well and the priest has consented to take over the responsibility to execute.

I was temporarily relieved by Padma and Anik for the fourth task of making ma’s journey comfortable by offering food and clothes.

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Padma and Anik

I returned then for the final round of prayers. A soul until it attains eternity or moksha must return to earth in some form of life. We can hope that our near and dear one’s soul will return in human form. The fifth task was thus to provide for the returning soul by offering 16 essentials (Shorosh daan). The priest gently explained the utility of these offerings: mattress, water, food, fruits, digestives, clothes, bed, flowers, fragrance, light, umbrella, slippers, gold, silver and brass. First I had to prepare and sanctify a symbolic brahmin made of kush grass to make the offering on my behalf. The prayer structure was same as before. Declaring the beneficiary – the Pret of Pratima Ghosh, belonging to the Shoukalinyo gotra (clan) who left her earthly body on the pratipada tithi (lunar day) of shuklapaksha (fortnight of the full moon) during the shravan masi (month of August) followed by appointing witness, notarising and seeking consent of the priest as executor.

The sixth task was to pray to the departed soul. My position was turned from facing the East to face the South – the direction lorded by Yama. The last task is known as Tarpan. Ma need be offered the last of the pindos which will give her the energy to go beyond the threshold of the mortal world past the infernal zone towards the realm of the pitr. But before ma could be offered her pindo, I had to offer pindo to all those souls who were never released from this world. They had no one to perform the shradh for them. On the other hand, I had to also protect my mother’s pindo from the evil souls. Finally, I could feed ma her last morsel and set her off to the year long journey. The visualisation was beautiful.

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Ma and Baba – united in Life Beyond

I could see ma in her whites making this journey. Well prepared to be at the arms of my father. 22 years long wait is coming to an end for an eternal togetherness to start. Souls never die.

We went to the river again to immerse the kush brahmin that I created. This time I didn’t feel the grief of losing ma anymore. She was now everywhere.