AN ANCIENT FUNERAL CEREMONY IN SICILY

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The coffin was carried by my grandfather’s friends on their shoulders to the Church of San Cataldo nearby, and after Mass it was set on a hearse dragged by two black horses.
There were thousands of people at the funeral, and all of them followed the hearse to the cemetery. At that time there were not many cars in the streets, so whenever there was a funeral the streets were closed to traffic. Sometimes the municipal band played a funeral march for very rich or special people.

After the funeral we had a tasty dinner. For eight days we were served breakfast, lunch, and dinner by our close friends. All the families gathered around the table. In Enna, you could not make the time of mourning at your will. It had to last eight days. During this time, besides being served delicious food by our relatives and close friends, we received visits from our neighbors and acquaintances. The food we received was more delicious than anything I had ever eaten before—so much so that a doubt arose in my mind: “Is this a time for mourning or a party?”
After eating, we returned to the double bedroom to show our grief as the visitors came in little by little. I sat close to my mother and observed the scene. The visitors entered the room and gave condolences to the family members, starting with my grandmother, and then they sat on the chairs scattered across the room and remained silent or talked with some of the family members.
Every family member was dressed in black. As soon as a new visitor came in, my mother and Aunt Carolina put a sad expression on their faces. Then they started chatting with the newcomers. While they chatted their faces were quite relaxed, but whenever a new visitor came in, they stopped chatting right away and reassumed a sorrowful look. In fact, it was mandatory to show a contrite face; otherwise folks might think that they didn’t mourn the loss of their father.
Since then I understood the difference between “to be” and “to look like.” The change in my relatives’ faces in showing grief meant that appearances had great importance in people’s eyes.
The custom of judging by appearances was widespread in Enna. Even today we tend to judge by appearances and fail to see what is really hidden inside every human being.

This is an excerpt from A Hidden Sicilian History by Ettore Grillo
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
-Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

LIFE AT THE BURNING GHAT

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“I also used to go to the Burning Ghat, a square by the bank of the Mula-Mutha River. Hindus burned the dead bodies of their dear ones in that place. The Burning Ghat was easily accessible from the street with the same name. On the left side of the square was the temple dedicated to Chanchal Das Baba. At the entrance his picture was hung on the wall. In the temple there was also a rectangular pit with ashes and a big log which burned slowly. The person in charge of the temple told me that the fire had been kept lit since Chanchal Das Baba’s dead body was burned there. ‘What was special about Chanchal Das Baba?’ I asked him. ‘He was blessed by Lord Shiva. As such, he was very powerful. He used his powers to help the homeless by providing them with food, shelter, and blessings.’
“The temple was austere, with nearly ten small statues of Hindu gods. It looked like a morgue or a place where the dead rest for some time before continuing their journey toward an unknown world. I had seen something similar at Pashupati Temple in Kathmandu where a special indoor area was provided to dying people.
“Outside the temple, an area had been arranged to provide a shelter for the homeless. There were some steps opposite the pits where the dead were placed to be burned. I guessed that the relatives of the dead used to sit on the steps. At night some tramps slept there. In the square, six pits, all of them approximately thirty centimeters deep, were paved with clay bricks and were iron-edged. The square was surrounded by green benches. Some were made of iron and some of cement. At the back of the pits were water taps placed above a tiled washbasin and connected to a tank.
“I don’t know why, but I enjoyed staying at the Burning Ghat. I felt comfortable there. I watched corpses burning for hours, contemplated death and where we are going after death.”
“Sometimes I can’t understand you, Uncle Salvatore. Instead of enjoying the life in the ashram and making friends, you went to the Burning Ghat to watch burning corpses. I have a feeling that you preferred death to life, didn’t you?”
“No, I didn’t. At that time I speculated about life and death. I tried to see whether the burning bodies released a soul or a kind of energy.”
“How can you see the soul with your eyes? It is absurd.”
“I don’t give up trying until I find the answer to my question. It is my shortcoming and merit too.”
“Did you find out anything about life after death at the Burning Ghat?”
“Maybe not, but the horizons of my insight broadened a lot.”
“Let me know what you learned at the Burning Ghat, Uncle Salvatore.”
“Okay. Usually, after a body has been burned, the ashes and a few bones remain in the pit for one or two days. Apparently not all the bones burn out. Then the families of the dead person take away both the ashes and the bones.
“One day, I saw a few men set a corpse inside a heap of wood and cowpat chapati in one of the pits of the Burning Ghat. They poured some ghee on the pyre and started the fire in two different spots. A man dressed in white filled an earthenware pot with water and stood in front of the pyre for a few minutes. With a special tool, someone made a hole in the pot, and the water started to come out. While the water was leaking from the pot, the man walked around the pit clockwise. Then a second and a third hole were made in the pot, and the man walked around the pit twice more while the water kept leaking. Finally, he got back to the starting point and dropped the pot. The leftover water spilled from the broken pot. The man dressed in white squatted down and broke the pot into tiny pieces.”
“What is the meaning of this ritual, Uncle Salvatore?”
“When the funeral was over, I asked the man dressed in white to explain to me the symbolism of the ritual he had performed. ‘I am the eldest son of the dead man. So, it’s my duty to pay funeral honors to my father, but don’t ask me about the symbolism because I don’t know it. I just follow our family tradition. The ritual is transmitted from generation to generation. However, you can ask Rajan, a good friend of mine about it. He is educated and lives just here in the shelter for the homeless,’ he answered.”

This is an excerpt from The Vibrations of Words: second edition by Ettore Grillo
Ettore Grillo author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
-Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo