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On Death
It is traditional in Tamil funeral ceremonies to sing Manikkavacakars composition
Shiva Puranam, the ancient story of Shiva.
Shiva Puranam is a beautiful composition that has various layers of meaning that may
dawn on the reader depending on the angle it is viewed with. One way of looking at
it is to consider Shiva not a person but consciousness. As such it is a lament and a
narration about the travails of the individual consciousness, that only upon reaching
the golden feet of Nataraja experiences release (
In Shaivite mythology the souls final release happens upon its realization that it is no
different from the universal being release is godliness. Reaching the golden feet,
the soul merges into Nataraja (the master of the drama); instead of being an actor
compelled forward by a script (karma), the soul completes its journey and becomes
the director of the play.
This identity upon death is a mapping that relates back to ancestor worship. In many
traditions ancestors are viewed as a link between the here-and-now and the ethereal
hereafter. Ancestors are prayed to for guidance, clarity, strength, and comfort.
The notion is that our ancestors do not just pass into oblivion or into a self-centered
heaven of indulgence, but rather become ambassadors to divinity. We now need not
pray to a faceless god, but rather can draw strength from someone who has actively
shaped our life. This becomes a powerful focusing tool, regardless of whether one is
agnostic, atheistic, or deeply devout. The strength, the courage, and the guidance
that was given to us by our ancestors and I am drawing a wide net here including
all people who we felt deep affection for during their lifetime is a real memory
that, if kept alive, can continue to heal us.
Many religions are extension of this Jesus died for us, and while we may not be
related to him by blood, his actions bind us through love, and his courage and
guidance continues to live in our memory. Jesus is divine in his ability to affect our
present mental state, regardless of his physical reality thousands of years ago.
Singing, or chanting, Shiva Puranam thus at funerals, with its meaning held close to
the heart, reminds us of this cosmic journey the soul is on and it helps us understand
that love is not lost, only the body is. We instantly become spiritual and draw a
connection to spirituality within us naturally and without need for preachers,
dogma, or faith.
The death of a loved one then is the passing of our own minds into an experience of
spirituality a real love felt for something that cannot be perceived by our senses.
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Tags: Spirituality, Death, Hinduism