Kalpana Lajmi’s award-winning film Rudaali (funeral mourners) threw light on the life of a funeral mourner, adeptly portrayed by Dimple Kapadia. The 1993 movie, however, was an on-screen adaptation of a novel by renowned Bengali author Mahasweta Devi by the same name.
The hard-hitting tale of a funeral mourner (Shanichari played by Kapadia) and her hardships, in the socio-economic backdrop of the group in Rajasthan is possibly a harsh truth for many such funeral mourners across the country. However, there was a time when mourning was an integral part not only of Indian culture but also had significance in countries like Greece and Rome, apart from China.
In Asia, countries like China have a remarkable history of mourning culture. Funeral practices that dated back to 2000 years or even more were banned during the cultural revolution of the seventies.
In ancient Rome, public mourning was an important element during funeral processions and there were professional mourners employed for the task, with an eulogy of music and singers playing their part in the cremation of the person.
Eric Miller of the World Storytelling Institute in Chennai offers an insight into the Greek history of mourning, which is of much significance to the country’s cultural history.
“Homer’s Iliad had many instances of such mourning, especially during the Trojan War that results in the death of many major characters,” he says.
He goes on to explain the implications of mourning in the State, as he talks about instances when mourning assumes the form of revenge.
Iliad witnessed the terror Achilles decided to unleash, after the death of his close friend in the war. The work has a detailed description of the mourning by Thetis, the mother of Achilles, after he was shot in his left heel.
Miller points to an interesting example in the Indian context. “Kannagi’s mourning takes a similar turn, after the death of her husband, as she decided to burn down Madurai,” he adds.
The mourners from Ayodhyakuppam were roped in for one of Miller’s story telling sessions titled Songs of the sea.
“Public mourning helps in the process of healing, but today mourning has become a private affair rather than a public gathering,” he adds.