MADURAI: Lighting the funeral pyre could be a heart-wrenching moment for loved ones of the departed. But at the Thathaneri crematorium in Madurai, it is the moment that raises the hopes of assorted villagers gathered there with the belief that inhaling smoke from a burning body is an effective antidote for dog bite.
“My son is taking treatment at the Government Hospital and has even taken injections. But since the village elders said he will be fully cured only if he inhales the smoke billowing from a body, I brought him here,” said Suresh from Palamedu, who was waiting for a long time with his six-year-old son, along with many others, under a tree at a corner of the crematorium for a body to arrive at Thathaneri.
The motley crowd of dog bite victims and attendants heave a silent sigh of relief when a funeral procession snakes in. Within 15 minutes of the lighting of the pyre, crematorium worker, Muthupandi, shoves a body part, using a long wooden stick, into the flames and thick smoke emanates as the flesh burns. He then urges the dog bite victims to move ahead one after the other and inhale the smoke.
The 54-year-old professional cremation ground worker also picks some ash from the pyre and smears it on the forehead of the boy, much to the relief of his father, who says: “I saved my son’s life.”
“If women fail to inhale the smoke they will develop fits and suffer from rashes when they attend a funeral. I have seen it happen among our relatives,” said 55-year-old Eramma from Malayagoundampatti village in Dindigul district.
Explaining why she had come all the way from Aruppukottai in Virudhunagar district, 65-year-old Andal said people flock to the Madurai crematorium because there will be at least one cremation every day, unlike the villages. She said she had seen a five-year-old girl dying of dog bite because she did not go for the inhalation.