Celebrating impermanence

Celebrating impermanence


Last Breath : Everything withers including life itself. His corpse, serene and static in death, lies on a traditional stretcher made with long, stout, green bamboo poles, carefully placed on a rickety four wheel wooden barrow decked out with  dark maroon roses and yellow marigolds.

A huge bamboo pergola construction smothered in layers of different coloured marigolds is above his head while he is covered with garlands of jasmine, marigold and rose petals.

A  pair of still, pale feet project out of the cart from under the mountains of flowers. In front maybe 20 young men dance in a frenzy, seemingly oblivious to the  buses with passengers hanging onto the door frames, or the ‘squeak, squeak’ of auto rickshaws as they all try to overtake the procession in the middle of the street.

The dancing young men are wreathed in incense smoke and are throwing flowers into the air  and onto the road ahead of the funeral carriage.

One group is rhythmically banging drums of all shapes and sizes. Another pair  is blowing into a long, thin, single pitch brass horns. Some are pulling the cart. All of them dancing, twirling and waving their arms, as if in a trance — as if it were a joyous celebration, a festivity, an event of ecstatic happiness, not a sadness, not a death, not a mourning, not a loss.

The procession leaves behind a trail of yellow marigolds and dark red roses, strewn across the black, potholed tarmac road as far back as I can see in the crystal sharp morning light.

They are briefly pristine, the road like a coloured mosaic,   until the first fully laden bus or a diesel belching  truck crushes them into the dirt, emphasising with cruel certainty that the frail beauty captured in a moment of time is no match for the certainty of change — the necessity for destination.

In the  urgency to arrive and leave,  move from one destination to another, the living have no time to smell the  colourfully scented bed of roses or to acknowledge the brief, abbreviated  history of flowers whether they have been plucked to mourn the dead or are flourishing on a bush. 

Everything is temporary. There is no permanence. At the head of the procession is the deceased’s son, wearing a freshly laundered white dhoti, bare-chested with the sacred Brahmin threads placed across his naked shoulder, walking slowly, barefoot on the hot tarmac through the strewn flowers, his head bowed with grief.

He seems oblivious to the almost celebratory atmosphere surrounding the  last journey of his father’s  birth cycle.

He is being comforted by the dancing men in turn. An arm around the shoulder here, a few words of consolation there, a connected glance, to pave his way from death back to life again with colour and beauty and noise and vibrancy.

Has the deceased man’s life force, his energy,  moved elsewhere? To another part of the universe, where the microcosm holds sway and quantum particle energies swirling in the core of the universe are part of the great dance of  the Creator?

The essence of this man’s life and consciousness has now forever been disconnected from the living and has returned to where it came from. And  there it will stay, eternal in time.

The encounter made me think about death. As ever there were more questions than answers. Life is but a transient, crisp sequence of many moments — we all have our own brief flicker in time.

Just as the beauty of a rose is destined to be lost under trampling feet, so will we become wisps of a memory. Nothing is permanent yet nothing is ever lost.

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