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Funereal thoughts

Funereal thoughts

Once upon a time, there were two thieves called Ghata and Karpara, who were thick, err...as thieves. They were so close that even their names had the same meaning -- a pot. They were also rather ambitious.

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nusha S Rao
Last Updated : 11 May 2024, 21:58 IST
Last Updated : 11 May 2024, 21:58 IST
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In the lead up to the elections, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge made an impassioned appeal to the voters of Kalaburagi, requesting them to vote for the Congress, and even if they did not, to think of his contributions with goodwill and offer their respects at his funeral.

This got me thinking about funerals and emotional rhetoric. It is surely not a coincidence that some of the best-known classical dramas have funerals as a focal point. One immediately recalls Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, in which Mark Antony uses Caesar’s funeral to stir public sentiment against Brutus with the refrain, “Yet, Brutus is an honourable man”. And if you go farther back to the Greeks, one recalls Sophocles’ Antigone, a Theban princess, who honours her dead brother Polynices with a traditional burial, defying the king’s order even under pain of death. But why go so far when we have the story of Ghata and Karpara from the Kathasaritsagara?

Once upon a time, there were two thieves called Ghata and Karpara, who were thick, err...as thieves. They were so close that even their names had the same meaning -- a pot. They were also rather ambitious. They once decided to rob the king’s palace. Karpara asked Ghata to stand guard outside the palace, while he dug through a wall to enter it.

Unfortunately for him, he ended up in the bedchamber of the princess, who, of course, was devastatingly beautiful. The princess happened to be awake, and fell in love with Karpara at first sight. She gave Karpara plenty of wealth, and assured him of more if he returned to her. The loyal Karpara, who reciprocated the princess’ affections, exited the palace, told Ghata of what had happened, gave him all the wealth, and went back to the princess’ bedchamber.

Infatuation and drink is a bad combination, and Karpara, under the influence of both, did not wake up at daybreak. The king’s guards found him in the princess’ apartments, and he was sentenced to death. On the way to his execution, he saw his friend Ghata, and communicated to him that he was to carry off the princess and take care of her. The princess agreed, too, and so Ghata helped her escape from the palace.

Meanwhile, the king mourned the loss of both the princess and his wealth. In order to retrieve it, he gave strict orders that the body of Karpara must be kept as it was, and that anyone attempting to perform the body’s last rites was to be captured and brought to him. Now, Ghata wanted to mourn his dear friend aloud before the body, cremate it, and scatter the bones as per tradition. And so, he dressed up as an ascetic, carrying with him a pot of rice and milk. As he walked past the body, he pretended to slip and broke the pot, spilling its contents, upon which he lamented, seemingly about his lost alms, crying about the pot (karpara in Sanskrit), that was filled with sweetness. And so he was able to make the traditional offering and lament his friend’s death, while fooling the guards.

The next night, Ghata dressed up as a villager, went along with someone else dressed up as a bride, carrying plenty of sweets laced with a sleeping drug. When the king’s guards stopped him, he announced that he was travelling to his father-in-law’s house and shared some sweets with them. The guards fell asleep, and Ghata managed to cremate his friend’s body before they woke up.

Now, scattering the bones was all that was left. To accomplish this, he became friends with a mendicant and through the help of his spells, managed to send the guards into a trance, pick up the charred bones of his friend and scatter them in the Ganga.

And so, Ghata had managed to honour his friend’s memory. But what is the point of a fancy funeral when a fraction of all that work, or simply an alarm clock, might have saved Karpara’s life? I imagine Somadeva, author of the Kathasaritsagara, would laugh and answer us, “Hindsight is 20-20. Why else would you vote on the basis of caste and religion, and then spend so much time lamenting the death of democracy?”

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