Nation on the March

Nation on the March
Nation on the March

Oct 28, 2009

Three greatest events worthy of celebrations : Birth, Life & Death

There are no greater events which need celebration than human birth, human, life and human death.  

Birth day is the most regularly celebrated event and it has significance only to the birthday boy or girl and some one who is very very close. Others are mere onlookers who, by compulsions of civility & courtesy, shower an occasional bouquet, gift, a phone call or an SMS in the least.

Celebration of life is a serious daily affair and is  an outcome of daily choices - rather a dozen choices each day – that one makes, which in turn build his life as though brick by brick.  The superficial life will be full of superficial celebrations – as we have seen in my earlier posts - like Hand Washing Day and Pop Corn Day and Ice Cream Day, while a more serious life is like that of Nick Vujicic  i.e. Life without Limbs - turned into- Life without Limit” - seen in another post! 

In Gujarati, one recent message I received is very inspiring and the key to Life Without Limit :

Celebration of Death is the only one where the ‘guest of honour’ himself is absent! Hence, what happens that day is all the more crucial to know! It depends on two things: the social customs and beliefs of each community or province and how the life was lived. The latter is a dull and mundane subject, full of subjectivity and more importantly, a sacred, private domain and therefore better not to touch it. The former - customs and beliefs - is the subject matter of this post.

The subject of death has been long held as one of permanent separation, grief, bereavement, mourning and remembrance. To the living, its undertone is that of morbid fear, of some thing demonic or satanic, some thing unwelcome or inauspicious.

The Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are respectively the creator, preserver and destroyer deities of the universe. Lord Shiva - the destroyer - appears in a meditating but ever-happy posture. The Lord's attributes represent his victory over the demonic activity, and calmness of human nature.

Shiva is worshipped in a popular form named Nataraj ( the King of Dance ). His dance represents both the destruction and the creation of the universe and reveals the cycles of death, birth and rebirth. His Dance of Bliss is for the welfare of the world. In the pose of Nataraj, under his feet, Shiva crushes the demon of ignorance ( caused by forgetfulness) . One hand is stretched across his chest and points towards the uplifted foot, indicating the release from earthly bondage of the devotee. The fire represents the final destruction of creation, but the dance of the Nataraj is also an act of creation, which arouses dormant energies and scatters the ashes of the universe in a pattern that will be the design of the ensuing creation.

In spite of all this positive symbols in praise of death, the spiritual knowledge is quickly vaporized in many a homes and the dead are remembered in a very solemn, seriously suffocating atmosphere where family members spend the inauspicious period of 16-days of worshiping the departed souls by shunning themselves from all important auspicious decisions and actions every year, without fail!

In contrast, if one has to see the true celebration of death , perfectly in line with that of birth, a quick arm-chair journey to Mexico and other Latino communities should suffice.Then, tie up the seat belts please on the journey of fun, frolic, beautifully created art work , all in celebration of dear, dear friend we call death – to witness Day of the Dead (El Día de los Muertos) ! This festival is noteworthy in several ways. The theme is to “remember the dead”, but the rituals are unimaginably explicit, entertaining, colourful and creative.

The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. The celebration occurs on November 1st and 2nd in connection with the Catholic holiday of All Saints' Day which occurs on November 1st and All Souls' Day which occurs on November 2nd. Traditions include building private altars honoring the deceased, using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 2500–3000 years.

In most regions of Mexico, November 1 honors children and infants as "Día de los Inocentes" (Day of the Innocents) or  "Día de los Angelitos" (Day of the Little Angels) and November 2 as "Día de los Muertos" or "Día de los Difuntos" (Day of the Dead).


Some families build altars or small shrines in their homes which  usually have the Christian cross, statues or pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pictures of deceased relatives and other persons, scores of candles, etc. Traditionally, families spend some time around the altar, praying and telling anecdotes about the deceased. In some locations, celebrants wear shells on their clothing, so that when they dance, the noise will wake up the dead; some will also dress up as the deceased.
Those with a distinctive talent for writing sometimes create short poems, called "calaveras" ("skulls"), mocking epitaphs of friends, describing interesting habits and attitudes or funny anecdotes.

A common symbol of the holiday is the skull (colloquially called calavera), which celebrants represent in masks, called calacas (colloquial term for "skeleton"), and foods such as sugar or chocolate skulls, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead. Sugar skulls are gifts that can be given to both the living and the dead.

The traditions and activities that take place in celebration of the Day of the Dead are not universal and often vary from town to town. Some where there is also dancing with colorful costumes, often with skull-shaped masks and devil masks in the plaza or garden of the town.
In some parts of the country , children in costumes roam the streets, knocking on people's doors, for a calaverita, a small gift of candies or money; they also ask passersby for it. They also clean their houses and prepare the favorite dishes of their deceased loved ones to place upon their altar or ofrenda.

People bring offerings of flowers, photos, mementos, mentos, and food for their departed loved ones which they place at an elaborately and colorfully decorated altar. A program of traditional music and dance also accompanies the community event.
Some where,   Day of the Dead are highlighted by the construction and flying of giant kites in addition to the traditional visits to gravesites of ancestors. A big event also is the consumption of fiambre that is made only for this day during the year.
In the Philippines, , the tombs are cleaned or repainted, candles are lit, and flowers are offered. Entire families camp in cemeteries, and sometimes spend a night or two near their relatives' tombs. Card games, eating, drinking, singing and dancing are common activities in the cemetery. It is considered a very important holiday by many Filipinos.

“While it's strange for most of us to accept the fact that "death" and "festivities" can go hand-in-hand, for most Mexicans, the two are intricately entwined. This all stems from the ancient indigenous peoples of Mexico who believed that the souls of the dead return each year to visit with their living relatives - to eat, drink and be merry. Just like they did when they were living.

Tempered somewhat by the arrival of the Spaniards in the 15th century, current practice calls for the deceased children (little angels) to be remembered on the previous day (November 1st, All Saints Day) with toys and colorful balloons adorning their graves. And the next day, All Souls Day, adults who have died are honored with displays of the departed's favorite food and drinks, as well as ornamental and personal belongings. 

Flowers, particularly the zempasúchil (an Indian word for a special type of marigold) and candles, which are placed on the graves, are supposed to guide the spirits home to their loved ones.

This may all seem morbid and somewhat ghoulish to those who are not part of that culture. But, for Mexicans who believe in the life/death/rebirth continuum, it's all very natural. This is not to say that they treat death lightly. They don't. It's just that they recognize it, mock it, and even defy it. Death is part of life and, as such, it's representative of the Mexican spirit and tradition which says: "Don't take anything lying down - even death!"

First the graves and altars are prepared by the entire family, whose members bring the departed's favorite food and drink. Candles are lit, the ancient incense copal is burned, prayers and chants for the dead are intoned and then drinks and food are consumed in a party/picnic-like atmosphere. At 6:00 pm, the bells begin to ring (every 30 seconds), summoning the dead. They ring throughout the night. At sunrise, the ringing stops and those relatives who have kept the night-long vigil, go home.

( With inputs /extracts from Wikipedia &  Story compiled and written by Marvin H. Perton

Mexico celebrates a yearly tradition called Day of the Dead during the last days of October and the first days of November. Due to the duration of this festivity and the way people get involved it has been called "The Cult of Death."In this place, the spirits rest until the day they could return to their homes to visit their relatives.

The legacy of past civilizations is graphically manifested on this occasion through people’s beliefs that death is a transition from one life to another in different levels where communication exists between the living and the dead. This communication takes place once a year throughout the country.

This may all seem morbid and somewhat ghoulish to those who are not part of that culture. But, for Mexicans who believe in the life/death/rebirth continuum, it's all very natural. 

This is not to say that they treat death lightly. They don't. It's just that they recognize it, mock it, and even defy it. 

Death is part of life and, as such, it's representative of the Mexican spirit and tradition which says: "Don't take anything lying down - even death!"

 Therefore, the Day of the Dead in Mexico is not a mournful commemoration but a happy and colorful celebration where death takes a lively, friendly expression.What a friendly, joyful way to remember the departed dear ones !!

 With inputs & Extracts from  “ Mexico Celebrates Life” ( by Journalist, Author, and Photographer, Mary J. Andrade

Food through SMS !

U.N. to send Iraqi refugees food aid by SMS!
Tue Oct 27, 2009

GENEVA (Reuters) - Iraqi refugees in Syria will this week start receive U.N. text messages they can redeem for fresh food in local shops, the World Food Program said on Tuesday.

The "virtual vouchers" worth $22 per family every two months will supplement traditional aid which rarely includes perishable goods, WFP spokeswoman Emilia Casella said, announcing the pilot project supported by the mobile company MTN.

"They will be able to exchange their electronic vouchers for rice, wheat flour, lentils, chickpeas, oil and canned fish, as well as cheese and eggs -- items that cannot usually be included in conventional aid baskets," she told a Geneva news briefing.

There are more than 1.2 million Iraqis now living in Syria, according to government figures. Many of those who fled war and insurgent violence in their homeland initially had some savings and possessions but are increasingly desperate, Casella said.

Virtually all the 130,000 Iraqis who now regularly receive WFP food assistance in Syria have mobile phones, and the U.N. agency often sends text messages to tell them where food staples will be distributed, the spokeswoman said.

The Rome-based WFP, which aims to feed 105 million people in 74 countries this year, has never before used mobile phones to deliver food vouchers.

The Syrian pilot will initially reach 1,000 beneficiaries in and around Damascus, and may be extended, the WFP said. Casella described it as a way to help refugees eat a more diversified diet while also supporting local farmers and businesses.

"We are not giving food away, we are actually creating an additional market for local shopkeepers," she said.

(Reporting by Laura MacInnis)

Coffee with No Comment -1

"I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I  meant." 
(Robert McCloskey)