One of the main reasons for my recent trip to India was to attend my father's “barsi” - his first death anniversary ceremony. These rituals officially mark the end of the mourning period for the bereaved family, and invoke Chenrizig, the goddess of compassion, for the liberation of all souls.
My dad died last year exactly on his 80th birthday. Besides trees he loved math, and we joked that he liked round figures so much that he died for it. He was a man of action. As a forester he could trek 20 miles through forests in the hills and sit down later in the evening with a pile of files and work late into the night. I wish I had some of that drive.
The barsi was mainly for the family and relatives who came from near and far. I had not seen some of them for many, many years until they all converged last year when my father died. Their support and kindness was overwhelming then and throughout the following year. For the first time I felt the bond of my kinsmen - my father’s parting gift for me, I thought.
Even the rituals were led by tulku Tashi one of our relatives. Tulku is a title given to a reincarnate of a high monk. He has a wonderful presence and energy about him which was most reassuring. He reminded me that what we call life is just the tip of the ice berg.
Ethnically we belong to the Tamang tribe whose origins are traced back to Tibet. They migrated to Nepal centuries ago before some of them settled in the Darjeeling hills. Our people follow Mahayana Buddhism as practiced in Tibet, although it is non-denominational.
The rituals began at night with Choey, prayers that are meant to help us cut ourselves off from our ego, tulku Tashi explained. I had not seen this ritual before which was nearly an hour-long of monks singing to the constant beat of their damaroo or hand-drums.
What I like about the chants is that they quiet and elevate the mind - like a melodic meditation.
The next day was the anniversary and the monks began early morning prayers for Chenrizig, the goddess of compassion. The goddess was being invoked for the sake of all souls seeking liberation. The monks went through hours of chanting, fueled among other things by rounds of tea with salt. Yes, a lot of hill folks like to drink their tea with salt!
Relatives joined us for prayers that finished around mid-afternoon. It was followed by a vegetarian feast that my cousins had helped prepare.
When I went to India this time, I had planned a little business as well, but decided it should be entirely devoted to family. My mother is getting along in age and struggles with the fact that I live half way across the planet. It was nice to be able to give her all the time that I had in India. Sometimes business can wait.