I have officiated and participated in many funerals in the United States, yet just the other day, I was involved in a funeral here. The person was a wonderful elderly Christian lady who had taught Tamil here at Kodai School for a number of years. The service included singing, scripture reading, prayers, and eulogies; not really all that different from what I was accustomed to.
Yet the simple, straightforward way that death is dealt with is quite different here. No fancy copper-colored sealed vaults with flowers placed just so. The casket was made out of plywood, covered with a white silk cloth. The body was covered with jasmine flowers, which have a very strong perfume. Many Indian women wear these flowers in their hair, yet for this funeral purpose it was to mask any unwanted odors...you see, bodies are not embalmed here, and with temperatures being quite warm on the plains, funerals must take place quickly.
At the graveside, the casket has a lid that is nailed on to the top, and then the body is lowered into the grave, while everyone stands and watches. This woman's husband had died 20 years earlier, and as the dirt was being poured back in, I noticed that several badly decayed boards were dropped into the grave as well. I found out that these were the remains of the husband's casket, and that several of his bones had been placed in a bag and buried with her as well. While we may think this to be rather macabre, no one was offended or put out in the least.
I got to thinking about how the Bible says we are all created from dust, and to dust we will return. These people were celebrating the new life that this woman was now enjoying in heaven...her earthly remains were actually quite inconsequential. It reminded me that we look forward to a heavenly home, one in which God has prepared a beautiful dwelling place for us, where we will be with Him forever. That is the hope we have as Christians, and that is what was celebrated so vibrantly during this "passing of a well-loved saint."
David M. Brown