Premonitions and anticipated death

In document Death, dying and bereavement in a British Hindu community. (Page 179-182)

Hindu Death Rituals

4.3 Preparation for death in Britain

4.3.1 Premonitions and anticipated death

S ome informants mentioned the willed death. Sw a m i Vivekananda was said to have died by his o w n will, knowing that,

at such and such a time he was likely to leave his body, talking and telling them what to do. He said 'Don't disturb me', went inside and died. W e can visualise death and will it. The best death is in samadhi, w h e n the head bursts open, because there is control of the eyes, mouth and breath. <PKhM48)

As with Indian informants, there are a num b e r of accounts of relatives w h o k n e w they were dying in advance and made preparations accordingly. A n elderly Gujarati Brahmin asked his wife to make prasad the following day because he was going to die. She said "Don't talk like that - there's nothing w r o n g with you", but on the following day she made the prasad as requested.

They offered it to Saraswati, ate it and then he lay on a white sheet on the floor and died.

A young Gujarati w o m a n described h o w her father, in Bombay, without acknowledging he was going to die, set all his business affairs in order, and wrote letters to all his children, nephews and nieces. He wrote to his daughter to congratulate her for her forthcoming anniversary - only that lay two months ahead. O n the morning of his death he told his wife where his mo n e y and insurance policy were, and in the evening, he asked her to stay with him instead of going to a party at the neighbours. After going into the kitchen to get some milk, she came back and found he had pulled

the sheet up over his face, and w h e n she looked at him "his face really shone. He looked so beautiful, so happy, and he was really clean, he hadn't wet or anything, Cwhichl meant his soul had gone from his mouth. That's really good." (see Ch. 16.2).

The mother of a Gujarati w o m a n had received dardana from her guru the week before she died.8 She and her daughter had met him in the street:

Radiating from his head Madhu saw the sun's rays, and to her mother he appeared as R a m with a b o w and orange dhoti. Her last wish, the darsan of her G u r u had been granted. T w o days before her death shesaid, 'Don't mourn'. She told her family that at her funeral she wanted them to eat khTr, rice cooked in milk and sweetened with raw sugar. This delicacy is usually enjoyed on festive occasions. The family prepared khTr in accordance with her wishes and people commented on the break with convention. Th e day before her death she gave Madhu money from under her pillow with which Madhu later bought a gold O m in her memory. (GjS; Eleanor Nesbitt, personal communication)

Dreams are often seen as significant in retrospect. A dream of someone's death is often understood to indicate that the person w h o is dreamed about will live a long time, but a young Panjabi student w h o was away at college dreamed that her father had died. This concerned her so m u c h that she rang up to ensure that he was all right, and reassured herself of the traditional belief that it indicated a long life. W h e n he died suddenly shortly afterwards, he looked just as he had in the dream. Her sister had been to a funeral for the first time the previous week and said that as she had never been to one before it was about time she found out what happened. In retrospect both w o m e n wondered whether these events were a sign of the father's impending death, or merely coincidences (cf. 16.2.3).

It is not just family members w h o have premonitions or dreams about an impending death. A Gujarati Swaminarayan follower living in Britain had

8. Dar-dmnm: (H, G j , dmrsan) literally 'looking at' or 'v i e w i n g 1, usually of the mOrt i , but all o of the yurt/ or a parent. See also darJfan of the body, S. 2 below.

wanted to go to a major ceremony in Bombay and wrote asking the Sw a m i if he could go, and the S w a m i said no. The devotee died on a Saturday. S u b ­ sequently the family learned that the night before the death a close family friend had had a dream in which she and the father were at the ceremony in Bombay. She dreamed that everybody was saying goodbye to the father, and someone asked her if she also wanted to say • goodbye. As she stood up he dropped from the stage, and she awoke. Her husband was in Bombay at the ceremony and told the Swami about the dream. P r a m u k h Sw a m i said there was no need to worry about this — he had witnessed the death, and the informant's father "rests in peace up there with God" (GjPM26.).

Informants in Britain also gave accounts of Y a m a or the Yamduts making mistakes or being bargained with. A pandit from U P said that the day before his wife died he saw two Yamduts coming from his sick wife’s room, saying, "No, we've got the w r o n g one". He was greatly relieved, but the next day she died.

A Gujarati informant described the experience of a w o m a n she knew. She had been ill and was judged dead. She was being laid out by her relatives and neighbours w h e n she suddenly recovered. She recalled being fetched by the Yamduts and arguing with them, saying, "Leave me. I have young children and m y husband is never here. C o m e back w h e n the children are older"- She was taken to Yamraj (Yama Raja), w h o said he would send his Yamduts again w h e n her children had children of their own: "You must achieve this as quickly as possible, and you will know." Eventually, w h e n everything was up to date, they came again, and this time she was ready to die (GjF60; cf. Gold 1989:110).

In document Death, dying and bereavement in a British Hindu community. (Page 179-182)

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