Prominent people including poet Vyloppilli Sreedhara Menon, writers VK Narayanankutty Nair and OV Vijayan were cremated at the crematorium.

He gave up 3 white collar jobs to cremate bodies meet Kerala man who broke caste taboos
news Life Tuesday, December 13, 2016 - 19:28

“What did you lose? Why are you worried? What have you lost in what you brought with you? What was destroyed from what you have created? When you were born, didn’t you bring nothing? Whatever you have gained is here!”

These words welcome you to the Ivarmadom Hindu public crematorium, in Pambady, Thiruvilwamala, on the border of Thrissur and Palakkad districts. The office of the crematorium and a small cattle farm stand on either side of the road. Every 15-30 minutes an ambulance passes through the gate carrying bodies for cremation.

Life

The modern, secular setup that one of Kerala’s most important public crematoriums boasts of, is all thanks to a man who thinks of himself as a guardian of souls. It is his passion and his destiny, he says, to serve the last needs of the dead.

Since his childhood, Ramesh Korapath has been fascinated by funerals, and took every opportunity to observe cremation rituals taking place. When he was 16 years old, he took the plunge himself, beginning to cremate dead bodies and performing funeral rituals.

Born in an affluent Nair family – the 6th son of Raman Nair, a defence employee, and Kalyanikutti – Ramesh completed his post-graduate education from Ottappalam NSS college, obtaining double post-graduate degrees. Even when he was in school and college, people often sought out Ramesh to perform cremations for their loved ones.

Bowing to his family’s wishes, however, Ramesh worked other professions for a time – as a journalist, a college lecturer and finally as a Sub-Inspector of the CRPF. 

But Ramesh could not survive very long in any of these jobs, and eventually realised that his most important role was in the graveyard. “It was my passion, since childhood I had an interest in it. It is all destiny, there’s no need to glorify it more,” Ramesh says simply.

Protests

Ramesh’s family, relatives and neighbours could not fathom why a well-educated, intelligent boy had become a graveyard keeper, especially when his family had no traditional background in the profession.

But Ramesh was firm on his decision, and went ahead to develop the Ivarmadom crematorium into a systematically functioning institution.

The first revolutionary step he took was to sweep away caste distinctions from the crematorium. “Earlier only upper caste people were cremated here. Now next to a Brahmin man’s pyre we cremate a Dalit’s body. What is the difference? Death doesn’t differentiate between people based on, gender, caste or religion.”



What’s more, he also introduced a uniform system of funeral rituals for all bodies being cremated in Ivormadom, irrespective of caste.

“Every caste, sub castes had different rituals to be followed. But we made a uniform set of rituals incorporating all traditions and beliefs,” he said.

Today, he works with around 60 employees at the crematorium where between 30 and 50 bodies make their journey.

It was Ramesh who developed an office for the graveyard, and expanded the premises by setting up a cattle farm, housing rare breeds of cattle. Milk from the cows is used for the funeral rituals. 



Public’s aversion

Committed as he is to his vocation, Ramesh laughs at past experiences of people keeping him at a distance for it. Ramesh’s friend and partner in his social work, P Salil, recalls one such incident, “We were having food at a restaurant and another man was sitting next to us. Ramesh received a phone call seeking advice on funeral rituals. While he was speaking about the rituals, the man next to us heard it, picked up his plate, and moved to another table.”

“People think that death is an event that cannot happen to them,” Ramesh smiles. 

But Ramesh and Salil say that this was the attitude in the beginning when Ramesh first started out. 



Memories

As one of the most prominent crematoriums in Kerala, many prominent people including poet Vyloppilli Sreedhara Menon, writers VK Narayanankutty Nair, and OV Vijayan, and actor Oduvil Unnikrishanan were cremated here.

Ramesh personally performed the rituals for the funerals of VKN, Vijayan and Unnikrishnan. 

“I remember after OV Vijayan’s funeral, when everyone had returned, one person came running to me. He had come from Alappuzha and looked tired. I offered him a tea but he said he would have it only after paying homage at Vijayan’s pyre. He was a great admirer of Vijayan’s books and wished to meet the writer at least once. He told me with great pain that he could not even see his favourite author one last time,” Rameshan recalls.

Ramesh also remembers the time he visited VKN in the hospital, and the writer joked that that the time had not yet come for Ramesh to arrive.

Ramesh’s memories come in all shades.

Alongside the famous funerals, for instance, he also recalls one man who approached him, paid all the costs for his funeral, and returned home to commit suicide.

Salil

Duties and challenges

One of the tasks that often falls on Ramesh is care for unidentified or orphan bodies.

“In the case of orphaned dead bodies, he does all rituals acting as the son of the deceased. Their remains are also collected and preserved by him to conduct rituals every year,” Salil says.

Ramesh is not just a graveyard keeper, he’s also a farmer, social worker and environmentalist, and was involved in a number of efforts to preserve the Bharathapuzha river. 



The most difficult challenges for Ramesh came from the sand mafia and the land mafia who had their eye on the land occupied by the crematorium. “The crematorium earlier had around three acres of land. But now almost two acres have been grabbed and case is still under the court’s consideration,” he says.

Ramesh says that there have also been numerous attempts to shut down the crematorium, but Ramesh has managed to overcome all of these obstacles. He continues in his vocation, sure that he is the perfect guard for souls who rest on the shores of Bharathapuzha.

 

Edited by Rakesh Mehar

 

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