People used to donate a coconut tree to the sangham which could sell the coconuts from that particular tree and add to its funds

Meet Keralas Marana Sanghams who cater to the dead and their grieving families
news Sunday, June 19, 2016 - 17:34

Kerala was recently declared the best family destination in India by Lonely Planet –the world’s largest travel guide book publisher. But God’s own country cannot be termed just the touristy kind but has also now come in for praise for its palliative care, making it the best place to die too in India.

Did you know that in Kerala, there are a few villages and towns with small associations which in local parlance are called ‘Marana Sanghams’ (death groups) whose sole aim is take care of all funeral arrangements of Hindus in a specific area. There are around 200-odd families as members in each association.

Speaking to The News Minute, Sreekumar KS, a retired central government official and secretary of one such after-death-help group, the Samskara Dharma Sahaya Sangham (SDSS), recalls how their group originated around 55 years ago in a village near North Paravur.

“In the earlier times, many poor families comprising mostly workers from the coir industry- lived in this area. Being poor, whenever a death occurred in the family, they were unable to bear the funeral expenses. That’s when a few financially well-off families residing near-by pooled in money to help them tide over their personal loss. That was how it all began,” he says.

At that time, 50 paise was the monthly contribution of each member. People used to donate a coconut tree to the sangham which could sell the coconuts from that particular tree and add to its funds. “Such coconut trees were known as kettu thengu,” he adds.

It was only much later that the group was made into a proper organisation. Times changed. Families who sought help were expected to take membership by remitting a said amount. The membership fee then was just Rs 39 in the early years, but now it is Rs 2000.

If anyone dies in the family of one of its members, the Sangham donates Rs 8000 to the bereaved family and handles all arrangements with regard to the funeral. The SDSS now has an office and a couple of permanent staff working there.

Sreekumar continues: “When someone dies, the near and dear ones are not exactly in a frame of mind to actually work out the minute details of all that is to be done thereafter, especially with respect to the various ceremonies involved.  So we take it upon ourselves to do the needful. Before the advent of mobiles, it was the Sangham which informed relatives about the death. Nowadays however, we stick to setting up pandhals, making the requisite seating arrangements, organizing cremation rituals and the like.”

All a member has to do is to intimate the Sangham of the loss of a loved one and the rest is then taken care of.

“Most Sanghams have as their members, people who reside within a radius of one or two kilometres. The Sangham usually operates on caste-basis like the SDSS caters to only the Ezhavas (a powerful Hindu OBC group in Kerala).

Marana Sahaya Sangham (MSS) is another such Ezhava organisation located at Thuravoor in Ernakulam . 

But unlike SDSS, MSS does not collect any membership fee. “We operate in a limited geographical area. If someone dies in an Ezhava family within this area and they are not in a position to bear the funeral expenses, we collect money from other members and provide our services to the family. We don’t have an office per se. Meetings are usually held in one or the other member’s homes,” explains KP Rajeevan who is the secretary of the MSS group.

In Kasargod in Northern Kerala, there is a group –the Maniyani Marana Sahaya Samithi (MMSS)- which was formed seven years ago and executes funerals for the poor among the Maniyani caste.

“We raise funds through conduct of different programmes, donations and sale of coupons and home-made products. This is then used to arrange for the cremation and all related expenditure,” says Veluppa Krishna who is the president of the MMSS.

The Sangham is also approached by a few aged people who wish to arrange for their own funerals in advance. “Once we had an old man express his desire to have his body  laid out under a mango tree near his house. When he died, we did remember to fulfill his last wish,” he shares.

These Sanghams hence play an integral role in ensuring that the deceased soul departs with all respect and also makes sure that in the process no traditional ritual is left out. This goes a long way in alleviating the grief of the family who otherwise would be left to cope with much more than they could handle at such a harrowing time in their lives.

 

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