June 9, 2020
Losing loved ones is a subject that so few wishes to talk about in the UK. It can cause painful emotions which many of us would rather bury but around the globe, many believe the end of a loved one’s life is a thing to be celebrated rather than mourned. Here are just a handful of ‘celebrations of life’ from around the world.
This tradition was started 3000 years ago and can be found in parts of China, Indonesia and the Philippines. It was once believed that if the coffin was suspended, then no wild beast could take the body and that the soul would be blessed for eternity. Some believed the cliffs were a stairway to heaven and by being placed so high, you were one step nearer.
If you visit the waterways of the Yangtze River in Southern China, you will see many hanging coffins. They are surrounded by beautiful landscapes of rivers, mountains, forests, and towering cliffs.
These coffins hang precariously on cliffs with the sheerest of drops or are put in the crevices of the cliffs, which can be 130 metres from the ground.
Every seven years, the people of Madagascar (the Malagasy people) bring forth the bodies of their loved ones from the family crypts. They wrap their ancestors in new cloth on which they write their names so as to be always remembered. The deceased are then carried over the heads of the families who traditionally dance to live music. Later, they will sit, tell stories and update them on family news before returning the corpses to the family tombs.
In Ghana, the beloved family members are buried in coffins which are shaped to represent their life. The Ga People believe that life continues into the next world, the same as it did here. The coffins often represent the deceased’s profession. Some coffin shapes can only be used for certain people, such as animals being reserved for heads of families. For example, you could be buried in a coffin which is shaped like a fish if you were a fisherman or a flash car if you were a businessman.
Buddhists see dead bodies as simply empty vessels and therefore don’t need to preserve them. They say that their soul leaves the body upon death and the shell must be returned to the Earth. The body is left to return to the earth in as generous a way as possible. The body is left on a hill and exposed to the elements and for the vultures to eat. The Tibetan Buddhists believe that if the vultures come to feast, the deceased has no sin and that his or her soul has gone peacefully to paradise.
This is a funeral with music. The funeral strikes a balance between joy and grief as the procession is led by a marching band. These funerals tend to be held for musicians and more recently, for younger people that have lost their life. The band plays sombre music and hymns until the mourners have said their goodbyes.
After the body is buried, the music switches to more upbeat, lively music and celebratory tunes. The music is accompanied by dancing to celebrate the life of the deceased.
This is an annual Buddhist holiday that has been traditionally celebrated in Japan for 500 years. The Japanese believe that each year the souls of their ancestors return to the world to visit their relatives. During the celebration, which can last for three days, families clean and decorate the graves of their loved ones. It is a time to remember the loved ones and people celebrate with a traditional dance and by releasing sky lanterns to help guide their ancestor’s spirits to find peace.
To the Aboriginal society in Northern Australia, celebrating the life of a family member or loved one is an elaborate ritual. The celebration begins with a smoking ceremony in the living area of the deceased to drive away their spirit. Afterwards, a feast is held with mourners painted ochre.
The mourners dance and eat while celebrating the life of the deceased. The body of the deceased is placed on a platform outdoors, covered in leaves and branches, and left to decompose.
Pitru Paksha is an Indian ritual held over a 16 lunar day period in the Hindu calendar where Hindus will honour their ancestors. According to Hinduism, the souls of three preceding generations of one’s ancestor reside in a realm between heaven and earth. When a person of the next generation dies, the first generation shifts to heaven and unites with God and so forth.
During the celebration, these ancestors are honoured as far as seven generations back.
The celebration begins by bathing in sacred ponds and rivers. Afterwards, food and prayers are offered to the ancestors as they return from the afterlife to feast.
Day of the Dead comes from Mexico in which death is widely believed to simply be naturally part of the human cycle. It is a happy, rather than sad, celebration of life where they honour and remember their loved ones, therefore helping to support their spiritual journey.
Traditionally, people celebrating ‘day of the dead’ arrange a pillow and blanket for each of their deceased loved ones in their home. This is so that the spirits of the dead can rest after their journey, as they are believed to visit their loved ones during this time.