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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Funerals amid pandemic: People go online to bid final adieu to loved ones

Given the restrictions, families and priests are increasingly relying on video calls and live streaming apps to perform funerals and prayer ceremonies.

Written by Sanjana Bhalerao | Mumbai |
May 2, 2021 2:25:03 am
Lockdown, online, pandemic, Funerals, online Funerals, india news, indian expressJnanprabodhini's Sanskrit Sanskriti Sanshodhika, a Pune-based social organisation, has been training priests on the technical know-how to conduct funerals and last rites online.

As covid continues to rule people’s lives, death has gone online too, with the bereaved and the priests meeting over video calls to perform last rites.

Given the lockdown restrictions, families and priests are increasingly relying on video calls and live-streaming apps for performing funerals and prayer ceremonies.

Jnanprabodhini’s Sanskrit Sanskriti Sanshodhika, a Pune-based social organisation, has been training priests on the technical know-how to conduct funerals and last rites online.

The initiative began last year in March. The organisation currently has 30 priests in Pune and 10 in Mumbai who work online.

“I have conducted nearly 95 percent of these ceremonies online this year. Calls to conduct the funeral services online started earlier this month as families realised that it was not safe to travel even within the city. Considering our safety as well, we are not conducting funerals at crematoriums or at a bereaved family’s house. The shradh ceremonies are being conducted online via WhatsApp and Zoom among other virtual platforms. The priests are trained to conduct the ceremonies from their home and assist the families,” said Manisha Shete, a priest from the Santrika division.

A Pune-based start-up is also providing funeral management service through its online platform.

“With travel restrictions in place, making funeral arrangements for non-Covid deaths is also a challenging task. Through our service, Moksha Seva, we assist families with the 14-day rituals such as providing priest and required materials. We also conduct online ceremonies for cases of first death anniversary,” said Ajit Chawre, founder-director of the online platform Guruji on Demand. Total 350 registered priests of the organisation work in Pune, while 70 in Mumbai.

Amid opposition from local priests, Hindu ritual for the dead – the pind daan – offering homage and food to one’s ancestors is also moving online.

Held by the dead person’s descendants at sacred locations like Trimbakeshwar in Nashik in the state, the ritual is conducted a year after a person’s death.

While conducted throughout the year, a particular auspicious period to propitiate ancestors is Pitru Paksha, a 16-day period in the Hindu calendar that fell in the first half of September last year.

While many Indians abroad had been conducting the ceremony online, the number increased because of the pandemic-induced travel restrictions last year.

An online pind daan service incorporates the regular rituals but replaces the descendant of the dead with a local representative.

Sushil Kulkarni, a priest from Trimbakeshwar, said, “We started providing the service online last year as there was a demand. However, it is not the case this year. People are facing economic hardships and many prefer to do the ritual locally.”

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