Pashtun Customs Related to Death

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Pashtun Customs Related to Death, Azim Afridi
Published in Khyber.ORG on Monday, November 11 2002 (http://www.khyber.org)


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Pashtun Customs Related to Death

Azim Afridi

Publishing Date: Monday, November 11 2002

The Pukhtoons are very social, humane and friendly. They share each other's joys and sorrows. Their sympathetic behaviour can be judged from the fact that they give more importance to participation in funeral processions than festive occasions like marriages etc.

At the time of someone's death, the elders of the surrounding villages come to the village Hujra to express their sense of grief and sympathy with the bereaved family and the youngsters hasten to the graveyard for digging a grave and making necessary funeral arrangements. The women of the neighbourhood also go to the house of the bereaved family carrying articles of daily use such as sugar, gur, wheat, rice etc and to offer condolences.

The moment any one expires, his eyes are closed, toes tied, face turned towards Kaaba and placed on a cot (charpaee) in the courtyard. Women sit around the dead body in a circle and weep over it in unison. The lamentation is generally joined by the females of the neighbourhood. Embracing the wife, mother and sisters of the deceased and wailing over the passing away of their dear ones, is the traditional way of lamentation and expression of sorrow. The wailing also includes words in praise of the deceased. Such praise assumes "the form of the chanting of short rhythmical phrases of rhymed prose or verse". This presents such a sad spectacle that it makes even the onlookers burst into tears. Some women, in a state of deep anguish, resort to Weer i.e. beating of face and chest with both hands and with loud sobs. The burial takes place on the day of death, if the death occurs in the morning, otherwise on the following day.

Weeping in the house continues for at least three days but it sometimes continues intermittently for a fortnight or even forty days. No marriages take place among the deceased's near relatives till the first anniversary of the deceased is observed. Only in rare cases marriages take place within a year of the occurrence of death and that, too, with the consent of the members of the bereaved family. Music and jolly activities are avoided for at least forty days. The deceased's family is fed by relatives and friends for three or seven days.

Janaza (Funeral)

Before burial, the corpse is bathed by the village Mullah or some other old man. The dead body is usually washed in the veranda or in a corner of the house. A few candles or a lamp is lighted at this place in the evening for at least three nights to scare away the evil spirits, and people avoid passing over the spot. After the bath the dead body is wrapped in a shroud, placed on a bier, a sheet thrown over it and then taken to the village graveyard in a funeral procession. The funeral procession is preceded by a Mullah and three or four persons, carrying the Holy Quran on their heads. Friends and relatives join the funeral procession and carry the bier turn by turn. Even passers-by become the pal-bearers and accompany the procession for some distance for the attainment of Sawab (pious act). The Janaza prayers (recitation of the burial service by an Imam) joined by mourners from all over the area, are offered in the community graveyard and then the body is lowered into the grave which is always dug north to south with its face turned towards the Kaaba. Later special prayers are offered for the eternal peace of the departed soul. After the burial, alms are distributed among the poor and indigent at the graveyard. This is called Iskat (or Skath/Skat). The Pukhtoons consider the payment of Iskat as an essential part of the religious service and a question of their prestige. Even the poor, who can hardly afford two square meals, borrow money for this purpose to vindicate their honour. It is also one of the customs to present on this occasion a few copies of the Holy Quran to the Mullahs of the area for Quran Khwani (recitation) on the following four Thursdays.

Khairat

The burial ceremony over, some food is served in charity to the poor. This is called Khairat. Rice is cooked in a few cauldrons and the participants in the funeral procession are invited to partake of it. The ulema have preached against this custom, time and again but with little positive effect.

Drema

The third day of the death is called Draima in Pashto or Qul in Urdu. The day is observed with due solemnity. The women of the vicinity assemble in the deceased's house on that day. They pay a visit to the graveyard in the morning, lay a floral wreath on the grave and offer Fateha. Meanwhile, friends and relatives continue pouring into the village Hujra for offering condolences. This practice continues at least for seven days.

Salwekhti

The 40th day of the death is called Salwekhti in Pashto. The day is rounded off with Khatm-e-Quran, Khairat and distribution of alms. It is observed on a Thursday, five or seven weeks after the day of death.

One laudable custom among the Pukhtoons is that the villagers take upon themselves to supply meals and tea to the bereaved family for three consecutive days after the death. They also look after the guests of the family in the village Hujra. In certain cases the food is continuously supplied for seven days. In some villages expenses on account of the shroud cloth, Khairat and other matters connected with the burial are collectively borne by the fellow villagers as with each head of the family contributing some money for this purpose.

The Pukhtoons have an immense love for their motherland. They cherish a desire to be buried in their ancestral graveyards beside their near and dear ones. In case they die in a foreign land their bodies are brought home for burial. Even on the battle field the Pukhtoons do not leave their dead behind and carry them at a great personal risk.

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Pashtun Customs Related to Death, Azim Afridi
Published in Khyber.ORG on Monday, November 11 2002 (http://www.khyber.org)