Following the death of my host uncle, we spent sixteen days devoted to prayers for the deceased. Before every meal, food was placed on the shrine as an offering and everyone sang prayers.
Before praying, my host brother (the head family prayer-doer) would light incense sticks, the jothi (a small flame on a metal tray, fueled by burning camphor), and a material to create smoke (sort of like a small flower shaped cylinder with fuel in the middle). We would move each of these in a counterclockwise circle three times above the shrine. After that, everyone sang prayers from a booklet for about ten to twenty minutes. A couple of times, when the entire family was here, my host uncle who plays the drums in temples played along with the drums and his son played tamborine, while my two cousins who take singing lessons led the prayers.
This was technically a state of mourning for sixteen days, but most of the time, the family actually seemed to be happy. They are such loving people and truly enjoy being around each other, and I loved spending time with them. Of course they were sad for the loss of their brother, but they also didn’t dwell on it excessively and still laughed a lot and had fun enjoying each other’s company.
I loved spending time with my host cousins, aunts, and uncles. Most of the family left on the Tuesday after the funeral, but two of my cousins stayed, as did two host aunts (including the aunt from India). I spent the week relaxing at home, sleeping late, reading a lot, going to the morning market to get vegetables and other ingredients, talking to cousins and aunts, playing badminton, learning to cook from my host aunt, and then eating delicious food after participating in prayers before every meal. I memorized one Tamil prayer song! (3 out of 4 words are the same word “jothi,” which means flame, and is repeated over and over again).
The family members who had left came back the next weekend.
Prayers before each meal:
For each prayer, a meal was placed on a banana leaf, including fresh fruit, a dessert, and a drink. After prayers, the family members could eat the food. (I could not until after I took part in a certain ritual during the 16th day prayers, when the family decided I could.)
Saturday, Ibe and I went to a Christmas event. People gave speeches (some were translated into English), sang songs, and played Tamil Christmas music— which is much livelier than most English Christmas music and is very fun to listen to! Tamil Christian hymns are more like rock music than the church hymns I’m used to.
The rest of the weekend I spent at home with the family.