Politics of death and mortuary rituals in Trinidadian Hinduism

Authored by: Priyanka Ramlakhan

The Routledge Handbook of Death and the Afterlife

Print publication date:  June  2018
Online publication date:  June  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138682160
eBook ISBN: 9781315545349
Adobe ISBN:


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Through historical and ethnographic lenses, this chapter traces the theological and liturgical articulation of death rituals among Trinidadian Hindus from the colonial period to post-independence. Hindu death and grieving culture was transformed by a series of social and political contexts, beginning with the arrival of Indian indentured laborers in 1845. For most Hindus, cremation of their dead is required, however in colonial Trinidad, Indians were denied the right to cremate which led to the emergence of a distinctive style of Hindu burial. In 1953, after decades of negotiation, the state legalized cremation, particularly the custom of open-air burning and the disposal of ashes in natural bodies of water. Despite ongoing tensions with the state, in the last half of the twentieth century, Hindu revivalism contributed to institutionalizing cremation as an indispensable rite and creating public spaces for communal ancestor offerings. The present chapter gives attention to ritual performance as informed by scriptural texts, local customs, diasporic memory, sacralized landscapes, and voices from Hindu priests and laity. Adaptations and nuances in tradition have not only resulted in a localized form of Hinduism, but its discourses on death and mourning illumine the politics of resistance and community-building solidarity of Trinidadian Hindus.

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