Friday, April 9, 2010

A Malaysian-Tamil "31st Day" funeral ceremony

One of the reasons for me spending most of the last few weeks in Malaysia has been the funeral of my partner's father, Anantharajah Kathirasoo. If you are unfamiliar with Hindu custom, there are a whole host of rituals that are carried out by the family and friends in the days following his passing. These include following a strict vegetarian diet, reciting daily prayers, and refraining from cooking in the house (friends and relatives chip in to provide food).

These rules are adhered to for 31 days, culminating in a final ceremony conducted in the home. It should be noted that Hinduism is practiced differently from region to region; not all ethnic groups follow this practice for a whole 31 days. The ceremony pictured below is particular to Ceylonese Tamils in Malaysia.

Above: the sons of the deceased (seated to the right) carry out the bulk of the duties as directed by the priests (seated to the left, and in the photo below). Mother and daughter are seated at the bottom of this photo.

Above: offerings are laid out on 12 banana leaves. These represent food for the spirit's journey for each the next 12 months. The food (pictured below) includes items integral to Tamil culture and cuisine; coconut, gingelly (sesame) oil, ghee, holy basil seeds, plantain banana, snake beans, bitter melon, eggplant, ginger, yam, leafy greens, rice, chili and dal.

Above: Other offerings (from left) include rice-flour dumplings, fruit, pongal (sweet rice), a selection of curries served with rice, and two plates of sweets and savoury snacks.

Above: No South Asian ceremony would be complete without an army of aunties working hard in the kitchen.

Above and below: the vegetarian feast that follows the prayers. This particular spread includes papadums, vadai (savoury lentil donuts), raita, and a variety of spicy vegetable preparations including pumpkin, yam, potato, beans, spinach, gourd, eggplant and dal, as well as rice and rasam (a peppery soup). Dessert is payasam (a milky concoction featuring sago and brown sugar), as well as a not-particularly-Indian chocolate marble cake (visible at the end of the table).


  1. can see good food in indian gotong royong type of activities