When Jaideep Mishra (46), a businessman from Kanpur, lost his uncle a year ago, he made just one telephone call. And with it, all the funeral arrangements were taken care of, for a payment of Rs 35,000. “There was no confusion at all,” he says. “We could grieve in peace. We only had to attend the cremation like any other visitor.”
If the nitty-gritty of organising a wedding, or going on a holiday can be outsourced to professionals, why not those of funerals too? Traditional Hindu funerals have always been elaborate affairs: expensive and time- and energy-consuming. They remain expensive, but in the major towns of Uttar Pradesh, organising them need no longer be full of hassle.
For those prepared to pay, there is a new breed of ‘funeral operators’ who take care of everything, from transporting the corpse to the cremation ground to performing the shraddha ceremony some days later.
As with holidays, there are a range of packages on offer, varying from a ‘budget class’ Rs 5,000 to a ‘premium’ Rs 1 lakh. “The idea is to provide a single-window solution,” says Pandit Jagdish Tripathi, a panda (priest who conducts last rites) at the Rasoolabad Ghat in Allahabad. “Our charges vary according to the requirements of the client.”
“For Rs 5,000, we provide mango wood, gangajal (Ganga water), karamkand (recital of the appropriate Vedic chants), lota (steel vessel), chaku (knife used to sprinkle the gangajal), janeo (sacred thread) and five kilos of ordinary ghee,” says Tripathi. “For Rs 60,000 the client gets five kilos of sandalwood, a better quality of ghee, and longer recital of Vedic chants. A feast for Brahmins ( brahm bhoj) and a cow to make offerings to (godan) are also included in the package.”
“If the client wants even a small amount of sandalwood, and a cow for godan, the minimum charge is Rs 30,000 plus,” says Santosh Sharma, a panda at the Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi, where devout Hindus from across India come to cremate their dead.
The farther the corpse has to be transported, the higher the cost. The shraddha arrangements, if asked for, push the cost of the package even higher. “But most people are so busy these days, they are ready to pay handsomely to spare themselves the bother of taking charge of the details of a funeral,” says Pandit Gyanesh Dwivedi of Lucknow.