The life afterdeath: Traditional Zeliangrong of Northeast

Dr Budha Kamei
(Contd from yesterday)
The mortuary cults of many people give indication that the dead were imagined as actually living in their graves and able to receive the offerings of food and drink made to them. It is believed that grave is the residence of the dead so every effort is made to comfort the departed soul. Carl Clemen has rightly stated that the earth is the soul of life, but it is the realm of dead. It is also believed that the soul that has no tomb has no dwelling place and becomes a wondering spirit. However, the grave has been often thought of as a door to a vast subterranean or underground abode of the dead. Taroilam is believed to be within the bowel of earth. The belief is widely spread and found among the Karens an Asiatic tribe, the land of the dead is held to be below the earth. The Aryan people undoubtedly held the same view and the Roman Orcus and the Greek Hades are underground. The Babylonians placed ‘the land whence none return’, as it was termed by them, in name both for the grave and for the subterranean abode of the departed. According to the oldest belief of the Italians, the soul did not go into a foreign world to pass its second existence; it remained near men, and continued to live underground. According to Emile Durkheim, it is existed side by side in the same society but nobody can see them. After death the “souls descend to an underground world, where they are met by the shades of their ancestors, who introduce them into their new habitation; the life they lead in the underground world is an exact counterpart of what they led in this-the rich remain rich, the poor, poor.”
“Sometimes, it is ruled by an awful monarch, such as the Mesopotamian god Nergal or the Greek god Hades, or Pluto or the Yama of Hindu and Buddhist eschatoloty.” It is believed that Taroilam is ruled by a god named Taroigwang who is assigned by Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God to look after the affairs of the kingdom. Taroigwang literally means king of the dead; (Taroi means dead and Gwang, king). George Rawlinson tells that the fate after death would depend on his conduct during his life on earth, and especially on his observance of the moral law and performance of his various duties. The ancient Greeks had a beleif that there was a region, also subterranean, but infinitely more vast than the tomb, where rewards and punishments were distributed according to the lives men had led in this world. All those (souls) who come to the land of death will face the verdicts given by Taroigwang based on their past actions, commitment of sins, worship of Tingkao Ragwang while living in the human world.
According to the view of human nature and destiny held in a particular religion, this underworld may be a gloomy, joyless place were the shades of all the dead merely survive or it may be a place of awful torments where the damned suffer for their misdeeds. In those religions in which the under world has been conceived as a place of post mortem retribution, the idea of a separate abode of the blessed dead generally became necessary. Such an abode has various locations. In most religions it is imagined as being in the sky or in a divine realm beyond the sky (e.g in Hinduism, and Buddhism). Sometimes it has been conceived as the “Isles of the Blessed” (e.g. in later Greek and Celtic mythology) or as a beautiful garden or paradise such as the al-firdaws of Islam. The ten hells of Chinese Buddhist eschatology may be considered as purgatories, for in them the dead expiated their sins before being incarnated once more in this world. After death the souls of men, “both good and bad, preceded together along an appointed path to the “bridge of the gatherer.” This was a narrow road conducting to heaven, or paradise, over which the souls of the good alone could pass, while the wicked fell from it into the gulf below, where they found themselves in the place of punishment. The pious soul was assisted in acrossing the bridge by the angel.”
The Zeliangrong people also believe that after death the human soul will return to Tingkao Ragwang from whom it comes. However, it depends on his Karma, the works performed by a man in his last birth. The judgments of Taroigwang may be classified into the followings:
Those souls who are not committed sins and who have performed all duties towards Tingkao Ragwang and who have performed the great ritual sacrifices in the name of God are good doers will be sent to Tingkao Kaidai, the abode of Tingkao Ragwang where they will lead a peaceful life forever and never born again.
Those who do good and less bad will be permitted to live in Taroilam. After sometime they may be sent to the world again to fulfill the duties towards God.
Those who are sinners and evil doers who are born again and again and who die again and again and who are beyond redemption will be sent to Thuntadijang, a stage of degenerated form of life almost equivalent to the extinction of life. It is believed that the soul of a sinner after death will be sent to the land of Thuntadijang, where his soul will transform into a Thunbang plant. When the Thunbang decays and rots, it converts to a worm. The worm is eaten by a bird and the bird again is eaten by man, only after that the soul may become in the form of human being if Tingkao Ragwang pleases. So, there is no question of extermination of life permanently in their antique religion. It is a long process to reincarnate for the soul in the human form from the land of Thuntadijang. According to R. Brown, “After their return living thus over again, they return to the upper world, and are born, live and die, unconscious of their former state; the bad however are annihilated.”
In traditional Zeliangrong society, there is a dream-diviner known as Mangtatmei who may be either sex. The diviner is a person who has many dreams, and is liable to work himself into more or less of a trance, when he is purported to commune with the deities and with the departed souls and to see things not revealed to ordinarily mortals. In time of crisis, he or she is consulted to find out the exact cause of it and its remedy. In this way, a relation is maintained between the land of the dead and the livings through the medium of shaman priests and dream diviners.
Conclusion :
To conclude, we can say that there is a belief of future life among the traditional Zeliangrong. It is beleived that the dead ancestors (Kairao) look after the safety and well being of their living descendents; in return, the living descendents honour their dead ancestors by offering holy wine in time of festival and religious rites of the family. They are not worshipped as deities, but honour the living deads. No shrine is installed in the family or on the grave. (Concluded)

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