Hindu Indians are traditionally cremated within the day of death in India so it is rather uncommon for their deceased to be buried in a grave unless they were wealthy. However, it seems that several Straits Indians in both Singapore and Malaysia have chosen to bury the dead over cremation.
The Lim Chu Kang Hindu Cemetery takes up one of the smallest plots of land in the area. However, a peculiar sight awaits those who make their way up a small knoll overlooking the numerous rows of old gravestones. As you tread up a narrow path, flanked by the neat arrangement of graves on one side, the small but conspicuous shrine presents itself.
As if a nod to Singapore's identity as a melting pot of cultures, there was a motley mixture of several Buddhist & Taoist deity idols, in addition to a small figurine of a dog (left here in jest?) placed before the tree stump. There was also an orange box painted around the shrine, as if to demarcate the sacred ground on which the shrine stood.
We found limes with some red saffron powder placed upon each of the pointed ends on the trident before Kali. Hindus believe that limes have the ability to absorb negative energy and transfer it away from the devotee. It is also usually offered to more fierce or protective forms of Kali and it is not uncommon to find lime combined with Indian chili to make a protective charm to repel the evil eye.
What are the purpose of such shrines in these macabre surroundings? According to the teachings of Hinduism, a certain form of both Shiva and Kali live in cremation grounds or cemeteries. Known respectively as 'Shmashana Adhipati' and 'Shmashana Kali' (a 'shmashan' is a Hindu cremation ground), the pair of deities are known to ward off evil spirits lurking in the vicinity. Hence, most Hindus will pray at these shrines while visiting the tombs of their ancestors.
As we went closer, it was evident that the trunk of the Shiva shrine had been liberally slathered with vibhuti, a thick white ash made from a special kind of burnt wood. Shiva is often depicted with his body is covered with fresh ash from the cremation ground, the ash itself being a symbol of death, regeneration and change.
There was also a tripunda (literally "three marks" in Sanskrit) embellishment , a holy symbol attached to the 'forehead' area of the face on the tree trunk.
|Earth dug up from a recent fresh burial.|
|Concrete bollards along the tree line, possibly blocking access to the steep drop at the edge of the cemetery.|
For the grave diggers and cemetery workers of Lim Chu Kang, there is nothing ghastly or morbid about the atmosphere of the cemetery. For them, the cruel reality of death is just another day on the job, toiling under the hot tropical sun.
You can find more photos in my Flickr Album.
Article & Photos copyright of Aaron Chan / Andrew Him
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