There’s this thing called Danza de los Viejitos. It’s is a dance to represent the 4 elements, which are water, earth, air and fire, and the dancers wear this thing called a Sarape, a cloak, and a straw hat and sandals with a wooden bottom so that their footsteps are like, heard by the people who are worshipping. It’s kinda cool because the dance has a cool purpose. It’s so that we can pray for a good harvest, especially, corn, and so that we can have a stronger connection to the spirits.
The informant, SB, currently lives in Pomona, CA and his parents are from Mexico. He goes to CalPoly Pomona. This is a tradition that he remembers fondly from his childhood. I met him through his girlfriend, JH. This story was collected over a group call.
I think that this tradition is interesting because a lot of other cultures also have it where the four elements are “Earth, air, fire and water”––this is true of Greek, Babylonian, Chinese, and other cultures I’m sure. It goes to show how integral these four elements are to the well being of the body and the environment, cross culturally.
Indian funerals generally last 13 days where everyone is expected to wear white to celebrate their sadness over losing their loved one. As they commemorate the life of that person they are also beginning to release them. It is the duty of the man of the house to burn the body because of the Hindu belief in cremation. Once the cremation of the body is complete, the ashes are thrown into the ocean to dissolve the Pancha Maha-Bhoota, or the five elements. Through the dissolution of the elements of earth, water, fire, air, and aether, the spirit and soul of that person is liberated from their physical confines.
Though the interlocutor has witnessed various funeral occasions, she has only actively taken part in a funeral celebration a handful of times; because of her residence in India, she has been exposed to the traditions tied to funerals. She mentioned that the idea that celebrating sadness seems like a counter-intuitive sentiment, but in Indian culture it allows the passage of humans beyond earth easier, and those that are left behind are able to embrace their emptiness. As for her own plans regarding her time to pass, she stated that she plans to be cremated as well, and she finds the idea of the Pancha Maha-Bhoota dissolving to be reassuring.
Indian funerals are known to be quite visually striking, especially to those who are accustomed to the tradition of black clothing and solemnity. The white worn by participants and loved ones is pious and peaceful with an established sense of purity. Thus, the meaning of death is revealed as something that is to be rejoiced, simply a time in which one ascends beyond their physical body; this is quite a positive view on death. The number 13 appears quite often with calendrical measures of time, and because the funeral event lasts 13 days it ties one’s death to merely a measure of time. The cremation of the body at the hands of the male in the house also places power in the hands of the men while commemorating the renewing properties of fire as it allows disintegration and regeneration. The involvement of the Pancha Maha-Bhoota and the ocean also tie the funeral to the elements of life and nature, grounding the celebration among the living with the earth, the forces that we all will eventually return to at the time of our own demise.