Background provided by MN: MN is an individual who grew up in the Maharashtra state of India, where they learned 4 languages including Sanskrit. They recently moved to America for further education. This is a practice of MN’s specific culture, Hindu Brahman.
Context: As we talked about certain funeral proceedings, MN shared this information about the mourning period. This piece was collected in the early morning at the university as we were conversing about different cultural practices.
Main Piece Transcription of interview (contains the context of particular performance and additional background information):
MN: “And also …like if your father dies, the eldest son … who’s a boy … they cut their hair. Not completely … no actually … completely. If the mother dies, it’s the second son.
Me: “What if you don’t have a second son?”
MN: “ mmmm … if you have a second son.”
Me: “So let’s say you only have one son.”
MN: “The eldest son can choose to. They have a choice. It’s not compulsory, if you’re religious then you do it. Like … when my grandfather passed away, my uncle did it. It’s all a choice.”
Analysis: This particular Hindu ritual is very interesting because it seems like a very spiritual and religious tradition. MN emphasizes two important aspects of this tradition: choice and religion. The son is not obligated to complete this ritual but is given a choice to perform it. In addition, the son can choose to perform this ritual based on his religious beliefs. The completion of this particular ritual is dependent on the son. Sons are not forced to complete this tradition, which emphasizes how it changes
Another interesting aspect of this traditional ritual is the birth order of the performer. The eldest son is often seen as a great authority figure while the second eldest is perceived as a lower authority figure. This is telling of a patriarchal society that places higher importance on male heirs and their duties. The eldest son is seen as an authority figure, which is similar to how fathers are considered to be head of the household. After the father dies, the eldest son can choose to shave his head to commemorate his late father. Correspondingly, the second son can also shave his head to honor the death of his mother. The second son can be considered to be the support for the first son, much like mothers support their husbands. This ritual is only a portion of the funeral rituals that are performed by grieving loved ones, which reflects Indian values of family and tradition.