Coronavirus: How an Indian priest's cremation rituals have changed because of the pandemic
Hand sanitiser has become a part of the priest's funeral kit since the coronavirus outbreak.
Subir Chakraborty, a priest of Tripura's largest crematorium at Battala here, sat down beside a body to perform rituals before it is placed on a pyre. He checked out what he needed -- jute sticks, ghee, tulsi (basil) leaves, white cotton cloth, incense sticks, clay pots and other items.
After Chakraborty found everything he required, he took out a small container of hand sanitiser, applied it on his palms and told the grieving family members that he is ready.
Hand sanitiser has become a part of the 46-year-old priest's funeral kit since the coronavirus outbreak.
"Six to eight bodies are brought to the crematorium every day. These include bodies on which post-mortem examination has been conducted. The rituals include washing, offering prayers, placing tulsi leaves on eyes. We have to be cautious and that is why hand sanitiser is required," Chakraborty said.
But as hand sanitiser has become scarce in the market, Chakraborty has been manufacturing his own. "With hand sanitiser becoming unavailable in local markets, I thought of some alternative. While looking up on the internet, I found the process of making it at home.
"I bought alcohol from a chemist shop and aloe vera gel from a grocery shop and mixed the two in 70:30 ratio to make my hand sanitiser. I carry the homemade product everywhere in a small container," the priest told PTI at the Battala Maha Smashanghat. Apart from Subir Chakraborty, the crematorium has two other priests and all of them are using homemade hand sanitisers.
Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb had recently admitted that there is a shortage of hand sanitisers and masks and advised people to always carry a 'gamchha' (traditional cotton towel) to cover their faces due to the scarcity of masks.
During this time of crisis, Chakraborty said, people should be asked not to attend funerals to avoid large gatherings.
"We are using hand sanitisers as a protective measure. But the number of people accompanying a body should be reduced. On average, 10 people come with a body," he said.
The Agartala Municipal Corporation that operates the crematorium has been urged to issue a circular that a maximum of seven people should accompany a body due to the present situation, said Ajoy Chakraborty, another priest. The opinion of the municipal body could not be obtained.
However, despite requests to avoid gatherings, several people were seen thronging the burning ghats during the last rites of their friends and relatives. Gautam Chakraborty, an officer of the Tripura State Electric Corporation, lost his 87-year-old father on Tuesday.
"We informed our relatives about the sad demise of my father, but discouraged them to attend the funeral. Despite our request, 13 people came to the burning ghat," he said.
On the other hand, the supply of items needed in funeral rituals like sandalwood and honey has been affected due to the lockdown.
Kamal Das, who sells such items at the crematorium, has started to worry about the exhaustion of his stocks.
"The stocks that I have may last for a day or two. But the lockdown would continue till April 14. I do not know where to buy these items from," he said.