If a person dies, the Khyengs cremate his/her corpse. The villagers gather together to the house of the deceased. If a man dies, some rice is first puffed in a pot. The relatives slaughter an undersized hen and burn it with the help of a skewer. They put the pot, full of puffed rice, on the head of the dead and hang the burned hen around the neck of the pot.
An undersized hen is also fastened to the big toe of a deceased’s foot. They do so as they believe that the hen would gobble up all insects that lie on the way to the heaven, ensuring a safe journey for the departed soul. They heat water, adding some green turmeric to it, for the last bath of the deceased.
Then, they allow the hot water to cool, and wash the dead body with it. Later, they cause the dead body to wear new garments. The deceased’s wife joins the funeral procession, carrying a basket (thurong in the Khyang language), filled with puffed rice and burnt hen. The wife let her hair hang loose over her shoulder, and is not allowed either to comb or dress it. Funeral pyre is prepared with firewood placed in five layers, and on top of them, the corpse is let lie on the back. However, the funeral pyre for a woman is prepared with six layers of firewood. If the deceased has sons, the eldest is entitled to set fire to the pyre.
The eldest daughter is allowed to do so if he has no sons. If the dead has no children, the closest relatives take this particular role. As dawn breaks on the following day, a relative will go to the burning-ground with a view to discovering symptoms of any sort in the ashes. If they find a person’s footprint in the ashes, it is believed that the deceased would be brought back to life again as a human being. But if the footmark belongs to a wild animal, his/her fate is to be that animal in the new lease of life. The relatives also leave some money with the deceased as they believe that the departed soul would have to meet the boat fares to reach heaven.
The children of the dead person, together with the villagers, arrange a funeral feast praying for the wellbeing of the departed soul. The feast is thrown out to clan members after five days if the dead person is a woman, and six days if the person is a man. Sometimes a person during their lifetime advises their children and relatives to bury them after their death and to arrange a feast for the villagers. In such a case, the children and the relatives, as directed, instantly make a coffin to put the corpse in it and then bury the dead. They also put tobacco leaves in the coffin to prevent the corpse from decomposition.
Then, after one year, the relatives lift up the coffin from the grave and hold a large feast. The remains of the dead are taken to the funeral pyre. A band of drummers follow the funeral procession. They play their drums in honour of the dead person. All men, women and children of the village can partake in the procession at this time. The deceased is laid on the firewood and a Buddhist monk reads out mantra. Then a son or daughter of the dead sets fire to the funeral pyre.
Everyone joining the funeral rites is bound to have a bath before entering their houses. They also make a fire on a pot kept before the doorway, and before entering the house, they are all drenched with smoke. They do it as they believe that such practice would prevent the departed soul from entering the house. They arrange a large feast on the day and hold a kind of narrative opera throughout the night. This opera is called ‘Pankhu.’ The Marma artistes perform in the Pankhu programme. No meat is served in the feast. They prepare meals with dried fish and vegetables for the guests.
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