The Thais have a unique take on what happens to the soul after death and hence their funeral customs are quite different from most everybody else.My nephew works for a multinational and is currently posted in Bangkok. On a recent visit , he told me about the time he had to represent the company at the ‘funeral’ of a colleague who had passed away. He expected it to be a solemn occasion but when he arrived at the deceased’s apartment the atmosphere was anything but grim. The deceased was lying in a coffin and guests would go over and pay their respects but the atmosphere was almost partylike. He was also told that the actual disposal of the body was several days away, quite unlike most other cultures where the cremation or burial takes place within 24 hours of death.
By coincidence, I happened to be reading a novel set in Thailand and it casts some light on Thai rituals and beliefs about death. Like many other Eastern cultures, the Thais believe in the transmigration of souls. They believe that , when a person dies the soul ,suddenly deprived of it’s body, feels a certain ‘separation anxiety’ and is understandably disoriented. It still feels a connection with it’s living relatives and doesn’t want to be alone. It is the duty of the family to surround the deceased with as many people as possible until the soul has found a new home and is reborn.Hence the long duration of the wake which can last several weeks. All very logical and understandable.
( According to the novel), this has resulted in the phenomenon of ‘ funeral casinos’. In order to keep friends coming to the house day after day for several weeks some bereaved families buy a few roulette wheels and offer a private gambling service. The profits are used by the bereaved spouse to pay for the funeral expenses, the monks, the food and other costs and to help tide the family through this difficult period. As I said I read about this in a book of fiction so I’ve no idea if this practice is widespread. The book makes it appear that it is not uncommon and that the police regularly raid such ‘funeral casinos’.
To our Western sensibilities this may sound a little ghoulish but is it really ? I’ve read of several recent funerals, where the deceased had dictated that the funeral was to be one last grand party and that it was to be a fun occasion. In one instance the funeral party was held on a large party boat and at it’s conclusion, the cremains were scattered into the sea.
A final thought: If indeed the deceased’s ghost is wandering about in it’s familiar surroundings what do you think it would prefer —- A solemn occasion with people crying OR a fun happening at which one’s closest friends were having a good time eating and drinking and gambling even as they remembered the dear departed ?