The last few days have brought to light disturbing instances of mobs preventing last rites, cremation and burial to Covid victims – both patients and doctors. It is doubly sad when doctors and similar frontline warriors, who contract the disease in the performance of duty and succumb, are denied this dignity.

KANCHIPURAM Varadarajaswami temple, where the Lord, among other things extols the virtues of administering last rites even to dead strangers. Pic courtesy Dr Vijay Sriram

That such instances should happen in Tamil Nadu, a so-called progressive State is even more worrying. Ironically, there are four Divya Desams in the State that extol the virtues of those who take the effort to administer last rites and cremate the bodies of strangers/ non-blood relatives. I am documenting these in the sincere hope that somewhere it touches a chord in the minds of those who hamper the cremation of Covid victims. This is an expression of my anguish.

The first Divya Desam is Thirupputkuzhi where Lord Rama is said to have cremated Jatayu after the bird, grievously hurt in its battle with Ravana, clung on to life till it could inform Rama that Sita had been taken away to Lanka. This is not far from Vellore. The next, Thirupullabhootamkudi, is near Kumbakonam and has the same sthalapuranam as Thirupputkuzhi. The Lord was not above cremating even a bird.

The next two stories are even more moving. In Kanchi there lived a man who on seeing an unclaimed dead body, was moved to perform the obsequies and conduct the cremation. The people of the town shunned him for it, chiefly because they felt it was a demeaning act. Lord Varadaraja, yes, the same Lord to see whom everyone queued up last year, established that such ostracisation was unacceptable to Him by declaring Oorukku PollAn, emakku NallAn – he may be despicable to you, but he is dear to me! Descendants of that devotee even now use the initial NC, which stands for NallAn Chakravarti.

The final story concerns Lord Sarngapani in Kumbakonam. Just outside the sanctum is a statue for Lakshminarayanaswami, a devotee of the Lord. To him, Lord Aravamudan was everything. He never married and when he died, his cremation had to be done by the townsfolk. When they went to the temple they found the Lord all ready, in wet clothes, His sacred thread worn the other way and with darba grass in hand. Even today I am told, the Lord enacts this once a year.

We as Tamils need to realise that with such instances in our glorious past, the least we can do is to allow Covid victims a dignified last journey. Let us not be forever obsessed about what is likely to befall us. If doctors and frontline warriors too began thinking that way, God help our State and the rest of India.

I add this postscript because I have since read some perfectly rational explanations on each of the cases where burial was protested against. If these are true, then it is as usual up to the authorities to prevent such occurrences – in one case the workers at the crematorium demanded basic protective gear, in another a Protestant was being buried in an RC grave. But who will go into such detail each time these things happen? The broad news of denial of burial is what will gain currency and it will only cause bitterness in an already vitiated atmosphere. Time to correct such wrongs before they happen.