The Hindu Day of Remembrance



The Hindu Day of Remembrance

by Sugen Ramiah

 1 November 2013

Like the Chinese who observe the annual “qing ming” or tomb sweeping festival in April, the Indians also honour their ancestors with a visit to their ancestors tombs on the Hindu day of remembrance. It takes place the Sunday before Deepavali, the festival of lights which falls on  2nd of November, Saturday.

On Sunday 27th November, I visited the Hindu cemetery located in Lim Chu Kang to pay respects and place offerings on my ancestors’ tombs.

My grandparents to date have a total of 125 descendants but sadly only 4 turned up, two cousins, my brother and myself.

The trip usually lasts for about two hours, as we’ll clean up five tombs, four in the Hindu Cluster and one in the Catholic cluster. Simple offerings including fruits and sweetmeats were placed on a banana leaf. With the lighting of an oil lamp and incense, the Indians remember their dearly departed.

In the evening at home, the entire family would gather. A feast that consists of eight dishes – chicken, mutton, eggs, fish, prawns, squid, crabs and vegetable, together with fruits, sweetmeats and Indian Peranakan delicacies such as the “kueh wajek”, will be laid before portraits of the ancestors. New cloths would be placed beneath the portrait, incense lit and finally the family members would eat the food that were offered.

Traditionally our forefathers from India were cremated , so there was never a need for tomb stones  like the Chinese, Muslims and the Christians. The deceased were usually cremated within the day of death.  But if they were wealthy, they would be given a burial. In the Hindu custom, the dead is also remembered on their death anniversary, known as a “theethi’”where a “mocham”  lamp (light of liberation) is lit as a sign of remembrance.

Hindus have more than one festival to remember and honour their ancestors. On the full moon of the sixth lunar month of ‘Puratasi’ which falls in September/October, there is the ‘Mahalaya Amavasay’ also known as the fortnight of the ancestors. Hindus pay homage to their ancestors and offer prayers for the repose of their dearly departed at temples.

Some Hindus commemorate the dead during the Matu Pongal, on the second day of the “Pongol” Harvest Festival. The Indian Peranakans, known as the Chitty, celebrate the eve of Pongal with Bhogi Parachu – the ancestral worship festival. Since there were a few festivals to remember the dead, the local community here and in Malaysia decided that the Sunday before Deepavali will be the  day of remembrance.

My grandfather, a wealthy merchant born in 1884, came to Singapore and contributed greatly to the Indian community of Singapore in the 1900s. He started the first dairy business here and contributed to the  Sri Mariaman Temple in South Bridge Road He married my grandmother who was a Chitty-  Indian Peranakan – from Melaka(Malacca) and she was the matriarch of the family. The honorary title is currently held by my aunt who is 85 this year.

As a Brownie, I have been moved by the descendants who return every year to Bukit Brown during “qing ming” to clean the tombs and pay their respects. I am also sadden by the tombs that lay neglected, which have been forgotten, and I hope more descendants will come forward and reconnect with their ancestors.

I am blessed and grateful to the friends/volunteers of Bukit Brown, who have kindly showed me how to appreciate and understand my own heritage and to be proud of who I am. This was the first time, my brother marked the remembrance day for our grandparents and it was for him an eye opening and  moving experience.

Dawn at the Lim Chu Kang Hindu Cemetery (photo Sugen Ramiah)

Dawn at the Lim Chu Kang Hindu Cemetery (photo Sugen Ramiah)


A view of the Hindu tomb stones against the morning sky (photo Sugen Ramiah)


A Shrine dedicated to the Guardian of the Cemetery – Goddess Kali (photo Sugen Ramiah)


A Shrine dedicated to the Guardian of the Cemetery – Muneeswarar (photo Sugen Ramiah)


A pathway leading to the graves (photo Sugen Ramiah)


Grandfather’s tombstone at the Hindu Cemetery, simple offerings of fruits, sweetmeats and roti prata were offered on top of a banana leaf (photo Sugen Ramiah)


Grandmother’s tombstone at the Hindu Cemetery (photo Sugen Ramiah)


The uniform design of Hindu tombstones (photo Sugen Ramiah)


The uniform design of Hindu tombstones (photo Sugen Ramiah)

Sugen Ramiah is a teacher by training and his interest includes   observing and documenting Chinese festivals and rituals conducted by temples.

Read his blog posts on Salvation for Lost Souls here and  here