A person attains Moksha/Mukti post-death and attains ultimate liberation, is a concept of Hinduism that equates death to attainment of freedom from the tangled web of life.
In India, a community whose livelihood depends on this Hindu belief is the Dom community. The daily occupation of the Doms or Kallu Doms, as they are often called, includes cremating the dead. After the funeral flames have consumed the body, the Doms clean up the ashes. They often have to beat the body with sticks to ensure it burns completely.
A peek into the history
There are numerous tales that explain the origin of this community, living on the ghats of the holiest river of India, the Ganga. While one tale suggests that Doms are descendants of Raja Harishchandra, another tale speaks of the Doms being cursed by Lord Shiva for stealing his wife’s jewelry.
Irrespective of the version of the tale, the truth of the matter is that Doms find themselves at the lowest rungs of the ladder of the Hindu caste system in contemporary times. They suffer from discrimination, untouchability, and poverty. On an average, a Dom earns around Rs.200 to 300 per body.
Due to their socioeconomic status, they are refused employment elsewhere. Consequently, the batons are often passed on to the future generations. Due to the unbearable stench emanating from the bodies, Doms often have to be inebriated. Boys, as young as 13, often find it difficult to break out of the vicious cycle of alcoholism.
The wood used by families for the cremation varies from sandalwood to common wood, depending on the economic status of the family of the deceased. As a cultural norm, Doms use a burning piece of wood from the pyre to light the stove of their houses, an eerie irony. There have also been instances where families have refused to pay the Doms. But unperturbed by this, they continue to perform their duty.
Despite their hardships, Doms consider themselves to be blessed. “The society regards us as gatekeepers of Heaven. We help them to attain Moksha. Which other occupation gives you this privilege?”, says a member of the Dom community, sometimes also assuming the title “Dom Rajas” (Dom kings).
As the Doms await, yet another funeral pyre turns to ashes, yet another person attains Moksha.
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