There are innumerable questions that surround death. While religions, philosophies and poetry have tried their best to answer its mysteries, the only thing we know for sure about death is the fact that it is inevitable. All other ambiguities continue to exist, and perhaps, will always remain beyond our understanding.
I do not come with another profoundly beautiful theory around death. I do not claim to answer the mysteries of death, but I have been seeking an answer for one recurring question around it: What exactly do you wear for a funeral or a condolence meeting?
Almost every funeral in a Bollywood movie is presented with men and women wearing all white. Well, most of India does mourn in white. White is the mark of loss or absence. Once a customary dressing code for widows, white used to be the ‘safest’ colour for funerals. But have a look around a modern-day condolence meeting, and you will see only a handful of people in white.
Indeed, for a land as diverse as India, this topic must be broken down to different religious communities and also address the needs of changing times.
Hinduism: According to several Hindu traditions, white is generally a colour of mourning. Though close family and associates of the deceased are usually advised to wear white, in today’s day and age, not everyone does. A Hindu friend of mine asserts that it is “not an obligation” to wear white anymore. Women often wear pastel colours or even black, and men pair trousers of all shades with light kurtas or shirts. However, bright colours like red and orange, and jewellery and makeup are usually avoided. For a cremation, people usually wear simple casuals and keep their heads covered. For a condolence meeting, semi-formal Indianwear (without too much embellishment) is the norm, though in metros like Delhi and Mumbai, you will also find people in conservative Western garments.
Islam: Islam doesn’t adhere to any particular colour for the funeral. While some sects usually don blacks, others wear anything that is on the lighter side of the colour palette. Hardly any funeral of the Islamic faith is attended by people wearing all white. Due to the ceremonial prayers that the community offers, people are advised to cover their legs and arms completely. People are also encouraged to cover their heads for the prayer.
Sikhism: The only defining factor for a Sikh funeral is simplicity and covering of the hair. Men cannot head to a funeral without a proper turban in place. Women too are supposed to cover their heads with dupattas. With colours though, the only guideline is simplicity, much like Hindi norms.
Christianity: Under generally prescribed Christian norms, black is the colour of mourning. While most Christians follow this religiously, many Indian Christians prefer the ceremonial white over the black. Generally, both these colours are widely accepted colours for mourning by the community.
How do you dress for a funeral in your community? Please share your experiences in the comment box.