Penance in the Classical Indian Law Books
The Garo people of upland Northeast India attribute great significance to rituals of death. The scale of these rituals varies with the status of the deceased person in society. This manifests itself in the number and value of the gifts that are exchanged between representatives of the deceased person and the other people attending his or her funeral. Gifts draw counter-gifts at the same funeral, or at later ones. Among the more important gifts are cows, heirloom objects (gongs, swords, jewelry) as well as large sums of money. Such gifts, once offered, are not necessarily accepted. They can be refused as well. Decisions regarding the offering, acceptance and rejection of gifts have a bearing on relationships that are maintained among matrilineal kin, as well as with affines. All gifts that are offered at a funeral are believed to influence the status of the deceased person in the afterworld and also play an important role in defining his or her social memory. The essay shows that Garo mortuary rituals construct the dead as a source of authority and prestige, allowing for ties among the living to be defined in relation to the dead.
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