Death Markets

I wrote this in a mail to the Satin group. This was in response to a mail by Amit Varma talking about priests in Haridwar who conduct the pre-ashes-dunking ceremony, and their fees, and the bargaining, and what could be a decent solution for the problem. I thought it might make sense as a standalone post, so I’m reproducing it here.

“The place” for dunking ashes in the Bangalore region is this place called Pashchimavahini on the banks of the Cauvery near Srirangapatnam (apparently this is a small stretch where the Cauvery flows westward so it’s holy).

And this place is a monopoly when it comes to both the pre-dunking rituals and post-dunking lunch – there is exactly one family which takes care of all this. There is no question of competition (i’m not sure who they pay their “rents” to). However, I think people have found a decent solution to the problem.

The basic thing is that the pre-dunking rituals need not be done at the venue of dunking. They could be done elsewhere also, as long as the ashes are with you. So you have a number of people, who have heard about the horror stories of the monopoly, who do the rituals in Bangalore itself (there is decent competition amongst death-related priests here – as you would expect in a big city). And then just go dunk the ashes (this place is a 3 hour drive from Bangalore).

So if you are lucky to be accompanied by uncles who worship FSM, you can get away by just telling them that you performed all pre-dunking rituals in Bangalore and just go put dunk (unfortunately, most of the six uncles who accompanied me were the ultra-religious types; though there were a couple of them who would join me in bargaining with the purohit).

On the meal side, this place has got the reputation of serving pretty good meals. So it has turned into a kind of pitstop on the Bangalore-Mysore highway. So you have a large number of people who come there just for the food (of course, they aren’t that blatant about it – they do one trip to the river – but i’m sure the family knows). This reputation of a general pitstop has made the demand for food reasonably elastic which ensures good quality and reasonable rates.

This year, when I was performing my father’s annual ceremonies, one of my uncles (who used to work in the DRDO) did a smart thing – after having seen the puja-time bargaining and fighting last year. He negotiated a rate with a purohit INCLUSIVE of all daan, dakshina, etc. In fact, he got three quotations from three purohit houses for this (all inclusive rate) and then picked the lowest quote. So it was fairly peaceful on the money front.

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