First Buddhist funeral in Swaziland

by Welcome Dlamini, Times of Swaziland, July 30,2012

MANZINI, Swaziland -- Her husband and close relatives kissed her motionless body as it lay in a casket; sweet perfume was sprayed on her corpse; red roses were sprinkled atop her and one of her sons-in-law together with a friend went around the casket three times while carrying burning torches that finally initiated the funeral pyre.

Thereafter, her corpse was put into a red-hot crematorium funeral pyre while still inside the E11 000 worth casket.

All these unusual scenes were witnessed when, for the first time in Swaziland’s history, a Buddhist funeral took place in the kingdom last Wednesday.

The funeral was for the late naturalised Swazi citizen Chand-rakanthi de Silva, who is a former Text Book Manager at the prestigious Waterford Kamhlaba United World Colleges and Assistant Librarian at the Pathways World School in Delhi.

Conducting the ceremony was Reverend Ilukpitiye Pannasekara who is the only Buddhist monk in Africa and is stationed in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and he confirmed that this was a first funeral of its kind in Swaziland.

Though predominantly a Christian country, Swaziland legally opened its doors to other religious practices through its July 2005 constitution which guarantees the ‘protection of freedom of conscience or religion’.

Before she died of a brain tumour at dawn on Tuesday, Chandi, as the deceased was fondly known, celebrated the first ever Buddhist religious chanting to take place in Swaziland on July 6 and 7.

The religious chanting, which she celebrated in a semi-conscious condition, was also conducted by Reverend Pannasekara.

Her family said the chanting, also known as the Pansakula, was ‘yet another rarity and a blessing she was born with’.

On Wednesday, before she was laid to rest, her body was first laid in an open casket at her home until noon when the monk (also known as Bhikku) conducted another Pansakula until 12:30pm after which she was driven in a hearse to the Dups funeral parlour.

At Dups, a service was held and Reverend Pannasekara first conducted the delivering of five precepts and Dhamma Talk.

Many tears were shed by the observers as the life of Chandi was celebrated and Master of Ceremonies, Isaac Simelane, read a tribute to the deceased’s life.

The Buddhist monk then ordered the casket to be opened and for all those who wanted to view Chandi for the last time to do so. First it was husband Neville de Silva who passionately caressed her forehead and silently whispered his love for her before bending to kiss her and he then sprayed her with perfume which he later said was her favourite.

Children, grandchildren as well as other relatives then took turns viewing her body, which they also kissed and sprinkled with special water.

After the viewing, the casket was closed and taken to the crematorium where, before it was put into the pyre, the son-in-law Vishay Singh and his friend performed a Buddhist ritual of going around it thrice, thereafter, fire was lit on top of the casket and then it was put inside the crematorium to burn.

That marked the end of the ceremony for the day.

Yesterday, which marked the sixth day since her death, Chandi’s life was celebrated at her home and an alms giving is to be held today to celebrate her ‘seventh day of her peaceful walk to her next life in Sansara’.