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Funeral Ceremonies Of The Tatars

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

(From Mrs. Holderness's Journey from Riga to the Crimea,)

I was present at the burial of an old woman who died in the village of Karagoss. This ceremony usually takes place about twelve hours after death. When the persons appointed to attend the funeral were assembled, the body was brought out of the house and laid upon a hurdle. Having first been well washed, some coarse new linen, sewn together in proper lengths for the purpose, was folded round it, and it was finally covered with the best kaftan and pelisse of the deceased. The corpse was next brought out by the bearers from the shed in which these preparations had been made, and placed upon the ground at some little distance. The Mulla, and some men hired to sing, then assembled round it, and some short ejaculatory prayers were offered, during which the women stood attentive a few paces from the spot. After the prayers and singing were ended, the bearers raised the hurdle (which was affixed to very long poles, so as to allow four or five men to carry it, both before and behind), and set off at a very quick pace, almost running. The women instantly began crying and howling, and followed the corpse with loud lamentations to the extremity of the village.

As the rapidity with which the bearers proceeded soon heated and tired them, they were relieved by others of the villagers, who all kept pace, and did not interrupt the procession for an instant by their changes. The priest and some men from another village attended on horseback. Arrived at the grave, which was prepared on the open Stepp, the body was placed on the ground, and the men gathered round it, praying as before. In the act of praying, they hold up the hand, as if reading from it, and at the close of the prayer pass one hand over the forehead, or both down either side of the face. This part of the ceremony being over, they all went to a short distance, and seating themselves in a ring, were read to by the Mulla and by some other persons. While this was going on, the son of the deceased distributed a small sum of money among those who were present, sending it round by one of his friends. My little boy being with me, he, among the rest, was offered a few kopeeks. These I at first was unwilling to let him take, but the man who brought them insisted on his accepting them ; and when I asked him for what purpose they were given, he replied, " To procure the prayers of those present for the deceased, that she may be received into heaven."

Having mixed a portion of quick-lime with the earth, they now prepared to put the corpse into the grave. This was dug perpendicularly for about four feet, at which depth an excavation was made on one side nearly large enough to admit the width of the body. In this excavated niche it was laid, and some papers* written by the Mulla were disposed about it ; one being placed on the breast, expressive of the character of the deceased ; another in the hand, in-tended likewise as a sort of passport at the gates of heaven; and a third above the head, which is said to be an intimation to the Evil One to refrain from disturbing the bones of a true believer. These papers having been properly arranged, stakes were fixed obliquely across the grave, from the upper to the lower side, opposite the body. They were placed very close to each other, and a quantity of hay being put over them, the earth was thrown in, and large stones collected to cover the whole. The final ceremony at the grave is a repetition of prayers and singing; the party then adjourn to the house of the deceased, where they and others, including all relations and friends, are feasted for one, two, or three successive days, according to the power and possessions of the mourners. After the dispersion of the other attendants, the Mulla remains alone and reads by the grave.

The Tatars believe that the spirits of the bad walk for forty days after death. In this case, they say, it is requisite to uncover the grave, and either shoot the dead body, cut off its head, or take out its heart.

I once inquired of a Tatar if the passports given to the dead were indiscriminately granted to all ; and when he answered in the affirmative, I further asked him how a favourable character could be conscientiously given to such persons as a known robber or murderer. " We believe,' said he, " that none are so bad as that some good may not be found in them, and that the soul will only remain in hell till it has expiated the sins committed in this life, or until Mahomet has made sufficient intercession for it."

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