Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No One Cries for the Dead

No One Cries for the Dead: Tamil Dirges, Rowdy Songs, and Graveyard Petitions

Isabelle Clark-Decès
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 252
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    No One Cries for the Dead
    Book Description:

    At South Indian village funerals, women cry and lament, men drink and laugh, and untouchables sing and joke to the beat of their drums.No One Cries for the Deadoffers an original interpretation of these behaviors, which seem almost unrelated to the dead and to the funeral event. Isabelle Clark-Decès demonstrates that rather than mourn the dead, these Tamil funeral songs first and foremost give meaning to the caste, gender, and personal experiences of the performers.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93834-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    I first attended a Tamil funeral in December 1990. Although it was more than a decade ago, I have vivid memories of that day. I had been in a village in the South Arcot district of Southeastern India, for a little over three months when the headman of the nearby untouchable compound walked up and down the main street making the following announcement. “Today, Monday the seventh of the month of Mārkaḻi,” he proclaimed to the beat of his drum, “Perumal’s mother is dead. The burial will take place at four o’clock this afternoon on the village cremation ground.” Only...

  5. CHAPTER ONE A Different Grief
    (pp. 21-49)

    No village sound is more disturbing than the shrill cries announcing a death. Even in cases when death has been anticipated, the wails of close female relatives hovering over the dead person, occasionally throwing themselves across his or her body, still come as a shock. Their words “Oh my mother!” “My father!” “My brother!” or “My husband!” uttered with deep rhythmic elongations in a pealing moan punctuated with tears and outbursts of distress, spread rapidly through the neighborhood, and female friends and neighbors quickly gather to “share the grief”(paṅkiṭa tukkatai). The principal female mourner, or the woman with the...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Songs of Experience
    (pp. 50-94)

    Songs in the Tamil crying-song genre recount much more personal experiences than the survey in chapter 1 might imply. Tamil dirges move beyond a simple demonstration of women’s gender roles to describe some of their most intimate situations. They voice not only the common losses women suffer at the deaths of parents, brothers, and husbands but also the particular disappointments they feel in their daily lives and over the course of their lifetimes. Dirges are never actually about common experiences, social trends, or gender dynamics. Instead they almost always describe the personal lives of the women who express them. As...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Why Should We Cry?
    (pp. 95-127)

    By the time the five or six men who make up the local untouchable band(paṟaimēḷam)arrive at the scene of death, the family men are clustered in small groups around the outside of the lamenting circles.¹ Even when they pay their respects to the deceased or build an arbor of palm leaves above the front door to shelter the body from the sun, men express no connection to the female zone of mourning. They enter it only briefly then leave. Whenever they come too close to the women, getting entrapped in their embraces, they remain emotionally distant. Not that...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Life as a Record of Failure
    (pp. 128-157)

    By the time the funeral procession leaves a South Arcot village, the mood of the day has changed. The expectant tension that had previously filled the air is now gone. The strained ceremonial displays of kinship, the chaotic unfolding of commemorative rituals, disputes over money, women’s wails, the deafening sounds of the funeral band, the commotion of lifting the corpse onto the bier, the boisterous clamor of the funeral procession moving down the main street of the village—all are now things of the past.

    As the drumming ends in the afternoon, an awkward, almost restless quiet descends upon the...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Between Performance and Experience
    (pp. 158-170)

    I have shown that Tamil funeral discourses—crying songs, death songs, and petitions—transcend their immediate context. They reach out of the circumstances of their production—the mortuary ritual—and into the less circumscribed world of day-to-day experience and its inherent social and personal predicaments. Women and men do not simply perform some abstract or highly symbolic scenarios: they perform life, their own lives, the situations that deplete them, energize them, block them, and so on.

    Yet we should not conclude that what is performed at Tamil funerals is unrelated to immediate context. If not always death, then irrevocable loss...

    (pp. 171-180)
    (pp. 181-196)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 197-216)
    (pp. 217-224)
    (pp. 225-238)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 239-242)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-243)