Sunday 24 January 2010

At home with those asleep

The day before yesterday saw me and Barbara (an exchange student from the Queens University, Belfast) going and visiting two graveyards and I must say that I immensely enjoyed the experience. I have visited graveyards before but on Friday I spent a lot of time examining tombstones, crosses, names, dates and other aspects. Since Barbara had studied protestant and catholic memorials in Ireland, she had a mine of information on tombs and inscriptions on the tombs.

The atmosphere there was cool and peaceful. We found many dogs lying down quietly on the tombstones. Who were the most serene - the person inside or the dog outside, I could not come to a conclusion. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city, there was this graveyard which seemed to possess a distinct personality of its own. The first graveyard was the Garrison Church graveyard near St. Thomas Mount and it has existed right from the 18th century. I could locate the graveyards of many people whom I used to know. Years ago I visited the same graveyard with my then flame and thus Barbara had some interesting tales to listen from me. In a way, my personal history had a remote connection to that graveyard.

There were old tombstones which looked quite lovely and ancient. The more recent tombstones had pictures of the deceased on them. Some tombstones were very fancy and colourful while some were the usual black, gray and white. One could also differentiate the class of the dead people by looking at their tombstones. Some were quite simple while some were grandiose and shiny.

We took a couple of pictures. Barbara also told me that in Ireland one could not step on the graves as they were taboo. It was quite emotional for people and thus the graveyards were taken very good care of but in Chennai we stepped on the grave to take closer pictures and read the inscriptions. It was interesting to listen to Barbara as she identified Catholic and Protestant tombstones by seeing the way the cross was made. There were some graves which was joint together with a tree. These were the old ones.

We were quite moved when we saw the graves of babies who were just a few months old when they passed away; families who died on the same day; young people in the age of 20-24.

The second graveyard was the British war memorial which was immaculately kept and maintained very well. The tombs were in rows and looked almost wrinkle-free unlike the previous grave. I liked the previous unruly one where the dead, nature and culture existed side-by-side in perfect harmony.

I did not once think about death when I was in the graveyards, which is quite surprising as I always start meandering when I come across such places. I felt calm, peace and a sense of joy being there in the graveyard. I felt at home among those asleep.


  1. Oh Susan, you always write so eloquently about such deep and poignant subjects.

    Graveyards and cemetaries are my favorite places to be, I so enjoyed reading this. Excatly as you say; they are tranquil. Even though they hold a certain sadness, they are the most calming and peaceful places to visit and they make us think. Think about lives and destinies of ordinary people...
    I once wrote an assay entiteld "A walk through a cemetary" in school, one of the best I have ever written.

    Great post as always, I love the way you think.
    Have a tranquil Sunday,


  2. Guess it was 'Heaven on Earth' then. I want that same kind of calm, when death comes knocking. Guess we all have to go sometime. Blessings dear

  3. Dear Zuzana:

    Glad that we share so much in common. I would love to read your essay but then you would not have it now :(

    Thanks for coming by dear Zuzana.

    Wishing you a sprightly week ahead.

  4. Gaia:

    Maybe you're right. Hope your spirits are high and happy!

    Death itself is very calm.

    Blessings and joy to you in the coming week and always.

    Joy and more joy your way.

  5. what a wonderful post! all my life, i've loved visiting cemeteries/graveyards - and reading the headstone inscriptions, fragments of so many lives - wondering of them and what their lives were like - how they came about it all - and i love the art of the tombstones - beautiful -

    another great post, lady!! thanks for sharing with us all!

  6. Dear Jenean:

    I am so glad that there are many people who share similar tastes and places. I always thought (naively) that many did not fancy the graveyards.

    Glad to be sharing this trait with you.

    Have a lovely week dear one.

    Joy and peace.

  7. Well, Susan... I must say, I too love to visit cemeteries. There is a certain serenity that falls upon me when I'm sitting with the dead. We communicate, we commune, we exchange, and I feel like everything that is not quite all right will be quite fine. We rest, always, with those who sleep eternally.

    A beautiful post, Susan!


  8. Graveyards here are very much a thing of the past. The huge cemeteries of old have all been excavated and remains moved to columbariums for the lack of land. For most of us we will be mostly cremated and go into columbariums like 'mini-urban high-rise apts for the dearly departed'.
    From what I recall of the old cemetery - it certainly was a peaceful place. My kids will not get to see one not unless I take them overseas.. just to get a feel.


  9. Nevine:

    I am glad that you share this peculiar trait with me. Graveyards are strange and serene. You just said it - communicate, commune and exchange.

    You always have nice words to say, don't you and I love you for that :-)

  10. BM:

    Yes, they are a thing of the past and we are preserving them in spite of no space being there. Sad that your kids will be missing out this beautiful aspect of life. Maybe you should bring them here and show all these things. Welcome to Chennai, India.

    Thanks for coming by dear BM.

    Joy and peace always.

  11. I liked the complete absence of morbidity in a post that was about those dead and gone by. Normally otherwise, one would expect a tone morbidity in such a topic. Well written!
    I have been wanting to visit the Kirkee war cemetery on the outskirts of Pune, which was built to commemorate nearly 2000 soldiers who died in action during WW1.

  12. I also enjoy visiting cemeteries with a camera, Susan. I love it when I come across a very old marker, and I think to myself, "when was the last time someone remembered this person, or said her name?" In a small way, it helps to keep the dead alive.

    And it's so wonderfully quiet in a cemetery. Except for the birds singing, reminding us that life does, in face, move on. And will after we're gone, too.

    I really enjoyed this wonderful post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and photos with us! :)

  13. Pushkaraj:

    Welcome. Its been long since I last saw a comment from you. The morbidity is absent as I don't see death as the end of everything. It is a continuation. The second memorial I visited was the war cemetery of soldiers who died during World War I.
    Please do visit the place in Pune before you forget all about graves and tombs.

    Thanks for coming by.

    Joy always.

  14. Dear Sarah:

    Nice to see you stop by the meanderings. I see that many of us have a kindred spirit when it comes to graveyards. There is a bit of everything in everyone I suppose. Nice to know that.

    Thanks for your kind words. Would love to see more of your presence in the meanderings and reflections.

    Have a great remainder of the week.

    Joy always.

  15. Point of connection - love how you put in. Strangely enough, taking lazy walks at cemeteries is one of them.

    This cemetery looks very different from the one across from my house. This one is posh with lots of manicured greeneries. The public cemetery in my hometown is more like a concrete jungle - cemented tombs stacked together like a condo.

    But no matter, I also read epitaphs and determine the ages of the deceased. Sometimes I make stories out of the earthy lives of the dead. I was a strange kid (well, till now, haha).

    Thanks for directing me to this old post. Let's visit a cemetery when we finally meet - whether in your country or in mine. :)

    Btw, what's the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant cross? You didn't elaborate. Would wanna know.

  16. Age:

    When I went there, it was with an anthropologist from Ireland. She identified the crosses and since there were many Brits buried there in that cemetery, she identified them for me. I shall mail you a detailed description on that. After that when I visited tehre, I was able to identify the crosses and now I do it always when I visit cemeteries.

    The place of the dead is equally interesting. And the place is right in the hub of the city.

    Thanks Age for coming by.



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