MH370 Crash: Spiritual Rites Dim as Uncertainty of Finding Bodies Abound

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By Athena Yenko | March 27, 2014 2:01 PM EST

Perth braces as hundred of grieving and agitated families of MH370 passengers are expected to travel as soon as wreckage is found. Traveling to Perth is the closest they can get to the final place where their loved-ones were.

About 227 passengers from 15 nations and regions aboard MH370 plane. The passengers were a combination of different nationalities, spiritual beliefs and religions.

Finding the bodies of their relatives was particularly essential to consummate funeral rites that are vital to their spiritual beliefs.

Chinese Culture

Among the 227 passengers of the missing plane, two-thirds were Chinese, including 19 artists with six family members and four staff. They came from a calligraphy exhibition of their works in Kuala Lumpur.

The Chinese were notably the ones being agitated about the tragedy. Experts said the Chinese were behaving this way because of the funeral rites are embedded deeply in their culture.

According to Gary Sigley, a professor of Asian Studies at the University of Western Australia, Chinese believed the souls of those who die tragically into the unknown, or whose bodies are not recovered (as in the case of the MH370), will remain lost to the unknown.  

In an interview with ABC News, Joy Chen, cultural icon and author of the popular Chinese-language book, "Do Not Marry Before 30," explained that Chinese culture needs the presence of a body to complete the funeral rites.

 "In a Chinese culture, the living and the dead are part of the same family. There is such a strong sense of family. You are separated from your ancestor, but they are still a part of you."

Chen cited the Chinese viewed the holiday Qing Ming , meaning "sweep the grave," of particular importance. It is impossible to have this ritual without the presence of a body.

The idea of a funeral without the bodies being mourned is beyond the understanding of the Chinese culture. Chinese usually hire professional wailers to cry during funeral rites.

"When person first dies it's incredibly important to have a body. You have a wake for a whole day or more. The body is cleaned and dressed up in their best clothes and all the friends and relatives come around to pay respects. Then after that, there is a funeral procession and everyone goes to the grave site," Chen noted.

 "Because in Chinese tradition, death is not just the end of a person's life, they are going to another world and the family continues to maintain our relations with our ancestors. We live among them all the time and even seek their help."

With this belief, the MH370 tragedy created a sense of uncertainty for the Chinese that their loved-ones will be peaceful.

 "There is no sense of certainty. You haven't had the opportunity to pay respects from the passing of this world to the world of the dead. You don't get to acknowledge and respect their passage into the afterlife."

Hindu

As written in the book titled, "Hindu Rites of Passage: The Funeral," details of the exact date and time of a loved-one's death is important for the final rites.

"Otherwise, the soul will not rest in peace and it will become an earthbound spirit. The authorities should declare a date and time because there are specific ceremonies for a send-off of the dead," author P.S. Maniam wrote.

Hindu G. Subramaniam, whose son Puspanathan, 34, was on the flight, said he cannot imagine performing the final passage without the body of his son.

 "I still believe my son will return as there is no death certificate issued on his status," he noted.

Tao

Tan Hoe Chieow, president of the Federation of Taoist Associations Malaysia, said closure can only be complete with the information of exact location and time of death.

 "We need to know where it happened and go to the scene of the accident to perform rituals and prayers. It can be done without the physical body, but the priest and family must be in the same area. If the relatives are not given their final rites, they become lost souls," Chieow explained.

Muslims echoed the same sentiments. A funeral cannot be consummated without the body.

Christians And Bhuddists

While the Chinese families were agitated of the Malaysian government, Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia's defense  and acting transport minister, noted the families of the Australian passengers were calm.

"But the Chinese families must also understand that Malaysia also lost loved ones and many other nations also lost loved ones. I have seen images [of relatives] from Australia: very rational, understanding this is a global effort, not blaming Malaysia, because it is co-ordinating something unprecedented."

For Catholics, the body was not necessary to perform rites as they believe prayers will suffice. The same belief involves Bhuddists.

Chief Monk of Malaysia Datuk Rev K. Sri Dhammaratana said the Buddhists do not need body to perform the funeral rites.

"We don't need the body, we can just do the prayers as normal," he added.

 "The body is not important as the mind and soul have already departed," Rev Sri Saranankara of Maha Karuna Buddhist Society noted.

Sardar Jagir Singh, president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism, called for the Malaysian government to conduct memorial or tribute for all those who were lost in the MH370 tragedy.

 "When it comes to prayers, whether to hold a funeral, the family must decide. Perhaps, there can be prayers for the soul before the last rites are held," he said.

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