Death and funeral rituals are plentiful in Khorezm. If a person dies outside of their house, then they are brought home and placed in the largest room. An undertaker of the same gender, who is helped by any children of the deceased, washes the body. The jaw and ankles of the deceased are tied up and the corpse is wrapped in a long white shroud, sixteen metres for women and twelve metres for men. If the deceased is female and over sixty, then she should wear the scarf given to her at her ‘laychak toy’.
Female relatives of the household begin to wail, alerting the neighbours that a death has occurred. Carpets are removed from the floor and female neighbours, friends and relatives come to weep and mourn over the body. They do not take off their shoes as usual as a symbol of readiness for the undertaker to come for the body. Meanwhile the men of the house arrange a site for the tomb. The Kelin of the house offers round a bowl of rice to the mourners and each takes a grain. The rest is then placed on the roof of the house for the birds. The Kelin also bakes nine rounds of patir bread. These are also offered to the mourners who also take only a small piece of the bread to eat. Whilst all guests must be given food, it would also be inappropriate for guests to show an appetite at such a time of sorrow.
If the death occurred before midday then the funeral will be held on the same day. If after midday then the deceased will be literally ‘a guest for the night’ and be buried the next day. The funeral itself begins at home with rows of chairs placed outside the house for the men to sit in silence and remember the deceased whilst a Mullah chants. Inside there is a frenzy of grief as the female relatives, friends and neighbours wail around the corpse. Once all arrangements for the tomb have been made, the undertaker will arrive with a simple wooden coffin. If the deceased was young, this will be covered with a red cloth, if old then with a black or blue cloth. If the deceased was married then the corpse will first be wrapped in a newly stitched white blanket. This same blanket will be kept and used for the spouse when he or she dies.
As the body is taken out of the house, the wailing reaches its climax. The women must not leave the house and often close, grief stricken relatives have to be physically restrained as they try and follow the body. Before the coffin passes the threshold it is knocked three times against the doorpost as a final goodbye. The men outside then crowd around the coffin and each person attempts to carry the coffin seven paces as this is considered a worthy act of charity. The close male friends and relatives then proceed to the graveyard. The body is prayed over by a Mullah who will ask if the deceased was a good person. The answer is always ‘yes’. The body is then taken out of the coffin, placed in the tomb and bricked up. Female relatives will only visit the tomb on the seventh day and not before.
A sheep is sacrificed so that the soul of the deceased will not be alone. The meat is then used for feeding the mourners over the next week. The mutton must be boiled and not fried as frying the mutton would be wishing for the soul of the departed to fry in hell, (boiling seems to have no eternal unwanted side effects). The cloth that covered the coffin is placed outside overnight so that the stars can see what has happened and take care of the departed soul.
People in Khorezm believe that the soul does not go to heaven or hell. This will only take place on Judgement Day when all people will have their good and bad deeds weighed by God. Instead, the spirit will return to the house and remain near for the next forty days. Some people believe that the spirit may even come near as a butterfly or other flying insect and they therefore refrain from killing all mosquitoes and flies for forty days, just in case. They will also leave all the lights on at night for forty days in order to guide the spirit home. Others believe that the spirit will reside near the house for thirty-three years until it’s remains have returned to dust, at which point it will rest until Judgement Day.
Following the funeral are various days of remembrance and mourning rituals that need to take place. All male relatives should wear a black skullcap (dupe) for forty days and all female relatives should wear a white headscarf and avoid wearing bright colours, particularly red. The closest seven female relatives will sew white mourning clothes which they will wear for the forty days of mourning and then burn.
The day after the funeral, the family have a chance to rest and grow accustomed to their lost. Then on the third day the Maraka or remembrance days begin. All friends and family come to pay their respects to the family. They sit around a desturkhan where rounds of bread are placed in threes, an uneven number and symbol of unhappiness in the house. A mullah chants and prays on the arrival of each male guest whilst a halpa conducts a similar gathering of women in an adjacent room. Plov is served with care to boil and not fry the mutton along with mutton soup. Only one spoonful is taken and the guests usually stay for only twenty minutes or so before leaving.
Remembrance days occur on the third and seventh day after death and then every Thursday for forty days. The third day and seventh day are important and after that it is mainly close family that attend the days of remembrance until the fortieth day. This is the largest of the Maraka and marks the end of mourning. There is still the fifty second day or remembrance for close relatives and, for a whole year there must be no birthdays or other celebrations. Weddings must be postponed and parties forsaken. Some families will not watch television or anything else considered ‘fun’ or relaxing for a whole year and close female relatives will wear the white scarf and dull clothes for a year. At the end of the year the ‘yil osh’ (‘year plov’) takes place as mourners are invited to remember the deceased and eat plov. Once this is over the family are no longer officially mourning and can attend parties, wear bright clothes etc.
The deceased will still be remembered on either the anniversary of death
or birthday, and also on the last day of Ramadan. This is called Eid osh
and is a time for relatives to visit all their dead relatives’ tombs and
pray and grieve for them. If someone has died that year, then guests are
invited to eat a spoonful of plov. Otherwise families cook borsok, (fried
diamond shaped dough) with the lights on and the windows open in order
to welcome the spirits and feed them on the aroma of frying.