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Impending Death

There are certain rites traditionally performed when a Namboothiri (or "Antharjanam") is approaching death. First, sandal paste ("Chandanam") [sandalwood - Santalum album], ash ("Bhasmam") and "Gopi" are to be applied on the person's forehead."Thulasi" [sacred basil - Ocimum sanctum], "Karuka-Maala" ["Karuka" - dog grass - Cynodon dactylon] and white flowers are to be placed on the head. He/she is to be kept touched with "Darbha" grass [sacrificial grass - Pao cynosuroides], God's name chanted ("Naama Japam"), and important portions of "Bhaagavatham", "Raamaayanam", "Naaraayaneeyam", etc. read out. Sacred waters ("Theerthham") such as "Sahasra-Naama-Theerthham', "Thulasee-Theerthham", or "Kaasee-Theerthham" should be offered. The person should be made to offer Thulasi and "Koovalam" [wood apple - Aegle marmalos] leaves to idols like "Saalagraagam" and "Baanalingam" which are placed on a "Pooppaalika" tray, and to plant saplings of "Nelli" [gooseberry tree - Emblica officinalis] and Thulasi, and to water them. If the critical stage is reached in the morning or evening in the case of a male, another Namboothiri should touch him, take bath and perform Sandhyaa-Vandanam and chant "Gaayathry" on his behalf. The final rotating portion of Sandhyaa-Vandanam may be replaced by holding his hand and turning it around his head.

It is customary for all the close relatives to prostrate before the person and ask for forgiveness, and to get blessed by placing the person's palm on their heads (assisted by a by-stander, if needed). On the person's behalf and connected through a Darbha grass, the others shall offer the customary "Daanams" (gifts including umbrella, sandals and walking stick ("Yaathraa-Daanam"), either real or as a formality. The performance of such rites should not frighten the person in any way. Elderly Namboothiris and Antharjanams often face impending death with calmness and equanimity, performing the rites unassisted, or prompting relatives as to what to do.

When death seems to be really near, the person has to be laid on the floor ("Nilathu Irakkal") which has been wiped with cow-dung, spread with Kaasi sand [(sand from Kaasi (Banares)] or any sand mixed with earth from under a Thulasi plant, as well as Darbha grass spread pointing south. The "Cheviyil Othu" is to be chanted on behalf of the dying person.

The eldest among those who are eligible to perform the rites, touches the person's right ear with Darbha grass and chants about half the Othu, washes the hand, repeats it touching the left ear, washes the hand again, and completes the rest, touching the head. After the person's death, the nine openings are closed with gold or with gooseberry.


"Cheviyil-Othu", popularly called "Cheveelothu" consists of a one-time chanting of selected 25 Riks from Rig Vedam if a Rigvedi, the same except for the last part if a Yajur-Vedi and the 16th Saamam of the 33rd chapter of Saama-Veda-Samhitha, if a Saama-Vedi. One of the Riks is to be chanted only after death. If short of time, only this one Rik need to be chanted, which can even be done just before the cremation rites. Except for Saama-Vedis, those who chant this one Rik should take bath thereafter. The essence of Cheveelothu is : "Lead me kindly to connect to Vishnu".

After death, and after chanting the one Rik, a lamp as well as a "Manthaaram" kept in a half-coconut with some oil are lighted and kept near the head. (Manthaaram is a piece pf cloth with some rice grains in it, twisted and kept vertically in the middle of the half-coconut.). A line of ash is drawn around the dead body to keep away ants and other insects, and then the body is covered with new but washed cloth ("Koti Alakkiya Seela"). All are then to circle around and prostrate the body. At the auspicious time, the final rites and cremation (click here for Cremation Ceremony) are performed.

| Article No:8.5.1 | Last update of this article:1st March 2011 |
Article by : P Vinod Bhattathiripad, Polpaya Mana, Thiruthiyad, Calicut - 673 004
Tel: 0495-2720522 (R), 94470-60066 (M)
With inputs from : 1. Adv. B. Agnisarman Namboodiri, Athrassery Mana, Thrikkalathur;
2. Naras Narayanan Namboodiri, Edapal;
3. Vaidikan Thekkad Neelakandhan Namboodiri, Vattamkulam; and
4. Thottam Krishnan Namboodiri, Panjal

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