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Death

Dead Qin Shi Huang takes on the Twittersphere!

Editorial Note: Images are currently missing from this post due to the change from Wordpress (the site on which this was originally published) to Squarespace. Images will be reattached by January 2017.

The title says it all. One of the craziest, most powerful rulers in the History of China tries his hand at micro-blogging in his..... tomb. 7 days after his death (10 Sept, 210 BCE), Qin Shi Huang starts tweeting and freaking out as he finds out... his worst fear has come true - he has died.

Qin Shi Huang had an intense fear of dying and was obsessed with searching for the fabled Elixir of Life. He wanted to live forever (hence, the corny 4eva in his twitter name haha). This was one of his weaknesses because it was so easy for him to fall prey to anyone who promised they had the secret to the Elixir of life.

Most of the potions and pills his doctors and alchemists created contained "mercury" - which would cause serious eurological malfunctions. He is believed to have died from mercury poisoning. Eek, looks like this "Elixir of Life" ironically shortened his life :(

The Ancient Chinese believe that the Mandate of Heaven is bestowed upon emperors - this gave them the right to rule over the people and the sacred Mandate of Heaven was given based on their ability to rule wisely and well.

About a year before Qin Shi Huang's death, a large meteor fell from the sky. This didn't bode well for Qin Shi Huang, it was an ominous sign. Qin Shi Huang, the tyrant, had his fair share of haters and someone etched "The First Emperor will die and his land will be divided." Many people saw this as a sign that Qin Shi Huang has lost the Mandate of Heaven.

Qin Shi Huang then destroyed the meteor and pounded it into powder and because he was unable to find the person who wrote the words, he killed every man in the vicinity.

Author's Thoughts: I find it so strange and spooky that there are always "omens" before someone dies. When I was doing my research for post 2, where I wrote on the death of Julius Caesar, there were some scary omens too! On the day he was assassinated, Caesar’s horses wept, a bird flew into the Theater of Pompey with a sprig of laurel but was eaten by a larger bird, Calpurnia had a dream of him bleeding to death And someone warned him to beware of danger no later than the Ides of March. Ahhhh! Scary. I wonder what I will encounter just before I die.

As he got older, he grew more paranoid and worried about his death. Qin Shi Huang built a huge tomb for himself, with 8,000 unique, life-sized soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses. There were also officials and his entertainers. These figures were made to resemble the ones he had in real life! Poor Emperor even built rivers of Mercury (his Elixir of Life remember?), thinking it would keep him immortal when he rose again. This army was to ensure that when he became immortal, he would still have his strong army and trusty officials with him. In the tomb, there were replicas of his palaces too. Man... he really did not know how to let go.

About 2 millenniums later, on the 29th of Mar 1974, farmers digging a well found this huge tomb! Historians and archaeologists were all so intrigued and they excavated the site to search for more. However, they found that the paint on these soldiers were slowly flaking and fading off once they were exposed to the dry air...  hence, they decided not to open Qin Shi Huang's tomb in fear that they may not be able to preserve the artifacts.

Our fearful Emperor is left in his tomb, lonely and frustrated. But I guess he don't have to worry about being forgotten, or not being immortal. More than 2,000 years later, his legacy still lives on.

References:

Qin Shi Huang, First Emperor of China, Asian History

Terracotta Army, Wikipedia

The fake tweets were made from http://simitator.com/generator/twitter/tweet

Qin Shi Huang's picture on his Twitter profile is taken from https://zanedashchina.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/qin-shi-huangdi-the-emperor/

The picture Qin Shi Huang tweeted is By Jmhullot - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40128526

Death by Crucifixion

The idea of death and pain have always frightened me. I am not the sort to die for a cause because I am just too scared! Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be tried, tortured and sent to the gallows?

Well, I am sure most people have (and are frightened at the thought of it), which is why many are pushing for the abolition of the capital punishment.

The first death sentence ever recorded was in 16th Century BC Egypt and the accused had to take his own life with an ax because he was doing magic. I guess they really wanted him to cut it out….. (geddit geddit?)

That was just the beginning of all the nasty and gruesome execution methods you’ll find on the Internet. Be warned, my friends!!! Do not google them at night.. I would love to share pictures that depict the horror of these executions but they made me really uncomfortable.

With Easter coming in just 2 weeks, I thought that the Crucifixion would be a good execution method to discuss.

Crucifixion is when a person who is suspended by the nails in his hands and legs on a wooden cross / stake and left to hang till dead. According to Jeremy Ward, head of the physiology department at King’s College London, is not just an act of putting someone to death but a way to torture someone. It was a form of punishment specially designed (and perfected) to ensure extreme pain and prolonged suffering. Crucifixion, as described by Cicero, a Roman Philosopher, is a “most cruel and disgusting punishment”.

Criminals, who were sentenced to death by Crucifixion were usually flogged and tortured before carrying their own cross to the site of crucifixion. This meant that they would have lost a great deal of blood and were in a state of shock and distress.

The humiliating part starts as they bear their cross, walking through the city, almost naked, to the site of crucifixion. The Roman soldiers were free to do whatever they want to you, because there were no rules on how to crucify someone properly. Records showed that the cross / stake were often at different angles, whichever angle the Roman soldiers deemed fit for the occasion.

Because the punishment was meant to humiliate, criminals were stripped naked (although art has always depicted criminals with a loin covering their genitals) and hung on the cross for days at a place with high human traffic.

Death by crucifixion would typically last from 6 hours - a few days and is mostly caused by the inability to breathe. As the crucified hung by their arms, they suffered painfully in a process of asphyxiation as they struggle to exhale, "due to hyper-expansion of the lungs". The victim would therefore have to pull himself up just to breathe. Roman executioners were said to break the legs of the victims to quicken his death. Because of their broken legs and their state of fatigue and pain, the condemned would give up trying to support themselves to breathe properly and die. Their bodies would be left there to feed the birds.

The first records of crucifixion were found in Persia, performed on political opponents. Alexander of Masedon introduced the practice throughout his empire. Criminals sentenced to death by crucifixion were mostly slaves and political rebels.

5000 TO 6000 REBEL SLAVES were crucified following the defeat of Spartacus' rebellion in 71 B.C. Painting by Fedor Bronnikov

In 4th Century AD, Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and abolished the act of crucifixion, putting an end to this terrible and painful execution method in reverence of its most famous victim, Jesus.

Constantine's conversion, as imagined by Rubens.

Many of our sources came from Biblical passages because they were the most detailed in describing and analyzing the death of Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified for claiming to be the King of the Jews.

Crucifixion, though rarely, is still being practiced today. They are still practiced in some countries as terrorism and punishment. Also, as a form of religious devotion in Mexico and Philippines.

Hello...From The Afterlife

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Around the world, various cultures and religions recognize that life ends with death, however, after death life still exists. What a paradox! Myths, legends and religious texts offer various perspectives on afterlife, sometimes the description on one overlaps another. Myths and legends develop over thousands of years, they spread from one person to another mostly through oral traditions. It is difficult to pinpoint and mention the exact time or year myths were created. However one thing we do know, is the huge role myths play in giving foundation to the beliefs of many cultures. “Many of them were designed to explain us as we wish to see ourselves.” Myths can be true, but at the same time it might be false as well! 4607894

Take a look at what 3 different cultures have to say about afterlife.

Firstly, the Chinese who have 3 main branches of beliefs about the afterlife. They include Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. The ancient Chinese people often learnt of afterlife through their family and neighbours.

Buddhists aim to cultivate themselves to live an ideal life, in order to attain some kind of afterlife salvation, such as immortality, enlightenment, or birth in a heavenly realm. They believe that when they pass on, they would enter into an ancestral realm that in key ways mirrors this world. To them death is just one facet of the cycle of rebirth.

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The Taoists on the other hand believe that one's spirit is taken by messengers to the god of walls and moats, where Ch'eng Huang,conducts a kind of preliminary hearing to judge where a certain soul would end up. Those found virtuous may go directly to one of the Buddhist paradises,  the dwelling place of the Taoist immortals, or the tenth court of hell for immediate rebirth. Those deemed as sinners, on the 49th day, descend to hell, located at the base of Mount Meru and undergo a fixed period of punishment in one or more levels of hell.

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Confucianism places great emphasis on filial piety and this extends after death. What happens to human beings after they die is less important to Confucian thinkers than how the living fulfill their obligations to the dead. This explains why there is not much information on the Confucian idea of afterlife.

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What do the African’s think? Most of you know that Africa is a huge continent, it covers about  30.2 million km2,  and there are more than 1.1 billion people living in there (as of 2013).

Due to the country’s vast history from early civilizations to slave trade to post colonialism , Africa has become a host of a large diversity of ethnicity, cultures and languages. Despite that, most traditional beliefs have not disappeared but rather have blended with other religions and cultures.

Belief in eschatology  in Africa is widespread too, description of afterlife generally includes clear indications that the transition from life to afterlife is through travelling, specifically by land. It is believed that after death one has to cross a river in order to enter the land of the departed and join the society of ancestors.

In the Luo culture, we become spirits after death. It is believed that we humans are made up of visible (the body) and invisible parts (tipo) (Iteyo, 2009). The union of this two parts forms human life. Upon death the visible perishes , but tipo becomes the spirit. According to Ocholla-Ayayo (1989), the spirits of the dead replicate the political order of society to the extent that they retain their social status and even remain in their own clans.

The significance of joining the ancestors after death is to simply watch over the affairs of the society, by helping the good people and punishing the delinquent. Hence, customs and rituals are very important to the Africans, if you do not comply with them, while living you will be haunted by the dead. It is also believed that after death, the spirit becomes even more intelligent and powerful. The spirit becomes jachien (demon) when the circumstances surrounding one's death were either not honorable or questionable, for example if it was through suicide.

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Moving on to the Egyptian beliefs, Ka was described as the life force within a person that would leave the body upon death. It is believed that Ka would require sustenance (food and drinks) to endure the process. Each person was also believed to have Ba (Ba is the unique spiritual characteristics of each individual).

Hence, Egyptian funeral rites were conducted with great attention to detail to preserve the body to allow Ba to be released. If funeral rituals were not done correctly, the Ka and Ba could not join together to form Akh. Akh is considered to be an intellectual living entity that is linked to the thoughts of the mind (not actions) and is viewed as a ghost that roams the bodies of the deceased.

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Once the dead's’ journey through the underworld is completed, they will then reach the Hall of Final Judgment. They would then undergo a two part judgement process to determine if they are worthy of attaining the afterlife. Firstly, they would come under  ‘42 divine judges’ to be judged upon the way they lived their lives.

Then their heart would be weighed against a feather by goddess Ma’at to prove if they led a proper life. If it was determined that the heart was heavier than the feather, the heart would be fed to Ammut and the soul will be casted away into darkness. If the heart and the feather were equally balanced on the scale, the candidate has passed and Osiris will welcome them to the afterlife.

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Across the 3 different cultures, the notion of afterlife has both similarities and differences. Where you end up after death, is very much linked to what you do when you are alive. Upon reading these perspectives, where do you think you will end up after death?

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Honestly, you will only know when you die.

 

Death....The final journey!!

In India, the concept of life after death is taken very literally. It is often said that the deeds of one’s life determine their life after death. The idea of death and afterlife evolved during the Aryan civilization and the researchers idealized this custom and culture into Hinduism. Hence, when someone dies the loved ones leave no stone unturned in performing the various rituals of Antima Sanskar, which we will discuss about in this blog.

  • Approaching death: Hindus believe that the near to dying person should be taken home where he is close to his loved ones because according to Hindu mythology, prolonging the illness is against the karma. A person should die happily and not stretch life by artificial methods. The person is laid on the floor with his head facing in the east direction and with a lamp lit near his body to spread aroma. The priest chants mantras from the Rig Veda and sings hymns to create a pious environment. If the dying person seems to be unconscious, a family member chants “Aum Namo Narayana” or “Aum Namo Sivaya” in the right ear to calm the soul.
  • The moment of death: The dead body is placed on the ground in the hallway with the head facing in the south direction. Placing the body on the floor signifies that the body returns Mother Earth, where it was initially created. The priest chants Vedic hymns and puts a few drops of milk or holy water (River Ganges) into the mouth and applies holy ash or sandalwood paste on the forehead to release the soul from the body. The thumbs and toes are tied together respectively and a white cloth is tied below the chin and over the head of the dead body.
  • The (Homa) Fire Ritual: This ritual involves creating a fire place under a shelter or inside the house. The priest performs the rite in the presence of family members whereby they honour nine brass Kumbhas (water pots) and one clay pot. The eldest son perform leads this rite in case of the father’s death and the youngest son preforms in the case of mother’s death. He is regarded as a chief mourner or karta.
  • Preparation of the dead body: The body is covered with white cloth and taken to homa fire where the eldest son or the chief mourner encircles around the dead body with a burning wooden stick in hand. The body is then offered rice puffs for better nourishment in his next life.

  • Cremation: In Hinduism, only men are allowed to attend the cremation ceremony (funeral). The body is placed on wooden stacks like structure (pyre) and the chief mourner takes three rounds in the anti-clockwise direction. He carries a clay pot filled with water on his shoulder making holes after each round to release water from the pot. This signifies that the soul of the deceased person is leaving into a new world with a whole new life.

 

  • Bone-Gathering Ceremony: After one day from the cremation ceremony, men in the family return to collect the remains of the body. The remains which include ashes and small pieces of bones are collected in a small clay pot covered by a red cloth and water is sprinkled on the ash to settle all the impurities and dead body’s remains into the Earth (the creator). As per the last wish of the dead person, the ashes are carried to the river Ganges or any other holy river or ocean along with flowers.

  • First Memorial: This ritual is usually organized on the third, fifth, seventh, ninth or thirteenth day of the death, where relatives and friends come to give condolences and eat deceased person’s favorite foods. A photo is placed in the centre of the hallway where people offer flowers and put garlands and a portion of food is offered too. This ritual varies from family to family. Some people offer pinda (rice balls) for nine days to the priests or others combine it into a one day ceremony.
  • One Month Memorial: This rite is performed to purify the home from the spirit of the deceased person. The priest performs the Sapindikarana ceremony in which 3 small pinda (rice balls) are made representing father, grandfather and great-grandfather; this shows that Hindu rituals revolve around the family tree. One large pinda is also made which is then cut into three pieces to join the three small pindas representing the males in the family. This ritual unites the deceaseds’ soul with the ancestors because Hindus believe in reincarnation.

Each Hindu family in India performs the rituals mentioned above in order to show their respect for the deceased. The concept of “Rest in Peace” is exercised by performing these rituals in the Hindu society.