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Journey from beauty to spirituality

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, April 23, 2013

SOME people have prayers while a person is on the death bed to ensure that he or she dies peacefully.

Others, in fact many, perform the final rites only after a person is dead.

But there are some, probably a handful, who have their final rites done while they are still alive.

After that, they give their lives fully to God and leave behind all material things in the world.

They become the Hindu sant (monk) and the only thing to do for them when they die is bury them at sea.

Geeta Kaur, 68, was one such monk.

Born into a farming family in the Himalayas almost seven decades ago, her father was an apple farmer in Himachal Pradesh, which is located in northern India and is known for its natural beauty.

The area is bordered by Jammu and Kashmir in the north, Punjab on west and southwest, Haryana and Uttarakhand on southeast, and the Tibet autonomous region on the east.

As the years went by in the farming community in Himachal Pradesh, Ms Kaur became determined to make something of her life.

With that determination, she left her home and moved to Chandigarh where she trained as a beauty therapist in one of the city's leading beauty shops, Top Notch.

In 1975, she married and came to Fiji with her husband as a young bride. Her husband was from Fiji.

Her only child, Pratibha Singh, said when her mother came to Fiji, women were mostly relying on razors and depilatory creams to get rid of unwanted body hair.

Mrs Singh, the director of Beauty Mantra in the heart of Suva City, said Ponds cold creams were the most common moisturisers at that time.

"It may not be too much of an exaggeration to say that my mother revolutionised Fiji's beauty industry.

"She came on the scene as an innovator who created awareness among women here of the need to take special care of their skin," she said.

Being an attractive Punjabi girl with reddish brown hair and clear translucent skin, Ms Kaur was said to have made a striking presence when she arrived in Fiji.

Since there were no beauty parlours in Fiji when she arrived here, she joined the then Regent Hotel in Nadi working as a hairdresser.

Mrs Singh said the beautician in her mother refused to be restricted to the mundane requirements of cutting and colouring people's hair.

In 1982, she said, her mother moved to Suva and opened the doors to Primrose Beauty Salon, Fiji's first skin care clinic.

She said it became customary to see her mother clad in her clinical white overalls attending to clients, providing skin care advice on acne control and problems such as pigmentation and ageing skin.

Mrs Singh said her mother was a stickler for professionalism and cleanliness was the hallmark of her clinic.

"One of her most exceptional gifts to Fiji women was the luxurious milk bath, an ayurvedic softening and conditioning treatment for the entire body.

"As a cosmetologist, she made her own herbal skin care products.

"Her cleansers, sandalwood-based scrubs, masks and moisturisers were popular and affordable.

"We didn't have the convenience of distilled, bottled water at that time and I remember we used to collect rainwater for her home-made cosmetics."

Mrs Singh said after having operated the beauty salon for 18 years, her mother decided to retire. She said in the year 2000, her mother decided to return to India to pursue her growing spiritual interests.

"She (Ms Kaur) chose a guru (spiritual leader/teacher) and aspired to become a sant (someone who leads a saintly life).

"Her training required living in temples, adhering to a strict, rigorous diet and a disciplined way of life.

"To achieve the status of a sant, my mother trudged all over India for six long months, walking barefoot, living on bhiksha (alms) and sleeping on bare boards in temples," said Mrs Singh.

Ms Kaur's son-in-law, Ravin Singh, said she left for India in the year 2000 after domestic problems.

In India, Ms Kaur went on a different journey, one in which the focus was only God and finding peace through God.

"She became a sant and in India when you become a sant you leave all material stuff and your life includes staying in temples all over India for six months," said Mr Singh.

"Also, as a sant you are not supposed to ask anyone for food. If someone gives you food, then only you eat.

"When someone becomes a sant that person no longer lives in the house. You live in temples and sleep on the floor or boards," he said.

Two months ago, Mrs Singh went to India and brought her mother back to Fiji so that they could spend some time together.

But, it was not easy for family members to encourage Ms Kaur to return to Fiji and spend some time with them.

She only agreed to come after extracting a promise from her daughter to honour her wish to be given a sea burial.

Mr Singh said his mother-in-law lived with them when she returned to Fiji two months ago.

"But she got sick suddenly, a minor stroke, and did not recover. She passed away in the morning of April 6," he said.

Yesterday, Mr and Mrs Singh and other family members held the 13 days prayer for Mrs Kaur.

Mrs Singh said her mother's final rites were held when she became a sant in India.

"That is how it happens. The only thing that has to be done when they die is to bury them at sea.

"When she died, we held a very short prayer, recited parts of the Hindu holy book Bhagavad Gita and took her body to sea.

"In India, they would normally be buried in the holy waters of the River Ganges. But my mother was buried in waters off Kadavu."

Mrs Singh said her mother's body was securely wrapped in tarpaulin, tied to iron bricks and lowered into the ocean just south of Kadavu in respect of her last wishes.

She said her mother would probably be the first Indian woman to be accorded a sea burial in Fiji.

"While most Hindus prefer to be cremated, a small group from certain religious orders prefer a sea burial.

"This (sea burial) is a rare privilege that is normally reserved for naval officers or people with life-long links to the sea."

Mrs Singh said her mother made a remarkable contribution to the beauty and skin care industry in Fiji with the introduction of Ayurvedic and herbal skin care techniques and products.

During her days in Fiji, Ms Kaur adopted her nephew Dr Angat Singh, who lives in New Zealand now.

Arrangements for the sea burial held on April 10 were made by the funeral directors hired by the Singh family.

While the woman from Himachal Pradesh has passed away, she has left behind the beauty care techniques with her daughter Pratibha Singh.

The woman, who was born in the Himalayan region, became a beauty therapist and later a monk, today rests deep down in Fiji waters as per her wish.

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