For Trivikrama Mahadeva, living with the dead is not unusual. The 56-year-old learnt about death, loss and grief when his mother died after a prolonged illness when he was very young. He was lost, but an unknown person helped him bid a respectful farewell to her by burying her. A simple, yet touching, gesture by Krishnappa taught Mahadeva to be friends with the souls and not bodies. A firm believer in karma, Mahadeva thinks he is the ‘chosen one’, the one who becomes an integral part of someone’s last journey. “I am guided and shielded by their souls,” says Mahadeva.
When someone dies in a road accident and no one claims the body, Mahadeva takes charge as the head of the family and performs the last rights. “The dead need not to be a blood relative, a distant relative or even an acquaintance. A child, a woman or a man, who dies in an accident, would have been part of someone’s family,” he philosophises. Mahadeva, who believes that everyone deserves a decent burial, has so far buried over 88,888 unclaimed bodies in the city. Worried about not having enough burial grounds in the city, he, his son Praveen and four others have formed the Trivikrama Mahadeva Seva Trust to build burial grounds in the city and to give decent burials to all such unclaimed bodies.
“All bodies should be treated equally… even if they are decomposed or in bad condition. They deserve respect and should be buried with dignity. Everyone is a God’s child. If no one comes forward to claim the bodies, I take the responsibility and give them a proper burial,” he says with humility. He said, “There are times when we have buried seven to eight bodies in one grave because of shortage of burial grounds. People see them as dead bodies and look down on them. But for us, dignity of the dead is more important. We don’t even wear gloves while burying such bodies, as we feel it is disrespectful,” he said.
For his unique service, Mahadeva has received several awards and has even been felicitated by the then President Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in Mumbai. He first buried an unclaimed body in 1971. Initially, he used carts to transport bodies, and later bought a horse carriage. He now has a Maruti Omni to ferry bodies. He lives with his wife and two sons, Praveen Kumar and Kiran Kumar. Praveen, 30, completed his masters in social work in 2010 and since then, he has been helping his father as a full-time job. He started when he was in seventh standard, and claims to have buried over 20,000 such bodies in the city.
Praveen said, “I respect my job and want to follow in my father’s footsteps.” Kiran, the younger son, who is studying in first PU, too helps his father during weekends and sometimes after college hours. “The souls of the bodies we have buried so far are protecting us and keeping us safe,” Praveen said. The Trust was registered in March this year. Mahadeva is the founder-president, while Praveen, Harsha, Mala, Sonal and Keshav are members. It is managed by Harsha, who is a social worker and an MBA graduate from London University. Mahadeva said that Harsha, after hearing about him and his service, contacted him and extended help. “He has been working with us for the past five years,” he said. “It has not been easy. I have gone on despite difficulties. There were times when I had to pawn gold medals and awards I received for my children's education,” he said.
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