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Songs for the Dead

#Sounds of Korea l 2023-11-30

Sounds of Korea

Songs for the Dead
People are often told to live today like it’s the last day of their lives. Everyone knows that death is inevitable, but many seem to forget that fact. In the old days, it was common for people to die at home and an entire village to plan and take part in the funeral. Villagers would have held at least one, if not several funerals every year. Experiencing funerals so often would remind people that the line between life and death is very thin. Jindo Dasiraegi진도다시래기 is a legacy that originated from the culture that does not distinguish life and death too strictly. Jindo Dasiraegi is a rather lewd play for men performed the day before the coffin is carried out of the dead person’s home. The play includes songs and instrumental music. At the end, there is a scene in which a baby is born, implying the grieving family’s hope that the dead would be reincarnated and return to this earth once again. The first song we’re going to enjoy today is from Jindo Dasiraegi in which a blind man and his wife flirt with other people. Here is Dasiraegi practitioner Kang Jun-seop singing a song from Jindo Dasiraegi. 
Jindo Dasiraegi/ Sung by Kang Jun-seop

In the culture where death is regarded as something grave and somber, singing and dancing at a funeral would seem strange. It is natural for different cultures to have different acceptable behaviors for the same occasion. 
Dasiraegi is performed so that the grieving family members wouldn’t become too distraught. They would be comforted by the belief that just as life eventually ends in death, death would perhaps bring about life one day. These days, a hearse is driven to transport the dead to the burial ground or a cremation facility, but in the old days, a funeral bier was carried by bier bearers. The bier, called ‘sangyeo상여’ in Korean, was decorated with colorful ribbons and flowers, much like a wedding palanquin and carried by several men. It was the last luxury the dead would enjoy on this earth. When the bier is carried out, it is accompanied by a song, because it was important for the bier bearers to work as a team when carrying something heavy on a narrow and rocky road. Singing a song would be very helpful in keeping the pace at a time like that. Also, when a person with a loud voice sings about the transience of life or the judgement at the gate of Heaven, those following the funereal procession would naturally think about life and death and vow to live a better life. Here’s master singer Cho Gong-rae to sing “Farewell Song” and “Amitabul,” two funeral songs from Jindo. “Farewell Song” was sung when the coffin was carried out of the dead person’s home village and “Amitabul” prays for the dead person’s easy transition to eternity. 
Farewell Song & Amitabul/ Sung by Cho Gong-rae

Now we’re going to talk about Jindo Ssitgim-gut씻김굿, or a cleansing ceremony that prays a safe passage to the other side for the dead. This ceremony for the dead is preceded by Sonnim-gut손님굿, which wishes for the grieving family to live long in good health even without the dead, and Jeseok-gut제석굿 that wishes for wealth and prosperity. Gopuri고풀이 is a rite in which a shaman priestess unties a long cotton cloth. This ritual symbolizes the process of the priestess releasing a long-held grudge in the dead person’s heart. 
Ssitgim-gut or cleansing ceremony involves a priestess washing the dead person’s effigy with a broom and mugwort-perfumed water. This practice represents the removal of old grudges or sorrow. The last step of the cleansing ceremony is paving the road to the netherworld. A long piece of cotton cloth is spread on the ground and a big rock representing the dead person’s spirit is pushed on the cloth to demonstrate to the funeral onlookers that the dead is moving on safely to the other side. Here is Song Sun-dan to sing “Ssitgimgeori” from the Jindo Ssitgim-gut ceremony.
Ssitgimgeori/ Sung by Song Sun-dan 

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