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A Surrogate Mourner

Robic Upadhayay, Nepal

Navaraj Badal, 24, is a mourner by profession. For the past nine years, he has been performing the ‘Kriyaputri’ rituals on behalf of the bereaved.

According to Hindu customs, mourning paves way for the dead to transcend to the spiritual realm. The mourner takes one self-prepared meal a day, abstains from salt, and is forbidden from touching anyone during the thirteen-day ritual. At the time of the COVID pandemic, the roots of the self-isolation rituals and its practicality make even more sense. The immediate family members of the deceased were made to stay in self-isolation so that if there is any illness in the family, it doesn’t get transmitted to the rest of the society. However, people have completely lost the essence of this practice. Hiring surrogate mourners for hefty fees has become an increasing trend for bereaved families without offspring or who cannot commit themselves to the rituals. Even though the profession pays well, the job has its bouts of social rejection. The demanding rituals also take a toll on their physical health.

“It was difficult to find a bride for me because of what I do for a living,” said Badal, “I don’t even know what to write under the ‘occupation’ field when filling up official forms.”

I was intrigued by how traditions have given way to expedience and mourning has become quite a profitable profession, and seems to demonstrate the underlying conflict between tradition and modernity.

The rituals of mourning are transferable but is grief?


As a visual storyteller based in Kathmandu, Nepal; each day has been one of learning and self-exploration. I feel fortunate to be able to spend a good amount of time on personal projects; traveling and collaborating with enthusiastic people. My primary medium is documentary photography, while I also do videos and make an effort to write for my own work. I am trying out analog photography as a medium these days and also rediscovering the love for darkroom processing.

Photography lets me do things I always wanted to do, go places I always wanted to go, and meet people I always wanted to meet. The unpredictability and spontaneity of streets and people fascinate me as a storyteller. Recently, I have been working on stories on how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected life and work of the people, societal relationships, and their mental well-being. Human stories and cultural practices are what entice me as a storyteller.