Hinduism

Hindu Funeral and Burial Rituals



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The Hindu, in like mode to the Buddhist, generally believes in both reincarnation and Nirvana. Because of this optimistic stance, a funeral is far more of a celebration than the morbid affair that it becomes in the Western world. Whilst death is a sad occurrence, it is not considered the final end.

Whilst not actually touching the corpse, a family offers prayers in close proximity. The dead body is generally dressed in white clothing, but a wife dying prior to her partner will sometimes wear red.

Cremation is the conventional procedure. The burning signifying spiritual release and the fire symbolizing Brahma - the Hindu god associated with creation. The funeral ceremony is called antyeshti samskara and is usually conducted by a Hindu priest along with the eldest son who is entitled the chief mourner.

The funeral procession accompanies the corpse to the crematorium, often passing places of importance to the deceased en route. On arrival, the corpse is adorned with sandalwood and flower garlands prior to the priest reading from the Bhagavad Gita or the Vedas. The chief mourner will then set kindling alight and walk around the corpse offering prayers. The body is then cremated.

An alternative for the Hindu dwelling in a suitable Indian location, is to be taken to the River Ganges where there are special places for disposing of the deceased. The corpse may then be placed upon wood. Whilst offering vedic prayer, the chief mourner will set the wood alight, adding ghee and incense. The ashes of the body are then given to the river. This is so popular amongst Hindus that those not living close enough may have the cremation locally and then transport the ashes to the River Ganges for disposal.

There then follows 13 days of mourning. Entrants cleanse themselves and change their clothing before entry to the family home. A Hindu priest will perform a ceremony with spice and incense to purify the house. Prayer and a special meal often commence this 13-day period, during which friends visit as a sign of respect and recognition of the departed.

One year afterwards, an event called Shraddha occurs. Food is offered to the poor in remembrance of the dead relative at this time, and the family do not purchase new clothes or go to parties for a full month. The Hindu priest will once again offer prayer on behalf of the deceased.

A custom that was once very popular but is now outlawed is sati. It occasionally still occurs however, despite being forbidden. The custom relates to an alternate name for the goddess Dakshavani, who set fire to herself after persecution from her father upon her husband Shiva.
At one time, females with a strong connection to a deceased male would voluntarily cremate themselves as their loved one died. They did not have to be wed to the deceased. More oftenly, only the widow would practice sati, which led the the title being referent to the widow as well as the act.

URLs used to assist research:
http://www.staffspasttrack.org.uk/exhibit/ilm/Mourining%20and%20Remembrance/Types%20of%20funerals/Hindu%20Funerals.htm
http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/re/death/hideathritesrev3.shtml
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sati_(practice)

 

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