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Hindu Funeral and Religious Customs

Antyesti or Hindu funeral rites, sometimes referred as Antim Sanskar, is an important Sanskara, sacrament of Hindu society. There is wide inconsistency in theory and practice, and the procedures differ from place to place. Further, these rites also differ depending on the caste, social group, and the status of the deceased person.

Hindus believe in cremation only. Typically there is an intimate time with family for a one day period where the deceased is mourned at home, not a funeral home. The deceased is taken to the crematorium with just the immediate family and priest.

In the Hindu funeral tradition, the body remains at the home until it is cremated, which is usually within 24 hours after death. There, at the service, mourners may dress casually. Black attire is inappropriate and white is preferred.

Flowers may be offered, but bringing food is not part of the Hindu custom.

There is always an open casket and guests are expected to view the body. The Hindu priest and senior family members conduct the ceremony. Guests of other faiths, as well as Hindus are welcome to participate, but not expected to do so. Using a camera or recorder of any kind is not considered polite.

Ten days later, a ceremony is held at the home of the deceased in order to liberate the soul for its ascent into heaven. Visitors are expected to bring fruit.

The mourning period ranges from 10 to 30 days after the death.

Hindu funeral rites may generally be divided into four stages:

> The rituals and rites to be performed when the person is believed to be on the death bed.

> Rites which accompany the disposal of the dead body.

> Rites which enable the soul of the dead to transit successfully from the stage of a ghost (preta) to the realm of the ancestors, the Pitrs.

> Rites performed in honor of the Pitrs.

Most often the body is bathed by purified water, and then dressed in new clothes; if the dead was a male or a widow then white clothes are used, if the dead was a married women or a young unmarried girl, then she is dressed either in red or yellow.

Sacred ash (bhasma) is applied on the forehead of the deceased, especially for the worshippers of Lord Shiva (Saivites), otherwise sandalwood paste is applied on the forehead, if the dead was a worshipper for Lord Vishnu (Vaishnava).

Further, few drops of the holy Ganges water may be put into the mouth of the deceased so that the soul may attain liberation, also few leaves of the holy basil (tulsi) are placed on the right side of the dead body.

The body then may be adorned with jewels, and placed lying on a stretcher, with the head pointing towards the south.

The cremation ground is called Shmashana (in Sanskrit), and traditionally it is located near a river, if not on the river bank itself. There, a pyre is prepared, on which the corpse is laid with its feet facing southwards, so that it can walk in the direction of the dead.

The jewels, if any, are removed. Thereafter, the chief mourner (generally the eldest son) walks around the pyre three times keeping the body to his left. While walking he sprinkles water and sometimes ghee onto the pyre from a vessel. He then sets the pyre alight with a torch of flame. The beginning of the cremation heralds the start of the traditional mourning period, which usually ends on the morning of the 13th day after death.

When the fire consumes the body, which may take a few hours, the mourners return home. During this mourning period the family of the dead are bounded by many rules and regulations of ritual impurity.

Immediately after the cremation the entire family is expected to have a bath. One or two days after the funeral, the chief mourner returns to the cremation ground to collect the mortal remains and put them in an urn. These remains are then immersed in a river.

It is believed that if funeral rites are not performed or performed incorrectly, the spirit of the dead person shall become a ghost (bhuta). It would, therefore, be recommended that the family contact a religious leader of the deceased and / or a funeral home that is familiar with the required rites.

Please note that this information is offered as a guide only.
It is not intended as "legal or medical advice." and is not necessarily the opinion of

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May 31, 2016