With over a billion followers worldwide, chances are you know someone who practises Hinduism. So, being in the know when it comes to their funeral and mourning rituals might, one day, ring relevant.
Hindu beliefs about death
Reincarnation is at the centre of Hindu faith; the belief that when a person dies, their soul remains and instead is reborn in a different form after it leaves the deceased’s body (for example, as an animal or a plant). The soul is perceived as the most important part of the person and so, according to Hinduism, the body actually serves no purpose at all after a person has passed.
Cremation is therefore the go-to for Hindu people, because they believe that it’s the quickest way to release the soul from the person’s body and aids in reincarnation (as the soul is allowed to escape and find its new home in a new living being). This usually occurs within 24 hours after a person has passed away, and friends of the bereaved are encouraged to visit the home to offer their sympathy.
Preparing the body for burial
Hindu people carry out a range of rituals while preparing a body for burial. These generally include chants and mantras that are either led or heard by a Hindu priest. If a priest is not present, though, the eldest son of the bereaved will lead these chants. Then, family and friends of the deceased will gather to carry out a range of other rituals, including:
- Washing the body. This is done using ghee, honey, yoghurt, and milk.
- Essential oils are placed on the head of the deceased (sandalwood is usually used for men, while turmeric is used for women).
- Dressing the body in formal clothes, and tying the big toes together. The tying of the toes is done under the guise that the right and left energies of the body unite and are able to be pushed through the top of the body instead of remaining in the lower half of the body.
- A lamp is also placed near the head of the body.
What can I expect to experience at a Hindu funeral?
As is the case with many other cultures and religions, a Hindu funeral usually lasts for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Throughout this time, you can expect to see the casket enter the crematorium, with the body’s feet first. Guests are then able to view the body respectfully, and without touching the deceased.
After all those who have chosen to view the body have done so, a priest and all senior family members conduct the cremation. This ceremony is called a ‘Mukhagni’, and while traditional Mukhagni ceremonies were male-only events, most modern Hindu funerals now allow women to attend the ceremony, too.
Once a deceased body has been cremated, the ashes are scattered over a sacred body of water or, alternatively, scattered in a place of importance to the deceased. This usually occurs the day after the funeral.
What should I wear to a Hindu funeral?
To keep things simple? White is worn to a Hindu funeral (and yep, that’s the opposite of many other funeral traditions where black is deemed most appropriate).
What happens after a Hindu funeral?
The Hindu mourning period lasts between 10 to 30 days. While it isn’t encouraged to bring food to the family of the deceased during this time, it is encouraged that friends visit the home of the bereaved to offer their sympathy. Then, on the 13th day of mourning, a ceremony called a ‘preta-karma’ is held where rituals are performed to release the soul of the deceased so it can be reincarnated.
The final stage of the Hindu mourning process occurs on the first anniversary of the person’s death. A memorial is held in honour of the life and soul that has passed on; a truly beautiful way to say a final goodbye.