Hindu funeral rites and rituals are also known as antim sanskar. When a person’s relative has passed away, honouring these rituals is an important way of ensuring that the soul of the deceased has a smooth passage outside the human body to another world. The Hindu belief in reincarnation makes one believe that the soul is everlasting; the body is only its temporary abode. Therefore, arrangements need to be made for the transmigration of the soul so that it does not remain on earth. Following these funerary rituals is also a way of paying respect to one’s deceased ancestors.

Hindu funeral rites have been mentioned in the ancient scriptures, especially in the Garuda Purana. From time immemorial, conducting these funeral rites have been an important part of family life and a significant way of showing a commitment to it. There are variations in these rituals according to one’s caste, class and social status.

Cleansing and Preparing the Corpse

Once a Hindu has died, his eyes and mouth are gently closed and his arms are laid straight along his body. His body is cleansed by anointing it with water and sandalwood and then he is dressed in new clothes. Sometimes, basil (tulsi) leaves are placed on his eyes and cotton is stuffed in his nostrils and ears, to prevent any body fluids from seeping out. An oil lamp is lit in the same room where the body is placed and kept burning.

Journey to the Cremation Ground

Among Hindus, cremation is the most common method by which the deceased person’s body is returned to earth. Only members of the lowliest caste and unidentified babies are buried. The body of the deceased is laid in a stretcher decorated with flowers. Earlier, friends and relatives of the deceased would carry his body to the cremation ground (burning ghats) on their shoulders. In the villages too, this practice would be followed or bullock carts would be hired. Nowadays, vehicles are hired for transporting the body to the cremation ground.

Cremation of the Deceased

At the cremation ground, it is the eldest son who usually conducts the funeral. He walks around the funeral pyre thrice, pouring water and ghee on it. Then he lights it with the holy kusha grass. The observers remain till the body is burnt to ashes. The mortal remains are given to the mourners in an urn. These are immersed in the river or carried by the mourners to holy places like Varanasi for immersion.

Mourning Period

The family members of the deceased observe a mourning period for about thirteen days after the cremation. During this period, they abstain from drinking or consuming non-vegetarian food. They eat simple meals at home and usually do not cut their finger nails and hair. Relatives come over to pay their condolences. They often bring fruits or sweets to these family members, so that they may find some comfort. On the eleventh day, a shraddha ceremony is organized to assist the deceased person in his journey towards the heavens. In Hindu culture, funeral rites and rituals are accorded great significance and followed seriously.

Last updated on 25 August 2012