Hindu Death Rituals Alysha Laughter Cassidy Marshall Hinduism Facts • Hinduism is the world's third-largest religion, after Christianity and Islam. • Today there are about 650 million Hindus worldwide. • The majority of Hindus live in India, where the religion was born. • One in every seven people in the world is a Hindu living in India. Hindu Attitudes toward Death • The Hindus view death as a detachment from suffering and a new attachment to God. • They know that suffering is a natural part of life and death, but they endure it bravely. • Hindus believe that the deceased are reborn depending on their karma. Death Rituals • As Death Approaches – Hindus traditionally die at home among their loved ones. – It is considered better than dying in a hospital. – The dying person is placed in his room with his head facing the eastern direction, with a lamp near his or her head. – Their loved ones chant hymns and prayers until the person departs. Death Rituals, continued • At Death – Sandal paste or holy ash is applied to the forehead and few drops of milk, or water of the river Ganges are dribbled into his mouth. – The body is now positioned for the head to face the south. – The top of the head, and the area under the chin, are tied with a cloth. – A Hindu priest is called for the death ceremony, also known as a homa. • Family members will pray around the body as soon as possible after death. People will try to avoid touching the corpse as it is considered polluting. Chief Mourners • What is a chief mourner? – The person who leads the fire ritual. – The eldest son in the case of a dying father. – The youngest son in the case of a dying mother. Preparing the Body • The chief mourner is then made to perform some rituals, like arati (a ritual in which light from wicks soaked in purified butter or camphor, is offered to the gods), and passes the oil lamp over the body, while offering flowers. • The relatives then carry the body back to the porch and cover it with a white cloth. The body is bathed with the water from the nine kumbhas and placed in a coffin. – Women walk around the body offering puffed rice into the mouth, which is to nourish the soul in the journey ahead. Cremation • Only men go to the crematorium. • The body is removed from the coffin and is carried around the pyre thrice in the counterclockwise direction. • The chief mourner, with the clay pot on his shoulders, circles the pyre; while, a relative knocks holes in the pot at each round, to let the water pass. This signifies that the soul is leaving the body. • After taking the three turns, the mourner lights the pyre without turning to face the body. Bone-gathering ceremony • The family returns to the cremation ground after 12 hours to collect the remains (ash and bones) of the body. • First, water is sprinkled over the ash and then the ash is collected in a vessel. Later, the ash is offered in the holy river, Ganges. Post Cremation: Ritual Impurity • After the cremation ceremony, every member of the family takes a bath and cleans the house. • During these days of ritual impurity, family and close relatives do not visit each others' houses. • They do not attend any marriages, they do not celebrate festivals, nor do they visit temples or priests for a year. Traditions • If a wife dies before her husband she is dressed in red bridal clothes. • If a woman is a widow she will be dressed in white or pale colors. Other Rituals • When a person dies, the body is given a final bath, carried on a wooden stretcher by his kin and cremated on the community cremation grounds generally by the eldest son, the chief mourner. Where do they believe they go after death? • Souls are immortal and imperishable. • Where the person goes after death depends on karma. • Hindus believe that after death, their souls travel to either a lower, middle, or higher world. – Lower world- souls that were “evil-doers,” and is painful to endure. – Middle world- souls that were considered “average” – Higher world- for righteous souls, and it is very pleasurable. • Death is a sad occasion, but Hindu priests emphasize the route ahead for the departed soul and a funeral is as much a celebration as a remembrance service. Nirvana= heaven How Families Cope • On the 3rd, 5th, 7th or 9th day, relatives gather for a meal of the deceased's favorite foods. A portion is offered before his photo and later ceremonially left at an abandoned place. • On the 31st day, a memorial service is held. • A Hindu priest conducts a formal ceremony at the yearly anniversary of the person’s death.
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