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Hindu Funerals

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Antyesti - Funeral Traditions in Hinduism

Although death is a sad occasion, Hindus believe in reincarnation and see death as a transition bringing the soul closer to nirvana (heaven), so funerals tend to have an atmosphere of hope and joy as well as sadness for the loss of a relative or friend. Funerals are usually conducted by a priest and by the eldest son of the person who has died. Hindus are always cremated, believing that this releases the soul from its earthly existence.

The Venue for the Funeral Ceremony

Outside India, funerals normally take place in a crematorium. Hindus believe that when a body is burned, the fire frees the soul so that it can be reincarnated and the flames represent Brahma, the Hindu god of creation.

A Hindu funeral service that precedes the cremation is unlikely to be contained within a crematorium chapel due to the time constraints and the importance of a procession to pass places of significance to the deceased. Hence, it is better to hold the service in a temple or family home, and then go on for a committal at the crematorium.

Traditional Funeral Practices

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. The corpse is usually bathed and dressed in white, traditional Indian clothes. 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 colours.

The funeral procession may pass places of significance to the deceased, such as a building or street. Prayers are said here and at the entrance to the crematorium.

The body is decorated with sandalwood, flowers and garlands. Scriptures are read from the Vedas or Bhagavad Gita. The chief mourner, usually the eldest son or male, will light some kindling and circle the body, praying for the wellbeing of the departing soul.

Traditional Hindu families may choose to witness the start of the cremation process, and observe the committal of the coffin into the cremation furnace, reflecting the customs and practices in the Indian Subcontinent.

The Cremated Remains

Afterwards, the ashes of the dead person are sprinkled over flowing water. Many people take the ashes to India to put on the waters of the Ganges; others may take them to the sea near to where they live.

After the Funeral Service

After the cremation, the family may have a meal and offer prayers in their home. Mourners wash and change completely before entering the house after the funeral. A priest will visit and purify the house with spices and incense. This is the beginning of the 13-day mourning period when friends will visit and offer their condolences. Often, a garland of dried or fake flowers is placed around a photograph of the deceased to show respect for their memory. On the thirteenth day the samskara ends with Kriya. During this ceremony, rice balls and milk are offered to the dead person to show gratitude for his or her life.

Memorial Services

A memorial service is held 31 days after death, during which a number of rituals are performed.

'Shradh' is practiced one year after the death of the person. This can either be an annual event or a large one-off event. This is the Hindu practice of giving food to the poor in memory of the deceased. A priest will say prayers for the deceased and during this time, usually lasting one month, the family will not buy any new clothes or attend any parties. Sons are responsible for carrying out Shradh.

Hindu Temples in Manchester

231 Withington Road
Whalley Range
M16 8LU

Telephone: 0161 861 7669

(The International Society for Krishna Consciousness)
20 Mayfield Road
Whalley Range
M16 8FT

Telephone: 0161 226 4416

Gandhi Hall
Brunswick Road
M20 4QB

Telephone: 0161 445 1134