Hindu Funeral Service

Hindu Funeral Service: An In-Depth Look at Traditions

Last updated on June 20th, 2024

Table of Contents

Hindu funeral service customs and functions play a significant part in Hinduism. Hindus believe that performing the last rites properly ensures that the soul of the departed achieves moksha or liberation from the cycle of birth and death. This article will explore the critical Hindu funeral Services and traditions in detail.

Many funeral homes in Bangalore offer comprehensive funeral services in Bangalore to guide families through the process with care, respect, and support. Pre-planning funeral services permit people to make significant choices ahead of time and eliminate the burden of friends and family during a troublesome time.

Understanding Rituals and Traditions in Hindu Funeral Service

Preparing the Body 

Once a person has died, the body is washed and dried. Male relatives or priests then close the eyes and mouth and apply sandalwood paste on the body. Unmarried individuals are buried in a simple cotton cloth, while married individuals wear traditional wedding attire. 

The body is then laid on a bed of dried grass or darbha with the head facing north. This symbolic motion shows that the spirit is on its last journey. Flowers, rice and other materials are placed near the body.

Pind-Daan

Pind-Daan refers to offering pinda or balls made from cooked rice and black sesame seeds to the deceased. The pindas are believed to help the soul receive a physical form in the afterlife. Close family members prepare the pindas and offer them while reciting Vedic mantras. Water is also provided. This ensures that the soul is not thirsty or hungry as it embarks on its journey.

Antim Sanskar

Antim Sanskar is the Hindu funeral service where the body is taken for cremation accompanied by family and friends. Male relatives carry the body on a bier to the cremation grounds, with close friends and relatives following. 

The parade moves while family members chant hymns and petitions from strict texts like the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. In preparation, firewood, coconut, and other materials are placed at the cremation site.

Cremation

When the procession reaches the cremation grounds, the chief mourner or a close male relative lights the funeral pyre. As the body burns, the chief mourner or a priest circles the pyre three or seven times in a clockwise direction. 

Once the cremation is complete, the ashes and bones are collected in a container filled with water or Ganga Jal. The remains are then dispersed in a holy river like Ganga.

Shraadh

The mourning family observes impurity for the next ten to thirteen days after the cremation. They avoid social functions and pray for the peace of the departed soul. On the tenth or thirteenth day, the Shraadh ritual is observed to pay homage to the ancestors and offer food and prayers to the deceased. The custom includes caring for brahmins to imply that the departed has been appropriately shipped to the great beyond.

Annual Death Anniversary

The first death anniversary or Shradh of the deceased is considered very important. On this day, close family members gather, pray and perform rituals in remembrance. Food is distributed to people experiencing poverty. Some families also observe the death anniversary every year by lighting lamps near a photograph or idol of the deceased and offering prayers for their soul to attain moksha.

What are some variations in Hindu funeral practices across different regions?

While the core rituals and beliefs regarding Hindu funeral services remain the same across India, there are some regional variations based on local customs and traditions:

  • North India – In states like Uttar Pradesh, the chief mourner circles the pyre seven times instead of three. Rice balls are offered on the 13th day instead of the 10th. Alms are distributed to 13 Brahmins instead of the usual 3. 
  • West India – In Gujarat, the body is decorated with flowers and placed on a wooden platform under a canopy before cremation. Relatives and a priest walk around with lighted lamps. In Maharashtra, the mourning period is longer, ranging from 13 days to 1 year. 
  • East India – In Odisha, ashes are collected in an ‘Arghya’ leaf plate after cremation and immersed in a river instead of a container. In Bengal, a ceremonial thread is tied on the wrist of close kin during cremation. I am mourning my daughter’s fast on specific days instead of general fasting.
  • South India – In Tamil Nadu, a lamp is lit near the photograph daily for a year. In Kerala, elaborate death rituals span days/months and involve lifting a mound of earth and pouring water. In Andhra Pradesh, a ritual feeding of crows is followed on the 13th day.

In general, there are minor regional variations in the number of circumambulations, days of mourning, food offerings, etc., but the underlying principles and belief in an afterlife remain the same across Hindu traditions in India.

Why is the number of circumambulations different in different regions?

The number of circumambulations or clockwise rotations around the funeral pyre during cremation varies across different regions in Hindu traditions due to cultural and symbolic reasons:

  • In North India, like Uttar Pradesh, seven circumambulations are performed, symbolizing the seven days of the week and helping the soul journey through them.
  •  In other parts, three circumambulations are common, representing the three core elements—the soul/atma, the body, and the spiritual goal of moksha. They signified guiding the soul from the physical body to the ultimate reality. 
  • The number may also correspond to regional beliefs about sacred or inauspicious numbers. For example, in some areas, even numbers are considered inauspicious for ceremonies related to death.
  •  In regions where 13 days of mourning are followed after death instead of 10 days, the number of circumambulations is also sometimes 13, connecting it to the ritual occasions during that period. 
  •  Local culture and customs in different eras may have established specific numbers as a tradition over others without fixed religious reasoning.

While the underlying symbolism remains the same, the number varies according to regional cultural beliefs and rituals followed, and it may not have a single fixed religious significance throughout Hinduism.

As seen above, Hindu funeral services and rites are an integral part of Hindu beliefs regarding life after death. Through detailed symbolic rituals and ceremonies, the soul of the deceased is honoured and prepared for its onward journey. According to Hindu philosophy, observing the rites properly gives solace to both the living and the departed. While practices may vary slightly across regions, their underlying significance remains the same.

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