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FAQ on Hindu Funerals

by Vikas Kamat
First Online:  March 13, 2002
Page Last Updated: April 04, 2014


Warning: While compiling this FAQ, I have sought the help of learned scholars of Hinduism, and I have tried to make sense of some of the customs. Although ordained, I am not a priest. Further, I am a non-believer in Hindu rituals, so follow these at your own risk. 

Hindus bury or cremate? Durable Link to Item
Burials are mentioned in the Rigveda, but we see that at the end of the Vedic period, only cremation is in practice.

Some communities bury their dead. Further, infants are buried instead of being cremated.

Why don't the Hindus erect tombs? Durable Link to Item
Perhaps the idea is to leave the earth just as one arrives  on it (hence the body is cremated in nude), and to have no attachments upon one's departure.

However, tombs are erected for the saints who are said to acquire divinity during their lifetime. Their funeral is conducted even when they are alive (symbolic of their attaining heaven), and upon their death, a Samadhi (or a tomb) is erected.

Aren't the hero-stones tombs? Isn't Rajghat a tomb? Durable Link to Item
Hero-stones (a.k.a. Veeragals) are not tombs. They are memorials.
Rajghat is Gandhi's memorial. There are no body parts buried under the memorials.

That said, there are indeed some cults (like Veerashaivas) and tribes that bury their dead, but they do not erect a tomb.

See: Hero-stones of India -- The Mahasati and other hero-stones provide time-capsules of ancient India.

Do they really use cow dung and cow urine during the funeral rites? Durable Link to Item
Yes. Like everything else in Hinduism, its use is only symbolic (to sanitize).

You might use soap for the same purpose.

Is it really important to follow these rituals? Durable Link to Item
It is really up to you. The word for Hindu funeral Shräddha is derived from the Sanskrit word Shruddhä, which means religious duty or devotion. It is said that as long as one performs the last rites with a deep sense of dedication, the rituals themselves become unimportant.

Is it true that Hinduism prohibits mutilation of the corpse? Durable Link to Item
Upon my father's sudden death, my mother donated his eyes (it is allowed by Indian law), which were immediately grafted on to two different blind persons. While this decision resulted deformation of the corpse, I have no doubt that my father's journey to heaven was only hastened by this noble gesture.

There are some cults in India that feed the corpse to the vultures. The idea that one can be useful even in death is a great concept, although it might be painful for the family members to see the body torn apart into pieces.

My Hindu relative/friend passed away. I'm not a Hindu. How do I express support without offending? Durable Link to Item
Support in any form (usually messages, letters, or visitations) are recommended. You can offer help with food, and errands.

Some things to say:

  • "It was a great privilege/honor to have known him/her. May her soul rest in peace"
  • "We will greatly miss him/her. I hereby offer my sympathies and support at a time of your loss"
  • "I offer my condolences. This is my personal loss as well"
  • "Please find peace that the he/she is no longer in pain and his/her soul is free."
  • "Death is one true thing. We all have to go one day"

Avoid:

  • Since customs and beliefs vary from person to person, it is best not to talk about rebirths, and heavens.
  • Unless it is death by accident, avoid use of the word "unfortunate". Not everyone considers death as unfortunate.

 


 

External Links:

 

 

Death According  to Hinduism
Death in Hinduism

Pictures
Man Slicing his Throat with a DaggerHindu Death RitesThe Last Rites for a Dead ManGifting of the BrahminsFeeding of the River
Tonsuring of the HeadThe Feeding of the RiverThe Pinda (Rice Ball) OfferingsSymbolic Re-burning of the DeadFuneral Rituals at a Waterfall
Self Immolation depicted in a Stone SculptureAntyeshti ProceedingsHindu Death Anniversary RitesJourney of the Dead to HeavenMan Weaving a Platform from Bamboo Strips
Yama with a Noose

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