FAQ on Hindu Funerals
by Vikas Kamat
First Online: March 13, 2002
Page Last Updated: February 20, 2013
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?|| |
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
|Why don't the Hindus erect tombs?|| |
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?|| |
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.
|Is it really important to follow these rituals?|| |
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?|| |
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?|| |
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"
- 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.