"How I Sent My Father to Heaven"
Proceedings of Hindu Death Ritual
My father (homepage
- tributes) was a very rational man and did not believe in
blind rituals. I myself do not believe in namesake rituals,
and want to do my part to eliminate dark myths and
idolatry from Hinduism.
by Vikas Kamat
First Online: March 18, 2002
Page Last Updated: April 04, 2014
Father's sudden death (he died of cardiac arrest at home)
left me and my mother in deep shock. While the relatives
wanted to arrange a big funeral preserving and parading the body,
both my mother and I agreed that immediate disposal of father's body was
both hygienic and apt for a man who lived such simple and austere life.
So there was no visitation, no cold-storing of the corpse, or other
fanfare. A simple and quiet cremation was arranged..
My mother went ahead and even
donated my father's eyes, although he himself had no opportunity to do so.
Some of the raw materials used in
the rituals were hay (dharba), sesame-seads (teela), rice, and flowers.
On the ninth day (nine days symbolizing the nine months of gestation
before human birth), I tonsured my head in sacrifice, and began my duty
(known as kriya) to
send father's soul to heaven. I bathed in a waterfall, and performed the
worship of the sun facing to the East.
I asked that his spirit be liberated from all earthly bonding.
I re-enacted the cremation by burning father's bones, a grass replica of
his body, and flowers & rice symbolizing his material acquisitions. I
asked that his spirit be liberated from all earthly bonding.
It is believed in Hinduism that the departed soul travels through the
pretaloka (the world of ghosts and spirits) to the pitraloka (the heaven or the
world of ancestors), and I initiated many rituals to aid the journey. The Gods were
invited and offerings were made.
Specially prepared rice balls called pindas were fed to the crows,
cows, and the river.
The rituals continued on tenth and eleventh day of the death.
There is a belief that unfulfilled desires of
the dead prevent the soul from liberating
There is a belief that
unfulfilled desires of the dead prevent the soul from liberating. This is indicated by the
refusal of the crow to eat the pinda. I invited the crow to eat the pindas, saying that
my fathers' favorite birds. The crows came near the food, but did not bite. The gathered relatives
asked me if I knew of any of unfulfilled wishes of father. I promised publicly that I'd continue to
run his website, and that I'd preserve his cameras and
letters. As if they understood, lot more crows
approached, but none would bite yet.
The crowd exclaimed that there must be something else, and I promised to
my father that I'd take good care of mother. Again, as if they heard my thoughts, the crows ate away the rice balls.
My non-believing heart had melted and I once again saluted my father's dedication to my mother.
I asked that henceforth the half the fruits of my charity (or divine credits) and good work be credited to my parents.
On the twelfth day, I invited the spirits of the ancestors (my grand father, great grand father, and great great grand father)
into new pindas, and asked them to receive the spirit of my father, which I had initiated into a
separate rice ball. Then I broke the ball that represented father, and merged it into the ancestors. This process, known as
the end of father's journey.
The obliging crows reported that father indeed reached the heavens!
In gratitude, I honored the brahmins by giving them gifts, and fed the relatives. This is known as
Samaradhana or celebration and marked the end of mourning.
The gathered relatives sang father's laurels, read his
letters, and we thanked the Lord for letting
us come in contact with a such a wonderful human being.
Throughout the process, I remembered one thing my mother told me
"Shraddha, the word for last rites in Hinduism is derived from
means religious duty or devotion. So it doesn't matter if you don't do the
rituals. But whatever you do, do it with shruddha".
- FAQ on Hindu Funerals
The Brahmins -- Potpourri of topics on the various brahmin communities of India; includes a number of pictures and a comprehensive list of priestly communities.