Hindu funeral customs for commemoration of death and dying are held in a fairly uniform format determined by the Veda, the most ancient Hindu scriptures, written in early Sanskrit. The rituals, however, vary by the area, tradition, and other factors. Most rites are carried out by the family with some rites performed by a priest.
Hinduism kind of unique in that there is no founder. It teaches that God is within each being and object in the universe and also transcends every object. It believes the essence of each soul is divine; and that the purpose of life is to become aware of that divine essence
Hindu Funeral Customs
The Hindu believe that when a person dies the soul which represents the person departs, and death only occurs to the body. Therefore, most families will select cremation soon after death. In countries where Hinduism is practiced, a funeral pyre is constructed and the body is incinerated outdoors. In the United States, bodies are cremated in a crematorium. Some Hindus, as a show of respect on how the body is treated will prefer to witness the body when it is placed in the retort for cremation. This request can often be accommodated by most funeral homes.
Hindu Viewing Customs
At the funeral, the body is displayed in an open casket, and may be adorned with flowers and sandalwood. A Hindu priest, or Brahmin, receites scriptures in Sanskrit or Hindi, or in the local dialect of the deceased. Funerals and cremations in India often happen in the same location, whereas in the United States, this is this is usually not possible. Some Hindus, as a show of respect on how the body is treated will prefer to witness the body when it is placed in the retort (cremation device) for cremation. This request can often be accommodated by most funeral homes. A Hindu funeral is open to family and friends of the deceased, but the cremation is a private rite of passage just for close family.
After the cremation, the family retains the ashes that are later spread in a sacred body of water, the Ganges River if in India, or other body of water. The ashes may also be spread in a place the deceased person may have thought important. If you go to a Hindu funeral, you should see simple white causal clothes, hear prayers and hymns, and see lots of flowers. Whatever things that were brought from the home should be left behind or discarded and are not to be taken back home. We have noticed this when we are doing burials at sea, all the flowers that go our with the family are placed in the water – nothing is brought back.
There is often a celebration for the departed in twelve or thirteen days to show appreciation, and welcome the completion of travel to the land of the ancestors. Each year, on the anniversary of the person’s passing shraddha rites may be performed in the home. This is observed for a specified amount of time or, in some cultures, is a continual observance as long as the sons of the deceased are still living. As well, we have noticed that some of our family like to visit the scattering location on the anniversary of the scattering.
If you are interested in the history of Hindu funeral rites, and the variations in the ceremonies; there is an excellent article in a site called The Final Journey. Here is an excerpt from their introduction.
Hindu rituals for the dead, whether of the most ancient period or of later times serve five purposes: disposal of the body, consolation of those grieving, assistance to the departing soul to reach pitr-loka, sustenance to those pitrs who have reached that destination, and a call by the living for help at special times from the pitrs.
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