Hindu Death Rituals

Hindu religion is a belief in one God known as Brahman which can take many forms. This means there are thousands of gods and goddesses which they worship. When a person has a terminal illness, they tell their family and friends so that they can prepare for their loved one’s death.

A Hindu death is the fulfillment of this life and the chance for a better reincarnation. Hindus don’t believe that life should be prolonged by aggressive medical means unless it will lead to being able to benefit from a good quality of life. If the person died in hospital, the death certificate is signed immediately and the body taken home. The body is never embalmed.

HinduSurrounded by Family at Home

Ideally, a Hindu dies at home surrounded by their dearly beloved. They all stand around and say prayers, sing sacred hymns or chant in the right ear of the dying.  A lamp is lit near the head. As death approaches, the bed is then turned so that the head faces east.

There are variations, but Hindu death rituals are pretty standard. Certain rites are mostly performed by a priest but they can also be performed by the family in the absence of the priest. Next of kin keep vigil until death comes.
Holy ash is put onto the forehead of the dying. Drops of holy or sacred water are dropped into the mouth. Once death comes, the body is laid in the home’s entrance, but now the head is facing south. The lamp is kept lit near the head and incense is also burned. A cloth is tied under the chin and over the top of the head. The toes and thumbs are tied together.

Preparation for the Journey Ahead

The chief mourner, usually the eldest son, performs arati, passing an oil lamp over the remains, then offering flowers. Family members carry the body to the back porch where they remove the clothes and drape the body with a white cloth.

The body is bathed and the women present will put puffed rice into the mouth of the deceased so that they can be nourished for the journey ahead. If the family are unable to bring the body home, the family prepares the body at the mortuary, not leaving it to strangers to do.

At the cremation site, led by the chief mourner, the body is placed on the pyre and it is the chief mourner who gets the cremation fires started.

A Hindu family does not Lament for Long

When everyone returns home, they all bathe and then take part in cleaning the home. A water pot and lamp are set where the body lay. The shrine room is closed. The next days of ritual impurity are important for the family – the close family withdraw from all regular activities such as attending temples and festivals. There are some Hindus who observe this period for as long as one entire year, however scriptures are against excessive lamentation, rather encouraging a celebratory stance.

During the next few days, relatives gather to eat a meal made up of the deceased’s favorite foods, and some of this food is offered and placed in front of a photo.  Customs for this period are varied, but on the 31st day after death, a memorial service is held. At the anniversary of the death, a priest conducts the rites known as shraddha.

Preparing to be Rewarded

Hindu funeral rites differ and while they can be simple, others are complex. They all have one common aspect – to prepare the Hindu soul for the journey from earth and into the afterlife where they will be rewarded with a place of peace and fulfillment.

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