Hindu Funerals

Hindu Funerals
Dr. Jayant Bapat
Hindu Priest
Adjunct Research Fellow, Monash Asia
Hindu Cosmology
1. For Hindus, the physical universe consists of:
– the Earth
– Vasu Loka (space of the godlings, the Vasus.
– Rudra Loka (space for the godlings Rudras).
– Aditya Loka (space for Aditya, the Sun god.
– Swarga Loka (Heaven).
2. The ultimate reality is the Brahman-the principle
that governs the universe and that resides in the
Swarga Loka.
Goal of Human Life
• The ultimate goal of human life is to achieve
freedom from re-birth (Moksha) This can be
achieved in many different ways even within
– Total selfless devotion to god (Bhakti)
– Total asceticism: renouncing the society
– Follow the path of knowledge
– Follow the path of being a righteous member of
the society and do the right thing by all.
The Karma Theory
• Any action by an individual is called Karma.
• Karma can be good or bad.
• One has to extinguish all the Karma before
Moksha can be achieved.
• Thus, Moksha is a very difficult thing to
achieve. One has to go through thousands of
cycles of birth and deaths to extinguish all the
• These cycles are called Reincarnation
Hindu Funerary Rites-1
• From birth, humans go through 16 rites of
• Main ones are: birth, naming, threading
ceremony, wedding and death.
• Since death is the last rite, it is the most
important one.
• Hindus generally cremate the body. Two
exceptions are: child under one year of age
and an ascetic who has taken ochre robes.
These two are buried.
Hindu Funerary Rites-2
• In India, cremation happens on an open
wooden pyre.
• The eldest son torches the pyre and then
perfoms the ritual with the help of a priest.
This takes about one hour.
• The ashes are spread into any source of water:
river, lake or the sea.
• Generally women do not attend funerals.
Hindu Funerary Rites
Myth and Symbolism-1
• Human body consists of two things: the
physical body and the soul (Atman)
• Body is subject to nature’s ravages and is
• Offering of the body to gods via fire is the
ultimate human sacrifice.
• Soul is part of the Brahman, it is forever and is
• Upon leaving one body, the soul is set free and
enters a new one. This is Reincarnation.
Myth and Symbolism-2
• The soul hovers around on the earth for 13 days.
After this, it starts its journey through the 3 Lokas.
• The time spent on each of these Lokas depends on
the accumulated Karma and may involve taking
thousands of rebirths before Moksha.
• On the 14th day, Ganesha, the auspicious god is
worshipped and the home is sprinkled with
consecrated water. All impurities are now thought to
be gone.
Hindu Funerary Rites in Australia
• Open cremation out of question
• Coffin necessary, therefore offering the body
to the fire is done only symbolically.
• Because of the number of non-Hindus
present, service element comes in.
• Most Hindus like cremation asap after death.
• Most Hindus like to see the actual cremation.
Procedure I follow before funeral
• I talk to the close relatives, especially old ones, beforehand. I
get all their details and their preferences.
• I ask them to ask the funeral director’s people to ring me for
my availability before they fix a date and time.
• I ask them to:
– Bring any music the person liked or a arrange a possible
– A picture portfolio
– Any clothes that he/she should be draped in
– Think about speakers and their order
– A possible MC
– Provide adequate flowers
Procedure at the Funeral-1
• Guests are asked to enter and be seated. Close
relations sit in the front row.
• The Coffin is brought in, the guests stand up.
The coffin placed with the head of the
diseased to the South-the direction of Yama,
the god of death. It is then opened.
• I introduce myself and start with a devotional
song (bhajan). People are asked to join in.
Procedure at the Funeral-2
• I make a five minutes speech on the concept of
death according to Hinduism.
• I chant six verses of the second chapter of the
Bhagvat-Geeta, the song divine, and explain what
they mean. This chapter describes the destructibility
of the physical body and the permanence of the soul.
I explain the concept of reincarnation.
• I then ask people to speak about the diseased, how
he/she has enriched their lives and how they will
remember him/her.
Procedure at the Funeral-3
• At the end of speeches, the close family circle the
coffin four times, each time repeating the
Mrutyunjaya mantra and placing flowers on the
• I allow the close family to stay with the coffin for a
few minutes.
• I then ask the son/daughter to do the last rites.
• Depending on the available time, I then ask the
gathered guests to offer flowers
• Finally I chant two hymns addressed to the departed
before the coffin is sealed.