Hindu Funeral Traditions

Jun 7, 2010 | 3 comments

Devotional MandalaThis post highlights general funeral practices of Hindus. The actual practices of individual families and congregations may vary.

There are approximately one million Hindus in the United States. Hinduism, the majority religion in India, teaches that although the physical body dies, the individual soul has no beginning and no end. After death, a person’s soul is reincarnated into another life form. Karma, or the consequences of one’s actions, dictates the condition of the deceased’s reincarnation.

The body is usually viewed and cremated within twenty-four hours. If the body is cremated within this time frame, embalming is unnecessary. Flowers may be sent to the home to be laid at the feet of the deceased. Donations are not customary, and it is not appropriate to send food. Guests may attend the cremation/funeral ceremony, called mukhagni. Men and women should wear white casual clothing to the funeral.

The funeral ceremony takes place at the cremation site. A Hindu priest will lead the ceremony using special books that contain mantras for funeral services, or a senior member of the family may conduct the ceremony. There is usually no program, although the priest may occasionally explain the ceremony to guests who are not Hindus. Portions of the ceremony may be spoken in Sanskrit, the ancestral language of India, as well as the local vernacular. Guests are expected to reverentially view the body but not touch it. A last food offering is made to the deceased and then the body is cremated.

A shraddha ceremony is held at home ten days after the death for members of the Brahmin caste and thirty days after the death for members of other castes. This ritual meal is intended to liberate the soul of the deceased from wandering, and brings the family’s period of mourning and ritual impurity to a close. It is appropriate to visit the bereaved before the shraddha ceremony and attend the service. Visitors are expected to bring fruit.

Mourners dress, eat, and behave austerely during the ten to thirty days after the death and before the shraddha ceremony. A mourner may return to a normal work and social schedule after this ceremony. There are rituals for observing the anniversary of the death, which are performed by a priest in a temple.

Do’s and Don’ts: Arrive at the place of cremation and sit where you wish. If there is a guest book, sign it. Guests are expected to reverentially view the body but not touch it. It is not appropriate to take pictures or record the service (both audio and video). Guests of other faiths are welcome to participate in any aspect of the service if these do not compromise or violate their own religious beliefs.

This information is included in A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die by Gail Rubin, author of The Family Plot Blog. The book, which includes funeral traditions for many major faiths, is available in print and ebook formats at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and at AGoodGoodbye.com.

You can find other information on this religion’s history, beliefs, and funeral practices in this excellent resource: The Perfect Stranger’s Guide to Funerals and Grieving Practices: A Guide to Etiquette in Other People’s Religious Ceremonies (SkyLight Paths Publishing, Woodstock, VT), or visit Funeralwise.com.

Interested in Hindu post-death religious rituals and ash scattering in the River Ganges in India? HinduPratha.com can help. They also facilitate ash scattering in the Himalayas for all faiths. For more information CLICK HERE.

Please post a comment to let me know if you find this information helpful, or if there are specific details you were looking for that this post did not address.

A Good Goodbye