The Hindu religion believes that when a person dies, his soul goes into another body. This reincarnation belief provides the base for Hindu funeral rites. While every group has slightly different funeral practices, there’s a general set of funeral rites that all follow in this community.
Introduction to Hindu Funerals
Hindu funeral rituals decree that cremation is the custom, but the deceased body remains in the home of the family until you move it to the cremation place.
A Hindu death ritual comprises of three parts:
- A funeral/wake at the family’s place
- “Mukhagni” or a cremation ceremony
- A “shraddha” ceremony
So, the actual funeral takes place at the deceased’s home, although actual events can be considered a wake according to western standards because of its short span. After that, the body is moved to the cremation place from the home, where the cremation ceremony takes place. Also, there may be a Hindu funeral ceremony called shraddha that usually takes place after 10 days from the death.
Traditions and Rites of Hindu Funerals
Usually, Hindu funerals take place within a single day and sometimes, two days after the death’s time. One should not send flowers or gifts to the Hindu funeral. However, you may send or bring flowers ahead of time.
Hindu death rituals involve chanting of certain mantras, which are written especially to be chanted at funerals. A Hindu priest is an officiant, who presides over all Hindu funeral rites. He leads the family and mourners in various Hindu funeral rituals.
However, it is usually the eldest son who presides at the cremation. Here, the priest oversees every activity. However, different Hindu groups may have different funeral rituals. In the United States, cremation needs to be performed only by a licensed crematory. Many make allowances for the cremation to take place but the Hindu funeral rites may be executed on-site.
Because of the short cremation time, there is no requirement for embalming. After this cremation ceremony, a reception at the family’s place may happen. Sometimes, it is just for the family.
Hindu Funeral Etiquette
- Proper Attire
At Hindu funerals, mourners should not wear anything black. Everyone has to wear white, including the family members and guests. There is no need to cover the head. Women need to dress conservatively with knees and arms covered. They can wear open-toe shoes. When it comes to jewelry, they should not wear anything flashy and keep it light.
- Offering Condolences
After you hear about someone’s death, it is pretty customary to visit the deceased family at their place immediately for offering your sympathy. If it’s not possible to visit there, then make a phone call.
- Participation Expectations
At a Hindu funeral, the deceased body is kept in an open casket. The guests should expect to see the body, offer condolences to the bereaved family, and take a seat quietly. During the ceremony, non-Hindus can sit quietly. However, they can participate in the chanting of mantras taking place thereafter.
Although some people may attend the cremation ceremony, non-Hindus are not allowed to participate in the “mukhagni” ceremony. Traditional rites of Hindu funerals dictate that this ceremony should only be attended by men. However, mourners can check with the funeral director or family for finding out what’s appropriate for that particular funeral.
After the mourning period, it is appropriate to visit the deceased’s family at their place. This period usually lasts for 10 days. At that time, one can bright gifts like fruit. Generally, only people who are particularly invited to the shraddha ceremony will attend.
FAQs Related to Hindu Funerals
- What is a Hindu funeral like?
The traditions and rites of Hindu funerals may vary. Generally, one can expect to listen to mantras being chanted around the deceased’s body at a house funeral.
- How are Hindu people buried?
Traditionally, the Hindu funeral ceremony involves a ritual burning of the deceased body. This ceremony is attended by male family members and a priest. Sometimes, guests also attend this ceremony. During the ceremony, the last food is offered and flowers are arranged around the body.
- What are people expected to do at Hindu funerals?
If a Hindu, they can participate in the chanting of mantras. Otherwise, they may quietly sit throughout the chanting. So, they can view the body when they enter the house and offers some brief words of condolence to the bereaved family.
- What happens during the cremation ceremony of Hindus?
Hindus believe cremation is the fastest way for aiding the soul to escape the body. That’s why cremation is preferred. Cremation rituals may vary in different places. However, they include prayers, rice balls and flowers are arranged around the body, a lamp is kept near the body’s head, food is offered, and water is sprinkled over the body.
Traditionally, Hindus like to have the ashes spread on the Ganges River’s waters in India. Today, many take their ashes to a nearby place to their home.
- What do people wear to Indian funerals?
People should wear white and not black. It is better to dress conservatively.
- When does a Hindu funeral take place after death?
Usually, Hindu families arrange the funeral ceremony within 24 hours after death. After that, the body has to be cremated.
- What does preta-karma mean?
This is an important death ritual, which usually takes place throughout the mourning period. The preta-karma serves to assist the soul of the deceased person moves to the new body in the reincarnation cycle.
- Is there a mourning period in Hindu funerals?
The mourning period lasts for 10 days after the death. During this period, the immediate family follows all Hindu mourning rites. They cannot visit the family shrine and are not allowed to enter any sacred place, such as a temple. That’s because they are considered to be impure spiritually during the mourning period.
After the shraddha ceremony, the family usually returns to work after 1-3 weeks. This depends on personal preferences.