Hindu Funeral Customs - dummies

By Amrutur V. Srinivasan

Most Hindus choose to dispose of a person’s body through cremation — usually within a day of the death. In Hinduism, death applies only to the physical body; there is no death of the soul.

Hindus don’t believe in the resurrection of the material body. They believe that upon death, the soul, which truly represented the person, has departed or detached. The body has no significance and, therefore, no attempt is made to preserve it.

While some Hindus do bury their dead, the most common practice is to cremate the body, collect the ashes, and on the fourth day, disperse the ashes in a sacred body of water or other place of importance to the deceased person.

To Hindus, the Ganges (or Ganga, in Hindi) is the most sacred river.

Hindu funeral rites will vary among families and locations, but here are some common customs:

  • Mourners at a Hindu funeral wear simple, white, casual clothes. Dress down, not up.

  • A priest or oldest son (or other male) of the family preside at the service.

  • You’ll hear prayers and hymns

  • You’ll see lots of flowers on the body. You can also send flowers to the family or funeral home before the service — don’t bring the flowers with you to the funeral. Sending food is inappropriate.

  • The casket will be open, and all mourners are expected to quietly view it.

Many families celebrate the departed life on the twelfth or thirteenth day after the funeral. A feast marks appreciation for the life of the deceased and the day when the soul completes its travels through a ghost world and reaches the land of the ancestors.

According to Hindu scripture (called the Bhagavad Gita), the soul is a spirit that a sword cannot pierce, the fire cannot burn, the water cannot melt, and the air cannot dry. The soul is free, unbounded, holy, pure, and perfect. The Hindu’s goal is to avoid rebirth (reincarnation) so that the individual soul merges with the Supreme Soul and achieves moksha (liberation).