Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Nish Dhruba Explains Hindu Funeral Rituals

           As death approaches Hindu’s prepare for the inevitable and when that day comes the beginning of ancient, detailed rituals begin to prepare the body for cremation. This is where I come in. As a priest and pandit I perform the initial fire ceremony and assist the family during the rest of the ceremony. After the family completes the preliminary body preparation immediately after death I will be called to perform a fire ritual called “homa” during which I will bless 9 brass water pots and one clay pot to celebrate the persons fortunate events and in hopes they attain moksha. From here the chief mourner (usually the eldest son) will lead the rites for final preparation and cleansing of the body, I only offer guidance.

             Preparation starts by passing an oil lamp over the body then passing flowers the same way. Afterwards, the corresponding gender will carry the body to the back of their house remove their clothes, and cover the deceased with a white garment. Each member anoints the body with sesame oil and it is bathed from the blessed pots and carried to the homa shelter to prepare for cremation.

The cremation ceremony starts by carrying the deceased three times, counterclockwise, around a pyre then placed on top of it, at this time the men offer rice, cover the body in wood, incense, and clarified butter. Then the chief mourner walks around the pyre with a fire pot in his hand preparing to start the cremation, with each circle another family member knocks a hole in the clay pot releasing the water representing how the soul is leaving the body. After completing the third lap the chief mourner starts the fire without looking at the body than exits the homa shelter without looking back.
A few hours after the cremation the ashes are collected ant taken to a river, preferably the Ganges at which time the family and loved ones gather to release the ashes into the river with offerings of flowers. The Ganges is the most holy river in Hinduism and maybe the most holy place anywhere.
Thirty-one days after the cremation I will return to the home to purify it and perform sapindikarana a ritual that represents reunion. During the sapindikaranaI ritual I will make pinda’s (balls of rice) to represent the deceased and their ancestors, then by mixing pieces of the separate pindas together the reunion is represented. The pinda’s are then offered to nature by means of being fed to birds, cows or fish. This ritual to reunite the recently deceased with their ancestors will be repeated one year after the death and sometimes every year as long as the sons of the deceased are alive.

Death for Hindus is not a bad thing. Yes, we mourn the loss of our loved ones and tragic death is always tragic, but death produces new life or release from samsara and suffering. If moksha is not achieved than our loved ones will be reborn so death is not permanent and is to be celebrated. Just as we rejoice at life we should also rejoice at death.       

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