In India, the concept of life after death is taken very literally. It is often said that the deeds of one’s life determine their life after death. The idea of death and afterlife evolved during the Aryan civilization and the researchers idealized this custom and culture into Hinduism. Hence, when someone dies the loved ones leave no stone unturned in performing the various rituals of Antima Sanskar, which we will discuss about in this blog.
- Approaching death: Hindus believe that the near to dying person should be taken home where he is close to his loved ones because according to Hindu mythology, prolonging the illness is against the karma. A person should die happily and not stretch life by artificial methods. The person is laid on the floor with his head facing in the east direction and with a lamp lit near his body to spread aroma. The priest chants mantras from the Rig Veda and sings hymns to create a pious environment. If the dying person seems to be unconscious, a family member chants “Aum Namo Narayana” or “Aum Namo Sivaya” in the right ear to calm the soul.
- The moment of death: The dead body is placed on the ground in the hallway with the head facing in the south direction. Placing the body on the floor signifies that the body returns Mother Earth, where it was initially created. The priest chants Vedic hymns and puts a few drops of milk or holy water (River Ganges) into the mouth and applies holy ash or sandalwood paste on the forehead to release the soul from the body. The thumbs and toes are tied together respectively and a white cloth is tied below the chin and over the head of the dead body.
- The (Homa) Fire Ritual: This ritual involves creating a fire place under a shelter or inside the house. The priest performs the rite in the presence of family members whereby they honour nine brass Kumbhas (water pots) and one clay pot. The eldest son perform leads this rite in case of the father’s death and the youngest son preforms in the case of mother’s death. He is regarded as a chief mourner or karta.
- Preparation of the dead body: The body is covered with white cloth and taken to homa fire where the eldest son or the chief mourner encircles around the dead body with a burning wooden stick in hand. The body is then offered rice puffs for better nourishment in his next life.
- Cremation: In Hinduism, only men are allowed to attend the cremation ceremony (funeral). The body is placed on wooden stacks like structure (pyre) and the chief mourner takes three rounds in the anti-clockwise direction. He carries a clay pot filled with water on his shoulder making holes after each round to release water from the pot. This signifies that the soul of the deceased person is leaving into a new world with a whole new life.
- Bone-Gathering Ceremony: After one day from the cremation ceremony, men in the family return to collect the remains of the body. The remains which include ashes and small pieces of bones are collected in a small clay pot covered by a red cloth and water is sprinkled on the ash to settle all the impurities and dead body’s remains into the Earth (the creator). As per the last wish of the dead person, the ashes are carried to the river Ganges or any other holy river or ocean along with flowers.
- First Memorial: This ritual is usually organized on the third, fifth, seventh, ninth or thirteenth day of the death, where relatives and friends come to give condolences and eat deceased person’s favorite foods. A photo is placed in the centre of the hallway where people offer flowers and put garlands and a portion of food is offered too. This ritual varies from family to family. Some people offer pinda (rice balls) for nine days to the priests or others combine it into a one day ceremony.
- One Month Memorial: This rite is performed to purify the home from the spirit of the deceased person. The priest performs the Sapindikarana ceremony in which 3 small pinda (rice balls) are made representing father, grandfather and great-grandfather; this shows that Hindu rituals revolve around the family tree. One large pinda is also made which is then cut into three pieces to join the three small pindas representing the males in the family. This ritual unites the deceaseds’ soul with the ancestors because Hindus believe in reincarnation.
- One Year Memorial: This is also called a Shraddh ceremony where a priest tells a date to the family members to conduct this ceremony. They offer pinda or deceased’s favorite foods to the priests so that it reaches the God as priests have a stronger connection with God. This offering is conducted to keep the soul of ancestors at peace.
Each Hindu family in India performs the rituals mentioned above in order to show their respect for the deceased. The concept of “Rest in Peace” is exercised by performing these rituals in the Hindu society.