funeral rites
   Indian anyeshti (funeral rites or final sacraments) are formally outlined in the Dharmashastra law books and other texts, including a special sec-tion of Garuda Purana. Actual practice, however, frequently diverges from the textual tradition.
   There are rituals to be performed before death, those that relate to the disposition of the body, those that take place after death to prevent the soul from taking on the form of a ghost, and those done later when the person is honored as an ancestor. A person will almost always be cre-mated at death, unless he or she is an infant or a mendicant, in which case the body is most often buried. Part of the postdeath ritual involves placing the body on a bier, in either a sitting or a lying position, to be carried to the cremation ground by relatives or taken in a bullock cart or other conveyance.
   At least part of this trip will be accompanied by ritual singing. The body is then lain on the funeral wood, always facing southward, as the south is the direction of death. The eldest son is the lay officiant at the cremation. After cir-cumambulating the body, he pours oblations of water on it, cracks the skull to release the soul, and lights the funeral pyre. The funeral party will most often wait until the body is almost com-pletely consumed.
   Once the cremation is complete the funeral party returns home to do expiations, using man-tras and other rituals, in order to ward off “death pollution” or the effects of being in proximity to a corpse. BRAHMINS in particular observe a period of 10 days when no one in the family is allowed to leave the house after a death. After a day or two the eldest son will return to the burning grounds to retrieve the ashes and bones. The ashes are usually put into an urn and either buried or poured into a sacred river such as the Ganges or Cauvery, thus guaranteeing liberation or heaven for the deceased. Often an 11-day ritual is performed to provide a spiritual body for the deceased, in order to prevent the deceased from becoming a ghost and wandering homeless for eternity. Later, the shraddha or ancestor rites are performed yearly to sustain the person in the other world.
   Brahminical mendicants or SADHUS are buried in a special rite. The body is placed in a deep hole in yogic, sitting position. It is then covered in salt from bottom to chin, and the whole is covered with earth. Saints in India are usually buried in tombs. Often the tomb’s covering protrudes above ground so that the constituted SAMADHI or grave site becomes a place of holy pilgrimage.
   Further reading: Gian Giuseppe Filippi, Mrtyu: Con-cept of Death in Indian Traditions: Transformation of the Body and Funeral Rites. Translated by Antonio Rigopoulos. Reconstructing Indian History and Cul-ture, 11. New Delhi, D. K. Printworld, 1996; R Beena Ghimire Poudyal and Binod Ghimire, Hindu Death Rites: Antyeshti Samskar (Kathmandu: Barsha Ghimire, 1998; New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 1996); Ramashray Roy, Samaskaras in Indian Tradition and Culture (Delhi: Shipra, 2003).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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