Hindu Funeral




The last sacrament in the life of a Hindu is the Antyesti or
the Funeral with which he closes the concluding chapter of his
worldly career. While living, a Hindu consecrates his worldly
life by performing various rites and ceremonies at the different
stages of his progress. At his departure from this world, his
survivors consecrate his death for his future felicity in the
next world. This Samskara, being post-mortem, is not less
important, because for a Hindu the value of the next world is
higher than that of the present one. The Baudhayana
Pitrmedha-Sutras say, ‘It is well-known that through the
Samskaras after the birth one conquers this earth; through the
Samskaras after the death the heaven”. Therefore the
ritualists are very anxious to have the funerals performed with
meticulous care.

  1. The Conception of the Soul after death

According to the primitive belief, death did not cause the
entire annihilation of man. The usual theory of the process of
death was the separation of the soul from the body. The soul may
separate from the body before death as in dreams. Sickness was
frequently held to be such a separation. The distinction between
such a separation and that of death was that the latter was
final. Thus, the deceased, though disembodied, was supposed to be
still living.

  1. The mixed feelings of Dread and Love

The survivors cherished mixed sentiment towards the dead.
First, there was the sentiment of dread. It was believed that the
deceased had still some kind of interest in his family property
and relations, whom he would not like to quit and, therefore, was
lingering about the house. It was also supposed that because he
was alienated from the survivors by death, he might cause injury
to the family. So attempts were made to avoid his presence and
contact. Formal farewell address was given to him. He was asked
to depart and even actual barriers were put between the living
and the dead. Besides, he was provided with food and other
articles necessary for a traveller, so that he should resume his
journey to the next world. The next sentiment was of affection
and love towards the deceased. The natural blood-relation still
existed between the dead and his relations. The survivors were
solicitous about the future welfare of the departed. They thought
that it was their duty to help the dead in reaching his
destination after death. The corpse was disposed of by means of
fire, so that the dead, being purified, may be allwed to enter
the holy place of the Fathers. Articles necessary in the journey
were supplied to him, so that he may not suffer from want. As the
next world was believed to be a replica of this world, every
thing necessary for starting a new life was presented to him. For
examble, the Anustarani or old cow or a goat was sent with him to
serve as a guide in the way; daily food was offered; in later
times, and even now the Vaitarani or a cow is given to help the
dead in crossing the river lying in the way to Yama. Formerly
these things were consumed in fire with the dead. Now they are
presented to the Brahmans, who are supposed to send them to the
realm of the dead through some mysterious agency.

  1. Physical Needs

In addition to the above sentiments, there was the physical
need of disposing of the dead body and the subsequent performance
of ceremonies and observances. The decomposition of the corpse
made it impossible for the relatives to keep it in the house for
a long time. So, like other refuses, it was also removed, though
with reverence and care denied to them. Moreover disease and
death of the dead caused pollution and contagion in the family.
In order to remove them many observances and taboos arose.

The main objects of the proper disposal of the corpse and the
performance of all the rites and ceremonies connected with it are
to free the survivors from the pollution of deah and to give rest
to the dead. Until these rites and ceremonies are duly performed,
the soul of the man is not finaly dismissed to its place in the
next world; it does not find place in the company of the fathers,
it is not elevated to its due position in the cult of ancestral
worship and it continues to be Preta, haunting its relatives
unpleasantly. This belief was current in all the ancient peoples
and is universal in the lower culture even at present. The
funeral ceremonies were as significant among the ancient Greeks
and Egyptians as among the Hindus.

  1. Different Kinds of Disposal

The earliest literary mention of the funeral ceremonies is
found in the Rigveda and the Atharvaveda. The mode of the
diaposal of the dead depends on the religious belief of the
people concerned and their general culture. The society presented
in the Vedoc hymns is sufficiently advanced, so the primitive
forms of disposal are not to be found in them.

We have no record of the cave burial also in the funeral
ceremonies of the Hindus. It seems that it was not a recognized
form of disposal. Water burial or to fling a dead body into a sea
or a river is one of the easiest ways of getting rid of it. That
doubtless is the reason for thus disposing of the corpses of
slaves or common people in various places. But it does not
account for every case of water burial. In some cases the object
is not merely to get rid of the body, but to prevent the deceased
from returning to plague the survivors, for water is usually
regarded a barrier to scare away evil spirits. The practical
utility of water burial is recognized in Hinduism in the case of
those who have no survivors, to perform their funeral

Cremation or burning of the dead body is the most recognized
mode of the disposal of corpse among the Hindus from the time of
the Vedas up to the present day. This mode evolved at a high
stage of the human civilization, as it is the most scientific and

After a man died, it was thought necessary to send his body to
heaven. This could be only done by consigning it to Agni. After
the body was consumed by it and reduced to ashes, the dead could
receive a new body in the world of Yama and join the Pitara and
his ancestors. This seems to be the most powerful idea underlying
the custom of cremation, and this idea was essentially a
religious one.

There was another religious belief also which seems to have
been instrumental in introducing the custom of cremation. It was
believed that the evil spirit mostly originated from the wicked
souls of the dead persons buried in the earth. So the people
thought it necessary to restrict their number in the terrestrial
region by wiedely introducing the customof cremation and thus
sending the dead to the regions of Yama or Nirrti, there to
receive the reward or punishment of their actions. The Hindus
even now regard cremation as absolutely necessary for the welfare
of the souls of the dead, excepting those of the infants who are
sinless and pure, and of the holy medicants or Sadhus who are
supposed to have overcome evil tendencies during their life-time,
and are, therefore, accorded a burial as perfectly harmless. But
in the case of ordinary men and house holders, want of cremation
is looked upon with horror, retarding the progress of the souls
in the other world (Sadgati). The Hindus call the cremation
ceremony Aurdhvadaihika-kriya or the ceremonies that release the
soul from the body for its upward journey to heaven. Unless the
ceremony is performed, the departed soul is believed to linger
about its late habitation and hover without consolation, and in
great distress as a Preta.

The rites of cremation are denied to babes and children under
the age of (initiation or puberty). Children are generally
buried. In some cases at least, and possibly in all, this is done
with a view to securing their rebirth. Persons dying of epidemics
are generally cast away in water. It is due to the superstition
that the evil spirits that bring these diseases will be
infuriated if their victims are burnt. Persons held in reverence
are also not burnt, as their sacred qualities set them apart from
the rest of manking. Women dying in pregnancy or childhood also
are not accorded the rites of cremation.

  1. The Approach of Death

The scriptures do not fully record all the customs followed
and ceremonies observed before death. But from the tradition we
know a number of them. When a Hindu feels that his death is near
he invites his relatives and friends and holds friendly discourse
with them. To promote his future weal he makes presents to the
Brahmans and the needy. When the dying hour draws near, the
patient is placed on a cleansed spot on sandy soil. The dying
couch is prepared in proximity to the three fires or, if he
preserves only one, near it, viz., the domestic fire. Here the
deceased is laid down with his head turned towards the south.
Sacred passages from the Vedas of one´s own school are
chanted in the ears. At present verses from the Bhagvadgita and
the Ramayana are recited to a dying person.

  1. Pre-disposal Ceremonies.

The first mantra given in the Aranyaka refers to the
performance of a homa just after death. But this rule is binding
only on the death of one who, in his life-time, had maintained
the sacrificial fires. According to the Baudhayana, four
offerings should be made, while touching the right hand of the
dead man, to the Garhyapatya fire, with a spoon overflowingly
full of clarified butter. Bharadvaja, however, prescribes that
the offerings should be made to the Ahavaniya fire; he is silent
whether they should be fourfold or not. Asvalayana recommends
that the offerings should be made at a subsequent stage. With the
decline of the sacrificial religion among the Hindus, this
prescription has lost its force and is followed in a very few
orthodox families. New Pauranic and popular customs have taken
its place. They pour some drops of water with a few leaves of
Tulasi in the mouth of the dying person. A very strange custom
has evolved in Bengal. According to it, the dying person is
carried to the riverside and the loser half of the body is
immersed in water at the moment of death. This ceremony is called
Antarjali and forms a very offensive part of the modern
ceremonial in Bengal. With a flourish of rhetoric it is called
Ghat murder. That this custom is not ancient will be evident from
the following observations. All the scriptures referred to above
take it for granted that death has happened within the house, if
not near the place where the sacrificial fires are kept.
Considering this negative evidence against the custom, its total
absence in other parts of India and the oldest authority on the
subject being the most recent of the Puranas, we can fairly
conclude that it is of modern origin. None of the authorities
usually quoted, enjoining it as a positive duty, belongs to a
time earlier than the sixteenth century A.D. It has come into
existence probably since the date of Raghunandana and his
contemporary writers on ritual.

  1. The Bier

According to the Grhyasutras, after the homa, a cot made of
udumbara wood (Ficus glemarata) is to be provided, and having
spread on it a piece of black antelope skin with the hairy side
downwards, and head pointing to the south, the corpse is to be
laid thereon with the face upwards. Under the present practices,
however, the cot can be made of bamboo and the antelope skin is
dispernsed with. A son. A brother, or other relative, or in their
absence whosoever takes the lead, should next address the corpse
to give up its old clothing and dress it in a new suit:
“Give up the clothes thou hast hitherto worn; remember the
Ista and the Purta sacrifices thou hast performed. The fees to
Brahmans thou has given, and those gifts thou hast bestowed upon
thy friends.” The body is then covered with a piece of
unbleached uncut cloth, having fringes on both sides, the
operation being performed while repeating the mantras, “This
cloth comes to thee first.” The dead is required to change
his or her old shabby clothes and put on pure and new ones for
entering the next world. Then the corpse, being wrapped up in its
bedding, is to be borne on its cot to the place of cremation.

  1. The Removal of Corpse

The removal of the corpse, according to some authorities,
should be made by human carriers, according to others, on a cart
drawn by two bullock. The mantra for the purpose says, “I
harness these two bullocks to the cart, for the conveyance of
your life, whereby you may repair to the region of Yama, to the
place where the virtuous resort.” This indicates that the
most ancient custom was to employ a cart and not men. The
Asvalayana Grhyasutra suggests only one bullock to beemployed.
Any how, the ancient Sutrakaras evince none of the repungance to
the employment of the Sudras for the removal of the corpse of a
Brahman, which the modern Smritis entertain on the subject.
According to the latter, none but the blood relations of the dead
should perform this duty and the touch of others than that of
one´s own caste is pollution, which can be atoned for only
by the performance of an expiatory ceremony. This prejudice first
manifested itself in the time of Manu. He says, “Let no
kinsman, whilst nay of his own class are at hand, cause a
deceased Brahmana to be carried out by a sudra, because the
funeral rite, polluted by the touch of a servile man, obstructs
his passage to heaven.” The subsequent authorities are
equally emphatic on prohibition of a Sudra´s touch.

  1. The Funeral Procession

The funeral procession is headed by the chief mourner,
generally the eldest son of the dead. In many localities, the man
leading the procession carries a fire brand in his hand which he
has kindled at the domestic fire. The chief mourner is followed
by the funeral bier and the latter is followed by the relatives
and the friends of the deceased. The Grhyasutras enjoin that all
the Sapindas should join the funeral procession of the dead who
are older that two years. The order of the mourners in the
procession is according to age, the elders being in front. In
ancient times women also went to the ground of cremation with
loose dishevelled hair and their shoulder besprinkled with dust.
But not this custom is stopped. The following verse is repeated
by the chief mourner at the time of start: “Pusa, who knows
the road well, has well-trained animals, to carry you, and is the
protector of the region, is bearing you away hence; may he
translate you hence to the region of the Pitras, may Agni, who
knows what is meet for you bear you away.”

  1. The Anustarani

A most important member of the funeral procession in ancient
times, was an animal called Anustarani or Rajagavi. The journey
from the house of the dead to the cremation ground is divided
into three parts, and the funeral procession stops at every halt
where special rites are performed. The Yamasuktas are repeated in
the way. The general practice at present, however, is to repeat
the sacred name of Hari or Rama while carrying the corpse. The
majority of population dispense with the ceremonies in the way
and the recital of the hymns dedicated to Yama.

  1. The Cremation

After the arrival at the cremation ground, the next operation
is to select the ground for arrange the pyre and digging a
trench. The Aranyaka does not allude to the items of the
ceremonies preceding the burning of the corpse at the cremation
ground which shows that these were formerly performed without the
aid of any mantra. But the Grhyasutras contain special
regulations, particularty as to its orientation. The rules
prescribed for the selection of the ground somewhat resemble the
same regarding the place of offerings for the gods. The plot duly
selected is purified and a formula is chanted to scare away
demons or ghosts. The trench, according to Asvalayana should be
twelve fingers deep, five spans wide and as long as the corpse
with its hand uplifted. The kind of wood used, the size and the
orientation of the pyres, and other things related to them are
regulated by the sacred texts and nothing is left to the shims of
the mourners. In the opinion of some writers the corpse should be
disembowelled and the cavity filled with ghee. The idea
underlying this operation was to purify the corpse and to
facilitate the cremation. Later on, however, this custom was
regarded repulsive. At present, the pairing of hair and nails of
the dead body and washing it with water are thought to be
sufficient for purification. The corpse is now laid on the pyre,
the threads that bind the thumbs are loosened, the cords that
hold the bier together are cut off and the very bier is either
flung into the water or placed upon the pyre. The corpse in its
hands should have a piece of gold if it is of a Brahman, a bow if
of a Kshattriya, a jewel if of a Vaisya. In the Vedic and the
Sutra periods, when everything was done according to the rule,
the Anustarani cow, as already said, was either slaughtered or
let loose. Not this prescription is dropped altogether.

During the times when the sacrificial rituals were followed
regularly, the sacrificial vessels which the dead used to employ
in his ceremonial rites were, now, to be placed on the different
parts of his body. And so were the different members of the cow
if she was killed; if not, they were substituted by cakes and by
imitations of her organs made of rice and barley. These articles
were burnt with the corpse, so that the dead might get them in
the next world.

  1. Cremation a Sacrifice

When the preliminaries are finished, the cremation begins,
which is regarded as an offering into the Sacred Fire, conducting
the corpse to heaven as a sacrificial gift. When the pile is
ready to be lighted, a fire is applied to it with the prayer,
“Agni, consume not this body to cinders; nor give it pain,
nor scatter about its skin or limbs! O Jatavedas, when the body
is fairly burnt, convey the spirit to its ancestors.” The
prayer is followed by an address to the organs of the dead which
runs as follows: “May the organ of vision proceed to the
sun; may the vital air merge in the atmoshpere; mayest thou
procveed, according to the virtuous deeds to heaven or earth or
the regions of water, whichever place is beneficial to thee;
mayest thou there, provide with food, exist in corporeal
existence.” This is a touching scene when the survivors send
off their dead relative to the next world for ever but with every
solicitude for his or her future happiness.

Among the followers of some Vedic schools, a knee deep trench
is dug, in which a certain water plant is placed. In the opinion
of A. Hillerbrandt it is ‘Clearly an ancient superstition,
the purpose of which was to cool the heat of the fire.´ The
tradition explains this custom in this way. “The dead man
rises from the trench and ascends along with the smoke to

According to the practices of other Vedic schools, the
mourners leave the funeral pyre to burn itself aways, and the
chief mourner excavates three trenches to the north of the pyre,
lines them with pebbles and sand and fills them with water
brought in an odd number of jars. The people who joined the
precession are now requested to purify themselves by bathing in
the trenches. This being done, a yoke is put up with the Pasa
branches stuck in the ground and tied at the top with a piece of
weak string. The mourners are made to pass under it. The chief
mourner passes last and plucking out the yoke offers a prayer to
the sun.

  1. The Return

Then the funeral party moves off without looking around. The
mourners are asked to restrain themselves from any expression of
grief, and go forward with heads bent down, entertaining one
another with consoling speeches and virtuous tales. “Many
tears” it is said, “burn the dead.” We learn from
the Mahabharata that Yudhisthira was rebuked by Vyasa for
bewailing the death of his nephew. For the purpose of driving
away the sorrows of the survivors the story tellers are

  1. The Offering of Water

The next ceremony is called the Udakakarma or the offering of
water to the dead. It is performed in a variety of ways.
According to one authority, all the relatives of the dead down to
the seventh or thenth generation bathe in the nearest stream and
purify themselves by it and offer a prayer to Prajapati. While
bathing, they put on only a single garment and the sacred thread
hangs over the right shoulder. Many authorities prescribe that
the hair should be dishevelled and dust thrown upon the body. The
mourners turn their face towards the south, plunge under the
water and calling upon the dead person by name offer a handful of
water and calling upon the dead person by name offer a handful of
water to him. Then they get out of the water, put on dry clothes
and wringing those that they had on before, they spread them out
towards the north. The present day custom enjoins a very
interesting items after the Udaka-Karma. Just after the bath some
grains of boiled rice and peas are scattered on the ground for
the crows. It recalls the primitive beliefs according to the dead
were supposed to appear as birds. This supposition is confirmed
by the comparison of the Maruts (an offshoot of the pitaras) with
the birds.

  1. Regaling the Mourners

After the bath the relatives of the dead retire to a clean and
pure grassy spot. Persons conversant with the Itihasas and the
Puranas regale the mourners with praises of the deceased and
consoling stories from lore. They do not return to village till
the sunset or the appearance of the first star. In the opinion of
some, they do not go home before sunrise.Then the young ones walk
first and the old ones last- a procedure reverse of that followed
when the procession goes to the cremation ground. When they
arrive at their home, they touch, by way of purifying themselves,
the stone, the fire, cow-dung, grain , til-seed, oil and water
before they step in. According to the other authoroties, at the
door of the house, they chew leaves of Pichmanda or the Neem
tree, rinse their mouth, touch water, fire, cow-dung etc. or
inhale the smoke of a certain species of wood , treadupon a stone
and then enter. The magical performances symbolize the severance
of relation with the dead, and thearticles used in them are
supposed to serve as barriers against the inauspicious spirit of
the dead.

  1. Impurity

Now the period of Asaucha, pollution or defilement, begins.
The death of a person entails a condition which can be adequately
expressed by the Polynesian word, “taboo” which means
“setting apart a thing or a person as shunned for a
religious or a semi-religious reasons.” A corpse is
everywhere regarded as a taboo and the greatest care is taken in
approaching or dealing with it. It is not quite clear what is
this taboo due to. Is the corpse feared in and for itself , or as
a vehicle of death, or is it dreaded owing to its connection with
disembodied spirit? Whatsoever may be the religious or
sentimental motive underlying the taboo, one thing is evident
that , to a great extent, it was based on the contagious nature
of the corpse. So the survivors ,owing their contact with the
dead person during his sickness and with his corpse after his
death, are severed from the society on the sanitory grounds. The
prohibitions consequent on a death, however, reach far beyond the
person who have been compelled to perform the last offices about
a corpse. They extend to the whole house, the whole family, the
whole clan, the whole village, nay, to the very fields and even
sometimes to the heavens. But generally speaking; though the
whole village attends the cremation, it is more particularly the
near relatives who are defiled by death pollution than distant
ones.Moreover, the period of muorning and therefore of taboo
varies among different peoples according to the relationship of
the mourners to the deald or their various circumstances, from a
few days to many months.

The period and the scope of Asaucha differs according to the
caste, age, sex of the deceased. The Grhyasutras do not make any
distinction between the periods of Asaucha for the Brahmans and
Ksatriyas, the common period being ten days. But they fix fifteen
days for the Vaisyas and one month for the Sundras as the periods
of defilements. This distinction was mainly based on the
observance of the rules of purity and cleanliness in the
different castes. Option was, however, allowed for people of
different circumstances. “Impurity caused by death lasts for
three or ten days.” This Sutra text is explained by Jayarama
with reference to a verse from the Parasara-Smriti: “A
Vipra(Brahman), who regularly performs Agnihotra and remains
engaged in the study of the Vedas, is absolved from defilement in
one day; one who studies the Vedas only , in three days; and one
who neglates both, in ten days . The later Smritis permits even
exception from Asaucha altogether. “Persons engaged in
conducting a sacrifice, one initiated in a sacrifices, those
performing similar ceremonies, men performing long sacrifices or
undergoing some observances, students ,one who has realized
|Godhood, artisans, artists, medical practitioners,
maid-servants, slaves, kings and their servants become instantly
purified .” The exception is entirely based on the social
convenience. At present the period of defilement lasts for ten
days for Brahmans, twelve days for a Ksatriyas, fifteen days for
a Vaisya and one month for Sudras.

The periods as prescribed above are in the case of death of
grown-up persons. The death of a child causes less impurity.
According to the Grhyayasutras, the death of a child under two
inflicts defilement on parents only, for one night or three; the
rest of the family or the clan are untouched. The Smritis,
however , enjoin three days defilement for all the Sapindas.
“By the death of a child, whose teeth have come out and
whose tonsure ceremony has been perfomed, all the Bandhavas
become impure.” If a child dies before Its naming ceremony
no impurity is involved.

The sex of the deceased is also a determining factor for
fixing the period of defilement . This distinction is not known
to the Grhyasutras, and most probably it arose during the Smriti
period. The death of a boy after his Upanayana entils
full-fledged defilement, but a girl before marriage is still
regarded a child and her death causes defilement for a period of
three days only; if she dies before her tonsure, her death causes
only one day´s defilement. Impurity caused by the death of
one´s mother ends with the defilement caused by the death
of one´s father which takes place earlier, but such is not
the case when the death of the mother takes place earlier than
the death of the father, because in this case impurity begins
from the latter occurrence.

The observance of the rules of defilement for relatives and
friends is optional in the Grhyasutras. “It depends on
one´s wish to observe the rules of Asaucha on the death of
a family priest, the father-in-law . a friend , other
relatives(matrimonial) and sons of the sister,” But the
Dharmasutras and the Smirits make it encumbent and the lengh of
the periods differ according to the closeness of the relations
with the dead.

The rules to be observed during the Asaucha are of two kinds
negative and positive. The negative rules require the mourners to
forego the many pleasures and comforts and even oridinary
business of life and thus exhibits the feelings of grief and
sorrow. They forbid certain things, such as the cutting of the
hair and beard, study of Vedas, Grhya offerings etc. The positive
rules have also their origin in the aggrieved feelings of the
survivors. They enjoin , for a period of three days , to observe
continence, to sleep on the ground, to live on begged or
purchased food, to eat only in the day time etc.

  1. Asthi-Sanchayana

The ceremony that follows the cremation is the Ashi-Sanchayana
or the “Collection of Bones.” It is the remnant of the
ancient custom of burial. During the Sutra period, a compromise
between the burial and the cremation was introduced. According to
the then current custom , the dead body was burnt , but, in order
to preserve the old tradition, the remains began to be collected
and buried after a few days. The Grhya-Sutras contain a very
detailed account of the ceremony. According to Asvalayana the
Asthi-Sanchayana ceremony should be performed on the thirteenth
or fifteenth day of the wane, while Baudhayana enjoins the third,
fifth or seventh from the day of cremation. First of all, the
cinders should be besprinkled with milk and water and the heap
should be striken with an Udumbara staff to separate the bones.
The cinders should be then collected and thrown towards the south
side leaving the bones behind. Three oblations should next be
offered to Agni. According to the custom of the Taittiriyas, the
duty of collecting the bones was performed by women, preferably
by the senior wife of the deceased. Baudhayana enjoins that the
women must attach a fruit of the Brhati plant to the left hand
and with a dark blue and red thread, mount upon a stone , wipe
their hands once with an apamarga plant and with closed eyes
collect the bones with the left hand. The following verse was
recited: “Arise hence, and assume a new shape . Leave none
of the members of your body. Repair to whichever place you wish;
may Savita establish you there. This is one of your bones; be
joined with the third in glory; having joined all bones be
handsome in person; be beloved of the gods in a noble
place.” The above formula is an appropriate commentary on
the purpose of the ceremony. It shows that the dead were supposed
to take a new shape in the other world for which it was thought
necessary to send every part of the material body to the next
world either by burning or burial.

The bones, then, were washed and deposited in an urn, or tied
up in piece of black antelope skin. The pot containing the bones
or the bundle was to be hung from the branch of a sami tree. The
bones of a person who had sacrifices were, however burnt again.
The bones of others were accorded a burial. For this purpose, an
urn was absolutely necessary. Asvalayana recommends an urn with
spout for females and one without it for males. The urn which was
closed with a lid, was placed in a trench prepared in the same
way as the ground of cremation, or it might be laid under the
root of a tree. According to other authorities grass and yellow
cloth were placed in the trench and the bones were thrown in.

During times, people had no regard for the custom of burying
the bones of every individual. The sanctity of rivers increased.
The cremation began to take place generally on the bank of some
river. The burial ceremony of the remains was simplified. From
the later period we have an account of how the chief mourner,
just after the cremation, puts the remains into a small earthen
pot and throws them into the water, if there be any at hand, or
if not, into some lonely place or desert. Now it is regarded very
meritorious for the dead to collect the bones on the day of
cremation and subsequently throw them into the Ganges or other
sacred rivers: “The virtuous one, whose bone floats on the
water of the Ganges never returns from the Brahmaloka, to the
world of the mortals. Those, whose bones are thrown into the
Ganges by men, live in heaven for thousands of Yugas.”

  1. Santi-Karma

The next ceremony to be noticed is called santi-Karma or the
pacificatory rites for the well-being of the living. The formulas
uttered during it have regard to life and adverting of death.
Effective measures are taken toward off evil and to return to
ordinary way of life. The mediaeval and the modern Smritikaras
enjoin the shaving and pairing of nails and bathing. But the
Grhya-Sutras prescribe a very long procedure. The ceremony should
be performed on the morning following the ninth night after
death, i.e; on the tenth day. Asvalayana, however, recommends
that it should be performed on the fifteenth of the wane. In the
opinion of some authorities, the ceremony should taken place at
the burning ground, while the others leave it with the mourners
to select any place out of a town, whether it be the burning
ground or not, that may be convenient. The relatives by blood,
both male and female, having assembled at the selected place, a
fire should be kindled and they should be requested to sit down
on a bullock hide of red colour, spread on the ground, with its
neck side facing the east, and its hair directed towards the
north. The relatives should be requested in the following

“Ascend on this life-giving skin, as you wish to live to
a decrepit old age. According to your seniority, attempt
carefully to abide on it. May the well-born and well-adorned fire
of this ceremony bestow long life on you. Even as days follow and
seasons are attached to seasons, even as the young forsake not
their elders, may Dhata so prolong the life of these people
according to their age.

In the modern ritual the females are not required to attend
this ceremony as they perform it separately from the males and
the bullock-skin as a symbol of life is not utilized, because in
modern Hinduism it has become repulsive. The party having
properly seated, the chief mourner should offer four oblations to
the fire. The relatives should rise up and recite the Mantras,
while touching a red bull. In ancient times, the women were asked
to put on collyrium with the following words:

“Let these women, who are widowed, who have good
husbands, apply the collyrious butter to their eyes; without
tears, without disease, worthy of every attention, let these
wives enter the house.”

At present, this item has been dropped, as the women do not
participate owing to the Purdah system, and the popular currency
of widowhood among the twice-born castes, which forbids any
rejoicings on the part of the widow. Then the assembly should
proceed towards East, leading the bull with the words:

“These men, forsaking the dead, are returning. This day
we invoke the gods for our good, for success over enemies, and
for our merriment. We proceed eastwards having well sustained
long lives.”

The Chief mourner then recites another Mantra, and with a Sami
branch, effaces the foot-marks of the bull that precedes the
party. On the departure of the last man, the Adhvaryu should
place a circle of stones behind him as a wall to prevent death
from overtaking those that have gone forward, praying, “I
place this circle of stones for the living; May we and others not
go beyond it in midlife; may we all live a hundred autumns,
driving death away from this heap.” The party then should
repair to the house of the chief mourner. The fire that served
the deceased is removed of the old. Now a feast takes place and
the survivors follow the course of ordinary life.

  1. The Smasana

Another funeral ceremony of the Hindus is the Pitrmedha or
Smasana, i.e., the building of a mound over the remains of a dead
person. Burial of the dead is a custom whose origin can be traced
back to the very early period of Aryan history. It must have
proved a great incentive for erecting a mound or tomb over the
grave. Even at present, among the Christians and the Mohammadans,
where burial is the universal custom, some kind of elevation is
made over the body of the dead, and in the case of rich and
notable persons tomb or mausoleum is built. Though the
Indo-Aryans gradually abandoned the custom of burial, they were
still fond of perpetuating the memory of their departed relatives
by building a mound over their remains. In the Vedas we have no
reference to this custom. But the omission is not a sure proof of
its non-existence. The Brahmanas that are mainly concerned with
rituals refer to it. In the Satapatha Brahmana there is a
detailed description of the Smasana ceremony. Not all the
Grhyasutras describe it, which shows that it was not a adopt the
procedure of the Satapatha Bramana with some modifications. Among
the Buddhists, however, the custom of raising a mound was very
popular and the Hindu Sastrakaras reserved this honour for great
saints, monks and Sanyasins only. The Paddhatis make this custom
optional and allot it a very insignificant position amidst the
funeral ceremonies. In modern Hinduism, the Raising of a mound is
almost stopped and the building of the Samadhis or Stupas is
limited to a few religious celebrities.

The question for whom and at what time the smasana should be
performed have given rise to ritual discussions and have been
variously answered by different schools of ritual. The lapse of
time after the death, the season of the year and the presiding
constellations are all considered, and preference is given to the

After the spot is properly selected, on the day preceding the
ceremony some plants are rooted up at that place. To the north of
these plants earth is dug up and from this bricks, from six to
twenty-four hundred, are made for building the mound besides the
number employed for packing. Now the urn containing the ashes of
the dead is brought and placed between three Palasa twigs driven
into ground and a hut is erected over it. If the bones are not
found in the trench where they were deposited, a very quaint
procedure is followed. Some dust is taken from the spot or the
dead man is called upon from the bank of a river, and creature
that happens to fall upon an outspread cloth is regarded as the
representative of the bones. Over the Palasa twigs a vessel with
many holes is placed, through which sour milk and whey trickle
upon the urn.

The ceremony proceeds with the trumpet blast and the sound of
the lute. The company circumambulates the spot, striking the left
thigh with hands. The relatives assembled there fan the urn with
the skirts of their garments. Some authorities prescribe songs
and dance of females also. Variations and modifications of the
above description are found in different schools.

The Samsana ceremony proper should take place during the
first, the middle or the last part of the night. The party goes
early in the morning to the place selected for the purpose. The
spot must be cleared and surrounded by a rope supported by wood
stakes. Its surface should be covered with small stones. On the
ground furrows are opened with a plough drawn by six or more oxen
and various seeds are cats into them. In the middle of the ground
a hole or made, into which gravel or saliferous earth is cast.
Some quantity of milk from a cow whose young one is dead should
be placed in the hole to serve as food for the dead person. A
piece of reed is immersed in a trench dug to the south of the
hole evidently to serve the purpose of boat to the dead. Next the
darbha grass is arranged in the figure of a man and the remains
are laid upon it and covered with an old cloth. Then, the vessel
containing the ashes is broken and over the bones a monument is
built according to a fixed plan. Where the monument is erected up
to a certain height, food for the dead is enclosed within the
walls. After the structure is completed, earth is piled over the
Samsana and water is poured over it from the jars which are
destroyed after their use. The mound or Stupa thus built is the
symbol of death and many devices are used to separate the world
of living from that of the dead. The line of demarcation between
them is drawn by means of lumps of earth, stones and branches of
tree. Some formulas are also uttered to meet the same end.

  1. Offerings to the dead.

The last item of the funeral ceremonies of the Hindus
comprises those offerings to the dead which are made during the
Asaucha period. The dead is regarded as still living in a sense.
The efforts of the survivors are to provide him with food and
guide his footsteps to the paramount abode of the dead.

During the Vedic periods, the Father were invited to partake
the offerings in general, but an individual invitation was hardly
met with. This literary omission, however, does not negative the
supposition that the offerings were made to the dead as the
custom is prevalent in all religions of the world. The Sutras
have got positive rules on the topic. They prescribe that a Pinda
or a “ball of rice” should be offered to the dead on
the first day. The ball was called “Pinda”, because it
was supposed to constitute the body of the Preta. With the ball
of rice water for ablution was poured out for him in the open air
with the words, “Bathe here.” Perfumes and drinks were
also offered as well as a lamp to facilitate his progress through
the utter darkness that enshrouds the road to the city of Yama. A
feast, which contained dishes of meat also, was given to the
Brahmans on the eleventh day.

The Paddhatis on the funeral ceremonies have fully developed
this part of the ceremonies. They prescribed for every day after
the cremation up to the twelfth, a particular kind of offering
for a particular purpose. According to them, on the first day,
should be offered a rice ball, a jar of water and food articles
for satisfying the thirst and hunger of the dead and building the
veins of the would-be body of the dead. Darbha grass for sitting,
ointment, flowers, perfumes, and lamps should also be set out for
the dead. On the second day, offerings are made for constituting
the ears, eyes and nose of the dead; on the third day for neck,
shoulders, arms and breasts, and so on up to the ninth day when
the whole body of the dead is supposed to be completed. On the
tenth day the hair, beard and the nails of the survivors are
pared and the Pindas offered to the dead and yama for ending the
Preta-state of the deceased. On the eleventh day follow a large
number of ceremonies. In the beginning ablutions are offered to
the dead and Lord Vishnu is prayed to for the salvation of the
Preta. It is quite a new feature in the funeral ceremonies where
heavenly blessings are substituted by salvation. The most
prominent item of this day´s procedure is the Vrsotsarga or
letting loose a bull and a heifer. Both the animals are bathed,
adorned and branded with a discus and trident. The following
verse is uttered in the ears of the bull; ” The four-footed
Lord Dharma is Himself well-known as Vrsa or bull; I adore Him
with devotion; may He protect me.” Then they are married by
fastening a piece of cloth to them, with “This husband, the
best among all, has been given by me; the most charming among all
the wives, this heifer, has been given by me.” After this
the pair is let loose and driven to the Southern direction
“for ending the Preta-condition of the dead and enabling him
or her to cross the ocean of mortality.” The ceremony
terminates with the feast to brahmans, who are called the
Mahapatras and are eleven in number. They receive ample Daksina
and all sorts of gifts that are supposed to be transported to the
next world through them for the future felicity of the deceased.
The provision of food is made for full one year, as the dead is
believed to reach the abode of Yama in one year.

  1. Sapindi-Karana

The ceremony of Sapindikarana or ‘uniting the Preta with
the Pitaras´ takes place either on the twelfth day after
the cremation, at the end of three fortnights or on the expiry of
the year. The first day is prescribed for those who maintain the
sacrifical fire, the second and the third for the rest.

The soul of the dead person does not reach the world of the
Pitaras at once. It remains separate from them for a time as a
Preta or Spirit. During this period special offerings are
presented to it. But after certain time, the dead man passes into
the abode of the fathers through the instrumentality of

On the dates prescribed for Sapindikarana the Sodasa Sraddhas
are performed in the beginning. Then four pots are filled with
sesame seeds, perfumes and water. Three of them are offered to
the Pitaras and one to the Preta. The contents of the Preta-pot
are poured into the Pitr-pot with the words, “These equal
etc.” and the ceremonies are over.

  1. Special Cases

Besides the normal ceremonies attendant on the natural death
of an individual, many special cases are recorded in the
Grhyasutras and the Smrtis. In the Vedic hymns the regular
funeral ceremonies are `described without any distinct reference
to abnormal cases. Verses 2,3,4 and 35 of the Atharvaveda
(xviii), however, may be assumed to point out such cases. The
first of the above verses runs; “O Agni, bring here all the
Fathers, buried, cast away, burnt or exposed to enjoy the
offerings.” The most popular method of disposing of the dead
in Atharvavedic times was cremation , so the other cases
mentioned above might have been abnormal. The burial, here, may
refer to the burial of children and ascetics, custom known to
later literatures on funeral; casting away may be the casting
away of mandicants dying in a forest which is mentioned in the
Chandogya-Upanished, or it may refer to merely depositing dead
bodies in a Samadhi as recognized in Buddhism; and the exposure
may have been the exposure of the dead on trees as it is recorded
in the Satapatha brahmana. These cases cannot refer to very
primitive method of casting away or exposure of the dead and
disabled persons providing a burden on the family, as it is
supposed by some scholars. Rather they represent a special
ceremonial in abnormal cases. This assumption can be supported by
the fact that in the above Atharvavedic verses the fathers are
invited very affectionately and not remembered as cast away
refuses. Coming down to the Brahmanas, we find that the satapatha
Brahmana, as already pointed out, mentions the exposure of dead
bodieson trees, a custom certainly followed in the cases of
homeless ascentics and beggars who did not leave heirs behind
them to perform their funerals. The Taittiriya-Aranyaka speaks of
the rite of Brahmamedha, performed at the death of a Brahman who
had realized Brahmanhood. From the Chandogya-Upanished we know
that sometimes dead bodies were left uncared for and no funeral
ceremonies were performed specially in case of those who had
entered into forest and pursued Brahmavidya and went to
Brahmaloka from where there was no return.

The most systematic treatment of the abnormal cases has been
given in the Grhyasutras, where, after a through classification,
the ceremonies were codified. Baudhayana in his Pitrmedhasutras
has described almost all the irregular cases of funeral
ceremonies. The Smrtis do not develop the ritual but prescribe
different types of Asaucha to be observed and the Prayogas follow
the ritual described in the Grhyasutras, though these have
evolved a few new ceremonies e.g. the Jivachhrraddha not found in
the earlier literature.

The first special funeral rite was of the Ahitagni or the
householder, who maintained all the three Fires. He distinguished
himself from the rest if the society by his religious regularity.
So it was thought necessary to accord him special funeral.
According to Baudhayana, Homas should be performed before and
after his death and his sacrificial utensils should be burnt on a
separate pyre with his effigy made of Kusa grass. It should be
noted that Asvalayana prescribes the burning of sacrificial
vessels with the dead body itself in a normal funeral. He,
undoubtedly, records the earlier practice, when the sacrifices
were offered more regularly. The Smrtis differentiate between the
cremation and Asaucha of an Ahitagni and of an Anahitagni.
Vrddha-Yajnavalkya says, “The Ahitagni should be burnt with
the Three Fires, Anahitagni with one and the rest with the
Laukikagni.” In the opinion of Angira, the period of
impurity in the case of an Ahitagni should begins from his
cremation (which may be postponed for certain reasons), but that
of the Anahitagni from the day of his death. In modern practices,
however, the distinction is not well preserved as the sacrificial
religion has declined and only a few Agnihotrins maintain the
Three Sacred Fires at present.

Another special rite is that of children. They are not full
men, so their funeral must differ from that of the adult. Their
tender body should be spared the fierce flames of fires; their
innocent life neither inflicts so much impurity upon the family
nor it requires so much purification as the worldly life of the
householders. Children do not also require in the next world all
the necessities of the terrestrial life, because they are not
accustomed to them in this world. These ideas underly the special
rite accorded to children. Baudhayana says that Pitrmedha should
not be performed in the case of the uninitiated boys and
unmarried girls. According to him, in the case of abortion, the
abortive child should be buried and the performer becomes
instantly purified after a bath with clothes on.

In the opinion of Paingya, however, the abortion entails
empurity for a period of ten days upon the mother. A child, whose
teeth have not come out, should be buried with the recitation of
Parnava denied to the abortive child. A child before two,
Paraskara says should be buried without cremation. Manu differs
from the above authorities and prescribe that “the relations
of the dead child below two should take it out of the village,
should decorate its person with garland and clothes and leave it
in open air (or bury it beneath the earth); collection of bones
should not be done in this case. Neither the child should be
cremated nor it should be offered water oblations.” But he
allows an option in the case of a child whose teeth have come
out, and Baudhayana even recommends cremation if desired by the
relatives. At present the burial of children is performed in some
localities, but in the majority of cases they are thrown away
into rivers and no impurity is observed.

The next special rite is that of a Garbhini or a pregnant
woman who dies in her pregnancy. Baudhayana says that she should
be carried to the cremation ground. After saving the child she
should be burnt properly with the additional gift of an
Astakadhenu, a Tiladhenu and a Bhumidhenu. The ceremonies
following cremation should be the same as usual. At present in
such cases no attempt is made to save the child and it is burnt
with mother, and the funeral ceremonies are the same as in the
normal cases. The modern Paddhatis prescribe special ceremonies
for a woman dying in her confinement or monthly course. According
to them, her body should be bathed with waterfrom a jar, in which
Panchagavya is mixed. It is, certainly, done to purify her body
which is contaminated with the impurity of the childbirth or the
menstural flow. Then the Prajaptyahutis are offered and the body
is covered with new clothes and burnt. But the cremation is
distinguished by not burning the corpse entirely.

The funeral of the Parivrajakas, retired ascetic and
mendicants form another class by Itself. They are the persons,
who have given up all worldly attachments and have realized the
Brahman or the Universal Soul. Their goalin life is not the
attainment of the Pitrloka nor of the Svarga, but the acquirement
of Brahmaloka or salvation. Therefore, both socially and
religiously, they are above the ordinary householders. Hence
their last sacrament must be different from that of those, who
are after worldly pursuits and heavenly pleasures. The first
mention of funeral of a realized brahman is made in the
Taittiriya Aranyaka where it is called Brahmamedha. The
Baudhayana Grhyasutra describes the funeral ceremony of a
Parivrajaka as follows. The dead body should be laid in a ditch
and begging bowl placed on his belly with the appropriate verses.
Then his Kamandalu should be filled with water and put on his
right hand. Next the ditch should be covered with earth and a
mound should be raised on it to save the corpse from the
carnivorous animals. The performance of this duty to the
Parivrajakas is regarded very meritorious. The post-cremation
ceremonies are prohibited in the case of a Sanyasin.

This custom is still followed in certain sects of the
ascetics. But after the transition of |Hinduism from Vedism or
Brahmanism to Puranism and Trantraism, Sanyasa came to be
regarded as Kalivarjya. Though Sankaracharya broke this
prohibition by his example, Sanyasa never become popular in
Hinduism again. The modern Sadhus belong to different sects,
following |Jnanamarga or Bhaktimarga, and they cannot be properly
called Sanyasins. Some of the sects practise burial but the
majority of them prefer water-burial and their last offices are
completed with a grand feast to the Sadhus and the Brahmans. The
present custom of breaking the skull of an ascetic is based on
the Upanisadic belief that the soul of a brahmajnani escapes
through the Brahmarandhra or a hole on the top of head. So the
skull is broken to facilitate the departure. The Sanyasins are
not cremated, because being purified by the fire spiritual
knowledge and merged in brahman, they do not require material
fire to sanctify their body and covey the soul to the next

Men, dying in distant lands away from their homes, form
another category. Here too Baudhayana is the first Sutrakara who
describes the ceremonies in detail. The relations, when informed
of the death, should bring the dead body, if preserved, or the
bones for the proper funeral. In the latter case, thirty three
bones should be selected from different limbs, as the man was
supposed to consist of thirty three. But when the bones were not
available and only the direction was known, the Preta was called
by name from that direction, an effigy of the man was made on the
black deerskin, sacificial vessels were placed on it, Kusa grass
was scattered on these articles and the cremation was performed.
When no clue of the person gone abroad was found and he was
believed to be dead, his funeral ceremonies were performed as
described above. In such cases, sometimes, a few of the supposed
dead persons came back home. They had got to be revived again
with the proper Samskaras, from the Conception to the Vivaha, as
they were socially dead and no body would keep contact with them.
At present the same ritual is followed but the people do not
evince any hurry about the funeral of missing persons, and their
Antyesti performed when the possibility of their return is

A peculiarly novel practice of Jivachchraddha has come into
existence in modern time. By an orthodox Hindu it is believed
that his proper funeral is essential for his Sadgati, (heaven or
salvation). In case he has got no sons, or when he is doubtful
whether his Antyesti will be properly performed by his children
or not, he becomes anxious to see that it is duly done in his
life-time. His person is represented by an effigy and the entire
ceremonies are performed as usual. There is, however, a popular
superstition that persons, whose Antyesti is performed in their
life time, die very soon. So only a few dare to do so.

Those who die of accidents are also treated as special cases.
According to Budhayana, those, who die of wounds caused by
weapons, administration of poisons, choking by a string, drowning
in water, fall from a mountain or a tree etc., do not deserve a
funeral. Most probably they were thrown away into water or cast
away into forests. At present, however, they are accorded funeral
ceremonies after performing certain Prayaschittas. The idea
underlying the denial of funeral in this case was that these
persons could not be admitted into the Pitrloka; therefore it was
futile to undergo the botherations of tedious ceremonies. But the
Gautama Dharmasutra says that the survivors could perform the
Udakakarma etc. if they liked. The majority of the Smritis,
however, prohibit the observance of Asaucha and performance of
ceremonies, as no impurity is caused by their death.

The patitas or fallen are also recorded as special cases.
According to Manu, an apostate, a man born of Pratiloma marriage,
a suicide, a Pasanda, and adultress, a woman causing abortion, or
hating her husband etc. should not be given a funeral.
Yajnavalkya includes thieves also in the same class. The reason
behind this prohibition is that these people are lost to society
on account of their unsocial habits and, therefore, they are not
entitles to the social privilege of deriving benefit from a
Samskara. At present such cases are not detected or publicly
accepted, and many of the fallen pass as ordinary