Hindu funerals

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In Hinduism, it is believed that man goes through a cycle of rebirths (reincarnation). After death, the soul leaves the body to reincarnate, in order to eventually be absorbed into brahman: the divine primal source. Hindus see death as the transition to new life. The body is only intended for temporary ‘use’ and has completed its task at the moment of death. Nearly all Hindus opt for cremation. They believe that this is the fastest way to be reunited with the primordial source, which means that you no longer have to reincarnate. Hindu funerals are filled with symbolism.

“Hindus see death as the transition to new life. Nearly all Hindus choose cremation”

Traditional clothing

The body must return to the primordial source as quickly as possible with the five elements: water, fire, earth, air and ether (space). Usually, a deceased person is therefore immediately transferred to a funeral home, where he or she is laid out and washed in the presence of close relatives. A deceased man is wrapped in a special cloth or put in a suit. A deceased woman is dressed in a sari (wrap dress). In the meantime, the priest prays with the family and all the friends and acquaintances present in the reception room of the funeral home. The dia is also lit: a light consisting of an earthenware dish filled with clarified butter. Water is poured in a copper goblet for the peace of the soul of the deceased. After the visit, the next of kin go to the house of the deceased, where the ritual with the dia and the goblet is repeated. There are also prayers and readings from the Ramayana.

“The deceased is taken to a funeral home as soon as possible”

The funeral

On the day of the cremation, a son – or another male relative – shaves off his hair, except for a small tail. He offers the sacrifices during the funeral service. He must be clean for this and must not touch others. During the funeral, those present usually wear white or black and white clothing, in any case no red. In the funeral home, a ceremony is held in which the priest makes five egg-shaped balls (pindhs) from rice flour, honey, milk, clarified butter, sugar and sesame seeds. For Hindus, food symbolizes life and is a manifestation of the divine. The balls are placed in cloths and sacrificed by placing them in the coffin with the deceased. The relatives also put flowers, fragrant herbs and grains of rice in the coffin while they pray and sing. The coffin is then closed, covered with a cloth and taken to the crematorium.

“During the funeral, those present wear white or black and white clothing. In any case no red”

Scattering ashes

At the crematorium the men from the family carry the coffin inside; the son or sons lead the way. The chest is opened in the auditorium and decorated with wreaths. After the singing of religious hymns, a sermon by the priest follows. The oldest son then walks  around the coffin five times with a burning dia, touching the mouth of the deceased five times with the dia. This is the called the ‘kiss of death’, with which the body is symbolically set on fire. After saying a number of prayers together, those present line up to say farewell to the deceased and place grains of rice or flower petals in the coffin. It is important for family members to accompany the body of the deceased to the oven room so that they know the cremation has been performed. After cremation, the ashes must be entrusted to the eternal, for example by scattering the ashes over the running water of the Ganges.

“After cremation, the ashes must be entrusted to the eternal”

13 days of official mourning

After the cremation, the family lives austerely for ten days and eats vegetarian food. On the tenth day, vegetarian dishes are cooked that the deceased liked. A plate with this food is placed outside: it is for the deceased. Twelve or thirteen days after the cremation, there is a mourning ceremony in the home of the deceased. Special sacrifices are made under the direction of a priest. After that, the mourning is officially lifted, but the immediate relatives may only organize festive events such as weddings again after a year. After six months, the relatives repeat the ceremony of the thirteenth day, and after a year, the mourning period ends with a ceremony.

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