Hindu Beliefs About Death
Hindus believe that when the physical body dies, the soul reincarnates into another life force. Hinduism, originating in India, teaches that the destiny of a soul’s next incarnation depends on the actions of the individual in their last physical life, otherwise known as Karma.
To leave the repetitive cycle of reincarnation, a person must reach the moksha, which is the transcendent state of salvation when the soul is absorbed into Brahman, who is the highest god of Hinduism.
Although this belief is widely accepted with Hinduism, it is important to understand that there are many denominations of Hinduism, each with differing customs and beliefs.
Before and after death
Most Hindus choose to die at home, surrounded by family and loved ones who will keep a vigil. Once they have died, the body remains at home until the cremation which is usually 24 hours after death.
In a traditional Hindu funeral there are certain things that happen, including:
A lamp is placed by the head of the body
Prayers and hymns being sung
Pindas (rice balls) placed in the coffin
Water sprinkled on the body
A ‘mala’ – a necklace of wooden beads – is put around the dead person’s neck. Garlands of flowers may also be added.
Hindus always have an open casket, and a priest or “karta” will preside over the proceedings. Hymns and mantras are recited and some services include a fire sacrifice. At this point, offerings are made to ancestors and gods.
Hindus opt for cremation as they believe it helps the soul to escape the body quickly. Afterwards, the deceased’s ashes are scattered on water. Many people take the ashes to India to put on the waters of the Ganga, others may take them to the sea near to where they live.
After a Hindu funeral
Traditionally, on the day following a Hindu funeral, the ashes are immersed in the Ganges River as it is considered a sacred river in Hinduism. Hindus living outside India may choose to repatriate their loved one’s ashes to India so that they can be spread over the Ganges, but this is not always practical or affordable. As a result, more rivers are becoming acceptable substitutes all over the world.
Typically, the bereaved mourn for 13 days after a Hindu funeral. During this time, it is customary for families to have a picture of their loved one displayed in the house, adorned with a garland of flowers. Visitors are welcomed during this period and a ritual that helps the soul to reincarnate is performed.
On the years anniversary of the death, the family celebrate a memorial event that honours their loved one’s life.
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