For most Hindus, cremation is the ideal method for dealing with the dead, although many groups practice burial instead; infants are buried rather than cremated. At the funeral site, in the presence of the male mourners, the closest relative of the deceased (usually the eldest son) takes charge of the final rite and, if it is cremation, lights the funeral pyre.
After a cremation, ashes and fragments of bone are collected and eventually immersed in a holy river. After a funeral, everyone undergoes a purifying bath. The immediate family remains in a state of intense pollution for a set number of days (sometimes ten, eleven, or thirteen).
At the end of that period, close family members meet for a ceremonial meal and often give gifts to the poor or to charities.
A particular feature of the Hindu ritual is the preparation of rice balls (pinda) offered to the spirit of the dead person during memorial services. In part these ceremonies are seen as contributing to the merit of the deceased, but they also pacify the soul so that it will not linger in this world as a ghost but will pass through the realm of Yama, the god of death.
More About Hindu Death Rituals
- Samskaras - Hindu Rites of Passage
- Antyeshti - Funeral or Last Rites
- Hindu Concept of Heaven and Hell
See Also: Death & Dying
SOURCE: Library of Congress Country Studies
Data as of September 1995