Hindu funeral customs: What to know before attending
By: Kirk Fox
1 month ago
Will you be attending a Hindu funeral for the first time? Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion, with over a billion followers. Here is an overview of the general Hindu customs and traditions surrounding death, burial, and mourning to be aware of when attending a funeral.
Hinduism arose around 500 B.C. and is mostly practiced by Asian Indians. Hindus believe that all living creatures have a soul or spirit of true self that is eternal.
When someone dies, the final rites are called Antyesti, which means last sacrifice. The ritual returns the body to the five elements, which include air, water, fire, earth, and space.
When death is near, a Hindu priest is typically contacted to gather with the family. Mantras will be chanted, and the dying person should ideally be situated on a grass mat on the ground for the transition.
After death, the body is washed — by the family or, if that is not possible, then by the funeral home. Traditionally the wash contains a mixture of yogurt, milk, ghee, and honey, or the body may be washed in purified water.
Usually the deceased’s big toes will be tied together, the hands will be placed in a prayer position, and the body will be covered in a white sheet. A married woman who dies before her husband will usually be covered in a red sheet.
The funeral takes place as soon as possible, usually within 24 hours.
Guests of other faiths are welcome and may either participate in the funeral customs or not, as they wish. Please be aware that mourners are supposed to wear white to the funeral — and it is inappropriate to wear black. Casual dress is acceptable.
There is a brief wake during which the body will be visible. A priest will lead the ceremony, which includes the chanting of mantras and hymns. Before the body is removed for cremation, it is traditional to place rice balls near the casket.
All bodies are cremated except for babies, very young children, and saints, who are buried.
After the funeral, typically only men who are close family members will accompany the body to the cremation site. Ashes are usually scattered at a sacred body of water or somewhere important to the deceased.
The mourning period is observed at the grieving family’s home and will last from 10 to 30 days. It is proper to visit and be with the family during this time.
Fruit is the traditional gift to bring to the home, though flowers are not specifically prohibited.