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Cremation: An Important Hindu Ritual
Religion gives strict guidelines for care of dead
Rupa Kharel (rupi)     Print Article 
Published 2006-08-21 18:05 (KST)   
For Hindus, death is the beginning of many rituals that must be followed. Unlike many cultures, a family devotes itself to a year of respect after one dies and almost always, the person is cremated and released into a sacred river so that he or she may reach heaven.

If an individual is nearing death, he or she is brought in front of the Tulsi plant, while the floor is cleaned with cow dung (a sacred material) and a bed is made of hay.

The Tulsi plant is found in most Hindu homes and is believed to ease one's breathing before death.

After the person dies, the relatives fasten two bamboo sticks together by rope and four relatives walking on bare feet carry the body from the home to the nearest Ghat.

Two long bamboos with small bamboos tied with rope used to carry the deceased
©2006 R. Kharel

The bank of a holy river in the vicinity of a Hindu temple is usually known as "Ghat." Cremation beds are usually located nearby.

A deceased person being carryied by relatives towards Arya Ghat
©2006 R. Kharel

One of the popular ones is Arya Ghat, on the holy bank of the Bagmati River between the temple of Pashupatinath and Guheshwori.

Arya Ghat located on the bank of Holy River Bagmati
©2006 R. Kharel

A relative splashing water in the mouth of the deceased
©2006 R. Kharel
After arriving at the Ghat, the deceased is kept in the Brahma Naal (where water and milk served inside Pashupatinath come through a tunnel) and covered with a white or yellow cloth, and the relatives splash some water in the mouth of the deceased. Putting the body in Brahma Naal means the deceased will easily reach heaven.

Then the deceased is taken to a funeral pyre, which is decorated with different types of flowers. Those piled sticks set to be burned can be of any tree, but for the royal families, the wood should be Scandal.

The funeral pyre can be observed from two bridges, the stone-steps and the balconies on the opposite side. The priest called the "Brahman" performs the last rites. If the parents (either father or mother) pass away, the eldest son has to cut his hair and circle the body three times with fire. If the dead person has no son, the priest would perform the tasks. It is a traditional custom not to allow the daughter to attend the funeral.

A funeral pyre decorated with flowers
©2006 R. Kharel

After burning, the remaining bone and ashes of the deceased are kept in copper vessels with a lid and it is also covered with a white cloth and tight rope. Then the urn is buried in a sacred place within the premises of the deceased's home and a Tulsi plant is placed nearby.

A deceased placed in funeral-pyre
©2006 R. Kharel

Then, the next of kin, or all the sons, have to eat one time a day (either lunch or dinner) and only cook for themselves. They must live in separate rooms without touching anyone. They should sleep on the floor in a bed of hay. This ritual should continue for 13 days, including the death day.

The eldest son of deceased walking around the pyre three times
©2006 R. Kharel

The most important thing is that they must wear white clothes for an entire year during the mourning period. In the case of a widow, she must also observe this ritual.

The eldest son putting fire in the mouth of deceased
©2006 R. Kharel

If a mother dies, all of her children must abstain from drinking milk for one year, and for the father, they must stop eating or sipping curd. They cannot visit any temples or celebrate any festivals and perform ceremonies within one year.

A worker Arya Ghat cleaning the crematorium for another funeral
©2006 R. Kharel

After one year, the sons perform Barshik (a ceremony to pay final respect to the dead) and invite all relatives and feed them. They can wear different colored dress and life goes on as normal, however, the widow must wear a white dress until she dies.

After one year or within one year, the buried copper urn should be taken to Kashi, India to throw it into the holy river. Opening the rope and lid of the vessel, the ashes and bones along with container are thrown into the river, especially in the Ganges. Those who can't go to Kashi throw it into the Holy River Bagmati. It is believed that the deceased will reach heaven if thrown into the Ganges River.

Again, the sons have to do Shraddha (a ritual of final respect for the dead) every year on the same day and also in the Sorha Shraddha. The date Shraddha 16 falls before the great festival Dashain either in Asoj or Kartik (sixth or seventh month). Sorha (Nepali language) means 16, so, based on this, Sorha Shraddha lasts for sixteen days. Shraddha continues until the death of the son and widow.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Rupa Kharel

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