Antyesti (The Last Rites)

This is the last samskara, the last rite for sanctifying the body in this material world.  The rites are not described in Sat Kriya Sara Dipika, and are mentioned only briefly in Samskara Dipika in relation to the burial of a sannyasi.  The standard rituals are performed to insure that the departed soul does not remain in the form of a ghost or preta, and to insure the best possible destination.  Since the sincere Vaisnava who worships the Lord out of love and chants his name is assured the best possible position to pursue his spiritual activities, his relatives and friends are less particular in executing all the rituals which ensue after death.

...Hold a condolence meeting and pray for his soul to Krsna to give him a good chance for advancement in Krsna consciousness.  Certainly Krsna will give him a good place to take birth where he can again begin in Krsna conscious activities.  That is sure.  But we offer our condolences to a departed soul separated from a Vaisnava. ...After three days a function should be held for offering the departed soul and all others prasadam. That is the system.
    ( letter of Srila Prabhupada to Rebatinandana, Nov.14, 1973.)

(On that point when offering foodstuffs to the departed the brahmanas and Vaisnavas are to be fed first, then guests in order of importance to the family and departed. Then when they have all been satisfied a plate of prasadam may be made up and placed before a picture of the departed soul. That plate should then be disposed of by giving it to the lower animals, or by placing it into a river. But on no account should it be eaten by another human. More is said about this in the Sraddha Kriya section of this prayoga.)

The passing of an elevated Vaisnava is illustrated by the burial of Hari das Thakura:

After a hole was dug in the sand, the body of Haridas Thakura was placed in it. Remnants from Lord Jagannatha, such as his silken ropes, sandalwood pulp, food and cloth were placed on the body.  All around the body, the devotees performed congregational chanting, and Vakresvara pandita danced in jubilation.
       Chaitanya Charitamrta Antya Lila v.4.p.31

In the context of society however it may be necessary to observe the rules, as was the case with the passing away of King Dasaratha, Pandu and Bhisma. Thus some orthodox Vaisnavas carry out the full vedic anthyesthi rites and sraddha kriyas.

Different puranas and smrti scriptures give different details of rites to be observed, and thus, according locality and family the customs differ to some degree.

Here we would like to include the procedure that is still done today in India, but first we would like to present a method that can also be followed in the West, considering the restrictions and rules which are observed in the mleccha societies.

When a person is nearing death it is recommended that the person give a gift of a decorated cow (vaitarani) to a brahmana to ensure his safe passage over the river of death.  If a cow is unavailable he should give an equivalent sum of money.  Gifts of iron pots, salt, land, grain, ghee and laddu are also recommended. Mahabharata recommends that Visnu Sahasra Nama be recited at this time.  It is customary that the dying person should hear the names of the Lord. The legitimate claimant to the last rites may whisper the karna mantra starting with "ayusah" in his ear (a vedic mantra). Lamps may also be lit. Some people place Tulasi prasadam and caranamrta or Ganga water in the person's mouth.

When it is confirmed that the soul has passed from the body, the body may be shaved (optional), bathed and clothed in clean, preferably new cloth or silk, and placed on a mat on the floor.  According to some traditions, new cloth should be obtained, washed, and while still wet placed on the body. If the deceased is an old man, he should be clothed in white; middle aged men wear red, and young men and women wear colored cloth.  Widows wear white, black or blue. The face may remain uncovered at this time while family members pay their last respects. Tilak should be applied.

Then a frame made of udumbara wood, (Ficus Glomerata), a cot or carriage should be supplied to carry the body.  The body should be placed upon it, with the face covered.  The eyes should be closed, limbs straightened, and the big toes and thumbs should be tied together with string. The body should pass out of the house feet first.

Since cremation should not take place after dark, if the person dies during the daylight hours, preparations should be hastily made so that the burning will take place before sunset.  Otherwise the body should be taken after sunrise the next day.  The body should be burned before decomposition sets in.

One man sprinkling water, followed by a man with a pot of fire should lead the procession.  The body should be follow  next, and neither the fire nor the body should  be dropped along the way.  No one should walk between the fire and the body, or walk along side the body.  Behind the body the family should follow, the elders first, women and children last. The bearers of the body should be bathed, shoeless and without upper cloth on their bodies.  The members of the procession should also be without upper cloth, and hair should be unbound.

The place for cremation should be a clean place, on a river bank, a mountain or a forest.
 When the procession arrives at the site, they should take bath, they should bathe the body and place it upon kusa with the head facing south.  Ghee should be smeared over the body, and again it should be bathed, while saying:

om gayadini ca tirthani ye ca punyah silocayah
kuruksetram ca gangam ca yamunam ca saridvaram
kausikim candrabhagam ca sarva papa pranasinim
bhadravakasam gandakim sarayum panasam tatha
vainavam ca varaham ca tirtham pindarakam tatha
prthivyam yani tirthani saritah sagarams tatha
dhyava tu manasa sarve krta snanam gatayusam

(Having meditated upon all the holy tirthas, rivers, and oceans, the deceased has bathed in all these rivers.)

The body should be dressed in two pieces of fresh cloth and new yajnopavita. Garland and candana should be applied.  Pieces of gold or bell metal should be placed on the two ears, the two eyes, the two nostrils and the mouth.  The face should be covered with another cloth.  A body should never be burned without clothing.

The kunda for the cremation should be the length of the person from toe to outstretched hand, as wide as his outstreched arms and as deep as the measurement from the person's toe to his chest.  The hole should be cleansed and smeared with cow dung and water, and then filled with wood.
The body should be placed on the pyre with the head pointing south (according the followers of Samaveda) or north (according to followers of the other vedas).  Men should be laid with face downwards, and women should be laid on their backs, with face upwards.  Wood may be piled over the body also.

  om devas cagni mukhah sarve  enam dahantu
 (May all the devas with agni as their mouth consume the body in flames)
The claimant to the last rites should take fire in his hand.  He and his assistants, should circumabulate the pyre three or seven times, and then, approaching the head, and facing south, he should apply fire  near the  head, over the mouth, or on the chest, while the others apply fire to the wood under the body, going towards the feet.
 When the fire has burned until only a few remnants remain, they should each take seven sticks of wood one pradesa in length, and circumabulating the pyre seven times  should offer one into the fire each time around, saying:

  om kravyadaya namas tubhyam
   (I pay my respects to the personality of funeral fire.)

He should take an axe and hit the wood of the pyre seven times. Bones may be collected at this time and kept in an earthen pot.

Each assistant should then take three or seven pots of water and pour them over the fire to extinghuish it.  The slected member should the place a earthen pot filled with water on the pyre and cover it with an earthen dish, in which he should place five or eight coins.  While the others turn away from the pyre without looking back he should break the pot with a stone or brick, and coming around the pyre in counterclockwise direction he should leave the place without looking back.  They should then proceed to take bath in a river  or the ocean, the elders going first.

The burner of the body should shave, and all persons attending should bathe with loosened hair.  All cloth should be washed. After bathing, facing south with yajnopavita over the right shoulder, wearing lower cloth only they should say:

  om apah nah sosucad agham
   (May this action purify us of sin.)

Stirring the water with the ring finger of the left hand, they should submerge themselves under water once and then performing acamana, they should offer tarpana three times.

(name of departed) ...................................dasam   sitalodakena tarpayami
 (I offer cool water for the satisfaction of ......................................... name of the departed)

Then taking bath again, they should rise from the water, the children going first. They should remain away from the house until night. Only with the permission of a brahmana may they return before this time.

On approaching the house of the departed person they should place neem leaves between their teeth, and touching leaves of the sami tree they should say:

  om sami papam samayatu
   (May the sami leaves eradicate the sin.)

Touching a stone with their feet they should say:

  om asmeva sthiro bhuyasam
   (May I be steady like a rock.)

Touching fire they should say:
  om agnir nah sarma yacchatu
   (May fire give us shelter and happiness.)

They may then enter the house, the children going first.  The house may be cleansed by fumigating it with cow dung smoke three times and then sprinkling it with flowers, sesame and rice paddy.

On the day of the ceremony no cooking or eating should be done.  If ones mother, father or husband dies one should fast for three days, or if that is not possible, then one should take only fruits, but no grains.  From the fourth to the tenth day one should eat havisyanna once a day during the daylight hours.

According to ancient authorities the bones should be collected on the fourth day (or later ) after the cremation has taken place.  They should be placed in a jar which is covered with deer skin and  silk cloth and tied with a kusas grass cord.  This should be submerged in a sacred river, to the accompaniment of chanting of the aghamarsana sukta .

According to the Jayakhya Samhita boys of five years or less and girls of seven years or less, and sannyasis, should not be burned, but buried.  Other sources say that children of two years or under should be buried.  In that case tarpana need not be done. After burying the child one should submerge oneself once in water.

Throwing bones in the Ganga:
One should bathe in the Ganga, and performing acamana, facing north, holding sesame and water one should perform sankalpa;

 visnur om tat sat
 adya    ---------------------------masi ( of the month)
  -----------------------------------pakse (light or dark fortnights)
  -----------------------------------tithau (phase of the moon)
(name of departed)  --------------------------------dasasya  etany asthini gangayam viniksipami
(On this tithi, of this frotnight, of this month I throw the bones of the Ganga.)

The person should chant the purification mantras over pancagavya, one moves his brahmin thread (yajnopavita), placing his yajnopavita over his right shoulder instead of the normal left, then one should wash the bones with the panca gavya.  Mixing the bones with gold, honey, ghee and sesame, he should seal them in earth, and holding the earth in his right hand he should say:
   om namo'stu dharmaya
    (I pay my respects to dharma.)

Entering into the water he should throw the earth into the water saying:

   om sa me prito bhavatu
    (May he be pleased with me.)

He should submerge himself in water, then come out, look at the sun, and give gifts in charity.

visnur om tat sat
adya ....................................masi
...........................................pakse (dark or light)
...........................................tithau (phase of moon)
..........................................gotrasya (name of gotra or line ISKCON is Acyuta gotrasya)
(name of departed)............................................dasasya krtaitad gangadhikaranakasthi niksepa karmanah samgatartham daksinam idam kancana mulyam
sri visnu devatam yatha sambhava gotra namne brahmanaya aham dadami

Dahana Adhikari (Claimant to the last rites):
There is a specific order of precedence of the person who should perform the last rites including burning of the body.
The order for a deceased male is as follows:

The son, from eldest to youngest, their sons, sons of their sons.
The wife, either childess or with children.
Unmarried daughter, betrothed daughter, married daughter.
Daughter's son.
Youngest to eldest brother.
Youngest to eldest half-brother.
Youngest brother's son, oldest brother's son.
Youngest half-brothers son to oldest half-broher's son.
Father, mother.
Step mother
Grand daughter, married grand daughter (through the son)
Wife of great grand son
Great grand daughter
Father's father, Father's mother etc. ,
other relatives including uncles, cousins,
Disciple, guru, priest, friend, friend of the father ,
Resident of the same village of same caste,

Order for a deceased female is as follows:
Eldest son, to youngest son
Sons's son
Great grand son through male lineage
Unmarried daughter, bethrothed daughter, married daughter
Daughter's son
Daugher-in-law etc.
Disciple or student of husband or self .

A brahmacari should avoid performing funeral rites, but if others are unavailable he may perform rites for parents, grand parents and guru. The parents of a brahmacari should perform his funeral rites.

Asaucam: (Contamination period)
Following a birth or death there is a period of contamination for the relatives of the person born or deceased, the length of which depends upon the closeness of the relation, caste and age of the decesased.  Wtih the decease or birth of a close relative a brahmana has ten days of asauca, a kshatriya twelve days, a vaishya fifteen days and a sudra thirty days.  If the relation is distant the brahmana will have three days asaucam.

If a child of brahmana dies within ten days of birth, impurity is observed for ten days after the birth by the father and mother only.  If the child dies within two years, asauca is one day.

If the child dies before six years and three months, the asauca is three days for close relatives.

During the period of contamination one should not study scripture, or perform homa, Deity worship, tarpana, entertain guests etc.  If one is performing Deity worship one may perform, worship by manasa puja.  However if one has made a vow to perform worship of the Lord for his whole life, he should not break this vow, but should continue the puja.

Those performing sacrifice, students and realized souls, or one who has performed funeral rites for a sannyasi does not obeserve asauca.

Sraddha Kriya
To ensure that the soul does not remain in a subtle body hovering on this earth planet, but will attain a comfortable body for enjoyment on pitr loka, offerings are made to the departed person and the pitrs.  During the asauca period daily offerings of sesame and water, and pinda (rice mixed with sesame, ghee and honey) are given to the departed person.  On the eleventh day (for a close relative of a brahmana) the house is purified, eleven brahmanas are fed and offerings are made to the deceased. Beginning on that day, for the first year, monthly sraddha ceremonies should be held. As well, in the sixth and twelfth month additional sraddhas should be conducted. Then every year, on the tithi of the decease, annual sraddhas should be conducted.

According to Vaisnava scripture, the sraddha rites may be performed, but the priest performing the rites should be Vaisnavas and the offerings to the pitrs should be Visnu prasada.
The inhabitants of Pitrloka are generally men of the karma kandiya or fruitive activities category, who have been transferred there because of their pious activities.  They can stay there as long as their descendants offer them Visnu prasada.
                                         SB 5.2.2 purport

The sraddha ceremony of oblations to the forefathers should not be performed on ekadasi tithi.  When the tithi of the death anniversary falls on the ekadasi day, the sraddha ceremony should be held not on ekadasi but on the next day.
                                         SB7.14.23 purport

Antyesthi or Burial Rites for the Sannyasi:
At the time of passing  from the mortal body, whiel the Holy Name is being recited or sung, caranamrta, tirtha water or krsna prasadam should be placed in his mouth.

According to the injuction that a sannyasi should not touch fire, some maintain that the body of a sannyasi should not be burned.  Others state different rules for the different types of sannyasis (kuticaka, bahudaka, hamsa and parama hamsa).  Some additional rites from scripture (eg. Vaikhanasa Dharma Sutra, Jayakhya Samhita,) and by popular usage are as follows:

One should dig a sufficiently deep hole on a river bank which flows to the ocean, or on the sea shore.  Vaisnavas select the Holy Dhama, if possible.

The hole should be one step larger the the height of the person.  If the body has already been burnt, the ashes or bones should be taken to a holy tirtha and there placed in earth.

One should sprinkle the hole with pancagavya and tirtha water.
One should shave the person.
One should sprinkle the body with pancagavya chanting gayatri and purusa sukta or other mantras.
One may bathe the body with conch water 108 times chanting om, and offer fresh  cloth and tilaka.

One may worship  the body by offering 16 upacaras (asana, footwash, arghya, mouthwash, madhuparka, mouthwash, bath, cloth, gayatri thread, ornaments, sandalwood pulp, flowers, incense, lamps,  krsna prasadam, obeisances).

The following samadhi mantra, according to Gopala Bhatta Goswami in Samskara Dipika,  should be written on his body (udsing sandalwood pulp and Tulasi leaf):

     om klim srim hrim srim lavana mrd yuji bhuvi svabhre svaha

One should offer puspanjali to the body.
One should place the body in the pit chanting gayatri.
The body should be in a sitting or lying posture.

The danda should be placed in his right hand, his upavita (gayatri thread) should be placed in his left hand.

As a practical measure the body is first covered completely with salt. Then everything is covered with sand. Stones or some memorial may be placed over this.

The attending Vaisnavas should then be fed with krsna prasadam.

The rites may be performed by his son or any other person.
There is no period of impurity (asauca) for performing rites for a sannyasi.

No sraddha rites are performed, but an offering to Narayana, may be performed on the eleventh day from the decease. In that case, one should establish a fire and worship a murti of Visnu with 16 upacaras, and offer boiled rice mixed with guda, ghee and fruits to the deity and the fire.  One should present twelve brahmanas with cloth and ornaments and worship them withupacaras.  One should feed the brahmanas and give them gold.  One should chant Purusa Sukta and utter the twelve names of Visnu.

What follows is an alternative procedure adjusted for western civil standards.
1/. If a Vaisnava leaves his body at a temple.

Inform the local authorities about it. Clean the body; put on fresh Vaisnava dress, tilak, garland from the Deities; apply candana on his forehead and print the name of Lord Krsna with candan on the body. All this should be done accompanied by kirtan. Put Tulasi leaves from the feet of the Lord in his or her mouth. If holy water from the Ganges or Yamuna is available spinkle the body with it. Circumambulate the temple with the body three times in kirtan with the dead body if posible going feet first. The body should be covered with a Hari Nama chadar or clean cloth. Then arrange for the formalities for the cremation at the nearest crematorium as soon as possible.

Generally the authorities will take the body and perform an autopsy. It also takes some time until the crematorium is free sometimes. In the mean time, the authorities will keep the body in a freezer in some hospital, funeral parlour or similar place.

The cremation day should not be an ekadasi or mahadwadasi, as all the participants will go to hell according to Srila Prabhupada and Srila Jiva Goswami. On the the day of the cremation the devotees should hold kirtan and a lecture for the family and relatives or simply for the Vaisnava community, in the chapel which is usually attached to each crematorium. The cremation should always be performed during daylight hours. When the time for taking the coffin down to the furnace has come, a small group of devotees should accompany the coffin while chanting the Nrsimha prayers, then the om hrim ksraum mantra;

  om hrim ksraum
   ugram viram mahavisnum
     jwalantam sarvatmukham
   sphura sphura bandha bandha ghataya ghataya ghataya
      hum phat swaha
   nrsimham bhisanam bhadram
     mrtyu mrtyam namamyaham

At the moment when the coffin is pushed into the burning chamber one can chant the last two verse of Sri Isopanishad, and ending in om shanti shanti shantih.

  vayur anilam amrtam / athedam bhasmanatam sariram
 om krato smara krtam smara / krato smara krtam smara

"Let this temporary body be burnt to ashes, and let the air of life be merged with the totality of air. Now, O my Lord, please remember all my sacrifices, and because You are the ultimate Beneficiary, please remember all that I have done for You."
        Sri Isa Upanishad17

 agne naya supatharaye asman / visvani deva vayunani vidvan
 yuyodhy asmaj juhuranam eno / bhuyistham te nama uktim vidhema

" O my Lord, powerful as the fire, Omnipotent One, now I do offer You all obeisances, falling at Your feet on the ground. O my Lord, please lead me on the right path to reach You, and, as You know all of what I have done in the past, please make me free from the reactions to my past sins, so that there will be no hinderance to my progress."
        Sri Isa Upanishad18

The ashes, which one gets from the crematorium after the burning in completed, can later, (within the period of one year it is suggested), be taken to India and placed in a holy river like the Ganges or Yamuna, etc.

After three days a function should be held in the temple, and bhoga is offered to the Deity on behalf of the departed soul. Then the assembled Vaisnavas take the prasadam of the Lord and the family members are also invited to come and take.

For those who are living outside, like members of the Indian community or grhastas who live outside the temple sanction, or who are simply members of the greater congregation, and who quit their body somewhere outside the temple: When a time at the crematorium and chapel has been arranged, the clerks at the crematorium have to be instructed that the coffin will have to be opened.

Ceremony at the chapel

The priest should hand different auspicious items to the family members of the departed, which should be placed on the dead body by them. Such as maha garlands from the Deities, Tulasi leaves, candan, holy water etc. While the family members apply these things to the body, the priest should recite swasti vacan beginning;

om svasti no govindah svasti no' cyutanantau
svasti no vasudevo visnur dadhatu
svasti no narayano naro vai
svasti nah padmanabhah purusottamo dadhatu
svasti no visvakseno visvesvarah
svasti no hrsikeso harir dadhatu
svasti no vainateyo harih
svasti no'njanasuto hanur bhagavato dadhatu
svasti svasti sumangalikeso
mahan sri krsna saccid ananda ghanah
sarvesvaresvaro dadhatu

(May krsna, the lord of lords, and his dear sevants, bestow auspiciousness to us.)

hare krsna hare krsna krsna krsna hare hare
hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare

In the case of the departed being an elderly person in the family has departed, the eldest son should offer incense and a ghee lamp in an arati fashion to the body. All the relatives can come and offer flowers to the body and sprinkle the body with Ganga jal, (if not available make some...gange ca yamuna caiva etc.), or use the Deities bathing water, charanamrta.

The priest should then recite the Visnu sahasra nam strotra, or hold a kirtan. Then he should give a short lecture from Bhagavad Gita about the nature of the soul and speak some comforting words to the friends and relatives.

Read Bhagavad Gita 2:19 text, and 20 text and purport at the service. Text 2:27 first few lines of purport are very nice.

When the time for burning has come, proceed in the same manner as above.

For members of the Indian community, most often, after the cremation is done, we hold a little program at their home with a small puja, bhajan and a short talk again.

In regards to the shraddha ceremony that Hindus observe one should read the verse and puport to SB 3:20:43., which states how devotees benefit by having son's (or children) like Prahlada, putra. This also applies to any relative of any devotee (male or female) irrespective of the relative's gender, favourability or lack of it, or station in their former life. Such is the potencey of devotees service to the Lord.

Eleven days after the cremation a purification of the house is generally held, along with offering of prasadams to the departed. At this time a Shaligram Sila can be worshipped, since it is most auspicious to perform these rites before the Shaligram according to Padma Purana. Failing this, make an altar with pictures and hold the puja to them. Offer pindas (cooked rice mixed with ghee) or halavah to the guru parampara and then to the picture of the departed soul. This food stuff should not be eaten by anyone else, it may be disposed of in a river, garden, or given to lower animals, (Not cows).

A small avahana homa (Purusha Sukta homa) can be performed and oblations of halava be offered at the time of ahuti (oblations into the fire). The priest should be given prasadam, and daksina, in the case of a lady departing, a Vaishnavi (female devotee), should also be fed at this time.

This yajna can be performed anytime for example at Janmastami chant the gayatri mantra of the Deity either 8, 28, or 108 times whilst offering ahutis, plus108 names of Krsna.

Gaura Purnima chant Gaura gayatri 8, 28, 108, times, plus 108 names of Lord Caitanya.

Nrsimha Caturdasi chant nrsimha gayatri, ugram viram etc......, 8, 28, 108, plus various prayers to Lord Nrsimhadeva or 108 names of.....!

On the Brahmotsav, the anniversary of the installation of the Deity, Brahma Samhita can be chanted and ahutis offered etc.


“Çréla Çrédhara Svämé quotes the following småti injunction regarding inheritance: patné duhitaraç caiva pitaro bhrätaras tathä/tat-sutä gotra-jä bandhuù çiñyäù sa-brahmacäriëaù. “The inheritance goes first to the wife, then [if the wife has passed away] to the daughters, then to the parents, then to the brothers, then to the brothers’ sons, then to family members of the same gotra as the deceased, and then to his disciples, including brahmacärés.”
“Çréla Viçvanätha Cakravarté adds that since Saträjit had no sons, since his wives were killed together with him, and since his daughter Satyabhämä was not interested in the Syamantaka jewel, which constituted the inheritance, it rightfully belonged to her sons.
In Kåñëa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Çréla Prabhupäda explains, “Lord Kåñëa indicated by this statement that Satyabhämä was already pregnant and that her son would be the real claimant of the jewel and would certainly take the jewel from [Akrüra if he tried to conceal it].” (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Srimad Bhagavatam 10:57:37. Purport.)