Origin Different kinds of disposal Funerals in different periods
Approach of Death Pre-disposal Ceremonies Bier
Removal of the Corpse Funeral Procession Anustarani
Cremation Lying of the Widow on the Funeral Pyre Cremation a Sacrifice
Return Offering of Water Regaling the Mourners
Impurity Asthi Sanchayana Santi Karma
Smasana Offerings to the Dead Sapindi Karana
Special Cases Primitive Nature of the Ceremonies  


The last sacrament in the life of a Hindu is the Antyesti or the Funeral with which he closes the concluding chapter of his worldly career. While living, a Hindu consecrates his worldly life by performing various rites and ceremonies at the different stages of his progress. At his departure from this world, his survivors consecrate his death for his future felicity in the next world. This Samskara, being post-mortem, is not less important, because for a Hindu the value of the next world is higher than that of the present one. The Baudhayana Pitrmedha-Sutras say, ‘It is well-known that through the Samskaras after the birth one conquers this earth; through the Samskaras after the death the heaven". Therefore the ritualists are very anxious to have the funerals performed with meticulous care.

The Origin

The Horror of Death

The origin of the funeral ceremonies like that of the others is shrouded in mystery. There were many factors that brought into existence the rites and ceremonies attending on the occasion of death. First of all, there was the horror of death. To an early man death was not the natural end of life, but an abnormal event which shocked him to the core. The horror depended not so much upon the physical pain that is caused at the time of death as upon the mystery of it and the result which is produced for its victim and his relatives. aLl the familiar relations ceased between them, and the body which was the centre of these relations decomposed. This horror has given birth to an obstinate disbelief in the necessity of death. The attempts to escape it are repeated, though with sad failure. Even the most natural and inevitable disease is ascibed to causes not beyond human control. The picture thus presented of the desperate refusal of mankind to accept the necessary end of the worldly career is one of the most pathetic episodes in the history of human race. In the futile attempts for averting death, many ceremonies of primitive type arose. But the contrast between life and death was so striking that man had ultimately to accept it as the natural end of human life. He then, made the proper arrangement for making the death and the life after death easy.

The Conception of the Soul after death

According to the primitive belief, death did not cause the entire annihilation of man. The usual theory of the process of death was the separation of the soul from the body. The soul may separate from the body before death as in dreams. Sickness was frequently held to be such a separation. The distinction between such a separation and that of death was that the latter was final. Thus, the deceased, though disembodied, was supposed to be still living.

The mixed feelings of Dread and Love

The survivors cherished mixed sentiment towards the dead. First, there was the sentiment of dread. It was believed that the deceased had still some kind of interest in his family property and relations, whom he would not like to quit and, therefore, was lingering about the house. It was also supposed that because he was alienated from the survivors by death, he might cause injury to the family. So attempts were made to avoid his presence and contact. Formal farewell address was given to him. He was asked to depart and even actual barriers were put between the living and the dead. Besides, he was provided with food and other articles necessary for a traveller, so that he should resume his journey to the next world. The next sentiment was of affection and love towards the deceased. The natural blood-relation still existed between the dead and his relations. The survivors were solicitous about the future welfare of the departed. They thought that it was their duty to help the dead in reaching his destination after death. The corpse was disposed of by means of fire, so that the dead, being purified, may be allwed to enter the holy place of the Fathers. Articles necessary in the journey were supplied to him, so that he may not suffer from want. As the next world was believed to be a replica of this world, every thing necessary for starting a new life was presented to him. For examble, the Anustarani or old cow or a goat was sent with him to serve as a guide in the way; daily food was offered; in later times, and even now the Vaitarani or a cow is given to help the dead in crossing the river lying in the way to Yama. Formerly these things were consumed in fire with the dead. Now they are presented to the Brahmans, who are supposed to send them to the realm of the dead through some mysterious agency.

Physical Needs

In addition to the above sentiments, there was the physical need of disposing of the dead body and the subsequent performance of ceremonies and observances. The decomposition of the corpse made it impossible for the relatives to keep it in the house for a long time. So, like other refuses, it was also removed, though with reverence and care denied to them. Moreover disease and death of the dead caused pollution and contagion in the family. In order to remove them many observances and taboos arose.

The main objects of the proper disposal of the corpse and the performance of all the rites and ceremonies connected with it are to free the survivors from the pollution of deah and to give rest to the dead. Until these rites and ceremonies are duly performed, the soul of the man is not finaly dismissed to its place in the next world; it does not find place in the company of the fathers, it is not elevated to its due position in the cult of ancestral worship and it continues to be Preta, haunting its relatives unpleasantly. This belief was current in all the ancient peoples and is universal in the lower culture even at present. The funeral ceremonies were as significant among the ancient Greeks and Egyptians as among the Hindus.

Different Kinds of Disposal

We have no pre-Vedic record of the disposal of the corpse and other funeral ceremonies connected therewith recent archaeological discoveries, no doubt, have brought to light some instances of how the dead bodies were disposed of in ancient India. But their chronology is still disputable and we cannot trace them all back to pre-historic times with any appreciable amount of certainty. Moreover, information supplied by them is limited to the burial of the dead and they do not tell anything about the postburial or the cremation ceremonies.

The earliest literary mention of the funeral ceremonies is found in the Rigveda and the Atharvaveda. The mode of the diaposal of the dead depends on the religious belief of the people concerned and their general culture. The society presented in the Vedoc hymns is sufficiently advanced, so the primitive forms of disposal are not to be found in them. Cannibalism or eating away of the dead by the survivors cannot be traced in the Vedas. The sub-aerial deposit or leaving the body on the gound was probably the earliest method of removing the corpse, as it was thesimplest. In the funeral there is no description of it, though it is referred to once. In the very primitive times, when people moved from place to place in the search of food and fodder, exposure of the dead and the diceased was very common, as they proved a burden on the wandering family. During the Vedic period, the Indo-Aryans were not a nomadic people bye they led a settled and civilized life and the aged were held in love and respect. So no exposure of the aged persons took place. But Kaegie quotes the following remarks of Zimmer to show the treatment accorded by the Germans to the aged, in order to prove the existence of a simolar custom among the Rigvedic Aryans. Among the Germans, when the master of the house was above sixty years old, if the signs of the weakness of age were of such a character that he "no longer had the power to walk or stand, and to ride unassisted and unsupported, with collected mind, free will and good sense, he was obliged to give over his authority to his son and to perform menial service; the old men might be made by hard sons and cruel grand-sons to expiate painfully the love and gentleness they had neglected in their more powerful days; those who had grown useless and burdensome were even either killed outright, or exposed and abandoned to death by starvation." Kaegie says, "We have to imagine exactly similar conditins among the Indians, when the texts speak of "the divided possessions of an old father" and of "old men exposed".

The above inference is based upon a Rigvedic verse, which indicates that the possessions of the old father were divided among his sons in his life-time. But even if we suppose that they were landed property, provisions had to be first made for his and his wife’s maintenance. The passages in the later literature, however, "all negative the idea that the property of the family was legally family property; it is clear that it was the property of the head of the house, usually the father, and that the other members of the family only had moral claims upon it, which the father could ignore, though he might be coerced by his sons if they wer physically stronger…..The developed patria potestas of the father, which was marked very early, as shown by the legend of Sunahsepa, is inconsistent with the views that the sons were legally co-sharers with the father, unless thd until they actually insisted on a division of the property." Then, again, it should be observed that even in the Rigvedic times, sons were coveted, because they would offer oblations to the dead parents and their ancestors. This was not only a moral but a religious duty. It cannot, therefore, be conceived by any stretch of imagination that the Rigvedic Aryans killed their old and decrepit parents or exposed and abandoned them to die by starvation. The custom found among the ancient Germans must have been a relic of the barbarous times, that prevailedamong the prehistoric aborigines of Europe, with whom the half civilized German tribes had amalgamated. There is no distinct trace of the existences of this barbarous custom in the Rigveda, the oldest work extant of the Aryan people.

There are a few passages more in the Vedic hymns from which the existence of exposure is inferred. The Rigveda refers to a person cast out and the Atharvaveda speaks of the dead man being exposed (Uddhita). But the latter passage may well refer merely to the bodies being exposed after death to the elements as is done by Parsis. The former passage may refer to the individual case of some person who may have been cast out, and proves absolutely nothing as to a habitual or recognized custom.

We have no record of the cave burial also in the funeral ceremonies of the Hindus. It seems that it was not a recognized form of disposal. Water burial or to fling a dead body into a sea or a river is one of the easiest ways of getting rid of it. That doubtless is the reason for thus disposing of the corpses of slaves or common people in various places. But it does not account for every case of water burial. In some cases the object is not merely to get rid of the body, but to prevent the deceased from returning to plague the survivors, for water is usually regarded a barrier to scare away evil spirits. The practical utility of water burial is recognized in Hinduism in the case of those who have no survivors, to perform their funeral ceremonies. But the sentiment of fear is not so prominent in the Hindu mind. At present water burial is accorded to small children, who are esteemed too innocent to require a purification, or to realize ascetics and mendicants, who have no family ties and do not stand in need of funeral. Married men and women, who die of some epidemics, are given water burial. But in their case, the funeral ceremonies are postponed to a subsequent convenient time when their effigies are properly burnt and the post cremation ceremonies are duly performed.

Inhumation or burial proper is almost absent in the present day Hindu funerals, except in cases of great saintly personalities and very small children. But the existence of this custom among common people in the Rigvedic times is proved by the verses contained in it. Addressing the dead body carried to and lying in the burial ground, the priest says : "Go to this thy mother, Earch, the wide-spread, delightful Earth; this virgin (Earth) is, as soft as wool, to the liberal worshipper; may she protect thee from the proximity of Nirrti. Earth, rise, above him; oppress him not; be attentive to him and comfortable; cover him up, Earth as a mother covers her child with the skirt of her garment. May the earth heaped over him lie light; may thousands of particles (of dust) envelop him; may these mansions distill ghee for him; may they every day be an asylum to him in this world. I heap up the earth around thee placing (upon thee) this clod of earth; may I not be injured; let the Piatra sustain this thy monument; may Yama make thee a dwelling here."

Scholars influenced by the later day custom of cremation and the subsequent burial of the remains hold that the above hymns refer to the Asthi Sanchaya or the collection of bones. aCcording to Sayana the above verses were uttered at the time when the bones of the dead were put into an urn and buried into a grave. He bases his opinion on the Asvalayana Grhyasutra. But this was a later custom, and should be regarded as a relic of the ancient custom of burial, which was being replaced by the custom of cremation. It was a compromise between the two customs. The opinion of Sayana cannot be accepted owing to the following reasons:

At the time of cremation, verses were uttered with the object of sending the dead man to heaven, the dominion of Yama, situated in the highest heaven. If he had already been cremated and gone to heaven, why soon afterwards, at the time of burying his ashes and bones, should he be asked again to go "to this thy mother Earth" the widespread delightful Earth? Such a procedure would be inconsistent and contradictory.

If it be at all possible for the dead corpse to suffer any pain, it must have suffered extreme agony at the time of cremation, and the burnt bones and ashes would suffer no further pain or agony at the time of their burial in grave, enclosed in an urn provided with a lid, over which earth was heaped up. But the verses become quite intelligible when they are applied to the burial of a corpse. The dead body was still there, as would appear from a perusal of the verses in which the mourners have been described as taking away the bow from the dear man’s hand, and it was quite natural for them not to have been able to as yet to dissociate themselves from their feelings and belief that the dead man, who had been quite alive a few hours back, could not feel any pain afterwards. It was, therefore, quite natural for them, while performing their last duty towards him, to entertain tender feelings for him, and address him as follows: "Go to this, thy Mother-Earth etc." and the earth was also asked to be kind and soft to him.

There can be no doubt that the foregoing verses refer to the burial of a dead person and not to his ashes or bones after cremation. But it must be admitted that even during the Vedic period this custom was becoming optional and falling into disuse. When the cult of sacrifice was fully established, the funeral came to be regarded as a sacrifice and cremation became the most prevalent custom, replacing the older custom of burial. In the Grihyasutras the burial of the dead bodies is not mentioned, though the ancient tradition was followed in the form of burying the bones and ashes of the dead after cremation. In subsequent times the burial of the dead became quite unknown among the Hindus except in the cases of very small children and ascetics.

Preservation of the dead body in the house with or without previous desiccation or mummification is not mentioned at all in the ritual literature of the Hindus. This custom was prevalent in a rude or archaic society that believed that the soul or spirit of the man was still dwelling in the body after his death. The Indo-Aryans out grew this stage as early as the Vedic period. According to their faith the spirit departed from the dead body and there was no sense in preserving it.

Cremation or burning of the dead body is the most recognized mode of the disposal of corpse among the Hindus from the time of the Vedas up to the present day. This mode evolved at a high stage of the human civilization, as it is the most scientific and refined. More than one causes might have operated in bringing this custom into existence:

Tribes without a settled abode may have found it convenient, if they desired to carry about the remains of their dead, or to remove such remains beyond the possibility of desecration by their enemies.

Another very powerful motive for cremation may have been the desire to be quit of the ghost. The fortress of the ghost was destroyed by fire and it was frightened away by its flames.

Fire, consuming forest, grass, and refuses might have suggested its utility in burning away the dead also.

In the beginning the above causes may have been more active, but the most potent factor that gave the custom of cremation a lasting position was the religious belief of the Indo-Aryans as the messenger of the gods on earth, and the carrier of the oblations offered to them. The material things that constituted Havya could not be bodily and directly conveyed to the gods in heaven; hence the services of a heavenly messenger and carrier like Agni were requisitioned. This analogy was also extended to human corpses as well as to the carcases of the animals that were sacrificed to the gods. After a man died, it was thought necessary to send his body to heaven. This could be only done by consigning it to Agni. After the body was consumed by it and reduced to ashes, the dead could receive a new body in the world of Yama and join the Pitara and his ancestors. This seems to be the most powerful idea underlying the custom of cremation, and this idea was essentially a religious one. Before fire was discovered and brought to human use, corpses used to be cast away as a rule, or buried under ground, or exposed to be devoured by carnivorous birds and beasts. The custom of cremation must, therefore, have come into existence in the last. One branch of the ancient Aryans, the Parsis, however, retained the older custom of exposing the corpse to be devoured by birds, even after they had become staunch Fire-worshippers, for they regarded Fire too sacred to be polluted by such an unclean thing as a corpse. But the Vedic Aryans did not agree with them in this view, and anxious as they were to see their beloved dead go to heaven and join his ancestors, they consistently thought it right to consign his dead body to Agni in order to transfer it to heaven, in a subtler and a more resplendent form befitting his new environments.

There was another religious belief also which seems to have been instrumental in introducing the custom of cremation. It was believed that the evil spirit mostly originated from the wicked souls of the dead persons buried in the earth. So the people thought it necessary to restrict their number in the terrestrial region by wiedely introducing the customof cremation and thus sending the dead to the regions of Yama or Nirrti, there to receive the reward or punishment of their actions. The Hindus even now regard cremation as absolutely necessary for the welfare of the souls of the dead, excepting those of the infants who are sinless and pure, and of the holy medicants or Sadhus who are supposed to have overcome evil tendencies during their life-time, and are, therefore, accorded a burial as perfectly harmless. But in the case of ordinary men and house holders, want of cremation is looked upon with horror, retarding the progress of the souls in the other world (Sadgati). The Hindus call the cremation ceremony Aurdhvadaihika-kriya or the ceremonies that release the soul from the body for its upward journey to heaven. Unless the ceremony is performed, the departed soul is believed to linger about its late habitation and hover without consolation, and in great distress as a Preta.

The rites of cremation are denied to babes and children under the age of (initiation or puberty). Children are generally buried. In some cases at least, and possibly in all, this is done with a view to securing their rebirth. Persons dying of epidemics are generally cast away in water. It is due to the superstition that the evil spirits that bring these diseases will be infuriated if their victims are burnt. Persons held in reverence are also not burnt, as their sacred qualities set them apart from the rest of manking. Women dying in pregnancy or childhood also are not accorded the rites of cremation.

The Funerals

    The Vedic Period

For the full details and descriptions of the funeral ceremonies we should begin with the Vedic period. The details of the rites must, like those of the marriage rites, have differed among different tribes during the time of the Vedas. But we have no record of the different families. Moreover, the verses of the ceremonies are not arranged in the order of their occurrence in the Rigveda X. 14-19 and the Atharvaveda XVIII where they are collected. Still we can easily guess the main incidents of the rite:

When a man died, verses were recited to revive him (AtharvavedaVII.53); when this failed, funeral rites were started.

The corpse was washed (Atharvaveda V19.4) and the big toes tied together with a bunch of twigs, lest death should walk back to the house after the corpse was sent out (Atharvaveda V.19.12).

The corpse was removed on a cart drawn by two bulls (Atharvaveda 2.56; Ta triya Aranyaka IV.1.3) accomapanied by mourning relatives and professional mourners (Atharvaveda VIII.1.19, Atharvaveda IX.2.11).

The corpse was dressed in the burning ground (Atharvaveda.XVIII.2.57).

The face of the dead was covered with the omentum of a cow (Atharvaveda XVIII.2.58).

The staff or the bow was taken off from the hand of the dead person (Atharvaveda XVIII2.59.60).

The widow lay down on the funeral pile by the side of her husband (Rigveda X.18.7; Atharvaveda Xviii.3.1.2).

A goat was sacrificed and the pile was lit up. Women expressed their grief (Atharvaveda XVIII.2.4.8).

The various parts of the dead man’s body were directed to go to appropriate places (Rigveda X.16.3).

The bones were collected and buried and in some cases a funeral monument was erected (Rigveda X.18.11.13).

A farewell address was presented to the dead. (Rigveda X.14.7.8).

The survivors took their funeral bath to purge the pollution caused by the funeral fire (Atharvaveda XII.2.40-42).

The pure sacrificial fire was lighted up in the house to remove the impure fire (Atharvaveda XII.2.43-45).

On the completion of the funeral rites the corpse-eating Fire (Kravyada) which had been invoked for cremation had to be sent out of the house (Atharvaveda XII.4.4). The Grahi Fire was also sent out, who holds fast in his net the house, when a dame’s husband dies (Atharvaveda XII.2.39).

Then there was feasting and resumption of dancing and laughter (Rigveda X.18.3).

Thus in the above list of the incidents, we find all the four parts of the complete funeral rites, the burning; the Abhisinchana and Smasana-chiti (the washing of the corpse and piling of the funeral pyre); the Udaka-karma (water oblations); and the Santikarma (pacificatory rites). The details have suffered much alteration during the passage of time, but the fundamental divisions of the rite are still the same.

    The Sutra Periods

Coming down from the vedas we find the description of the funeral ceremonies in the sixth Chapter of the Aranyaka of the Krsna-Yajurveda. The Aranyaka describes the ceremonies under the title of Pitramedha, or the rites for the welfare of the manes, and gives all the mantras required for the ceremonial of the first ten days after death, leaving the Sraddha or the rites meet for the eleventh day altogether unnoticed. The verses are mostly taken from the Rigveda, and arranged in consecutive order, but without any clue to the particular rituals for which they are meant. In the few Grhyasutras, in which the Antyesti Samskara is described, the ceremonies are further detailed and more systematic. The Baudhayana and the Bharadvaja Grhyasutras aphorize the said Aranyakas supplying many dificiencies in it. They also give several particulars not to be found in the Asvalayana Grhyasutras which also deals with the subject. The Hiranyakesi Grhyasutra also describes the funeral ceremonies and are supposed to be relied upon by laterday writers.

    Later Additions and Omissions

The mediaeval and modern Paddhatis and Prayogas generally draw upon these sources, adding new features and omitting obsolete items of the Samskara. Besides tradition plays a great part in these ceremonies. The chronological differences will be noticed in their due places while treating a particular item of the funeral rites.

5) The Approach of Death

The scriptures do not fully record all the customs followed and ceremonies observed before death. But from the tradition we know a number of them. When a Hindu feels that his death is near he invites his relatives and friends and holds friendly discourse with them. To promote his future weal he makes presents to the Brahmans and the needy. Among the presents, the gift of a cow is the most valuable. She is called Vaitarani; she is supposed to be the conductor of the dead over the stream of the under-world. In the Sutra period this cow was called Anustarani and she was either sacrificed and burnt with the corpse or let loose to run away from the cremation ground. When the slaughter of a cow became prohibited, she was presented to a Brahman and was believed to help the dead in crossing the infernal river through some mysterious power of the receiver. This custom still continues. When the dying hour draws near, the patient is placed on a cleansed spot on sandy soil. The dying couch is prepared in proximity to the three fires or, if he preserves only one, near it, viz., the domestic fire. Here the deceased is laid down with his head turned towards the south. Sacred passages from the Vedas of one’s own school are chanted in the ears. If the patient is a Brahman, passages from some Aranyaka are repeated in his ears. At present verses from the Bhagvadgita and the Ramayana are recited to a dying person.

6) Pre-disposal Ceremonies.

The first mantra given in the Aranyaka refers to the performance of a homa just after death. But this rule is binding only on the death of one who, in his life-time, had maintained the sacrificial fires. According to the Baudhayana, four offerings should be made, while touching the right hand of the dead man, to the Garhyapatya fire, with a spoon overflowingly full of clarified butter. Bharadvaja, however, prescribes that the offerings should be made to the Ahavaniya fire; he is silent whether they should be fourfold or not. Asvalayana recommends that the offerings should be made at a subsequent stage. With the decline of the sacrificial religion among the Hindus, this prescription has lost its force and is followed in a very few orthodox families. New Pauranic and popular customs have taken its place. They pour some drops of water with a few leaves of Tulasi in the mouth of the dying person. A very strange custom has evolved in Bengal. According to it, the dying person is carried to the riverside and the loser half of the body is immersed in water at the moment of death. This ceremony is called Antarjali and forms a very offensive part of the modern ceremonial in Bengal. With a flourish of rhetoric it is called Ghat murder. That this custom is not ancient will be evident from the following observations. All the scriptures referred to above take it for granted that death has happened within the house, if not near the place where the sacrificial fires are kept. Considering this negative evidence against the custom, its total absence in other parts of India and the oldest authority on the subject being the most recent of the Puranas, we can fairly conclude that it is of modern origin. None of the authorities usually quoted, enjoining it as a positive duty, belongs to a time earlier than the sixteenth century A.D. It has come into existence probably since the date of Raghunandana and his contemporary writers on ritual.

7) The Bier

According to the Grhyasutras, after the homa, a cot made of udumbara wood (Ficus glemarata) is to be provided, and having spread on it a piece of black antelope skin with the hairy side downwards, and head pointing to the south, the corpse is to be laid thereon with the face upwards. Under the present practices, however, the cot can be made of bamboo and the antelope skin is dispernsed with. A son. A brother, or other relative, or in their absence whosoever takes the lead, should next address the corpse to give up its old clothing and dress it in a new suit: "Give up the clothes thou hast hitherto worn; remember the Ista and the Purta sacrifices thou hast performed. The fees to Brahmans thou has given, and those gifts thou hast bestowed upon thy friends." The body is then covered with a piece of unbleached uncut cloth, having fringes on both sides, the operation being performed while repeating the mantras, "This cloth comes to thee first." The dead is required to change his or her old shabby clothes and put on pure and new ones for entering the next world. Then the corpse, being wrapped up in its bedding, is to be borne on its cot to the place of cremation.

8) The Removal of Corpse

The removal of the corpse, according to some authorities, should be made by ages slaves, according to others, on a cart drawn by two bullock. The mantra for the purpose says, "I harness these two bullocks to the cart, for the conveyance of your life, whereby you may repair to the region of Yama, to the place where the virtuous resort." This indicates that the most ancient custom was to employ a cart and not men. The Asvalayana Grhyasutra suggests only one bullock to beemployed. Any how, the ancient Sutrakaras evince none of the repungance to the employment of the Sudras for the removal of the corpse of a Brahman, which the modern Smritis entertain on the subject. According to the latter, none but the blood relations of the dead should perform this duty and the touch of others than that of one’s own caste is pollution, which can be atoned for only by the performance of an expiatory ceremony. This prejudice first manifested itself in the time of Manu. He says, "Let no kinsman, whilst nay of his own class are at hand, cause a deceased Brahmana to be carried out by a sudra, because the funeral rite, polluted by the touch of a servile man, obstructs his passage to heaven." The subsequent authorities are equally emphatic on prohibition of a Sudra’s touch.

9) The Funeral Procession

The funeral procession is headed by the chief mourner, generally the eldest son of the dead. In many localities, the man leading the procession carries a fire brand in his hand which he has kindled at the domestic fire. The chief mourner is followed by the funeral bier and the latter is followed by the relatives and the friends of the deceased. The Grhyasutras enjoin that all the Sapindas should join the funeral procession of the dead who are older that two years. The order of the mourners in the procession is according to age, the elders being in front. In ancient times women also went to the ground of cremation with loose dishevelled hair and their shoulder besprinkled with dust. But not this custom is stopped. The following verse is repeated by the chief mourner at the time of start: "Pusa, who knows the road well, has well-trained animals, to carry you, and is the protector of the region, is bearing you away hence; may he translate you hence to the region of the Pitras, may Agni, who knows what is meet for you bear you away."

10) The Anustarani

A most important member of the funeral procession in ancient times, was an animal called Anustarani or Rajagavi. For this purpose a cow of a particular description (which might be substituted by a goat) was chosen. The animal was brought with the following verse: "Protector of regions, this is an offering for thee." According to the Sutrakaras the cow should be sacrificed, but should any accident happen at the time of the sacrifice, the animal was set free. The mantra for the sacrifice runs: "Companion of the dead, we have removed the sins of the dead by thee; so that no sin or decreptude may approach us." If it was necessary to let loose the cow, she was to be made to walk thrice round the pyre, while the leader repeated the mantra each time. Then she was sacrificed by another verse which runs, "Mayest thou be a source of satisfaction by the milk to those who are just born, as well as those who may be born henceafter," and lastly the cow was set free with, "This cow is the mother of the Rudras, the daughter of the Vasus, the sister of Adityas, and the pivot of our happiness, therefore, I solemnly say unto all wise men, kill not this sacred harmless cow. Let her drink water and eat grass. Om! I let her loose." At present the cow-sacrifice for any purpose is prohibited altogether and in its place the gift of a cow is made just before the death of the person and at the cremation ground befor the corpse is burnt.

In the opinion of Oldenberg, we get the idea of substitution in offering a cow or a goat at the time of burning the dead body. Fire consumes the flesh of the cow or the goat which cover the corpse and spare the dead man. He bases his opinion on the Rigvedic verses (X16.4.7) that run:

The he-goat is thy part; with fire consume him;

Let thy fierce flame, thy glowing heat devour him.

Shield thee with vows against the flame of Agni,

Be wholly covered with their fat and richness;

So may the bold one eager to attack thee

With fierce glow, fail to girdle and consume.

The German savant is justified in his conclusion so far as the Rigvedic ideology is concerned. But during the Sutra period the ideas changed and the above offerings were regarded as provision during the ethereal journey and for the life in the next world, as is evident from the verses accompanying them. In subsequent periods the same idea continued in the form of gift, though the method of sending the provision to the next world was changed. Formerly the funeral Fire conveyed it there on its up-going flames; now it is done through the mysterious agency of the Brahmans. Moreover the cow help in the journey of the dead, as their very name, Vaitarani or Anistarani suggests.

The journey from the house of the dead to the cremation ground is divided into three parts, and the funeral procession stops at every halt where special rites are performed. The Yamasuktas are repeated in the way. The general practice at present, however, is to repeat the sacred name of Hari or Rama while carrying the corpse. The majority of population dispense with the ceremonies in the way and the recital of the hymns dedicated to Yama.

11) The Cremation

After the arrival at the cremation ground, the next operation is to select the ground for arrange the pyre and digging a trench. The Aranyaka does not allude to the items of the ceremonies preceding the burning of the corpse at the cremation ground which shows that these were formerly performed without the aid of any mantra. But the Grhyasutras contain special regulations, particularty as to its orientation. The rules prescribed for the selection of the ground somewhat resemble the same regarding the place of offerings for the gods. The plot duly selected is purified and a formula is chanted to scare away demons or ghosts. The trench, according to Asvalayana should be twelve fingers deep, five spans wide and as long as the corpse with its hand uplifted. The kind of wood used, the size and the orientation of the pyres, and other things related to them are regulated by the sacred texts and nothing is left to the shims of the mourners. In the opinion of some writers the corpse should be disembowelled and the cavity filled with ghee. The idea underlying this operation was to purify the corpse and to facilitate the cremation. Later on, however, this custom was regarded repulsive. At present, the pairing of hair and nails of the dead body and washing it with water are thought to be sufficient for purification. The corpse is now laid on the pyre, the threads that bind the thumbs are loosened, the cords that hold the bier together are cut off and the very bier is either flung into the water or placed upon the pyre. The corpse in its hands should have a piece of gold if it is of a Brahman, a bow if of a Kshattriya, a jewel if of a Vaisya. In the Vedic and the Sutra periods, when everything was done according to the rule, the Anustarani cow, as already said, was either slaughtered or let loose. Not this prescription is dropped altogether.

12) Lying of the Widow on the funeral pyre

At this stage, a reference should be made to the custom of the lying of the widow on the funeral pyre with her husband, which, though obsolete now-a-days, was prevalent up to the time of the Sutras in ancient times. The wife should lie down on the left side of the corpse according to Baudhayana. Asvalayana recommends that she should be placed nearthe head on the north side. The chief mourner, or he who was to set fire to the pyre, should then address the dead saying, "o mortal, this woman, (your wife), wishing to be joined to you in a future world is lying the corpse; she has always obsered the duties of a faithful wife; grant her your permission to abide in this world, and relingquish your wealth to your descendants." A younger brother of the dead, or a disciple, or a servant, should then proceed to the pyre, hold the left hand of the woman and ask her to come away, "Rise up, woman, thou liest bythe side of the lifeless, come to the world of the living, away from the husband, and become the wife of him who holds thy hands and is willing to marry thee."

The verses recited in connection with the above custom are first to be found in the funeral hymns of the Rigveda and the Atharvaveda. Here we find the ritualistic survival of the Sati custom. During the earlier period gifts to the dead were buried or burnt with the corpse. These gifts consisted of food, weapons, clothes and domestic animals. Sometimes slaves and even wife were also burnt or buried with the dead. The Atharvaveda calls it "the ancient custom." This inhuman custom, however, was discontinued in the Rigvedic time, thought the formality of lying on the funeral pyre by the widow was retained. The Grhyasutras precribe the same ritualistic substitution for the real burning of the widow. The ritual literature since the time of Rigveda is not in favour of burning the widow alive. The Paddhatis and the Prayogas on the funeral ceremonies have cnacelled this custom, altogether, even not reuiring the widow to attend the ceremonies performed at the ground of cremation. But the Sati custom never ceased entire and later on it was revived in certain tribes and families.

When the ceremony of lying on the funeral pyre y the widow was finished, she was asked to bring away the gold referred to above from the hands of the dead with following mantra, "For the promotion of thy wealth, and glory as a Brahman woman, and beauty and power, take the gold from the hand of the dead (and abide) in this (region); we (shall dwell) here well served and prospering, and overcoming all assailants." The commentator on the Asvalayana Grhyasutra says that the remover of the widow, and not the widow herself should take the gold, and that in the case of his being a slave, this and the two preceding verses should be repeated by the chief mourner. Wilson and Maxmuller take it in the same sense, though Sayana’s comment is opposed to it. But whatsoever may be the difference in the interpretation, the removal of the widow and the articles was completed. No alternative is contemplated in the Aranyaka and the Sutras. It clearly shows that when the Aranyaka was compiled, the inhuman practice of burning the living wife with her dead husband, had not obtained currency in the country. With the stoppage of the Sati custom, this ceremony automatically ceased to exist.

During the times when the sacrificial rituals were followed regularly, the sacrificial vessels which the dead used to employ in his ceremonial rites were, now, to be placed on the different parts of his body. And so were the different members of the cow if she was killed; if not, they were substituted by cakes and by imitations of her organs made of rice and barley. These articles were burnt with the corpse, so that the dead might get them in the next world.

13) Cremation a Sacrifice

When the preliminaries are finished, the cremation begins, which is regarded as an offering into the Sacred Fire, conducting the corpse to heaven as a sacrificial gift. When the pile is ready to be lighted, a fire is applied to it with the prayer, "Agni, consume not this body to cinders; nor give it pain, nor scatter about its skin or limbs! O Jatavedas, when the body is fairly burnt, convey the spirit to its ancestors." The prayer is followed by an address to the organs of the dead which runs as follows: "May the organ of vision proceed to the sun; may the vital air merge in the atmoshpere; mayest thou procveed, according to the virtuous deeds to heaven or earth or the regions of water, whichever place is beneficial to thee; mayest thou there, provide with food, exist in corporeal existence." This is a touching scene when the survivors send off their dead relative to the next world for ever but with every solicitude for his or her future happiness.

During the Sutra period the cremation was performed by the flames of three or five fires kept by the householder and a divination took place as to where the dead had gone after the cremation. Note was taken of which fire reached the dead first, and it was argued therefrom whether the dead started for the world of the gods or the manes, or to somewhere else. At present neither the different kinds of fines are preserved by a householder not the relatives of the deceased bother about his future abode.

Among the followers of some Vedic schools, a knee deep trench is dug, in which a certain water plant is placed. In the opinion of A. Hillerbrandt it is ‘Clearly an ancient superstition, the purpose of which was to cool the heat of the fire.’ The tradition explains this custom in this way. "The dead man rises from the trench and ascends along with the smoke to heaven."

According to the practices of other Vedic schools, the mourners leave the funeral pyre to burn itself aways, and the chief mourner excavates three trenches to the north of the pyre, lines them with pebbles and sand and fills them with water brought in an odd number of jars. The people who joined the precession are now requested to purify themselves by bathing in the trenches. This being done, a yoke is put up with the Pasa branches stuck in the ground and tied at the top with a piece of weak string. The mourners are made to pass under it. The chief mourner passes last and plucking out the yoke offers a prayer to the sun.

14) The Return

Then the funeral party moves off without looking around. The mourners are asked to restrain themselves from any expression of grief, and go forward with heads bent down, entertaining one another with consoling speeches and virtuous tales. "Many tears" it is said, "burn the dead." We learn from the Mahabharata that Yudhisthira was rebuked by Vyasa for bewailing the death of his nephew. For the purpose of driving away the sorrows of the survivors the story tellers are engaged.

15) The Offering of Water

The next ceremony is called the Udakakarma or the offering of water to the dead. It is performed in a variety of ways. According to one authority, all the relatives of the dead down to the seventh or thenth generation bathe in the nearest stream and purify themselves by it and offer a prayer to Prajapati. While bathing, they put on only a single garment and the sacred thread hangs over the right shoulder. Many authorities prescribe that the hair should be dishevelled and dust thrown upon the body. The mourners turn their face towards the south, plunge under the water and calling upon the dead person by name offer a handful of water and calling upon the dead person by name offer a handful of water to him. Then they get out of the water, put on dry clothes and wringing those that they had on before, they spread them out towards the north. The present day custom enjoins a very interesting items after the Udaka-Karma. Just after the bath some grains of boiled rice and peas are scattered on the ground for the crows. It recalls the primitive beliefs according to the dead were supposed to appear as birds. This supposition is confirmed by the comparison of the Maruts (an offshoot of the pitaras) with the birds.

16) Regaling the Mourners

After the bath the relatives of the dead retire to a clean and pure grassy spot. Persons conversant with the Itihasas and the Puranas regale the mourners with praises of the deceased and consoling stories from lore. They do not return to village till the sunset or the appearance of the first star. In the opinion of some, they do not go home before sunrise.Then the young ones walk first and the old ones last- a procedure reverse of that followed when the procession goes to the cremation ground. When they arrive at their home, they touch, by way of purifying themselves, the stone, the fire, cow-dung, grain , til-seed, oil and water before they step in. According to the other authoroties, at the door of the house, they chew leaves of Pichmanda or the Neem tree, rinse their mouth, touch water, fire, cow-dung etc. or inhale the smoke of a certain species of wood , treadupon a stone and then enter. The magical performances symbolize the severance of relation with the dead, and thearticles used in them are supposed to serve as barriers against the inauspicious spirit of the dead.

17) Impurity

Now the period of Asaucha, pollution or defilement, begins. The death of a person entails a condition which can be adequately expressed by the Polynesian word, "taboo" which means "setting apart a thing or a person as shunned for a religious or a semi-religious reasons." A corpse is everywhere regarded as a taboo and the greatest care is taken in approaching or dealing with it. It is not quite clear what is this taboo due to. Is the corpse feared in and for itself , or as a vehicle of death, or is it dreaded owing to its connection with disembodied spirit? Whatsoever may be the religious or sentimental motive underlying the taboo, one thing is evident that , to a great extent, it was based on the contagious nature of the corpse. So the survivors ,owing their contact with the dead person during his sickness and with his corpse after his death, are severed from the society on the sanitory grounds. The prohibitions consequent on a death, however, reach far beyond the person who have been compelled to perform the last offices about a corpse. They extend to the whole house, the whole family, the whole clan, the whole village, nay, to the very fields and even sometimes to the heavens. But generally speaking; though the whole village attends the cremation, it is more particularly the near relatives who are defiled by death pollution than distant ones.Moreover, the period of muorning and therefore of taboo varies among different peoples according to the relationship of the mourners to the deald or their various circumstances, from a few days to many months.

The period and the scope of Asaucha differs according to the caste, age, sex of the deceased. The Grhyasutras do not make any distinction between the periods of Asaucha for the Brahmans and Ksatriyas, the common period being ten days. But they fix fifteen days for the Vaisyas and one month for the Sundras as the periods of defilements. This distinction was mainly based on the observance of the rules of purity and cleanliness in the different castes. Option was, however, allowed for people of different circumstances. "Impurity caused by death lasts for three or ten days." This Sutra text is explained by Jayarama with reference to a verse from the Parasara-Smriti: "A Vipra(Brahman), who regularly performs Agnihotra and remains engaged in the study of the Vedas, is absolved from defilement in one day; one who studies the Vedas only , in three days; and one who neglates both, in ten days . The later Smritis permits even exception from Asaucha altogether. "Persons engaged in conducting a sacrifice, one initiated in a sacrifices, those performing similar ceremonies, men performing long sacrifices or undergoing some observances, students ,one who has realized |Godhood, artisans, artists, medical practitioners, maid-servants, slaves, kings and their servants become instantly purified ." The exception is entirely based on the social convenience. At present the period of defilement lasts for ten days for Brahmans, twelve days for a Ksatriyas, fifteen days for a Vaisya and one month for Sudras.

The periods as prescribed above are in the case of death of grown-up persons. The death of a child causes less impurity. According to the Grhyayasutras, the death of a child under two inflicts defilement on parents only, for one night or three; the rest of the family or the clan are untouched. The Smritis, however , enjoin three days defilement for all the Sapindas. "By the death of a child, whose teeth have come out and whose tonsure ceremony has been perfomed, all the Bandhavas become impure." If a child dies before Its naming ceremony no impurity is involved.

The sex of the deceased is also a determining factor for fixing the period of defilement . This distinction is not known to the Grhyasutras, and most probably it arose during the Smriti period. The death of a boy after his Upanayana entils full-fledged defilement, but a girl before marriage is still regarded a child and her death causes defilement for a period of three days only; if she dies before her tonsure, her death causes only one day’s defilement. Impurity caused by the death of one’s mother ends with the defilement caused by the death of one’s father which takes place earlier, but such is not the case when the death of the mother takes place earlier than the death of the father, because in this case impurity begins from the latter occurrence.

The observance of the rules of defilement for relatives and friends is optional in the Grhyasutras. "It depends on one’s wish to observe the rules of Asaucha on the death of a family priest, the father-in-law . a friend , other relatives(matrimonial) and sons of the sister," But the Dharmasutras and the Smirits make it encumbent and the lengh of the periods differ according to the closeness of the relations with the dead.

The rules to be observed during the Asaucha are of two kinds negative and positive. The negative rules require the mourners to forego the many pleasures and comforts and even oridinary business of life and thus exhibits the feelings of grief and sorrow. They forbid certain things, such as the cutting of the hair and beard, study of Vedas, Grhya offerings etc. The positive rules have also their origin in the aggrieved feelings of the survivors. They enjoin , for a period of three days , to observe continence, to sleep on the ground, to live on begged or purchased food, to eat only in the day time etc.

18) Asthi-Sanchayana

The ceremony that follows the cremation is the Ashi-Sanchayana or the "Collection of Bones." It is the remnant of the ancient custom of burial. During the Sutra period, a compromise between the burial and the cremation was introduced. According to the then current custom , the dead body was burnt , but, in order to preserve the old tradition, the remains began to be collected and buried after a few days. The Grhya-Sutras contain a very detailed account of the ceremony. According to Asvalayana the Asthi-Sanchayana ceremony should be performed on the thirteenth or fifteenth day of the wane, while Baudhayana enjoins the third, fifth or seventh from the day of cremation. First of all, the cinders should be besprinkled with milk and water and the heap should be striken with an Udumbara staff to separate the bones. The cinders should be then collected and thrown towards the south side leaving the bones behind. Three oblations should next be offered to Agni. According to the custom of the Taittiriyas, the duty of collecting the bones was performed by women, preferably by the senior wife of the deceased. Baudhayana enjoins that the women must attach a fruit of the Brhati plant to the left hand and with a dark blue and red thread, mount upon a stone , wipe their hands once with an apamarga plant and with closed eyes collect the bones with the left hand. The following verse was recited: "Arise hence, and assume a new shape . Leave none of the members of your body. Repair to whichever place you wish; may Savita establish you there. This is one of your bones; be joined with the third in glory; having joined all bones be handsome in person; be beloved of the gods in a noble place." The above formula is an appropriate commentary on the purpose of the ceremony. It shows that the dead were supposed to take a new shape in the other world for which it was thought necessary to send every part of the material body to the next world either by burning or burial.

The bones, then, were washed and deposited in an urn, or tied up in piece of black antelope skin. The pot containing the bones or the bundle was to be hung from the branch of a sami tree. The bones of a person who had sacrifices were, however burnt again. The bones of others were accorded a burial. For this purpose, an urn was absolutely necessary. Asvalayana recommends an urn with spout for females and one without it for males. The urn which was closed with a lid, was placed in a trench prepared in the same way as the ground of cremation, or it might be laid under the root of a tree. According to other authorities grass and yellow cloth were placed in the trench and the bones were thrown in.

After the Sutra period the Asthi-chayana ceremony underwent a great change. During times, people had no regard for the custom of burying the bones of every individual. The sanctity of rivers increased. The cremation began to take place generally on the bank of some river. The burial ceremony of the remains was simplified. From the later period we have an account of how the chief mourner, just after the cremation, puts the remains into a small earthen pot and throws them into the water, if there be any at hand, or if not, into some lonely place or desert. Now it is regarded very meritorious for the dead to collect the bones on the day of cremation and subsequently throw them into the Ganges or other sacred rivers: "The virtuous one, whose bone floats on the water of the Ganges never returns from the Brahmaloka, to the world of the mortals. Those, whose bones are thrown into the Ganges by men, live in heaven for thousands of Yugas."

19) Santi-Karma

The next ceremony to be noticed is called santi-Karma or the pacificatory rites for the well-being of the living. The formulas uttered during it have regard to life and adverting of death. Effective measures are taken toward off evil and to return to ordinary way of life. The mediaeval and the modern Smritikaras enjoin the shaving and pairing of nails and bathing. But the Grhya-Sutras prescribe a very long procedure. The ceremony should be performed on the morning following the ninth night after death, i.e; on the tenth day. Asvalayana, however, recommends that it should be performed on the fifteenth of the wane. In the opinion of some authorities, the ceremony should taken place at the burning ground, while the others leave it with the mourners to select any place out of a town, whether it be the burning ground or not, that may be convenient. The relatives by blood, both male and female, having assembled at the selected place, a fire should be kindled and they should be requested to sit down on a bullock hide of red colour, spread on the ground, with its neck side facing the east, and its hair directed towards the north. The relatives should be requested in the following words:

"Ascend on this life-giving skin, as you wish to live to a decrepit old age. According to your seniority, attempt carefully to abide on it. May the well-born and well-adorned fire of this ceremony bestow long life on you. Even as days follow and seasons are attached to seasons, even as the young forsake not their elders, may Dhata so prolong the life of these people according to their age.

In the modern ritual the females are not required to attend this ceremony as they perform it separately from the males and the bullock-skin as a symbol of life is not utilized, because in modern Hinduism it has become repulsive. The party having properly seated, the chief mourner should offer four oblations to the fire. The relatives should rise up and recite the Mantras, while touching a red bull. In ancient times, the women were asked to put on collyrium with the following words:

"Let these women, who are widowed, who have good husbands, apply the collyrious butter to their eyes; without tears, without disease, worthy of every attention, let these wives enter the house."

At present, this item has been dropped, as the women do not participate owing to the Purdah system, and the popular currency of widowhood among the twice-born castes, which forbids any rejoicings on the part of the widow. Then the assembly should proceed towards East, leading the bull with the words:

"These men, forsaking the dead, are returning. This day we invoke the gods for our good, for success over enemies, and for our merriment. We proceed eastwards having well sustained long lives."

The Chief mourner then recites another Mantra, and with a Sami branch, effaces the foot-marks of the bull that precedes the party. On the departure of the last man, the Adhvaryu should place a circle of stones behind him as a wall to prevent death from overtaking those that have gone forward, praying, "I place this circle of stones for the living; May we and others not go beyond it in midlife; may we all live a hundred autumns, driving death away from this heap." The party then should repair to the house of the chief mourner. The fire that served the deceased is removed of the old. Now a feast takes place and the survivors follow the course of ordinary life.

20) The Smasana

Another funeral ceremony of the Hindus is the Pitrmedha or Smasana, i.e., the building of a mound over the remains of a dead person. Burial of the dead is a custom whose origin can be traced back to the very early period of Aryan history. It must have proved a great incentive for erecting a mound or tomb over the grave. Even at present, among the Christians and the Mohammadans, where burial is the universal custom, some kind of elevation is made over the body of the dead, and in the case of rich and notable persons tomb or mausoleum is built. Though the Indo-Aryans gradually abandoned the custom of burial, they were still fond of perpetuating the memory of their departed relatives by building a mound over their remains. In the Vedas we have no reference to this custom. But the omission is not a sure proof of its non-existence. The Brahmanas that are mainly concerned with rituals refer to it. In the Satapatha Brahmana there is a detailed description of the Smasana ceremony. Not all the Grhyasutras describe it, which shows that it was not a adopt the procedure of the Satapatha Bramana with some modifications. Among the Buddhists, however, the custom of raising a mound was very popular and the Hindu Sastrakaras reserved this honour for great saints, monks and Sanyasins only. The Paddhatis make this custom optional and allot it a very insignificant position amidst the funeral ceremonies. In modern Hinduism, the Raising of a mound is almost stopped and the building of the Samadhis or Stupas is limited to a few religious celebrities.

The question for whom and at what time the smasana should be performed have given rise to ritual discussions and have been variously answered by different schools of ritual. The lapse of time after the death, the season of the year and the presiding constellations are all considered, and preference is given to the new-moonday.

After the spot is properly selected, on the day preceding the ceremony some plants are rooted up at that place. To the north of these plants earth is dug up and from this bricks, from six to twenty-four hundred, are made for building the mound besides the number employed for packing. Now the urn containing the ashes of the dead is brought and placed between three Palasa twigs driven into ground and a hut is erected over it. If the bones are not found in the trench where they were deposited, a very quaint procedure is followed. Some dust is taken from the spot or the dead man is called upon from the bank of a river, and creature that happens to fall upon an outspread cloth is regarded as the representative of the bones. Over the Palasa twigs a vessel with many holes is placed, through which sour milk and whey trickle upon the urn.

The ceremony proceeds with the trumpet blast and the sound of the lute. The company circumambulates the spot, striking the left thigh with hands. The relatives assembled there fan the urn with the skirts of their garments. Some authorities prescribe songs and dance of females also. Variations and modifications of the above description are found in different schools.

The Samsana ceremony proper should take place during the first, the middle or the last part of the night. The party goes early in the morning to the place selected for the purpose. The spot must be cleared and surrounded by a rope supported by wood stakes. Its surface should be covered with small stones. On the ground furrows are opened with a plough drawn by six or more oxen and various seeds are cats into them. In the middle of the ground a hole or made, into which gravel or saliferous earth is cast. Some quantity of milk from a cow whose young one is dead should be placed in the hole to serve as food for the dead person. A piece of reed is immersed in a trench dug to the south of the hole evidently to serve the purpose of boat to the dead. Next the darbha grass is arranged in the figure of a man and the remains are laid upon it and covered with an old cloth. Then, the vessel containing the ashes is broken and over the bones a monument is built according to a fixed plan. Where the monument is erected up to a certain height, food for the dead is enclosed within the walls. After the structure is completed, earth is piled over the Samsana and water is poured over it from the jars which are destroyed after their use. The mound or Stupa thus built is the symbol of death and many devices are used to separate the world of living from that of the dead. The line of demarcation between them is drawn by means of lumps of earth, stones and branches of tree. Some formulas are also uttered to meet the same end.

21) Offerings to the dead.

The last item of the funeral ceremonies of the Hindus comprises those offerings to the dead which are made during the Asaucha period. The dead is regarded as still living in a sense. The efforts of the survivors are to provide him with food and guide his footsteps to the paramount abode of the dead.

During the Vedic periods, the Father were invited to partake the offerings in general, but an individual invitation was hardly met with. This literary omission, however, does not negative the supposition that the offerings were made to the dead as the custom is prevalent in all religions of the world. The Sutras have got positive rules on the topic. They prescribe that a Pinda or a "ball of rice" should be offered to the dead on the first day. The ball was called "Pinda", because it was supposed to constitute the body of the Preta. With the ball of rice water for ablution was poured out for him in the open air with the words, "Bathe here." Perfumes and drinks were also offered as well as a lamp to facilitate his progress through the utter darkness that enshrouds the road to the city of Yama. A feast, which contained dishes of meat also, was given to the Brahmans on the eleventh day.

The Paddhatis on the funeral ceremonies have fully developed this part of the ceremonies. They prescribed for every day after the cremation up to the twelfth, a particular kind of offering for a particular purpose. According to them, on the first day, should be offered a rice ball, a jar of water and food articles for satisfying the thirst and hunger of the dead and building the veins of the would-be body of the dead. Darbha grass for sitting, ointment, flowers, perfumes, and lamps should also be set out for the dead. On the second day, offerings are made for constituting the ears, eyes and nose of the dead; on the third day for neck, shoulders, arms and breasts, and so on up to the ninth day when the whole body of the dead is supposed to be completed. On the tenth day the hair, beard and the nails of the survivors are pared and the Pindas offered to the dead and yama for ending the Preta-state of the deceased. On the eleventh day follow a large number of ceremonies. In the beginning ablutions are offered to the dead and Lord Vishnu is prayed to for the salvation of the Preta. It is quite a new feature in the funeral ceremonies where heavenly blessings are substituted by salvation. The most prominent item of this day’s procedure is the Vrsotsarga or letting loose a bull and a heifer. Both the animals are bathed, adorned and branded with a discus and trident. The following verse is uttered in the ears of the bull; " The four-footed Lord Dharma is Himself well-known as Vrsa or bull; I adore Him with devotion; may He protect me." Then they are married by fastening a piece of cloth to them, with "This husband, the best among all, has been given by me; the most charming among all the wives, this heifer, has been given by me." After this the pair is let loose and driven to the Southern direction "for ending the Preta-condition of the dead and enabling him or her to cross the ocean of mortality." The ceremony terminates with the feast to brahmans, who are called the Mahapatras and are eleven in number. They receive ample Daksina and all sorts of gifts that are supposed to be transported to the next world through them for the future felicity of the deceased. The provision of food is made for full one year, as the dead is believed to reach the abode of Yama in one year.

22) Sapindi-Karana

The ceremony of Sapindikarana or ‘uniting the Preta with the Pitaras’ takes place either on the twelfth day after the cremation, at the end of three fortnights or on the expiry of the year. The first day is prescribed for those who maintain the sacrifical fire, the second and the third for the rest.

The soul of the dead person does not reach the world of the Pitaras at once. It remains separate from them for a time as a Preta or Spirit. During this period special offerings are presented to it. But after certain time, the dead man passes into the abode of the fathers through the instrumentality of Sapindikarana.

On the dates prescribed for Sapindikarana the Sodasa Sraddhas are performed in the beginning. Then four pots are filled with sesame seeds, perfumes and water. Three of them are offered to the Pitaras and one to the Preta. The contents of the Preta-pot are poured into the Pitr-pot with the words, "These equal etc." and the ceremonies are over.

23) Special Cases

Besides the normal ceremonies attendant on the natural death of an individual, many special cases are recorded in the Grhyasutras and the Smrtis. In the Vedic hymns the regular funeral ceremonies are `described without any distinct reference to abnormal cases. Verses 2,3,4 and 35 of the Atharvaveda (xviii), however, may be assumed to point out such cases. The first of the above verses runs; "O Agni, bring here all the Fathers, buried, cast away, burnt or exposed to enjoy the offerings." The most popular method of disposing of the dead in Atharvavedic times was cremation , so the other cases mentioned above might have been abnormal. The burial, here, may refer to the burial of children and ascetics, custom known to later literatures on funeral; casting away may be the casting away of mandicants dying in a forest which is mentioned in the Chandogya-Upanished, or it may refer to merely depositing dead bodies in a Samadhi as recognized in Buddhism; and the exposure may have been the exposure of the dead on trees as it is recorded in the Satapatha brahmana. These cases cannot refer to very primitive method of casting away or exposure of the dead and disabled persons providing a burden on the family, as it is supposed by some scholars. Rather they represent a special ceremonial in abnormal cases. This assumption can be supported by the fact that in the above Atharvavedic verses the fathers are invited very affectionately and not remembered as cast away refuses. Coming down to the Brahmanas, we find that the satapatha Brahmana, as already pointed out, mentions the exposure of dead bodieson trees, a custom certainly followed in the cases of homeless ascentics and beggars who did not leave heirs behind them to perform their funerals. The Taittiriya-Aranyaka speaks of the rite of Brahmamedha, performed at the death of a Brahman who had realized Brahmanhood. From the Chandogya-Upanished we know that sometimes dead bodies were left uncared for and no funeral ceremonies were performed specially in case of those who had entered into forest and pursued Brahmavidya and went to Brahmaloka from where there was no return.

The most systematic treatment of the abnormal cases has been given in the Grhyasutras, where, after a through classification, the ceremonies were codified. Baudhayana in his Pitrmedhasutras has described almost all the irregular cases of funeral ceremonies. The Smrtis do not develop the ritual but prescribe different types of Asaucha to be observed and the Prayogas follow the ritual described in the Grhyasutras, though these have evolved a few new ceremonies e.g. the Jivachhrraddha not found in the earlier literature.

The first special funeral rite was of the Ahitagni or the householder, who maintained all the three Fires. He distinguished himself from the rest if the society by his religious regularity. So it was thought necessary to accord him special funeral. According to Baudhayana, Homas should be performed before and after his death and his sacrificial utensils should be burnt on a separate pyre with his effigy made of Kusa grass. It should be noted that Asvalayana prescribes the burning of sacrificial vessels with the dead body itself in a normal funeral. He, undoubtedly, records the earlier practice, when the sacrifices were offered more regularly. The Smrtis differentiate between the cremation and Asaucha of an Ahitagni and of an Anahitagni. Vrddha-Yajnavalkya says, "The Ahitagni should be burnt with the Three Fires, Anahitagni with one and the rest with the Laukikagni." In the opinion of Angira, the period of impurity in the case of an Ahitagni should begins from his cremation (which may be postponed for certain reasons), but that of the Anahitagni from the day of his death. In modern practices, however, the distinction is not well preserved as the sacrificial religion has declined and only a few Agnihotrins maintain the Three Sacred Fires at present.

Another special rite is that of children. They are not full men, so their funeral must differ from that of the adult. Their tender body should be spared the fierce flames of fires; their innocent life neither inflicts so much impurity upon the family nor it requires so much purification as the worldly life of the householders. Children do not also require in the next world all the necessities of the terrestrial life, because they are not accustomed to them in this world. These ideas underly the special rite accorded to children. Baudhayana says that Pitrmedha should not be performed in the case of the uninitiated boys and unmarried girls. According to him, in the case of abortion, the abortive child should be buried and the performer becomes instantly purified after a bath with clothes on.

In the opinion of Paingya, however, the abortion entails empurity for a period of ten days upon the mother. A child, whose teeth have not come out, should be buried with the recitation of Parnava denied to the abortive child. A child before two, Paraskara says should be buried without cremation. Manu differs from the above authorities and prescribe that "the relations of the dead child below two should take it out of the village, should decorate its person with garland and clothes and leave it in open air (or bury it beneath the earth); collection of bones should not be done in this case. Neither the child should be cremated nor it should be offered water oblations." But he allows an option in the case of a child whose teeth have come out, and Baudhayana even recommends cremation if desired by the relatives. At present the burial of children is performed in some localities, but in the majority of cases they are thrown away into rivers and no impurity is observed.

The next special rite is that of a Garbhini or a pregnant woman who dies in her pregnancy. Baudhayana says that she should be carried to the cremation ground. After saving the child she should be burnt properly with the additional gift of an Astakadhenu, a Tiladhenu and a Bhumidhenu. The ceremonies following cremation should be the same as usual. At present in such cases no attempt is made to save the child and it is burnt with mother, and the funeral ceremonies are the same as in the normal cases. The modern Paddhatis prescribe special ceremonies for a woman dying in her confinement or monthly course. According to them, her body should be bathed with waterfrom a jar, in which Panchagavya is mixed. It is, certainly, done to purify her body which is contaminated with the impurity of the childbirth or the menstural flow. Then the Prajaptyahutis are offered and the body is covered with new clothes and burnt. But the cremation is distinguished by not burning the corpse entirely.

The funeral of the Parivrajakas, retired ascetic and mendicants form another class by Itself. They are the persons, who have given up all worldly attachments and have realized the Brahman or the Universal Soul. Their goalin life is not the attainment of the Pitrloka nor of the Svarga, but the acquirement of Brahmaloka or salvation. Therefore, both socially and religiously, they are above the ordinary householders. Hence their last sacrament must be different from that of those, who are after worldly pursuits and heavenly pleasures. The first mention of funeral of a realized brahman is made in the Taittiriya Aranyaka where it is called Brahmamedha. The Baudhayana Grhyasutra describes the funeral ceremony of a Parivrajaka as follows. The dead body should be laid in a ditch and begging bowl placed on his belly with the appropriate verses. Then his Kamandalu should be filled with water and put on his right hand. Next the ditch should be covered with earth and a mound should be raised on it to save the corpse from the carnivorous animals. The performance of this duty to the Parivrajakas is regarded very meritorious. The post-cremation ceremonies are prohibited in the case of a Sanyasin.

This custom is still followed in certain sects of the ascetics. But after the transition of |Hinduism from Vedism or Brahmanism to Puranism and Trantraism, Sanyasa came to be regarded as Kalivarjya. Though Sankaracharya broke this prohibition by his example, Sanyasa never become popular in Hinduism again. The modern Sadhus belong to different sects, following |Jnanamarga or Bhaktimarga, and they cannot be properly called Sanyasins. Some of the sects practise burial but the majority of them prefer water-burial and their last offices are completed with a grand feast to the Sadhus and the Brahmans. The present custom of breaking the skull of an ascetic is based on the Upanisadic belief that the soul of a brahmajnani escapes through the Brahmarandhra or a hole on the top of head. So the skull is broken to facilitate the departure. The Sanyasins are not cremated, because being purified by the fire spiritual knowledge and merged in brahman, they do not require material fire to sanctify their body and covey the soul to the next world. 

Men, dying in distant lands away from their homes, form another category. Here too Baudhayana is the first Sutrakara who describes the ceremonies in detail. The relations, when informed of the death, should bring the dead body, if preserved, or the bones for the proper funeral. In the latter case, thirty three bones should be selected from different limbs, as the man was supposed to consist of thirty three. But when the bones were not available and only the direction was known, the Preta was called by name from that direction, an effigy of the man was made on the black deerskin, sacificial vessels were placed on it, Kusa grass was scattered on these articles and the cremation was performed. When no clue of the person gone abroad was found and he was believed to be dead, his funeral ceremonies were performed as described above. In such cases, sometimes, a few of the supposed dead persons came back home. They had got to be revived again with the proper Samskaras, from the Conception to the Vivaha, as they were socially dead and no body would keep contact with them. At present the same ritual is followed but the people do not evince any hurry about the funeral of missing persons, and their Antyesti performed when the possibility of their return is over.

A peculiarly novel practice of Jivachchraddha has come into existence in modern time. By an orthodox Hindu it is believed that his proper funeral is essential for his Sadgati, (heaven or salvation). In case he has got no sons, or when he is doubtful whether his Antyesti will be properly performed by his children or not, he becomes anxious to see that it is duly done in his life-time. His person is represented by an effigy and the entire ceremonies are performed as usual. There is, however, a popular superstition that persons, whose Antyesti is performed in their life time, die very soon. So only a few dare to do so.

Those who die of accidents are also treated as special cases. According to Budhayana, those, who die of wounds caused by weapons, administration of poisons, choking by a string, drowning in water, fall from a mountain or a tree etc., do not deserve a funeral. Most probably they were thrown away into water or cast away into forests. At present, however, they are accorded funeral ceremonies after performing certain Prayaschittas. The idea underlying the denial of funeral in this case was that these persons could not be admitted into the Pitrloka; therefore it was futile to undergo the botherations of tedious ceremonies. But the Gautama Dharmasutra says that the survivors could perform the Udakakarma etc. if they liked. The majority of the Smritis, however, prohibit the observance of Asaucha and performance of ceremonies, as no impurity is caused by their death.

The patitas or fallen are also recorded as special cases. According to Manu, an apostate, a man born of Pratiloma marriage, a suicide, a Pasanda, and adultress, a woman causing abortion, or hating her husband etc. should not be given a funeral. Yajnavalkya includes thieves also in the same class. The reason behind this prohibition is that these people are lost to society on account of their unsocial habits and, therefore, they are not entitles to the social privilege of deriving benefit from a Samskara. At present such cases are not detected or publicly accepted, and many of the fallen pass as ordinary householders.

24) The Primitive Nature of the Ceremonies

The funeral ceremonies, though often repeated and tedious, are of the simplest type. In no other field of Hinduism the primitive beliefs regarding life and death survive so insistently as in the nave funeral operations. The next world is nothing but the replica of this earth, and the needs of the dead are the same as those of the living. Throughout the ceremonies the prayers are offered for the sensuous enjoyments and ease of the dead. We do not find any indication of the desire for his or her spiritual benefit, salvation or beatitude. The prayer for freedom from the cycles of birth and death is very casual and could be discovered only in the latest phase of the ritual. The whole performance is of the most primitive kind, and speaks of a period of remote antiquity.

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rayers are offered for the sensuous enjoyments and ease of the dead. We do not find any indication of the desire for his or her spiritual benefit, salvation or beatitude. The prayer for freedom from the cycles of birth and death is very casual and could be discovered only in the latest phase of the ritual. The whole performance is of the most primitive kind, and speaks of a period of remote antiquity.

Contact India Pvt Ltd
Mumbai, India
Tel : 0091 22 26874785
Fax : 00 91 22 26874797
e.mail : info@

1999-2003 Best Viewed in 640x480