A very brief summary of a few ceremonies before and after funerals

Garuda Purana
[Acharya Satyam Sharma Shastri, our resident Panditjee, gave a
series of discourses based upon the Preta-kanda of the Garuda
Purana.Some points are highlighted or very briefly summarized below.]

The Garuda Purana is in the form of a dialogue between Lord Vishnu and Garuda. It deals with present life and afterlife, it deals with Bandhan and Moksha or bondage and liberation and describes the pathways that lead to Bondage and the pathways that lead to Liberation, it deals with the essential ceremonies required to be performed after the death of relatives and the consequences of not performing such ceremonies.

For example, it is stated in the Garuda Purana that when the death of a near relative takes place within the period of Panchak, within one year, five members of the family can die if proper ceremonies are not performed after the death. Panchak dates are based upon astrological calculations. (Hindu calendars usually list Panchak tables). The funeral and the last rites must be performed the proper way. For Panchak death there are specific instructions given in our scriptures that are to be performed upon the dead body before cremation. Four small dolls made from Kusha grass (described as hair of Lord Vishnu) are to be placed, accompanied by Mantras, on shoulders and knees of the dead body before igniting fire.

Clay pot with sesame seeds, milk, ghee etc,. are to be ceremoniously given away. Such proper observances of the procedures before and after cremation means then only the Preta (the soul of the deceased) reaches Param Gati or satisfaction and peace.

Upon death, DharmaRaj Yama decides by which path the through which door the soul will enter his domain, East, West, North or South.

The good people enter by the East Gate. Those who during the rainy seasons give gifts or provide shelter to the homeless, those who serve their mothers and fathers and teachers, those who read religious books and the Puranas, worshippers of Siva and of deities, Pure minded people enter through the East Gate.

The West Gate (Pashchim Marga) is for the worshippers of Lord Vishnu, Those who read scriptures, make japas of Gayatri, who practice non-violence, non-stealing, agni hotra or havan ceremony, who recite the Vedas, who practice brahmacharya, ascetics, renunciates, who have the attitude of non-attachment (vairagya) and who have spiritual knowledge, enter through the West Gate

The South Gate is for the sinners who suffer the worst tortures in hell of the Baitarani river that holds boiling hot blood and flesh.

A must in all Hindu homes is to have Ganga water Ganga water makes the house holy. A drop of Ganga jal in the mouth of the dying, brings great benefits to both the giver of the water and to the one on the death bed.

Panditjee explained about the ten day shraddha ceremony and also explained what should be done when death of a relative occurs in a far away place, when to begin shraddha? It is from the day the news is received. When the news is received but if the body is not found, then make a doll from Kusha grass, and taking the name of the deceased, burn it and place the ashes in water. When a pregnant woman dies, the unborn infant under 7 months, must be taken out and buried and then the woman is cremated. Infants upto 27 months are buried and 28 months and above are cremated. Pre-mature, still-born, miscarriage babies are not cremated but are buried

After the death of such infant, bathing cleanses the family. No Sutak and no ceremony are required. If child dies before milk teeth come out, then there is no Sutak. After death of such a child, feed milk and rice to children. When a child of 5-to 12 years dies, then ten days ceremony is done with ten pindas.

When a wedded girl dies, then the in-laws side does the Sutak. Girl, who is engaged only, then both sides observe Sutak.

When a son dies and the father is alive, then the father cannot apply or light the funeral pyre, and there is no Sapindi ceremony. Father does not do Vidhi (ceremony) for son.

The living son performs the ten day ceremony for the soul and not for the body. Living son performs the ceremony to liberate from fatherís debt. If there are many sons, any one son can perform the ten-day ceremony. Sons staying apart can each perform the ceremony. Final rites for the mother and for the father, done according to scriptures, yield fruits that are equal to making Parikrama or circumambulation of earth.

Garuda Purana explains the make up of the physical body as well as the subtle body with the six Chakras, and advises that we breathe 21600 times during 24 hours and that each inhaling and exhaling be made into an act of japa mala with such mantras as Soham, Hare Ram etc.

The human body is subject to disease, old age, infirmity etc. and yet we hope to live but we do not realise for what purpose. While the senses are working, practice self-realisation. Therefore make good use of time for self-realisation. Youth does not come back. Wealth is like a dream that can vanish. Death can come during waking hours and during sleep. We feed ourselves with sensual pleasures. Surrounded by love and hatred, Chinta or worries eat the alive and Chita eats the dead. Contentment brings happiness and attachment produces misery. Bound by iron chains can be loosened, but worldly attachments, which are invisible, are very difficult to detach. As the song goes "Kuchh Aise Bandhan Hote Hai Jo Bina Bandhe Bandh Jaate Hai."

For ten days, listen to this katha (Garuda Purana) after some one passes away. This provides liberation to the Pitrs and the son gets desires fulfilled. The speaker as well as the listener of Garuda Purana benefit. Upon death of mother and father, reading Garuda Purana gives them salvation and the entire family becomes prosperous.

Those atheists, immoral people who ignore these instructions, even their waters become impure. Deities and ancestors avoid their houses. They become poor, miserable and unhappy. Where no shraddha is performed, where Garuda Purana is not read, where other ceremonies are not performed, they are never released from the three types of rin or debts.

Rules of Impurity  (Sutak)
From the Preta-kanda of the Garuda Purana.

The impurity accruing from birth and death is fourfold. The rules of impurity are applicable to all the four castes.

The days of impurity are ten for the relatives on the fatherís and motherís side. People should avoid taking meals during this period with the relatives of the dead. The bereaved family should neither offer nor receive gifts, should neither undertake nor conduct sacrifices. The study of the Vedas and Shastras (scriptures) is strictly prohibited.
One should observe the following while performing obsequies rites; suitability of place and time, sufficiency of wealth, justification of purpose, validity of reason and his capability.
If a person dies in a forest conflagration or in some foreign country, then the impurity is soon removed by merely taking a bath.
If a child is dead in the womb or is born dead (still born), there should be no obsequies rite, no water libation and no impurity at all.
Artisans, architects, physicians, slaves (male or female), kings and Vedic scholars are purified immediately.
He who is undergoing a fast (abstaining from food), he who is performing a sacrifice reciting the mantras, he who has set up a sacrificial fire or he who is a reigning monarch (ruler) Ė these are exempt from the rules of impurity as are also those who are exempted by the king.
For impurity accruing from birth, the rules are not so strict. Mother is purified after ten days; father just after taking a bath.
Manu has said that there is no impurity if a person dies during the days of marriage, during festivities, during days of sacrifice (religious ceremonies). The foodstuff prepared or collected for use can be utilised by the persons concerned.
Birth: relatives incur no impurity. Impurity attaches to parents alone. Primarily, it is the mother who becomes impure. Father is purified by the touch of water alone.
In birth or death, impurity lasts for ten days.
By giving food to the hungry and to the poor and the needy, the parents get rid of impurity  - the sages have declared.
Man is purified after bathing in water from an earthen jar, mixed with gingelly seeds and clay from holy places.
He should give gifts of some articles to the village assembly (local community organization). Wealth should be given to a Brahmin.
A person distanced by seven or eight generations or he who has not undergone the Sacrament incurs no impurity.
For men who have lost their lives for the sake of (protection of) Brahmins, cows, women, or in the battlefield, infirmity lasts for a single night only.
Brahmins do not incur impurity if they are engaged in auspicious rites. Those who arrange cremation of an orphan child with a Brahmin assisting them in this act become purified as soon as they take bath.

Related articles:
Shraddha & Tarpan / Pitr-Paksha


 Hindu funeral rites

Modern & Ancient Funeral Rites on the Internet

BBC school study information on Hindu funeral rites

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