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What Happens When a Hindu Dies?

Hinduism is an Indian religion spanning over four thousand years of history. It preaches the idea of reincarnation, karma, and the existence of God within every being and object. Like other religions, Hinduism adopters abide by several customs and practices.

After a Hindu dies, it’s believed that their soul will be reincarnated in a different form. So, what customs do Hindus follow to accommodate this belief? In other words, what happens when a Hindu dies?

Hindu Funerals

After a Hindu dies, the family holds a wake at home. Cremation soon ensues, where a ceremony with Hindu funeral rites takes place to liberate the soul from the body. Then, typically, mourning can take up to a month. On the 13th day of mourning, the family may hold a preta-karma ceremony to help the soul enter the next world.

Reincarnation in Hinduism

Hindus believe that the deceased’s body is purposeless and an obstacle to the soul, which keeps reincarnating as different forms in a quest to find its true nature and grow closer to the Hindu God, Brahma. Additionally, the fate of the soul’s next incarnation depends on its karma (its actions in the previous life).

As such, many Hindus prefer cremation and focus on rituals that help smoothen the soul’s transition from the spirit world to its next incarnation.

Hindu Death Rituals

Once a Hindu dies, a wake is held in their home. The body is then transported to a cremation ground near a river or body of water (traditionally) or a local crematorium where a MukhAgni ceremony takes place.

This ceremony involves several death rituals that take the form of chants and mantras overseen by a priest or the eldest son, accompanied by several friends and family members. The rituals include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Washing: The body is washed with milk, honey, yoghurt, or ghee.
  • Dressing: The body is dressed in smart clothes or wrapped in a traditional white sheet, depending on the family’s preference.
  • Essential Oils: Essential oils are placed on the body’s head. Turmeric for women and sandalwood for men.
  • Positioning: The body’s palms are met in a praying fashion, and the toes are tied together to emphasise the circulation of energy.
  • Decorating: Rice balls are put in the deceased’s mouth, and flowers are spread around their body.

Cremation in Hinduism

Hindus believe that cremation is the quickest way to liberate the soul from the body, which becomes purposeless after death and can prevent the soul from moving on to its next life. As such, cremations take place within 24 hours after death.

Historically, Hindus were cremated on a pyre. But, nowadays, most cremations take place at local crematoriums. Funeral directors accommodate Hindu death rituals and allow friends and family members to witness said cremations.

Mourning Period in Hinduism

In Hinduism, the mourning period ranges from 10 to 30 days and may involve several ceremonies. Visitors are also welcome to bring gifts and pay their respects. The family exhibits a picture of the deceased home in remembrance of their life.