Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Hindu Funerals

(Uttara Kriya)

"Single is each man born; single he dies; single he receives the reward of his good, and single the punishment of his evil deeds.

When he leaves his corpse, like a log or a lump of clay, on the ground, his kindred retire with averted faces ; but his virtue accompanies his soul." (Manu, iv. 240-1.)

"A mansion with bones for its rafters and beams ; with nerves and tendons for cords ; with muscles and blood for mortar; with skin for its outward covering.

A mansion infested by age and by sorrow, the seat of malady, and harassed by pains, haunted with the quality of darkness, and incapable of standing long ; such a mansion of the vital soul let its occupier always cheerfully quit.

As a tree leaves the bank of a river, when it falls in, or as a bird leaves the branch of a tree at his pleasure, thus he, who leaves his body by necessity or by legal choice, is delivered from the ravening shark, or crocodile, of the world." (Mann, vi. 76-8.)

THERE is a curious passage in Manu where the question seems to be raised as to how death can have any power over such holy beings as Brahmins, especially those learned in the Vedas, and who undeviatingly perform the duties laid down for their guidance. A reason is given for the mortality of a twice-born who may have been remiss in performing religious rites, or has offended in the matter of diet. There is nothing said as to the possible immortality of one who does not deviate from the rules and the regulations laid down for his guidance. The fifth chapter of " Manava Dharma Sastra," which opens with the passage referred to, is largely composed of the most minute rules and regulations as to diet. It is difficult to conceive the possibility of a mortal man's avoiding some offence named and thus rendering himself amenable to death. The passage is as follows :-

" The sages, having heard those laws delivered for the conduct of house-keepers, thus addressed the high-minded Bhrigu, who proceeded in a former birth from the genius of fire,

'How, Lord, can death prevail over Brahmins, who know the scriptural ordinances, and perform their duties as they have been declared ? '

Then he, whose disposition was perfect virtue, even Bhrigu, the son of Manu, thus answered the great Rishis:—' Hear, from what sin proceeds the inclination of death to destroy the chief of the twice-born,'

Through a neglect of reading the Veda, through a desertion of approved usages, through supine remissness in performing holy rites, and through various offences in diet, the genius of death becomes eager to destroy them." (Manu, v. 1-4.)

Amongst Hindus of all castes and of both sexes, when a person is at the point of death, the family priest is summoned to administer the last sacrament (jivanamaskaram) which is administered in the following manner. The sick person is lifted from the couch upon which he may be lying, and is made to recline upon the ground, supported by a low stool. A couch is not considered a pure place (madi), and the friends of a sick man will not even feed him whilst lying on it, unless he is too ill to be moved. For the purpose of taking food he must be lifted from off the couch and made to sit on the ground. The priest then approaches with the panchagavyam, which may be called the sacramental elements. This consists of a mixture composed of the five products of the cow—milk, curds, butter, urine and dung. The dying person is first asked to recite after the priest certain mantrams and, if he is too weak to articulate, he is desired to recite them to himself. Afterwards the vessel containing the nauseous mixture is placed to his lips and some of it is poured into the mouth. This whole ceremony is called prayaschittam, or the ceremony of expiation. Of the various texts recited, two are given below as specimens :— .

" I take this sacrament of panchagavyam for the absolution of my sins, both those committed voluntarily and involuntarily."

"Whatever sins adhere to the skin and bone

Now present in this my body,

May the partaking of this panchagavyam

Destroy them as fire destroys fuel."

The sick person is then replaced upon the couch to await the end though sometimes he may recover. If from sudden death or any other cause, this ceremony cannot be performed, the death is not considered a happy one. Such cases seem to be provided for in the mantrams that are said at the commemorative ceremonies for the dead.

When it is evident that death is very near, the dying person is laid on the ground, which has been previously prepared by smearing it with cowdung and by placing some of the sacred grass (darbha) on it. It is very important that a person should breathe his last on the earth. Indeed, it is a common way of cursing to say, " When you come to die may there be no one to place you. on the ground."

There are certain phases of the moon during which it would be considered a serious calamity for anyone to die inside the house. Should death draw near at such a period, the patient is carefully carried outside to die in some outer verandah. If, through any misfortune, he should die inside the house during such a period, the whole dwelling is considered polluted. It must be entirely vacated for some time, after which a ceremony called punyachavachanam is performed in the place to purify it before it can be re-occupied. Sometimes when such a calamity does befall a household, in order to avoid the trouble and cost of moving out entirely, a hole is made in the side-wall of the house, near the room where the death took place, and the body is passed outside through the hole. In such a case; only that side of the house will be impure and need purification ; the other part can be inhabited as usual. This mode of action, however, is not considered proper or respectable and it is thought to reflect dishonour upon the dead.

The wailing of eastern women is proverbial, but it must be witnessed or heard to be fully understood. The men are quiet in their grief, for it is not considered seemly for a man to weep and. wail ; but the females abandon themselves completely to their sorrow and their lamentations are both. loud and long. They tear their hair, beat their foreheads and roll their bodies about as if in great agony, when they give utterance to their sorrow for the dead. I know of nothing more heart-rending than to witness such a giving way to grief.

As soon as death has taken place, a light is put at the head of the body and preparations are at once made for the funeral. The chief person present at it is the near relative, who has to perform the necessary rites, and who is called the karma karta or the one who acts. This is the eldest son, if there is one who is old enough to have received upanayanam. Failing such a son, the ceremonies are performed by the following persons : if the dead person is a woman, her husband ; if a man, his father ; if the father is dead, the next brother and so on in order of nearest relationship.

Hitherto, all I have written applies both to those who burn and to those who bury their dead. Both modes are in use amongst Hindus. I shall now describe in fuller detail, first, the case of those who burn and, secondly, that of those who bury the dead.

Usually only a few hours elapse after death before the funeral takes place ; but there is no fixed rule on this point ; it seems to depend on circumstances. The dead body is now washed and adorned with the pundrams, sacred marks, and then, clothed in one long cloth only, it is put in a sitting posture, leaning against the wall, the head alone being uncovered. The karta now performs a homam sacrifice in front of the dead. The fire for the hómam is brought from the house fire, and the sacrifice consists of dropping into it ghee, rice, and the green twigs of the ravi or peepul tree. Mantrams like this are repeated the while :—

" O fire do thou turn towards me;- look kindly towards me; have favour upon me; with thy seven tongues (spoken of in the Vedas), graciously partake of my offering."

After the hömam, the body, enveloped in a new white cloth, is placed upon the bier. The bier is a hastily formed construction of two long poles, usually bamboos, with seven pieces of wood tied across. It is said that seven cross pieces are used to represent the seven upper worlds. Some of the fire from the hómam is placed in a new earthen pot, to be carried in the procession by the chief mourner. The body, wrapped in the new cloth and fastened to the bier, has the two thumbs, and the two great toes also tied together with cords. The bier is carried by several of the relatives, or at least by persons of the same caste. It would be considered pollution for a person of any other caste to assist in this office, for it is said :-

" Let no kinsman, whilst any of his own class are at hand, cause a deceased Brahmin to be carried out by a Sudra ; since the funeral rite, polluted by the touch of a servile man, obstructs his passage to heaven." (Mann v. 104.)

There is an expression used to one another amongst Hindus—" You will soon ascend a palanquin carried by bearers of your own caste," meaning " you will soon die." " The corpse is carried away feet foremost so that the ghost may find its way back to the house."'

The procession consists of a few of the friends, sometimes even females, with the men carrying the bier and the chief mourner, or karta, carrying the pot of fire. Where music is employed, the musicians playing their wild music also form part of the procession. Those who bury their dead always have music ; those who cremate have it sometimes, though it appears in such cases to be unlawful, or at least irregular. On the way to the cemetery the procession is stopped three times, and the bier is placed on the ground. The face is then uncovered and a mantram is said. This is done from the fear that, owing to the speedy funeral, the person may not be really dead after all. The mantram used is this :—

" O spirit i hast thou returned ? "

The cemetery (shmashanam) is a vacant spot set apart for this purpose, usually situated to the northeast of the town or village. It is generally a mere waste, barren, neglected spot with nothing to distinguish it from any other waste, except here and there a few blackened patches, from the recent or more ancient fires. These blackened places and a few broken pots are generally all there is to mark the Hindu " God's acre." The burying places are, as a rule, kept in a state of utter neglect; though sometimes, if private property, they may be planted with trees and kept nice.

In villages, in the case of poor people, each householder gives a little fuel to help to form the funeral pile. This is collected by the vettian who splits the wood and prepares the pyre. He is a kind of public messenger and low official drudge attached to each village. He is always a Pariah. He generally holds a small piece of land which, with certain fees, forms his remuneration. For funerals, part of his fee is the cloth wound round the corpse and the sticks of which the bier is made.

On arriving at the spot the bier is set down, and the body is put on the pile. The cloth in which it was wrapped is then taken off. Any jewels in the ears or elsewhere, the sacred thread and the waist cord are also removed. The body must be completely naked. As it came into the world so it must depart. The corpse is laid on the pile with its head towards the south and its legs to the north. It is placed on its back, but the face is slightly turned towards the east.

The karta now performs the pradakshina ceremony. He takes an earthen pot full of water and makes a small hole in the bottom of it from which the water slowly trickles out. With his hair all hanging down his back he takes the pot of water on to his shoulder and, as the water slowly runs out, he walks round the pile, having his right shoulder towards it. This is done three times. Before the second round, a second hole is made in the pot ; and in like manner a third hole is made before the third round. After the three circumambulations, he throws the pot over his head behind him and dashes it to pieces. This is supposed to assuage the thirst of the preta (disembodied spirit) during the fiery ordeal.

The karta now performs a homam sacrifice and then, taking some of the sacred fire, applies it to the right side, breasts and shoulders of the body as it lies on the pile. Then the supreme moment arrives when, taking some of the sanctified fire, he applies it to the pile, near the head of the body and sets it all alight, during which time the priest repeats mantrams of which the following are specimens.

After performing the preta homam, he (the karts?), takes brands (from the homam), and standing with his face towards the south, places a brand on the right side, breasts, and shoulders (of the corpse).

" 0 fire do not regret that thou art consuming this dead one. Do not sorrow whilst thou art consuming his skin and his whole body."

After setting fire to the pile the mourners sit somewhat apart, whilst those who carried the bier stay near to adjust the fire, until the skull is heard to burst.

" The mourner then pours water upon it to cool the ghost." The karta is then shaved by the barber. After this he bathes. His head and face must be completely shaved, except the sacred top knot ; but should the deceased be younger than he is, this shaving is put off until the tenth day.

The chief mourner now returns to the house with his friends, but they do not enter it. They simply go there to get the materials for the nitya karma sacrifice, which must now take place, and before doing of which the karta should not re-enter the dwelling. If it should be dark before the karta arrives, the nitya karma ceremony does not take place until the following morning. This ceremony can never be done after darkness has set in. The karta, accompanied by the purohita and, any relatives or friends, now takes some fire and fuel, rice, ghee, curds and pulse for a sacrifice. He also receives from the purohita, a small round stone called preta shila, which, when the consecration ceremony is performed with reference to it, is supposed to become the personification of the disembodied spirit of the deceased.' This stone the karta ties up in a strip of cloth previously torn from the winding sheet of the deceased. This strip of cloth he wears over the right shoulder, during the performance of the nitya karma ceremonies for the ensuing ten days. During all these ceremonies this stone is honoured and treated as though it were really the spirit of the dead.

The party then proceed to a special place, outside the town or village, where such funeral rites are performed. This place is usually a well, or is near a tank, or river, and is used only for this particular purpose. On arriving at the place in question, the karta proceeds to bathe and then to cook the food which he has brought, The preta shila is then placed into a little receptacle formed for it of leaves and is then consecrated by the repetition of mantrams. A small portion of the cooked food is now waved before the stone as an offering. This is to appease the hunger of the preta, just as water, which is poured over it, is supposed to appease its thirst. After this the remainder of the cooked food is scattered to different sides, and thirty-two different mantrams are repeated, calling upon the crows and kites to come and devour what is thus scattered. The mantrams are appeals to the disembodied spirit, in the shape of the various kinds of birds, to come and partake of the food thus provided. All this is repeated every morning for ten days. The following is a specimen of the texts thus said :—

" May this preta enjoy this food by means of the mouths of these kites and crows."

When this ceremony is over, the scattered food is eaten by the kites and crows which fly around in expectation of the feast.

After all this is finished the party return home. On entering the house, the karta must purify his eyes before looking upon any of the household, by fixing them upon the light which has been placed on the spot where the deceased last lay. He then gets a pot of water which he suspends from a beam over the same place, that is, where the dead breathed his last. A small hole is made in the bottom of this pot, and the water is allowed slowly to drip on to the ground near the place where the head lay. Some earth is also put there in which nine different kinds of grain have been mixed. The pot is left there for the ten days of the nitya karma, in order to quench the thirst of the spirit which is thought to still hover near the spot. From the time of the death up to this moment no food has been cooked in the house ; but now a meal is prepared, a. small portion of which is carefully placed near to the dripping water for the refreshment of the disembodied spirit. This food is renewed and placed there daily during the ten days of the nitya karma ceremonies. This act ends the ceremonies of the funeral day itself, but not all the ceremonies for the dead.

On some one day of the ten during which the nitya karma rites are performed, there is a ceremony called sanchanam (collecting). This takes place usually on the fourth day, and it is performed at the burning ground. It is different from and additional to the daily rite at the preta place. The karta and the puróhita accompanied by a few friends, and probably a few Brahmins, especially if a fee is given to them for so coming, will proceed to the burning ground, taking with them from the house fire, rice, ghee and. curds, with pots for cooking, and also some of the sacred darbha grass. The karta then gathers together some of the pieces of bone that may be left amongst the ashes of the funeral pile. These bones are preserved in a new earthen vessel or urn for a longer or shorter time, after which they are taken and thrown into some sacred river, or buried in. an unfrequented place. In the case of wealthy people, who can afford to pay the necessary expenses, it is a very common thing for Brahmins to be employed and well paid to take thiurn (asthipatra) with the calcined bones all the way to Benares, there to be thrown into the sacred Ganges. There is a slokam or verse, which is current amongst the puróhitas and extremely popular, showing the great benefit which will be derived from the bones being thus cast into the waters of the river Ganges :—

" How longsoever the bones of a man

Are in the waters of the Ganges ;

For so many thousands of years

They will be respected in Brahma lokam."

The rest of the ashes are carefully gathered together, and put aside or buried. The karta now proceeds to prepare a place for cooking the materials he has brought for the purpose. This is done by sprinkling a spot of ground with water and smearing it with the dung of a cow. He then bathes and cooks the food, after which he performs a homam sacrifice. This being done he, with suitable mantrams, of which a specimen has been given in connection with the nitya karma rites,' casts food to the crows and kites which have come there for the meal. This food is called pretaharam or food for the spirit.

On the tenth and final day of the mourning, the near relatives, with. the family priest and the karta, assemble at the place where the nitya karma rites are performed for the last important ceremony. The food is cooked and scattered to the birds, with the repeating of mantrams for the last time ; after which the chief mourners shave and bathe, so as to be rendered free from defilement. The brass pot in which this food has been cooked for the past ten days, and the preta shila (the small stone), are now thrown into the water by the karta, for they are now done with. This is called shiladhivasam, or placing the stone. The pot is afterwards secured by the puróhita as a fee. After this a hómam is performed by the karta, alms are distributed to attendant Brahmins and all proceed to their homes.

If the deceased was a married man, it is at th ceremony that the poor widow is degraded into the state of widowhood. This rite is called sutrachedam or cutting of the cord. I know of nothing in the whole range of Hindu rites and ceremonies that is more saddening than this relic of barbarism.; and yet it is still in full active force. As though it were for some fault of hers that death has taken away her husband, she is now to be initiated into that state of degradation and misery which is the lot of the poor Indian widow. No thought of youth or beauty, no bonds of nature or ties of affection can ward off this inevitable curse. The bright and happy life is visited with this dire anathema and the iron rule must be enforced. The relatives and friends of the poor forlorn creature assemble at the house and the victim is adorned for the sacrifice. Her festive raiment is put on, and she is beautified with her jewels, flowers and sweet-smelling sandal paste. The beauty is intensified with rouge and bright pigments, and all is arranged as for a festive day. For a time her loving friends weep with her and embrace her, condoling with her on her fate. After this is over she is taken in a palanquin of some sort and conveyed to the scene of her degrading. When she arrives, her bright clothing and jewels are taken off. Henceforth she must have only one coarse covering ; her beautiful long hair, the glory of her womanhood, is cut off and her head is close shaven, as it must evermore thereafter be. The mangalasutram, or marriage token, is cut off and she is now a widow indeed. This cutting off of the marriage cord is always done by a woman, as if to make the ceremony, if possible, the more degrading to her sex. The poor widow is then taken back to her home, ever after to be a drudge and a thing for contempt until the hand of death relieves her of her misery. What wonder is it that so many in contemplation of the lifelong misery preferred the death of a suttee, and to escape the evil to come gladly ascended the funeral pile. The position of the Hindu widow is one that, for its attendant miseries, and also its temptations to evil, has not perhaps its equal in the world. What wonder is it that, to escape her wretchedness, or to conceal her shame, so many a poor creature is driven to commit suicide, A bitter cry on a pitch-dark night, followed by a heavy splash, as a leap is taken into the clammy depths of some Indian well, a hasty enquiry the next morning followed by a speedy funeral and there is another victim to the written and unwritten man-made codes, which selfishly and cowardly heap the miseries of life upon the frailer being, leaving the stronger one, simply because he is the stronger, to enjoy the kernel and sweets of life whilst her portion is the husks and the bitterness. It must be remembered to the credit of the Tengalai Vaishnavas, unorthodox though they may be, that they refrain from inflicting on their widows the dishonour of shaving the head.

When the widow is a child, not yet arrived at the age to join her husband, the only ceremony is the breaking off of the mangalasutram. The other ceremonies and degradations are reserved to the time when she arrives at full age, and then the whole ceremony is gone through, very much as I have described above. Can anything be more pathetic than the thought of a bright little thing growing up free and happy in her home, unconscious of the fate that lies before her and yet with that destiny fixed, as though engraven with a pen of iron, immutable, certain as death?

On the eleventh day there are some ceremonies at the house which include the feeding of Brahmins. On this day too, in times gone by, there was a ceremony called ekavhanam (calling of one) by which a for so much as five years may, if he has money and inclination to do so, drag a poor girl whose whole life lies before her, to the altar ; but a woman, however young she may be, once a widow, must remain a widow till death. This is the law of the present Hindu Society ! But is it just ? Is it equitable? That is the grand question before the national mind ; and it is not difficult to see which way it shall be decided. We may not decide in favour of widow re-marriage in public writings and public speeches, we dare not give our assent to it in our lives, but when we enter our private chambers, when we see the downcast look of the beloved sister in the prime of her youth doomed to a lifelong widowhood, when we see the beloved daughter of the family withering away in the heyday of life, then few, very few indeed, are there among us who do not curse the hour that gave sanction to this monstrous custom. These are the feelings of mere sympathizers, mere lookers on ; what then must be the feelings of the unfortunate sufferers themselves9 It is not we but it is the advancing civilization and enlightenment, the changed notions of social duties and responsibilities, the new ideas of the right of man and woman, that call for this reform ; and, oppose it as we may, sooner or later it will be accomplished. .. .

The last Census returns brought to light the startling fact that there are no less then twenty-one million Hindu widows in India (and of those 700,000 are child widows), and all know what a Hindu widow means ! If she be young and childless, her whole life is a long and weary waste. If an orphan, in eight cases out of ten, she is the menial servant of the family, their sweeper and their cook. Society receives no benefit from her, and is it wise, is it patriotic to allow such a wreckless waste of so many human lives and so much human energy ? Many are the cases of infanticide in this country, a few are brought to light and dealt with by the law ; and you find no words to express your pity for these helpless and unfortunate creatures, who not only suffer all sorts of social persecution but are severely punished by the Law as well ; and in the exuberance of your sympathy for the unfortunate and erring widow you petition the Government to alter the Law relating to infanticide. But why cannot you look the question boldly in the face, and instead of adopting indirect and inefficient means for its solution, at once put a stop to this most heinous custom by cutting it at its most fruitful source. If you do feel for these helpless widows, at once remove this monstrous social disability ; allow the widows to re-marry freely, and infanticide will be materially decreased, if not altogether put a stop to in the land. This is the Brahmin, for a sufficient consideration, took upon himself the sins of the deceased and expiated the same by twenty-one days' seclusion and by repeating numberless times the gayatri, with various ceremonies. This now appears to be an obsolete rite ; at least it seems never to be performed in the part of India known to me. Instead of it, thirty-two lumps of rice and ghee mixed together are taken and thrown into a pit near to which a homam sacrifice is made. This is a singular ceremony and reminds us of Jewish rites as prescribed in the Levitical law. This thought is, however, more prominently suggested by another ceremony that is sometimes performed on this day, a ceremony strongly suggestive of the expiatory rite of the scape-goat. A young bull is dedicated by being stamped with the mark of Vishnu's wheel, or the trident of Siva. By this the sins of the deceased are supposed to be transferred to the animal, and it is set free to wander for ever at its own will, as a sacred animal which it is meritorious to feed and care for. Even if such a bull gets into the fields and eats the growing coin, it must not be driven out. One of these huge pampered creatures may often be seen in the bazaars helping itself in a lordly manner from the grain baskets of the merchants. Sometimes a cow-calf is also devoted, and a kind of marriage is performed between the two. Those who cannot afford to give such . costly offerings will, on this day, give one or two cloths to the Brahmins. This ceremony of dedicating an animal as a sinbearer is also observed amongst such present need. of India. Unless our enlightened countrymen put a stop to the most heinous %crimes, aforesaid, India will never boast of its social reform. Dutiful sons of India, I appeal to you humbly to take up the cause of social reform and especially to the above-said India's need.

On the twelfth day, the last of the various funeral ceremonies is performed. It is called the sapindi karanam ; but this rite will be described later on when I come to speak of shraddhas.

A few words should be said about mourning, for the Hindu idea of mourning is not conveyed by the English term. To the Hindu it means uncleanness, ceremonial defilement and it is quite apart from the natural sorrow caused to survivors by death. The word used for mourning, in the true Hindu sense, is ashushi or sutakam, both which words mean ceremonial defilement. The duration of this mourning varies according to the condition of the deceased. In the case of mere infants the time is about one day. In the case of a boy who has not yet been invested with the sacred thread, or of a girl not yet married, the time is three days ; and after that, in either case, the proper time is ten days. In the case of a married female, whether she has joined her husband or not, her own parents and brothers and sisters observe this ceremonial mourning for three days. During these periods, the near relatives of the deceased are considered unclean, and their touch would ceremonially defile any person or thing. They must not enter their own kitchen or touch any cooking utensil. The food, during the days of mourning, must be prepared by some one not personally connected with the deceased, although of equal caste. Should they find it. impossible, on account of being at a long distance from their own caste people or other reasons, to obtain the services of a proper person to cook for them, they may procure provisions, and temporary cooking utensils, and prepare food for themselves in some place other than the usual kitchen. To enter this sacred place in an impure state would render the stored provisions and everything therein unclean and hence worthless. The mourners do not lie down upon a mattress, as it would be rendered unclean and call for much trouble in purification ; they do not put on the coloured portions of the ordinary sacred marks ; they refrain from wearing gay-coloured garments and, in various other outward ways, they manifest their defilement. Daring these days, it is customary to abstain from all kinds of indulgences, as, for instance, tasty food, the use of betel and tobacco or snuff, or any such personal gratifications. When the days of mourning come to an end and the purificatory ceremonial is over, things then go on as usual.

I have now given an account of the ceremonies performed at the funerals of those Hindus who practise cremation, and also of the nitya karma rites performed during the ten days succeeding the death. I proceed to describe some of the chief rites and ceremonies performed in the case of those who bury their dead, and to give some account of the shraddhas, or Hindu ceremonies for deceased ancestors.

The great mass of Hindus are worshippers of fire, in some form or other ; indeed, fire worship is one of the earliest cults of India, it being one of the Vedic forms of Nature worship, a deification of the phenomena of nature, which has ever been one of the first forms of departure from the worship of the one true God. As fire worshippers, therefore, the Hindus burn their dead, making that sacred element the vehicle for the destruction of the gross and material form in which the divine element no longer dwells. There are some Hindus, however, who depart from the ordinary orthodox faith, and pay allegiance to earth (prudhivi) as a deity ; and who therefore bury their dead instead of practising cremation. Amongst these are the Lingadharis, those worshippers of Siva who wear the lingam, the emblem of their God, upon their person ; but who, although they include Brahmins amongst their number, are not considered orthodox. Indeed this sect is opposed to all the chief Brahminical religious customs, and, as one difference amongst many, they bury instead of burning their dead. The Jangams who are closely allied to the Lingadharis and also the Satanis , all bury their dead. This is also the case with the section of the Goldsmith and the Weaver caste, who worship the lingam. Those Hindus who bury their dead do not observe the impure days, which are so strictly observed by those who burn the departed.

There are conditions under which those who usually practise cremation dispose of the dead by burial. Sanyasis of every sect are buried, a portion of salt being placed in the grave with the body. The only exception to this is when the body is simply cast into some sacred river. These holy persons are past the stage when ceremonies of any kind are necessary. Amongst the three higher castes, all unmarried girls are buried and all boys who have not undergone the ceremony of initiation into the state of the twice-born. This is a deviation from the law laid down by Manu, who seems to imply that it is only in the cases of children under two years of age that cremation should not be performed. Thus :—

" A dead child under the age of two years, let his kinsmen carry out, having decked him with flowers, and bury him in pure ground without collecting his bones at a future time.

Let no ceremony with fire be performed for him, nor that of sprinkling water ; but his kindred, having left him like a piece of wood in the forest shall be unclean for three days." (v. 68-9.)

In the case of Sudras, boys and girls are not, as a rule, married so young as in the three upper castes ; and the practice amongst them seems to be that unmarried boys and girls, under the age of eight or ten, are buried. There is no exact rule as to the. age.

All those who die of small-pox, of whatever sect or caste, are buried at once without any ceremony whatever. This practice probably arose from sanitary reasons, although the common people give a religious reason for it. Some say it is because this disease is caused by Lakshmi, the wife of Vishnu, and, as no sacrifices by fire are made to her, she would be displeased if they burned her victims.

In the case of those who practise cremation, when they lose one of their infant children, it is taken away and buried without any ceremony whatever. They leave it " like a piece of wood in the forest " and it is all over. There are no ceremonies at the time, except that, in some cases, food is cooked near the grave and thrown to the birds for three days ; but no mantrams are said and no shraddhas, or periodical observances for the dead are performed. This is the rule, but human nature cannot always be entirely repressed, and. it appears to be a common practice for a mother who may have lost a child to give food or presents, once a year, to some little boy or girl of about the same age and condition as her own lost boy or girl.

There is much less ceremony connected with burial than with cremation. Up to the time when the procession leaves the house for the cemetery, the rites are practically the same in both cases, -except that there is chief differences begin. The body is decked out with flowers and fine clothes ; the face is exposed and the sacred marks are daubed on; and, in the case of females, the jewels are also put on. As the body is buried in a sitting posture, the bier has to be made in a peculiar form. The body is placed as though sitting in a kind of open sedan chair, the bier being called anantashayanam or the everlasting couch. Amongst the Lingadharis the bier is borne by any of the sect, regardless of caste distinction. Often the bearers are a mixed number from various castes. There is always music with the procession, and on the way the bier is put down three times and the plaintive question " 0 spirit bast thou returned " is put to the deceased by the purohita just as in the case of those who cremate.

On arriving at the cemetery, the grave, usually a very shallow one, is found ready prepared and the ceremonies at once begin. The first thing is to purify the place. This is done by sprinkling the grave and its surroundings with water in which vibuthi 1 has been mixed ; at the same time a mantram is repeated by the purohita. This mantram is one of those quoted in the chapter on Sacred Marks and is an appeal to earth as a deity. The body is then placed in the grave ; but before it is put in the clothes and jewels are all taken off, and it is stripped quite bare.

When the body has been placed in the grave, earth is put in about as high as its waist. The karta, or chief mourner, then takes the lingam of the deceased out of its receptacle, which is usually a kind of silver sarcophagus, suspended from the neck, and having bathed and worshipped it, he places it in the left hand of the dead person, where it is allowed to remain, to be buried with the body. The priest then repeats a mantram, the karta joining in with him, during which he, the karta, takes up a handful of earth and throws it into the grave. This answers to the setting fire to the pile in the case of those who practise cremation. The mantram thus repeated is as follows :—

" Become united with Siva."

It is commonly said that the skull of the deceased person is now broken by a blow given with a cocoanut, in order to facilitate the escape of the soul from the body through the aperture. I am assured, however, by those who bury that this is not the case. In the case of Sanyasis, however, this is actually done, but why I do not know. After the mantram, the friends present also throw in handfuls of earth, and finally they fill up the grave, and raise a low mound over it. In the middle of this mound they form with mud the shape of a lingam, and at each of the four corners a rough model of a bull. The bull is sacred to Siva, as the animal on which he rides. They worship the lingam and the bull and then proceed home, after bathing in a tank or river.

The Lingadharis who wear the sacred thread, before they leave the grave cook some rice, and give it to the cows to eat, if any are near ; if not they then throw it into a river or tank. On reaching home they place a lighted lamp on the spot where the deceased breathed his last, and then the chief mourner and the puróhita with several friends, partake of a meal in company. For the ten days succeeding the funeral, the karta with the puróhita and friends proceed daily to the grave for worship. They worship the lingam and the bulls which have been made on the grave, by sprinkling them with vibuthi mixed with water, and by scattering over them flowers and coloured rice, as well as bits of cocoanut and sugar. At the same time they repeat the thousand names of Siva and various mantrams. On the tenth and final day, the earthen emblems of the lingam and the bulls are levelled on the mound, and thus disappear. Sometimes, if the friends can afford it, they will build a monument over the grave, just as those who burn their dead sometimes do near the place of cremation. They may also have a small bull made of stone, which they place on the grave as a monument. The following is a specimen of the mantrams thus said at the grave on these daily visits ; it is said to be taken from the " Skanda Purana " :—

" I adore him who fills the universe,

who is without beginning, Solitary, pure, eternal, above all, without parts or passions;

Who is worshipped with thousands of lotus-petals and rice procured by me;

Who, eternally happy, pervades all things, shining in my soul with unbounded beauty ;

Whose nature is truth, who being invisible can assume any form, the Supreme God."

When a member of a sect accustomed to burn its dead dies of small-pox and is therefore buried, a curious custom is followed in order to give peace to the spirit of the deceased. Two months after the burial, or sometimes immediately after, the friends take a small branch of the rani tree ' or of the zuvvi tree, or of the moduga tree, and treat this bit of stick as though it were the deceased. By virtue of certain mantrams the stick is supposed to become the actual dead body, and it is treated exactly as the body would have been had it been cremated. It is bathed and burnt, water and food are offered to the preta (spirit), and all the ceremonies for ten days are gone through, just as would have been the case had the deceased died and been burnt in the ordinary way.

It may be asked what is done in the case of the very poor, or of a stranger who dies. Who then performs the funeral ceremonies, and the burning or burying ? This is not done by the public authorities as in Europe.

Hinduism has provided for the emergency in another way. On the occasion of a death, not only is the whole household ceremonially impure, but the immediate neighbours, also, are unclean until the dead body is removed; Under such circumstances, as no food can be cooked or eaten, the neighbours are forced to attend to the matter, though perhaps the ceremonies are not performed as minutely or carefully as usual.

The ancient lawgivers have also provided for various emergencies that may arise ; for instance, in the case of a soldier's dying in battle it would be impossible for all the ceremonies to be gone through, and so there is a special rule to provide for such. a contingency :-

" By a soldier discharging the duties of his class, and slain in the field with brandished weapons, the highest sacrifice is, in that instant, complete ; and so is his purification. This law is fixed." (Manu, v. 78.)

I have described how those who practise cremation devote a young bull as a scape-goat ; those who bury their dead never do this, but they sometimes give a cow with its calf to the priest, just as those who cremate "do. This gift is called godanam, or the cow offering.

I now come to deal with the most important subject of shraddhas, or periodical ceremonies for deceased ancestors. Those who practise cremation are the more minute in their ancestral worship rites ; but those who bury have some ceremonies of the kind, thou differing in detail and in degree. A learned Hindu professor has said that : " Ancestor worship, in some form or other, is the beginning, the middle, and the end of what is known as the Hindu religion." The object of the Hindu shraddhas is to assist the departed spirit in the various experiences it will have to pass through. At the same time, the one who duly performs these rites and ceremonies thereby lays up merit for himself and his family, which merit will be duly carried to the credit of his account hereafter.

The first of these ceremonies is the nitya karma, the object of which is to provide the departed spirit with an intermediate body. The spirit at death leaves its former dwelling place in an amorphous, invisible form, about the size of one's thumb. This is called a preta, and were it not for the prescribed ceremonies, this spirit would simply wander about for ever as an impure ghost or goblin amongst kindred demons and departed evil spirits. By means of the nitya karma rites the preta is furnished with an intermediate kind of body which enables it to feel the sensations of happiness or misery, and thus be in a position to undergo the punishment, or enjoy the good that may be its due.2

On the twelfth day after the death there must be the ceremony called .sapindi karanam. In some places, this ceremony is performed on the eleventh day but, as far as I can gather, it is always done on the twelfth day in South India. On the morning of the day in question, there is a large gathering of Brahmins and friends and relatives at the house of the deceased. It is supposed that whatever nourishes the Brahmins fed on these occasions, who represent the departed spirits, also nourishes and helps the spirits themselves. Thus the Brahmins are then fed and well treated vicariously. There must be seven Brahmins specially called for this ceremony. In the case of the ordinary shraddhas, to be described later on, there need be only two or three such. They are named bhoktas or those who eat or enjoy. The seven called for the sapindi rite are said to be :—one to represent Vishnu, two the Vishvadevas (deities that presides over shraddhas), three the deceased's immediate three ancestors, and one to represent the preta. The two called for ordinary shraddha rites are said to be :—one to represent the Vishvadevas and one the spirit of the deceased. It is not always easy to get fit and proper Brahmins for these rites and they must be rewarded for coming. The food they vicariously eat on these occasions is supposed to defile, and it necessitates purificatory ceremonies of rather a severe nature. An old pundit friend assured me that, though he used often to go to such ceremonies, it was always against his desire , but that it would be sinful not to respond to the appeal of the karta for help. A Brahmin to be fit for this duty should be over sixteen years of age, and both his parents must be still living. According ' to Manu, he should also be a man of light and learning :-

"Food, consecrated to the gods and the manes, must be presented to a theologian of eminent learning ; for certainly, when hands are smeared with blood, they cannot be cleaned with blood only, nor can sin be removed by the company of sinners.

As many mouthfuls as an unlearned man shall swallow at an oblation to the gods and to ancestors, so many red-hot iron balls must the giver of the shraddha swallow in the next world." (iii. 132, 183).

The sapindi rite may be thus briefly described. When the bhoktas are seated near the spot where the deceased breathed his last, and before the food for the meal is served, four vessels made of leaves are placed, three in front of those who represent the three immediate ancestors, and one in front of the representative of the deceased. The karta, having poured water into these vessels, takes that which is for the deceased and, at the repeating of a mantram, pours some of the water from it into the other three vessels. This is supposed to indicate the union of the spirit of the deceased with those of his immediate ancestors. After this ceremony is over, the food is placed before the bhoktas. Whilst they are eating it, the karta prepares four large lumps of the boiled rice with the various condiments and other accessories that form the meal of the bhoktas. One of these lumps he rolls up into a cylindrical shape, which he places side by side with the other three lumps in front of those assembled. The cylindrical mass is supposed to represent the deceased, and the three lumps his three immediate ancestors—father, grandfather, and great grandfather. The mass representing the deceased is then divided by the karta into three portions, one of each of which is mixed with one of the three balls. During this operation various mantrams are said. The three balls are then taken by the karta and thrown in water, a river, a tank, or a well. By this rite the preta, or goblin, or impure spirit stage of existence is supposed to pass away, and the soul of the deceased becomes a pita, that is, one invested with a kind of ethereal body. It is then admitted to the company of his semi-divine ancestral fathers.

I now enter upon a subject with reference to which there are very divided and, in some cases, very vague ideas current amongst Hindus of the present day. Some suppose that by the due observance of the rites already mentioned, the pita passes at once beyond the reach of Yama, the genius of death and judge of departed spirits, into the ancestral heaven (pitrulokam), there to remain until the end of the age when it will become absorbed into - the divine essence. That is to say, by the ceremonies of the survivors rightly performed, not only will there be no punishment in hell, but there will also be no rebirths. According to this notion, a man's future condition is not made to depend so much upon his own good or evil deeds, as upon the faithfulness with which the survivors perform stated ceremonies. Others again, in accordance with the Vedanta philosophy, maintain what may be caned the orthodox doctrine, which with various modifications is the belief of the mass of Hindus. This belief is that upon attaining the pita state of existence, the spirit departs on its journey to Yama to receive its doom according to its deeds done in the body. The temporary bell (papalokam or yamalokam), or the temporary heaven (puny alokam or svargam) to which it may be consigned will be its abode, until it has received in either state the reward that is its due. At the end of this period, whether long or short, the spirit will be reborn into some other state, again to commence the weary round of existence from which it would fain be released. Those pious souls, however, who have in their passage through their various states of existence attained into gnanam (true wisdom) will pass straight to Brahmalokam (the heaven of Brahma), there to remain in the enjoyment of heavenly bliss until the end of the age (pralayam), when they will be elevated to Nirvana (moksham), that is, absorption into the supreme essence. This consummation is the end and aim of every pious Hindu. It seems to be the object of the shraddhas to assist the spirits of those on. whose behalf the ceremonies are observed in their course to other worlds, and at their dreadful trial before Yama. They are also intended to support them and to further their development in the state of being in which they may be doomed to exist, and to hasten their passage through it. For Sanyasis or Holy Hermits no nitya karmas or any other rites are required ; the souls of such do not become pretas, but pass at once on leaving the body into the pita stage and proceed straight to Brahmalokam. For these, therefore, no ceremonies or shraddhas are necessary and to them worship is paid as though they were divine. There is much that is very complex and conflicting in the various schools of thought with regard to the future state, and the benefit of ancestral ceremonies ; but this description will give a general idea of the subject.

Although the sapindi karanam and the nitya karma are shraddhas of a kind, the first shraddha proper is performed on the twelfth day, that is, sometime during the day on the morning of which the sapindi rite has been observed. This is called masika, or monthly shraddha, and it is the commencement of those which are performed every month for the first year, on the thirtieth day after the death. These monthly ceremonies are very much like the sapindi rite, except that there- will be only two or three bhoktas, and only three lumps of rice and condiments without the long cylindrical roll. Very minute directions are given in M. about the performance of these rites. They must never be done at night, but always in the day time :--

"Obsequies must not be performed by night ; since the night is called racshasi or infested by demons ; nor whilst the sun is rising or setting, nor when it has just risen " (iii. 280).

The karts must treat the bhoktas respectfully, and he must urge them to eat the various dishes provided :—

" Then being duly purified and with perfect presence of mind let him take up all the dishes, one by one, and present them in order to the Brahmins, proclaiming their qualities".

He must be very cautious how he moves about and. also be careful of his feelings. He must repress any emotion or he may by carelessness, or by his tears, cause disaster instead of benefit to those for whom he is performing the ceremony :—

" Let him at no time drop a tear, let him on no account be angry, let him say nothing false, let him not touch the eatables with his foot, let him not even shake the dishes:

A tear sends the messes to restless ghosts; anger, to foes; falsehood, to dogs; contact with his foot, to demons; agitation, to sinners" (iii. 229-30).

He must be careful how he disposes of food that may be left from this ceremonial meal. It is said :—

" Thus having ended the shraddha, let him cause a cow, a priest, a kid, or the fire to devour what remains of the cakes; or let 'him cast them into the waters" (iii. 260).

The punishment of those who, instead of disposing of the remains of the feast in this manner, give them to a low caste man to eat will be very severe :—

" That fool, who having eaten of the shraddha, gives the .residue of it to a man of the servile class, falls headlong down to the hell named Calasutra" 240).

The ordinary shraddha ceremony may be thus described. Two or three bhoktas with the puohita come to the house by invitation, and they are duly seated in the usual place for such proceedings. At these shraddhas, the bhoktas and purohita sit in the sacred kitchen-dining room. If there are two guests, one sits facing the north, and the other facing the east. If there is a third, he sits looking towards the south. The karta having duly bathed performs a homam sacrifice in presence of the guests, and then, seating himself opposite to them, recites the names of the century, the year, the month, the day and the two sacred rivers between which the place is situated in which they then happen to be. He then proceeds to wash their feet and to wipe them, after sprinkling some of the water on his own head with darbha grass. After this he worships the guests, scattering over them darbha grass, sesamum seeds, raw rice and sandalwood paste, looking upon them as though they were actually his deceased ancestors and performing the same worship to them as he does to his gods. Another sacrifice by fire is then performed into which some of the food that has been specially prepared for the occasion is cast. The remainder is then served out to the guests, but the chief performer or karta must not partake of it. In ancient times, certain kinds of flesh used to be eaten on these occasions, but now this is replaced by some grain. After the meal is over, the guests are just asked whether they have eaten heartily. They must answer in the affirmative. The question and answer are as follows :—

" O my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather,

Are you satisfied ?

Are you satisfied ?

We are satisfied."

Whilst the bhoktas are busily engaged in eating the food prepared for and set before them, the karta has been employed in making three large lumps of rice and condiments from the various eatables and, after they have finished eating their repast, he proceeds to worship the lumps in precisely the same way as he had before worshipped the guests. The worship being now finished, the karta takes a grain of the rice, and repeating a mantram puts it into his mouth. The lumps which represent the deceased ancestors for the three preceding generations are then given to a cow to eat, or, if no cow is at hand, they are burnt or buried or thrown into some deep river, tank, or well, whichever mode of desposing of them may be most convenient. The karta, after worshipping the lumps which he has thus prepared, gets a little cooked rice in a leaf and pours some water upon it. He then sprinkles this on the floor around the leaf-plate of one of the bhoktas saying, at the same time, the following slokam :—

" Whoever has died without the sacraments,

Whether man, virgin or woman, of my tribe,

For them this food I give ;

For them this is a shrfiddha."

After this, the karta takes a small portion of the rice and placing it before each of the bhoktas says a mantram for the benefit of any ancestors who may have been accidentally killed by fire or water, and who may not have had the necessary ceremonies duly performed.

The ceremony being now complete, the bhoktas are presented with betel and the fee for their services, after which they take their departure. It is the rule that these guests take no more food on that day, nor must they do anything or touch anything that would cause ceremonial defilement. Before leaving the house, the guests, or the karta, pronounce the following blessing :-

" May generous givers abound in our house. May the scriptures be studied, and progeny increase in it. May faith never depart from us, and may we have much to bestow on the needy." (Mann, iii. 259).

A feast is then given by the karta to his friends and relatives as well as to many Brahmins. Presents are distributed to them of money, cloths, or copper and brass vessels. On the following day a similar feast is given to the low caste neighbours and the poor, who also expect presents from their host.

This concludes the first monthly shraddha. Upon its repetition on every thirtieth day, there is only the ceremonial feast for the bhoktas and not any general feasting.

At the end of the year there is a good deal of feasting, according to the means of the family, just as at the first monthly shraddha. This is to mark the termination of the monthly ceremonies Afterwards the annual ceremony is performed on the anniversary of the death.

The ceremonies already described apply to Brahmins. The Sudras follow the same ritual to a certain extent, but there are these exceptions. The three chief guests are Brahmins, one of whom is the purohita. The feeding of these is not done on the spot, as they could not' eat food cooked by Sudras, so provisions are given to them which they take away and cook and eat by themselves. It is imperative that the very articles thus given be actually cooked and eaten by them. After the ceremonies have been duly performed in presence of the Brahmins, and when they have taken their departure, the Sudra karta sits down with the near relatives, who have been previously invited, to partake of a meal in honour of the dead. Although Sudras usually eat meat and fish at this meal, it is only the Vaishnavas who partake of flesh ; the others make a point of having no meat whatever at this particular time.

These annual ceremonies, differing somewhat in form, are performed for both sexes by Hindus of every caste and sect. It is for the due performance of the funeral and annual ceremonies, that a Hindu longs so earnestly for a son. If a man dies having no male issue, his soul must suffer accordingly. If a man's wife bears him no son, he must either marry another wife or adopt a boy. The latter is usually done, and adoption has thus become an important institution amongst Hindus.

In addition to the ordinary shraddhas, when opportunity offers and there is the ability to take advantage of them, extra shraddhas are performed at sacred rivers and at such holy places as Rameshvaram, Srirangam, Kumbakonam and other places in the south; and at Bemires, Allahabad, Gaya and other places in the north; but for these ceremonies no places appear to be so beneficial as Gaya and its neighbourhood. Great merit is attached to the performance of the ceremonies at any such places, but the efficacy of those at Gaya is such that, when frilly and properly performed, the spirits of the departed relatives for whom the observances are made, no matter at what stage of existence they may be, are at once admitted to the heaven of Vishnu, the highest heaven (Vaikuntha).

Besides these ceremonies, there are also daily observances partaking of the same nature. Each day the karta or head of the household, at the time of going through his daily devotions, pours out water to the manes of his ancestors mentioning them as he does so. This is called tarpanam, or a drink offering. He also does the same just before partaking of his food. It will thus be seen how large a share ancestral worship has in the religion of the Hindu.

There may be very much difference in detail in different parts of the country and I may have omitted some detail of a ceremony. Enough, however, has been explained to give a fair idea of what is done, and to show the truth of the saying that the Hindus are a very religious people. There is no greater cause of financial misery in Hindu families than the expenses at marriages and funerals. In the case of wealthy men the burden is a great one ; but in ordinary cases the funds have to be obtained from the money lender at an exorbitant rate of interest, loading the poor victims with a life-long burden of debt. The custom is, however, so deeply rooted and the Hindus are so thoroughly conservative, that it seems barely possible for any effectual improvement to be made. The amelioration of matters of this kind amongst such a people can only be effected by the gradual growth of public opinion in the right direction ; and any change of opinion, sufficient to be felt, must occupy a very long time in its formation.

To the Christian wellwisher of India it is touching to see a people thus groping after pardon for sin and happiness beyond the grave ; striving to obtain by a slavish adherence to the letter of a dead law, what can only be obtained through that only "name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved." All the vague longings of the Hindu are very different from the bright hopes of the Christian, and great is the contrast between the mantrams repeated at a Hindu funeral and the comforting words used at the graveside of one who is committed to the earth:—

" In sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto His glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby He is able to subdue all things to Himself."

( Originally Published 1908 )

Hinduism - India Cow Temple Rooftop

The Hindu At Home

Hindu Mendicity

Hindu Funerals

Unorthodox Hindu Funeral

Hindu Omens

Hindu Ornaments

Hindu On Social Reform

Read More Articles About: The Hindu At Home

Hinduism - The Stream Of Indian Thought


Home | Privacy Policy | Email: