This post is part of our ongoing series featuring the works of Professor LeBoeuf 's students in her Introduction to Religions of Asia course at Whittier College!
I am currently in an Asian American religious class that challenges us to look at these ideologies and apply them to our own customs. This is exactly why I choose death rituals in Hinduism, which is what I decided to talk about in the paragraphs that follow.
Hinduism’s death rituals was one of the most interesting topics I have researched within Hinduism, due to the fact that there are very elaborate stages that you have to go through in order to reach either reincarnation or going to the highest state which is becoming one spiritually. This allows your soul to rest, ultimately stopping the cycle of reincarnation from happening. Getting into the steps the first is the imminent stage. This is when a person is certain to pass away. The priest is called over to that person’s house, where he as well as the family gather to pray and chant mantras for that person so he can successfully travel when dead. The last part of this stage is to lay the deceased on to a grass floor mat and give them water from Ganges River, which solidifies the transfer after death. The next step is to prepare the body for cremation. Traditionally, the body is washed by close friends and family members. If that is not possible then the funeral home may wash and dress the body. For the ritual washing typically the head is southward with a light oil lamp, along with a picture of the deceased favorite deity. Once that is all set up the deceased is ready for a holy bath, which consists of washing the body in a mixture of milk, yogurt, clarified butter, and honey. After this process the body is covered in a plain white sheet if it is a man. Women typically are dressed in red when they die before their husbands. If they die as Widows, they dawn white robes.
Following the process I just listed the deceased man or women have a funeral typically at the family’s house contrary of western customs. Where they tend to have them at remote locations. Their body is placed in an inexpensive case for viewing, placed inside the casket more specifically around the deceased necks are flowers and holy basil for good luck on the journey through reincarnation. Cremation is a huge tradition for Hindu’s and this is one of the most important stages within death rituals. All Hindu’s except babies, children, and saints are cremated. The cremation ritual itself consists of the person who has passed away on a stretcher carried out by family members and loved ones to Ganges river. Where the body is ultimately burned at the site. All the people who attend the cremation must stay until the body is fully burned. One thing to note is other rivers are now being used for cremation since not everyone lives in India, which means the Ganges River is not accessible to everyone.
It is important to remember that Hinduism is all about reaching the point of Nirvana, which is the ultimate goal in this religion. This is the point when you have reached the point of enlightenment. The particular person that reaches this state is no longer suffering or have any pain. As well as losing all the desires that people who don’t go through nirvana are burdened with on a day to day basis. Most importantly the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth. This represents the final goal of Hinduism. All people who are under the religion Hinduism want to get to this enlightened stage because if you do not then you have to go through the cycle of reincarnation. It’s important to note that when you go through reincarnation you do not have any past memories of the life you lived before you were reincarnated. This makes the cycle undesirable, which is instrumental to karma, because if you have bad karma in your previous life then you are most likely to live your next life under bad circumstances, depending how bad the situation is.
The last stage is the mourning period, this is when the cremator gets the ashes and immerses them in the river. Family and friends watch as the ashes are all scattered across the river. Throughout the mourning period, the rite of “preta-karma” is performed, which assists the disembodied spirit of the deceased to obtain a new body for reincarnation. This allows the spirit to travel without any complications. Ultimately I learned a lot about the death rituals that Hindu’s practice. I like the fact that they embrace this process and how they really celebrate the person’s life. These ideas are vastly different from western cultures who heavily focus just on the funeral and no other aspects of death.
My name is Arthur Caldwell, I am a transfer senior at Whittier College. I am a psychology major with an emphasis in child development. I am originally from Monterey, California but decided to move to Los Angeles for the opportunities it offers, while also playing basketball for Whittier College.