Funeral: What Should One Know As A Hindu...?

    Prior to all arrangements, you should consult your Pandit. There are zodiacal stars (planets) that are inauspicious for funerals. They are (1) Panchak (2) Dwipushkar Yoga and (3) Tripushkar Yoga. Funerals performed in Panchak can be harmful to the family. If it cannot be avoided then Panchak Vidhi has to be done with five dolls made of cotton or kusha grass. The deceased is shaved and bathed with five pieces of cloth. A Hindu should be dressed in traditional costumes. A cotton sheet is spread in the coffin before placing the body. A chandan tikaa is put on the forehead (sindur tikka for female if the husband is still alive). A drop of Ganga jal is poured between the lips and sprinkled all over. A Tulsi leaf and a piece of gold are placed between the lips. The head must be kept towards the northern direction while the rites are performed. A jholi is prepared with white rice, flowers and coins are put in it. The pindas can also be placed in it later.

    The performer of the rites shaves his head, face, takes a bath and wears white clothes. He faces the south in performing all funeral rites. All offerings are given by Pitri Tirth (between the thumb and the first finger). Pinda Daan and Hawan are done as part of the last rites. Shraada brings happiness to the departed soul and should be done by all. Five pindas are offered. A sixth pinda is also given when the ashes are gathered, but because many funerals are burials, where there are no ashes, and in in cremation the ashes are gathered by the crematory, the sixth pinda is offered the same time of the other five. Singing of Kirtans and bhajans should be encouraged. Bhajans and good thoughts from relatives and friends give solace to the departed soul. They create a potent vibration that awakens the stupefied condition of the soul and brings back their veiled consciousness. Weeping, mourning an uncontrolled grief by relatives gives pain and drags the soul down from the astral plane. Loud music and heavy beating of drums must be discouraged as it is inappropriate for the occasion. Hindus should be cremated not buried. This is highly recommended for the liberation of the soul.

    Five Manjil (resting places) are made on the way to the cremation/burial area. A piece of cotton is spread on the ground for the Manjil. Prayers are chanted with five or seven persons perform circumambulation (pradakshinaa) three times before the casket is put into the furnace. For burials-after the casket is lowered onto the grave, four cakes of camphor are placed on four corners of the grave and lit allowing for circumambulation.

    After the funeral, all relatives, especially the person who performed the rites, should bathe and wear fresh clothes. Fire, water, a stone, a cutlass and neem leaves should be placed on the ground in front of the door of the home. Touching the stone, fire and cutlass with the neem branch, water should be sprinkled over the head before entering the house. A neem leaf should also be chewed. Sitting together in the house, relatives should partake of some black pepper water and parched rice after giving a little as offering to the departed soul. In the evening, an alter with a photo of the deceased should be placed in a corner of the home with a lit diya. The performer of the rites should take meals at the same place every day, but must offer a portion to the departed soul. All this should be done facing the south. The singing of bhajans and kirtans and the reading of the Garud Puran and other scriptures is highly recommended.

    Teelaanjali (water, teel, and petals of white flowers) should be given every morning facing the south in the Pitra tirtha(through the first finger and the thumb)This offering should be made up to ten times by each relatives. The home must be kept clean, food should not be Chhoukal and unclean food should neither be cooked nor eaten in the house. The performer of the rites should be fasting and eating fruits and vegetables only and should not eat food from outside the home. He should sleep on the ground near the alter. He should live the life of a Brahmachaari. If possible, he should not eat any food prepared with salt. On the first evening after the day of the funeral, a doona (khicharee), glasses of milk and water, along with a fire stick should be taken outside by five persons and left on the ground in a clean place. The ashes should be picked up from the funeral home and scattered in the ocean, buried or taken to the Holy Ganges. At the time of scattering the ashes, the Pandit chants mantras or beneficial prayers for the departed soul. It should be scattered along with flowers. Pinda should be given every day for ten days. If this is not done, Teelaanjali alone should be given and then on the tenth day all the ten pindas are offered together.

    Counting begins from the day of the funeral not the day of death. No gifts and food should be accepted from the home of the deceased as all relatives are in Sutak- a state of mourning and should not undertake any thing auspicious. On the tenth day, the performer of the rites should shave his head and facial hair and anoint his body with mustard powder and Haldi (turmeric) before bathing. He should wear traditional white Hindu clothes. The tenth day Shraadha or Dasgaatra is done in the morning. Ten pindas are offered. The pindas build the Yamayaatra sharira. After the shraadha, a doona is taken outside by five persons. The doona is food that is cooked the regular is the first time since the funeral that the food is chhounkay. The food on the tenth day and for that matter all food prepared for any religious service must be fruits and vegetables only.

    The doona is taken out at lunch time. The soul is fully embodied on the eleventh day. The next shraadha is done on the twelfth day, not the thirteen day. The offering of shraadha on the twelfth day nourishes the soul and helps it to begin its journey to Yamraj, the Lord of death. The departed soul leaves for Yampur or the abode of Yamraj on the thirteenth day. This is called Madhyam Shodashi, where sixteen pindas are offered. It is at this time that the relatives can give daan and dakshina and gifts in the name of the departed soul. The Gita is also done on this day. Doona is taken outside by five persons.

    Shraada or offering of pinda is done monthly. This is called Uttam Shodashi. If not done monthly, it can be done at the end of the year. Traditionally, it is being done on the eleventh month. Sixteen pindas are offered .To conclude, the entire last rites of the departed soul, the Sapindi Shraddha must also be done immediately after Uttam Shodashi Shraadha. Four pindas are offered. The sapindi shraadha enables the preta (departed soul) to join the pitris (ancestors), Gita must also be completed.

    It is only after completing all these rites that a wedding and other auspicious ceremonies can take place in that home and in that family. Shraadha or prayers for the departed soul is one of the fundamental doctrines of Hinduism. Those who do not perform Shraada, Tarpan, and other religious rites on account of ill advise, ignorance or egoism have done great harm to their ancestors and themselves. They should start doing these ceremonies for now for it is never too late.

By: Pandit Shrinarayan Tiwari