Although death is a sad occasion, Hindus believe in reincarnation and see death as a transition bringing the soul closer to nirvana (heaven), so funerals tend to have an atmosphere of hope and joy as well as sadness for the loss of a relative or friend.
Funerals are usually conducted by a priest and by the eldest son of the person who has died.
Hindus are always cremated, believing that this releases the soul from its earthly existence.
Most local authority crematorium staff are trained and experienced in handling Hindu funerals in areas with large numbers of people of Indian heritage. Funeral directors are also trained to provide appropriate advice and assistance to Indian families.
Outside India, funerals normally take place in a crematorium. Hindus believe that when a body is burned, the fire frees the soul so that it can be reincarnated and the flames represent Brahma, the Hindu god of creation.
A Hindu funeral service that precedes the cremation is unlikely to be contained within a crematorium chapel due to the time constraints and the importance of a procession to pass places of significance to the deceased.
Hence it is better to hold the service in a temple or family home, and then go on for a committal at the crematorium. However, some crematoria will provide a chapel for a Hindu ceremony and then a shorter family, or private, committal at an adjoining chapel.
The funeral director will give valuable advice based on experience of the community and the diverse range of funerals he or she has helped organise.
Length of funeral and other 'rules'
Funerals are usually held within 24 hours of the death. Friends may call on the family at home where the body is usually kept until the cremation.
The person who has died is normally dressed in white (a wife pre-deceasing her husband is dressed in her red bridal outfit) and will be placed on a suitable surface and decorated with flowers and sandalwood.
The funeral procession may pass places of significance to the deceased, such as a building or street. Prayers are said here and at the entrance to the crematorium.
Visitors may bring flowers, which are placed at the feet of the deceased. A last food offering is symbolically made to the deceased and then the body is cremated.
After the funeral the widow or widower will wear white as a sign of mourning.
The close family may mourn for twelve days. Often a garland of dried or silk flowers is placed around a photograph of the deceased to show respect for their memory.
On the thirteenth day the samskara ends with Kriya. During this ceremony, rice balls and milk are offered to the dead person to show gratitude for his or her life.
Things to discuss with your priest
- Who will be the pallbearers;
- Who will do the readings;
- Are there any special readings you want;
- Are there special prayers you would like included;
- Are there special songs/hymns or music that you would like to suggest;
- How much are the fees;
- Should you bring your children if they are young.
Order of service
The funeral service is conducted by a priest and led by the eldest son or nearest male relative of the deceased.
The order of service may vary depending on location and family traditions. Prayers are always said for the deceased person.
Afterwards the ashes of the dead person are sprinkled over flowing water.
Many people take the ashes to India to put on the waters of the Ganges; others may take them to the sea near to where they live.
Secular music, readings and other features
This is something that you should discuss with your priest. As the ceremony is one of hope and should reflect the life of the deceased, it is likely that appropriate music and readings will be agreed.
Should we have a gathering afterwards?
Guests leave immediate family at the funeral service as soon as the cremation begins, and then gather with the family for a meal and prayers.
Mourners wash and change completely before entering the house after the funeral. A priest will visit and purify the house with spices and incense. This is the beginning of the 13-day mourning period when friends will visit and offer their condolences.
A memorial service is held 31 days after death, during which a number of rituals are performed.
'Shradh' is practiced one year after the death, and is usually carried out by sons or close male relatives.
This can either be a one-off or annual event, when food is given to the poor in memory of the deceased. (SL-B)
A priest will say prayers for the deceased and during this time, usually lasting one month, the family will not buy any new clothes or attend any parties.