«The understanding of death and dying as seen by different religions»
  Death and Dying in Hinduism



►There is considerable variation between the observances of Hindus from different castes, regions and financial status.

 ►Close relatives, particularly wives, of seriously ill patient will pray, fast and call upon the help of astrologers and others in order to propitiate the gods and restore the patient to health. Few will accept the fact that death is approaching. Family and friends remain at the bedside throughout.

►It is sacred duty (dharma) of the family and one's sub-community (baradari) to deal with death in their family in accordance with thee teaching of the shastras, the sacred religious texts, to perform all the expected rites and rituals, to engage in acts of piety and charity so as to ensure the peaceful repose of the departed soul.

►When it comes clear that the person concerned is about to die, he/she is lifted out of bed and placed on the floor. The relatives gather round the dying person, dip a basil (tulsi) leaf or tow into the holy water of the river Ganges and place it on the lips of the patient, to the accompaniment of hymns and holy songs.

►When death occurs loud shrieks may be expressed.

►The body of patient should preferably be sent home unwashed after death. The family will then carry out a ritual washing.

►The widow will wipe out her wedding mark (sindoor) and close female relatives wear white saris for a year after a death. Sons often have their heads shaved, apart from a small tuft of hair.

►The rituals of the funeral last for twelve days. They can cripple a family of more than moderate means. During this time family members sleep on the floor and eat only vegetarian food. prayers are said, songs are sung and there are readings from the holy books. Food is provided and friends join in the ceremonies, after formal ablutions, at sunrise and sunset. They visit the body which is shrouded in a white sheet on the floor with face uncovered.

►There is harmonious confluence of Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam during the twelve days of grief and mourning. Many Hindu families engage Sikh priest, instead of Hindu priest for the entire duration of the ceremony.

►The body is anointed, garlanded with flowers and carried in procession to be cremated at the burning ghat where the pyre is ignited by the eldest son. Mourners chant and wail. Close relatives wait until they hear the skull crack open so that the spirit can depart.

►After further ablutions friends gather to wish condolences to the family using a ritual greeting. Tears are encourage and professional mourners are sometime hired to evoke these.

►At a further ceremony the ashes are scattered into the waters of the Ganges. Beggars are fed as a tribute to the dead person.

►Because it is difficult to carry out these rituals outside India, compromise is necessary when people die overseas. It is our view that the degree of compromise expected and accepted is often excessive. We advocate death at home wherever possible, or the provision of a private room in hospital, with a tolerant attitude to the family needs, when it is not. Those who can afford it prefer to fly bodies back to India. Those who cannot should have the services of a Hindu funeral director or one who can meet the special needs of this group.