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The Death Ceremonies and their purpose


Vedas do not prescribe any ceremony for the dead though some of its verses were sung during funeral ceremonies. Though Veda and Purana have the idea that the Atma which dwell in body doesn’t require any ceremony, the dead man is considered as a Prata with many unfulfilled ambitions and thus require religious ceremonies. It is also true, the Hindus believe body as part of nature and deserve to be dissolved into it, and do not believe in preserving body.

Due to the effect of karma, a man falls sick causing his death. The mode of one’s death also depends upon one’s karma. When a man is dead, his body should be kept on the ground after purificatory rituals. Śalagrama (sacred stone) should be placed near the body. Tulasi leaves (basil) should be placed in both the hands of the body and also on its neck. Pieces of gold may also be kept in the nine apertures of the body if one can afford it. The body should be covered with two sheets of clothing. Sons and other relatives are the most deserving persons to carry the body on their shoulders. The son of the deceased should perform ceremonies facing the eastern side.

The subtle body of the dead has to travel the entire distance to reach the world of Yama. It is commonly said that one should not boast of his body since it do not follow him after his death. Body is helpful as far as life exists. The purpose of acquiring wealth is charity; purpose of speech is to say the truth; purpose of a body is for practicing spirituality. The subtle bodies of those who do not follow the virtuous path are tortured by the messengers of Yama on the way to Yama’s place.

Six Pindas are to be served as service to the dead. The purpose of six piṇḍas and modalities of serving Pindas are: The first one is offered at the doorway where the departed soul is called as pantha (pantha means wandering). The piṇḍa offered here satisfies those deities that dwell at the entrance door. (It is believed that some deities reside at the main entrance door of a house. It is always ideal to offer incense sticks at the entrance door. A conch with anti clock wise lines tied on a yellow cloth above the main door frame is said to ward off evil spirits entering through the main door). The second Pinda is meant for Khecara, a gandharva who lives in the courtyard of the building. Third piṇḍa should be offered to Bhuta at the resting place. Bhuta is considered as one of the demigods. Fourth piṇḍa is offered to pisacas (pisaca is said to be a flesh eating demon), rakṣasa-s (rakṣasa means an evil demon) and yakṣa-s (yakṣa means a supernatural being and said to be the attendants of Kubera). These three said to preserve the sanctity of the dead body till it is completely burnt. The fifth piṇḍa is offered at the side of the pyre where the dead body is placed. Because of these five piṇḍa-s, the preta attains purity to be placed on the fire. Fire is considered as very sacred. By satisfying the above referred non-human characters, preta attains purity to offer it to the fire.

The funeral pyre should be lit from the eastern side. Once the body is completely burnt, the remains of the bones are collected and during this time the sixth piṇḍa is offered. The ashes are then immersed in sea or river. At the southern part of the house, a pit is made and for the next ten days, piṇḍa-s are offered here daily, along with milk and water. There is no specific mantra or any specific rites while offering these piṇḍa-s. The piṇḍa offered during the ten day period is divided into four parts. Two parts build up a new body for the dead. The third part goes to Yama’s servants and the fourth is consumed by the preta. The subtle body gets a proper shape in three days and three nights and on the tenth day, the subtle body develops hunger. Irrespective of other offerings made to the preta (the subtle body of the dead is always called preta), it gets satisfied only by offering flesh (normally, a piece of banana is offered instead of flesh). During eleventh day and twelfth day ceremonies, the preta eats as much as possible. On the thirteenth day, the soul’s journey begins to the world of Yama dragged by the servants of Yama. During it journey, the soul regrets for every evil action it had done during the past birth. The punishment in Hell is not eternal. It is Reformatory and Educative. The hell punishment is not remembered by the soul when it is re-born, no more than it remembers the joys of heaven.

Soul is nothing but the Brahman Himself. Sins committed by a person do not affect the Soul within. The suffering is only to the gross body when life exists in a body and to the subtle body, when the subtle body leaves the gross body at the time of death. Impressions of thoughts get embedded in the subconscious mind, which always goes along with the subtle body and has the capacity to manifest in subsequent births.

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