From the origin of life to death, there are thousands of rites and rituals that Hinduism has in place. The cycle of life is defined in different ways in this religion and each phase has a rite or ritual associated it with. Let’s talk about the last phase of the cycle of life and one of the most elaborate parts of Hinduism- death and the journey beyond. The final rites that are performed after the death of an individual in Hinduism are called antyesti , cremation or antim sanskar. The bases of these rites and explanations have been provided in the Garuda Puran. The rituals and rites differ across areas, castes and social groups and also based on the status of the deceased person in some cases. HINDU FUNERAL DURING EARLIER TIMES In earlier centuries, rituals like funeral did not really exist. After the death of a human being, his/her body was either buried in the soil or river or exposed to scavengers. With the advent of time, rituals and rites changed and the cremation became the mode of disposal of human bodies. Not only this, different rites were performed for children, women, sadhus and saints. THERE’S MORE TO THE HINDU FUNERAL THAN WE KNOW Do you know what the different stages of the Hindu funeral cycle are? The first stage begins when different rites and rituals are recited to relieve the person who is progressing towards the final stage of life. Hindus have a deep belief that reciting prayers during this time will help the person pass out peacefully. The second stage is the main funeral process i.e. cremation. The body of the deceased person is subjected to fire on a pyre and cremated. The third stage is accompanied by rites that allow the soul of the deceased person to join its ancestors known as pitrs in Hinduism. This stage and the rites and rituals performed during this time are considered important for the peaceful departure on the soul. The last stage includes havans and shanti paths that are performed in honour of the pitrs. THE MAIN STAGE OF HINDU FUNERAL-CREMATION As you must have already read above, cremation is the main stage of the funeral process in Hinduism. Cremation is a vast process in itself and there are various stages attached to it. Let’s take them one by one and learn more about what the cremation rites and rituals are all about. Getting the body ready for cremation The first and foremost step of cremation is preparation of the dead body for the final rites. The organs of the body like eyes and mouth are put to rest and the body is placed on the floor. An oil lamp is lit near the dead body and the same is allowed to glow till three days from the day of death. The body is then bathed with Gangajal which is considered to be pure water and dressed in new clothes. In case of males an widows, the body is covered with a white cloth whereas in case of unmarried girls and women, the body is endowed with red or yellow cloth and decorated with flowers and garlands. The body is then placed on a wooden stretcher and carried by relatives or near and dear ones to the cremation ground. Cremation Rites and Rituals After the dead body is brought to the cremation ground or the shamshaan ghat, it is placed on a pyre which is kept ready by the priest who performs the final rites. The chief of the family walks around the pyre three times, sprinkling water and lights a fire in the deceased person’s mouth, known as much agni. The pyre is then subjected to fire with the help of a flaming torch and this marks the beginning of the mourning period which lasts for up to 13 days. The dead body is then allowed to burn completely while the family returns home. The Mourning Period As soon as the family gets back home from the cremation ground, they are required to take a bath and perform all household chores within specific conditions. One or two days after the cremation, the person who performed the cremation rites goes to the cremation ground to collect the mortal remains of the deceased. These remains are either poured in holy waters like Haridwar, Varanasi and or Kurukshetra. After the final rites are performed, the mourning period lasts for almost ten days after which the Kriya ceremony is carried out to mark the end of mourning. One year after the death of the person, the family observes the death anniversary as “shraadh” and pay homage to the deceased by reciting prayers or donating money and relief items to priests, poor and the needy. With the advent of technology and changing times, cremation methods have also changed. Now almost all the cities have electric crematoriums that do not require the burning of the corpse. The body is placed in an electric chamber and subjected to high voltage which results in burning of the body and hardly anything remain. The high electric current results in charring and disposal of the corpse. The face of Hindu funeral and the rites and rituals that are a part of it are changing with the fast moving world and modern times. People now look for shorter procedures for whatever they do. For instance, the last part of the mourning period that marks the end of the mourning cycle i.e. the “uthala” is also performed after 4 days as chautha instead of 13 days now.