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Hindu Funerals Hindu symbol image

Hindus believe in reincarnation and view death as the soul moving from one body to the next on its path to reach Nirvana, heaven. Death is a sad occasion, but Hindu priests emphasise the route ahead for the departed soul and a funeral is as much a celebration as a remembrance service.

Hindus cremate their dead, believing that the burning of a dead body signifies the release of the spirit and that the flames represent Brahma, the creator.

Family members will pray around the body as soon as possible after death. People will try to avoid touching the corpse as it is considered polluting. The corpse is usually bathed and dressed in white, traditional Indian clothes. If a wife dies before her husband she is dressed in red bridal clothes. If a woman is a widow she will be dressed in white or pale colours.

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.

The body is decorated with sandalwood, flowers and garlands. Scriptures are read from the Vedas or Bhagavad Gita. The chief mourner, usually the eldest son or male, will light some kindling and circle the body, praying for the wellbeing of the departing soul.

After the cremation, the family may have a meal and offer prayers in their home. 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.

Often, a garland of dried or fake flowers is placed around a photograph of the deceased to show respect for their memory.

'Shradh' is practiced one year after the death of the person. This can either be an annual event or a large one-off event. This is the Hindu practice of giving food to the poor in memory of the deceased. 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. Sons are responsible for carrying out Shradh.

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