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Find out why Antima Sanskar (Funeral Rites) are of significance in the Hindu rituals!

Death rituals in Hinduism, more or less, follow a uniform pattern adapted from the Vedas, with variations on the basis of a region, caste, and customs

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Antima Sanskar
A cremation along the Ganges in the sacred ‘burning ghats’ of Varanasi via blog.eddiebauer.com
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In Hinduism, death is not the end, rather it is a series of alterations through which one travels. A Hindu text- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, thus describes death as the passage of the soul. First, the soul departs from the body, followed by the breath and finally gets released from the organs. Then the soul becomes blessed with a certain consciousness and goes to the body which is related closest to that consciousness.

Death rituals in Hinduism, more or less, follow a uniform pattern adapted from the Vedas, with variations on the basis of a region, caste, and customs. Almost, all rites are fulfilled by the family members themselves including children. Some specific rites are customarily performed by the priest, but can also be fulfilled by the family members as well, in case the priest is unavailable.

A Hindu cremation rite via Wikipedia.org
A Hindu cremation rite. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Here is a simple outline of rites that is performed by generally all Hindus.

  • Moments before Death (Preparations)-
    If a person feels sick or gets unconscious during the final moments, another close family member chants the mantra softly in the right ear of the deceased. In case, the mantras are not known, “Aum Nama Sivaya” is chanted continuously. Holy ash is applied on the forehead of the deceased, Vedic verses are chanted, and a few drops of milk and holy water is drizzled into his mouth. After death, the body is laid at the home entrance, with his head facing the southern direction. The lamp is kept lit near the body and the room is fragmented. A piece of cloth is tied under the chin and on top of the forehead. Pictures of Hindu deities or any sort of images that has religious significance are faced towards the wall while mirrors are covered as well in some traditions. Relatives are also called to bid farewell to the departing soul and sing sacred songs.

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  • As Death Approaches-
    According to Hindu rituals, in earlier times, if a person is ill and people can around him can predict that death will consume him/her soon, the ill is brought home from the hospital. Close family members are informed. The person laid in his room or near the entrance of the house, with his head facing east. A candle or a lamp is lit near him, and he is asked to concentrate on the mantra. The family stays awake until the soul departs from the body, while they sing hymns, pray and read mantras. If the ill can’t be brought back home, this ritual is often completed at the hospital itself.
An 1820 painting showing a Hindu funeral procession in south India via wikipedia.org
An 1820 painting showing a Hindu funeral procession in south India. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Preparing the Body- 
    A chief mourner performs aarti while passing the lit lamp over the body, and offering flowers. The relatives clean the body and drape it with a white cloth. Sesame oil is applied to the head and the body is bathed with holy water from the nine Kumbha and finally carried to the homa shelter, neatly covering and singing hymns. The women then walk around the body and give puffed rice in the mouth of the deceased, to feed him for the journey ahead.

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  • Cremation-
    Traditionally, only men go to the cremation site, often led by the karta, a family member who will perform the last rituals. A clay Kumbha is to be carried along as well and the body is carried thrice in the anti-clockwise direction around the pyre, before placing it on it. The cover is removed from the body. The men again put puffed rice as the women did earlier. The body is covered with wood, as per the rituals. The person in charge of the rites then circles the pyre while holding the clay pot on his left shoulder. At each corner of the pyre, a small hole in the pot is made with a sharp object, to let the water flow through it slowly, signifying soul leaving the body. At the end of three turns, the chief mourner drops the pot on the ground. Then, without turning towards the body, he lights the pyre.

Once the body of the deceased has been completely cremated, those gathered go back to their home and purify themselves by washing themselves with water. This marks the beginning of mourning period in Hindu rituals, that lasts for 13 days. During the period, the visitors are received and attended with care. Rituals are performed, throughout the mourning period as it is commonly known as the rite of “preta-karma”. It is believed that this custom will assist the disembodied spirit of the deceased and help it to obtain a new body for the reincarnation.

The ritual doesn’t end here, one year after the death, the family members will observe a memorial event calledshradh,” that is meant to pay homage to the deceased. According to the tradition, the member of the highest caste- Brahmins are to be invited by the Karta, to the deceased’s home and then they are offered an elaborate meal and treat them with respect and love, just like a family member.

– by Yajush Gupta of NewsGram, Twitter: @yajush_gupta

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Right of Nature: Are Rivers Living Beings?

Should rivers be considered Living Entities?

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Right of Nature
Many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

By Dr. Bharti Raizada, Chicago

Science says that water bodies are not living entities, as water does not need food, does not grow, and reproduce. Water is required for life, but in itself it is nonliving.

However, many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

The Maori tribe in New Zealand considers the Whanganui River as their ancestor and the Maori people fought to get it a legal status as a living being. In 2017, a court in New Zealand gave this river the status of living being and same rights as humans, to protect it from pollution. Thus, now if someone pollutes in it then it is considered equivalent to harming a human.

ALSO READ: Worshiping mother nature part of our tradition: Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Right of Nature
Rivers are sacred in many religions, including Hinduism. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

Rivers are sacred in Hinduism also. Hindus believe that the Ganga descended from heaven and call her Ganga Maa. A few days after New Zealand’s court decision, Uttarakhand high court in India gave the Ganga and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries the status of living human entities. The Court-appointed three officials as legal custodians. However, the court did not clarify many aspects related to this decision.

After this verdict some of the questions, which naturally came to mind, were:

Can Hindus still do rituals of flowing ashes, leaves, flowers, diyas in river or no? Can a dam be built on the river after this judgment? If some damage, to a person, animal, plants, or property, occurs because of river e.g. overflow, hurricanes, flooding etc., how the river will pay the liabilities? What if all rivers, oceans, ponds etc. are given the status of living beings? Will drinking water from river become a crime? What about taking water and using it for routine needs,  agriculture or building structures? Will it be illegal? If a child throws a stone in water, will it be a criminal act? Will fishing be considered stealing? What about boating? If someone is using heat near water and water evaporates, is it equal to taking the body part of a human being? What about taking a bath in the river?

Right of Nature
If the river gets a living status, as human, then we cannot use it for anything without its permission, so everyone has to stop touching the water. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: Decoding supernatural: What is the nature of entities and gods who influence human behavior

Other queries, which arise, are:

Will animals and plants get the same status? What if you kill an ant or a chicken etc. or cut a tree? Will all animals and plants get a legal custodian?

Where is all the waste supposed to go? It has to go somewhere back in nature, right?

Uttrakhand state government challenged the judgement in Supreme Court and the latter reversed the judgment.

Right of Nature
So where do we stand? In my opinion, granting living status to nature is a different thing than giving protected status or preserving nature. Image by Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: How nature destroys the negative tendencies in a positive manner

Ecuador’s constitution recognized the Right of Nature to exist, specifically Vilcabamba river, in 2008.

Then Bolivia passed the law of the right of mother earth and granted Nature equal rights as humans.

Many communities in the U.S.A. passed the Right of Nature law.

These laws are creating a dilemma or quandary also, as people need to use these resources. We cannot live without using natural resources. However, there is a difference between using natural resources and afflicting or destroying these. So, please use natural resources very diligently. Try not to vitiate nature.

On World Water Day (March 22), please start taking care of rivers, so that there is no need for future celebrations. It should not be a one-day celebration anyway, we should scrupulously look out for nature all the time.

Dr. Raizada is a practicing anesthesiologist.