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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

Antima Sanskar
A cremation along the Ganges in the sacred ‘burning ghats’ of Varanasi via

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
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
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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Cigars, Pipes Tied To Same Risks As Cigarettes

Traditionally, doctors have asked just whether people smoked cigarettes, but they should instead be questioning patients more broadly about tobacco use

E-cigarettes is considered to be safer than tobacco cigarettes. Pixabay
  • Cigarettes are not the only tobacco products which can cause death
  • Other tobacco products like cigars and pipes are just harmful
  • All these tobacco products can cause cancer

Cigarettes are not the only type of tobacco products that can lead to premature death or fatalities from smoking-related cancers, a U.S. study confirms.

While people who exclusively smoke cigarettes have twice the risk of premature death from all causes compared to people who avoid tobacco altogether, exclusive cigar smokers have a 20 percent higher risk of early death, researchers report in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Cigarettes are not the only harmful tobacco products available in the market. Pixabay
Cigarettes are not the only harmful tobacco products available in the market. Pixabay

When it comes to fatalities from specific cancers that have been tied to tobacco use, cigarette smokers have four times the risk of people who never used tobacco, but cigar smokers are 61 percent more likely to die of these cancers and pipe users have 58 percent higher odds.

“We knew exclusive users of cigars and pipes were at greater risk of disease than people who do not use tobacco,” said lead study author Carol Christensen of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products. “However, this study provides information that reflects today’s patterns of tobacco use.”

Also Read: Banning E-Cigarettes Deprives Indian Smokers of a Less Harmful Alternative: Experts

These data “underscore the importance of complete quitting,” Christensen said by email.

For the study, researchers examined nationally representative survey data, collected starting in 1985, from 357,420 participants who were followed through 2011.

Overall, 203,071 people, or about 57 percent, never used tobacco at all. Another 57,251 participants were current daily cigarette smokers, while 9,414 said they had a less frequent habit and 77,773 were former cigarette smokers.

In addition, 531 people were current daily cigar smokers, while 608 individuals used cigars less frequently and 2,398 had quit.

For pipes, 1,099 participants had a current daily habit, while 78 people used pipes less often and 5,237 had quit.

Pipes, hookahs and all other tobacco products are just as harmful as a cigarette.
Pipes, hookahs and all other tobacco products are just as harmful as a cigarette.

During the study period, 51,150 people died of all causes.

With a daily cigarette, cigar or pipe habit, people had an elevated risk of death from tobacco-related cancers including malignancies of the bladder, oesophagus, larynx, lung, mouth and throat, and pancreas.

Nondaily users

Even with a nondaily cigarette habit, people were more than six times more likely to die of lung cancer than individuals who never used tobacco. They also had more than seven times the risk of dying from a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, more than four times the odds of death from oral cancers, and 43 percent higher odds of death from a circulatory system disorder.

Current cigar smokers had more than three times the odds of dying of lung cancer, and for current pipe smokers, the risk was 51 percent higher, compared with never-smokers.

The results were limited, however, by the relatively small numbers of cigar and pipe smokers in the sample, the authors noted.

Cigarettes, hookah, pipes, cigars all are equally harmful.
Cigarettes, hookah, pipes, cigars all are equally harmful.

Another limitation was that survey questions about tobacco use changed over time and didn’t determine how often nondaily smokers might have used cigarettes, cigars or pipes.

Even so, the results suggest that doctors may need to broaden how they discuss smoking with patients to make sure people understand they’re at risk even when they don’t have a daily habit, said Dr. Michael Ong of the University of California-Los Angeles and VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.

Also Read:  Beware! Vapor smoke from E-cigarettes are just as harmful, says a new research

“Patients often do not associate the occasional use of cigar or pipes with health risks, but this study shows that current, particularly daily, cigar use is associated with increased overall risk of death,” Ong, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

Doctors also need to broaden their message about smoking and cigarettes to include other tobacco products that are becoming more popular, said Judith Prochaska, a researcher at Stanford University in California who wasn’t involved in the study.

Smoking e-cigarettes are not a healthier alternative to smoking. cigarettes Pixabay

Traditionally, doctors have asked just whether people smoked cigarettes, but they should instead be questioning patients more broadly about tobacco use, Prochaska said by email.

“The tobacco landscape has been changing dramatically,” Prochaska added. “While cigarettes remain the primary tobacco product used, cigars, smokeless tobacco, e-cigarettes, hookah, and even pipe tobacco have seen gains in use, while cigarette use in the U.S. has been declining.” VOA