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Hinduism's concept of death lies on the basis that it believes that the soul is immortal and imperishable. The soul is merely part of a body, which temporarily and eventually comes to an end. Thus, the Sanskrit word for death, "dehanta," means "the end of the body" but not the end of life. Hinduism holds a strong belief in the rebirth and reincarnation of souls based upon their karma, it believes that every thought and action has its repercussions; a soul becomes what it does. Thus, unless the soul achieves moksha and becomes one with the supreme i.e., the universe neither life nor life is permanent. They are both illusions for the soul to keep walking towards self-knowledge.
It is interesting to note the parallel of this Hinduism belief in science as similar to Hinduism belief that souls (life energy of beings) are immortal and can't be destroyed, science states, "Energy can neither be created nor destroyed."
The Rig Veda defines death as:
When he goes on the path that leads away from the breath of life.
Then he will be led by the will of the gods
May your eye go to the sun, your life's breath to the wind
Go to the sky or the earth, as is your nature.
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There are four courses that a soul may follow after death.
The first course, Devayana
Devayana is the realm of lights. Those who follow the way of the gods are the spiritually advanced soul who led the life of extreme purity and wholeheartedly devoted the Brahman ascent to return to god. They go to the Brahmaloka, the apex of heaven to attain liberation. This path leads the soul to the Brahman and it attains liberation from the cycle of rebirths.
The second course, Pitriyana
The soul returns to the cycle of rebirth on the earth as they still hold earthly desires.Unsplash
Pitriyana means the path of darkness, the souls who follow the ways of their ancestors walk on this path. It is followed by the ritualists who have cherished a desire for the results of their charity, austerity, worship, and vows. They receive joy and happiness as a reward for their good actions. However, they are returned to the cycle of rebirth on the earth as they still hold earthly desires within self.
The third course, Hell
Souls who led impure lives and performed actions that are forbidden in the scriptures. They are reborn as sub-human species as punishment for their bad karma. After atoning for their evil deeds, they are reborn in human bodies as a chance to lead a pure life to achieve enlightenment and be free from the endless cycle of birth.
The fourth course
Souls who are extremely dreadful in their thoughts and actions walk on this path. They are reborn multiple times as insignificant creatures like mosquitoes and fleas. And eventually, after repenting for their evil actions, they return to earth in human bodies to walk the path of goodness.
ALSO READ: Karma cycle: From Helpless to Wise
When a soul assumes a human body, it takes up the thread of spiritual evolution of its previous human birth and continues to evolve toward Self-knowledge. The souls that have attained spiritual enlightenment before death or upon death, their souls are absorbed in Brahman, and the elements of their body-mind complex, their life energy finally returns to their source.
Keywords: Hinduism, death, afterlife, karma, enlightenment, the cycle of rebirth, eternal soul
Most of the cultures in the world today wear either black or white for mourning. Conservative cultures adopt wearing white as the absence of colour signify a sort of renunciation in memory of the dead. Those who wear black, however, propagate a culture that has a rich history and significance.
Black clothes originated during the Industrial Revolution as working with soot, steam, and coal often stained clothes irreparably. Darker shades allowed for a much cleaner outlook, and were preferred by the working class. But to buy these clothes was difficult because black dye which was extracted from the darker substances was expensive, and only the wealthy could afford to clothe their slaves in it.
Black is also a colour associated with celibacy, clergy, and religion. Catholic priests and nuns of certain orders always wore black cassocks and habits. Their lifestyle was symbolic of religion and commitment to social causes.
A Greek funeral where black is the colour associated with mourning Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
When the tradition of funerals began, widows and those mourning had to wear clothes absent of any joyful sentiment. They preferred wearing black, dull grey, or brown colours, which represented sadness. But even in this case, black was reserved for the upper class, owing to how expensive it was. As times changes, and coal became more available, black slowly became something easily accessible. Technological advances changed the way dyes were created, and so even the lower classes were able to afford it. They began to emulate the wealthy and the practice of wearing black clothes during mourning began.
In societies where black is considered unholy, and is associated with dark arts, white is preferred as the mourning garment. It symbolises chastity and purity. Those who wear it unofficially adopt a lifestyle of renunciation, and isolate themselves from social entertainments. They do not wear jewellery and shave their head.
Widows in India have to wear white and live in isolation from society Image credit: Wikimedia commons
Monarch could not afford to forego their jewellery as it was a sign of their status even when presenting themselves in foreign company. To keep with the tradition of mourning, they devised the creation of black jewellery, or jewellery made from the jet stone, to suit their outfits. A lock of the deceased's hair was tied to the pendant of the neck piece. Today, this kind of jewellery is worn out of context in a gothic setting, while non-goths wear regular jewellery with their black clothes.
Monarch often wore jewellery made f black jet stone while mourning Image credit: wikimedia commons
Modern day mourners do not keep with the older traditions. Mourning periods have also been reduced due to various political, legal, and economic reasons. The only time the mourners wear these garments is on the day of the funeral, and perhaps to other funerals. Other than that, colours are quickly worn to remove the aura of sadness in the house of the deceased.
Keywords: Black, White, Mourning, Culture, Class, Tradition
Each year Diwali is celebrated on Krishna Paksha Chaturdashi, the 14th lunar day of the dark fortnight in the Tamil month of Aippasi. Ancient scriptures of India advise people to worship Yama, the deity of death on the days of Dhantrayodashi, Narak Chaturdashi and Yamadwitiya. People light an oil Diya or 13 oil diyas made of wet wheat flour in the evening. They are kept facing southwards just outside people's residences. These lamps which are traditionally dedicated to Lord Yama are known as Yama Deepam.
It is believed that placing a Yama Deep in the evening of Trayodashi of the dark fortnight of Kartik month prevents any untimely death in the family. The legend of Skanda Purana says that the lighting of Yama Deepams with faith and devotion by the devotees can get the lord to bless them with grace and long and healthy life. Yamadev, the lord of death himself gave assurance to his attendants that even though death is inevitable and cannot be avoided those who perform this Deepdan on Dhantrayodashi will not suffer an early death.
The ritual Yama tarpanam can also be performed early in the morning on Diwali day as a form of worshipping Yama.
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Story of Origin of Yamadeepadana
A 16-year-old son of King Hima was destined to die on the fourth day of his married life due to a snake bride. A girl agreed to marry the unlucky prince despite knowing his ill fate.
She wanted to save her husband; on the fourth day of their marriage, the young bride didn't allow her husband to sleep. She lit the palace with innumerable Deepas, and gathered all her ornaments, jewellery and coins, and placed them in a heap at the entrance. When Lord Yama, guise as a snake reached the palace, his eyes were blinded by the dazzle of deepas, preventing him from entering the room. He waited near the ornament and coins for the prince to approach them. He sat there all night listening to the songs and tales narrated by the young bride. Soon, the sun rose and Lord Yama had to return empty-handed. The wife had saved her husband from the mouth of the death. Since the day of Dhanteras was named Yamadeepdaan and this tradition was celebrated by burning lamps through the night dedicated to Lord Yama.
When Lord Yama, guise as a snake reached the palace, his eyes were blinded by the dazzle of deepas.Unsplash
Elements of Yamadeepadana
To perform the ritual of Yamadeepadan one requires sandalwood paste, turmeric, vermilion, flowers to offer to the god, consecrated rice in the ritualistic pattern. For achaman (purification ritual) a cooper platter, tumbler, and a spoon are required. The lamp is placed in a copper platter to be taken out of the house. Most importantly, you need to prepare 13 lamps made of kneaded wheat flour mixed with turmeric powder.
Significance of wheat flour lamps
On the day of Dhanteras, the Tama-dominant (negative) energy frequencies are active in a higher proportion which causes untimely death. The lamps made of wheat flowers neutralize these energies and protect you from any unfortunate death.
Why "13" lamps?
- 13 lamps are offered to the lord as the frequencies coming from Lord Yama stay only 13 moments of Hell. Hence, 13 Deepas are lit to appeal to the lord this is known as Yama-Tarpan.
- The number '13' has the power to impress Yama; therefore, on the day of Trayodashi, prayer is made to Yama by offering 13 lamps to escape from death.
- The period of death of an embodied soul is 13 days long, during this period a black covering of death occurs around the soul and slowly it succumbs, in the next 13 days the souls penetrate through subtle boundaries of time to go to other 'loka' from earth aka bhoo-Loka. Untimely death occurs by crossing over these 13 wheels of time. To avoid such untimely death in the subtle 13 wheels of time, 13 'Deep-Daan is performed.
Diwali is one of the most auspicious festivals celebrated in India with utmost dedication, happiness, enthusiasm, and passion by the people. By performing Yamatarpan, the sins of the entire year are cleansed.
Keywords: Diwali, Dhanteras, Lord Yama, prevent untimely death, Yamadeepadan, diyas ritual, wheat flour lamps
Just as much as man has evolved from the time of the nomads, his practices and rituals have grown more and more sophisticated. With time, things that once were just formalities have acquired ritual significance and are observed in solemnity. Death was once something that marked the end, but now is an important life change event that is memorialized. Some people come alive only after death.
In nomadic times, men buried their dead companions or family along the route they traveled. They would place a stone or any heavy object over it, to prevent the soil from becoming loose around the body, or to keep it safe from scavengers. This practice is no longer followed as the animal kingdom and man's world have become distinct from each other.
Europe is dotted with Stonehenge clusters, which are historical pieces of evidence of human progress. It is a keen and detailed system that human ancestors devised for burying their dead. Carbon dating suggests the presence of decomposed remains, but its actual significance is speculated.
The Egyptians devised building pyramids in which they laid their dead. They are one of the earliest civilizations to propagate the idea of an afterlife. They filled the pyramids with earthly treasures, all of which they believed were required in the next life.
Traditional orthodox graves with elaborate gravestones Image credit: Photo by Robert Linder on Unsplash
When devastating plagues hit countries, the dead were buried in masses. Walls were built around these sites to contain the dead bodies and to prevent them from spilling out. Later superstitions and folklore about the 'undead' forced people to place crosses and crucifixes on graves to keep their loved ones from turning into blood-sucking vampires. Sometimes, coffins were pierced in the centre with a large stake to prevent the deceased from waking up again. Gravestones were laid to make sure that the person did not escape. Sometimes, an intact gravestone was an indicator of a pure soul.
The Renaissance instilled a scientific spirit of inquiry, which caused brilliant advancements in every field, but this came at rather bizarre costs. Students of human anatomy needed a basis for their theories and were often found vandalizing property, digging up the dead to use for dissection. Laws were passed against this, but it was a practice that prevailed. Some of the most famous principles of medicine come from this era.
Burying the dead has changed so much with the times. Today's practice of laying gravestones has no preventive measures like those in the past. Instead, they serve to immortalize the dead. It is to fulfill the life of the person by laying them to rest in their final earthly abode and leaving behind a marker of their life either by a symbol, a quote, or a verse that best describes them. As the population of the world continues to grow, land space for burial is growing scarce, and gravestones are now becoming a rare privilege.
Keywords: Ritual Practice, Graves, Memorial tombs, plague disease, white plague