Knowing how a culture views death helps us understand many things about the country and its people. Any time you plan on visiting a country outside your own, it is good to learn about the basic thought patterns regarding such things as birth, marriage and death. We will discuss death practices in this article.
In the philosophical Vedic text, the Bhagavad Gila, Krishna explains that at death the sould passes into another body. Hindus traditionally cremate their dead on funeral pyres, usually on the banks of the Ganges or other sacred rivers. The ashes are later scattered there so the cycle of reincarnation can be continued. While the body burns, priests seem to be indifferent to the emotions of the families by bargaining over the price of each verse of the Vedas, which is the sacred text, to be recited.
The oldest son performs the last rite at his parents’ cremations, which guarantees their release from this world.
The British banned sati, which was the ancient rite of a widow throwing herself on her husband’s funeral pyre, in 1829. This ban left widows shunned by society and unable to remarry, even if they were very young. Even though it is illegal, there are rare instances where sati is still performed. It is also still a practice in rural communities to stigmatize widows.
Muslims view death differently than Hindus. They believe in resurrection after death and they believe in both heaven and hell. It is for this reason it is customary in Muslim communities to bury the dead rather than cremate them.
Whatever the religion, the rituals assigned to the dead are full of tradition, often going back hundreds of years. Respect for the various rituals is a must for any visitor to India. This is one area that both Muslim and Hindu place a great deal of importance.