Friday, February 6, 2015

Why Do Hindus Burn Their Dead?


This blog is all about the Hindu sacrament in the life of a person which the person closes the concluding chapter of the worldly career. The way one grieves commemorates and disposes the dead varies greatly from culture to culture. Hindus burn, Muslims bury. However, the only common belief at this point is that the survivors need to consecrate the death for the decreased future felicity in the next world. Hinduism is unique among the world's major religions in mandating cremation as one of 16 life rituals. So let us come to know and explore why?

This Samskara, being post-mortem, is not less important because for Hindu the next world is higher than that of the present one. The Baudhayana Pitrmedha- Sutras say," It is well known that after the birth one conquers this earth, after Samskaras after death the heaven. Therefore, the ritualists are very anxious to have the funerals performed with meticulous care.


'What is the greatest wonder?' Lord Yamraj asks in Mahabharata. Yudhisthir replies, " Day after day countless people die. Yet the living wish to live forever. Death has been an enigma immemorial. The human mind refuses to accept its utter finality. All civilizations are religions believe that somehow, the 'individual' keeps living, goes somewhere else, or will eventually 'rise' and reach heaven or hell. Hindus believe both in 'life' after death and in reincarnation.

Fire is considered holy in Hinduism. It burns away everything until nothing remains. On the other hand burying is a very slow process of dissolving the five elements inside the body back into the five elements of the cosmos. By cremating the body, the physical remnants of the ghost are entirely wiped out from the face of the earth so that the ghost may continue with its journey forward after the 11 days.

Agni, consume not this body to cinders neither give it pain nor scatter about its skin or limbs. When the body is fairly burnt, convey the spirit to the ancestors. May the five elements be merged with their basic forms. Vedic hymn to Agni. Since Agni, the god of fire is seen as a link between the gross and subtle, matter and spirit, the seen and unseen, the known and unknown and a messenger between men and gods, dead bodies were disposed by cremation.Thus, the dead body is an offering to Agni with an earnest prayer to purify and lead the individual to a better and brighter life. Another reason for preferring cremation to produce a feeling of detachment in the freshly disembodied subtle body and to encourage it to pass on, rather than hover around loved ones. Moreover, Hindus, out of respect for the dead, did not want to leave the bodies around to be consumed by vultures and other animals.

The exceptions to cremation are saints, holy men, pregnant women and children. Since saints are supposed to have attained a high degree of detachment from the body, they do not need to be cremated, they are buried in the lotus position. For children too, the attachment to the body is much less. Also, according to custom, an offspring is required to light the funeral pyre, and both categories wold normally not have any.

Children are not grown so their funeral must differ from that of the adult. Their tender body should be spared the fierce flames, their innocent life neither inflicts so much impurity nor does it require so much purification. The next special rite is that of Garbhini or a pregnant woman who dies in her pregnancy. Baudhayaa says that she should be carried to the cremation ground but after saving the child. In case, the child could not be saved, she should be floated or buried.

A Human Being does not always die from old age, he may die due to diseases. If he is burnt, the micro-organisms in his body will die. Thus, burning of a body after a person is dead ensures that you are not committing murder, and also you are preventing it from being a source of spread of any disease.Also, a traditional belief among Hindus says that a person's body is composed of 5 elements earth, fire, water, air, and sky. The cremation ceremonies of Hindus are directed towards returning the body to these elements. The body is progressively returned to earth, air, sky and fire by burning it under skies, and the ashes are respectfully collected and poured in a river.

It is the ultimate wish of a Hindu to die and be cremated along a riverbank, the holier the river the better for the departed soul. Many Hindu holy shrines are built along famous riverbanks. Banaras, situated along the holy river Ganga, is the holiest of them all, considered so holy that every Hindu wishes to die there. Indeed, this desire is so irrepressible that some pious Hindus make provisions to move to Banaras at an old age for the sole purpose of uniting with God.