Hindu Funerals Guide

Hindu godsImage Source: Pixabay 

The Hindu religion teaches that when someone dies, the soul passes into another body. That belief in reincarnation provides the foundation for Hindu funeral traditions. Although different groups have slightly different practices, there is a common set of Hindu funeral rites they all follow.

What is a Hindu Funeral?

Hindu death rituals dictate that cremation is the norm, but the body remains in the family’s home until it is moved to the cremation location.

A Hindu funeral may have three parts:

  1. A wake/funeral in the family’s home
  2. A cremation ceremony (“mukhagni”)
  3. A “shraddha” ceremony

The actual funeral takes place in the home, although actual event could be considered a wake by western standards, due to its short length. The cremation ceremony takes place at the place of cremation after the body has been moved from the home. There may also be a third Hindu funeral ceremony (shraddha) that takes place about 10 days after the death.

Hindu Funeral Rites & Traditions

Hindu funeral traditions
Image Source: Wikimedia

A Hindu funeral typically takes place within one day and sometimes two days after the time of death. No gifts or flowers should be brought to the funeral, although flowers may be sent or brought ahead of time.

Hindu funeral rites take the form of chants, or mantras, which are specially written to be chanted at funerals. The officiant is a Hindu priest, who also presides over all the Hindu funeral rites, leading the family and other mourners in the various Hindu death rituals.

At the cremation, however, it’s typically the eldest son who presides, with the priest overseeing the activities, though different Hindu groups may follow different Hindu funeral rites. Here in the United States, cremation must be performed by licensed crematories. Most make allowances for the cremation ceremony to take place, however, so that Hindu death rituals may be performed on site.

Due to the short time frame of cremation, no embalming is necessary.

After the cremation, there may also be a reception at the family’s home. It may be just for family, so check to see what has been planned for the particular funeral you’ll be attending.  

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Hindu Funeral Etiquette

Proper Dress Attire

Mourners who attend any of the various funeral ceremonies should not wear black. It is customary for guests and family member to wear white, and no head covering is required for either sex. Women should dress conservatively, covering arms and knees. Open-toe shoes are acceptable, as is jewelry… but keep a light touch with the jewelry, nothing flashy.

Offering Condolences

Immediately upon hearing of the death, it is customary to visit the bereaved family in their home to offer your sympathy. If that’s not possible, a phone call can suffice.

Participation Expectations

At the funeral, the body is displayed in an open casket. Guests at the funeral should expect to view the body, offer condolences to the family, and then take their seat quietly. Non-Hindus are expected to sit quietly during the ceremony, although they are welcome to participate in the ritual chanting of mantras that takes place.

Some people may also attend the cremation ceremony, although non-Hindus do not participate in the mukhagni, the Hindu word for the cremation ceremony. Traditional Hindu funeral rites dictate that the mukhagni is only attended by men. However, mourners should check with the family or the funeral director to find out what’s appropriate for the funeral they are attending.

It’s appropriate to visit the family at their home after their period of mourning, which typically lasts 10 days. At this time it is appropriate to bring gifts of fruit. Usually, only those who are specifically invited to the shraddha, the third funeral ceremony, will attend.

Hindu Funeral FAQ

What are Hindu funerals like?

Hindu funeral rites and traditions vary, but in general, you can expect to hear mantras being chanted around the departed person’s body at a home funeral.

How are Hindus buried?

Traditionally, the cremation ceremony involves a ritual burning of the body, attended to by a Hindu priest and male family members. Sometimes guests attend the ceremony, too. The ‘last food’ is offered and the cremation takes place with flowers arranged around the body.

What takes place during the Hindu cremation ceremony?

Cremation is chosen because Hindus believe that cremation is the fastest way to aid the soul in escaping the body. Cremation rituals vary from place to place, but they often include: prayers and singing rice balls are placed around the body flowers may also be placed around the body a lamp is placed near the head of the body water is sprinkled on the body food is offered Traditionally, Hindus prefer to have their ashes spread on the waters of the Ganges River in India. Many today take the ashes to a place closer to home.

What do people do at a Hindu funeral?

If they are Hindu, they participate in the chanting of mantras. If not, they may sit quietly during the chanting. Otherwise, one views the body upon entering the home, perhaps offering some quiet and brief words of condolence to the family.

What do you wear to an Indian funeral?

Wear white, not black, and dress conservatively.

How long after death is a Hindu funeral? 

Typically, Hindu families try to have the funeral within 24 hours after death, after which the body will be cremated. 

What is preta-karma?

The preta-karma is an important Hindu death rituals that takes place during the period of mourning. It serves to help the deceased person’s soul move from spirit form to its new body in the cycle of reincarnation.

Is there a mourning period for Hindus?

There is a 10-day period after the death, during which the immediate family follows Hindu mourning customs. They refrain from visiting the family shrine and are prohibited from entering a temple or any other sacred place. This is because they are considered to be spiritually impure during this mourning period. After the shrahdhah ceremony, the family typically returns to work in anywhere from one to three weeks, depending on personal preferences.

Want information on funerals and burials of specific religions? Or Interested in learning about non-religious funerals? Click the links below:

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