This post was written by Bhasmank Mehta, Posted on 2nd April 2016,Updated on 19th August 2016
The Sanatan (Hindu) Funeral Ceremony is one of the very few ceremonies that has an almost Universal stance across Indian sub-continent, although slight variations may be evidenced due to regional availability of material. In the main though, the belief, the ritual or, above all, the custom or the “Procedure” if that is the right way of describing it, has mostly continued unchanged from the Vedic days. I will explain the definition of death or “What is Death?” in detail in FAQ Section. Please keep a look-out for this article in due course.
Government legislation, legal restrictions along with other hindrances have overruled the system in the Indian Metropolis as well as in many developed countries. In the west, overzealous Funeral Directors, rather than the Priests, have mainly disrupted the ceremony. Despite the knowledge at hand, a lengthy process has been adopted to accommodate their financial interests.
Not too dissimilar to Islam or even Judaism wherein the deceased’s body HAS TO BE buried (Or cremated by choice!) on the day the individual is pronounced dead. That too, out in the open and not within the confines of a Claustrophobic Chamber.
An argument that it causes harm to the environment if cremated out in the open is just one big smoke screen. A body burned in a chamber or out in the open still demands same amount of energy! It produces same amount of Carbon imprint. The fact is, a body buried decomposing and releasing Methane Gas along with Carbon dioxide is not far behind in damaging the environment either. Let alone occupying precious space that the loved ones have to pay a premium price to maintain for many years to come. Despite the aforementioned limitations, the cremation process is still by far the most cost effective way forward. Yet, the Government legislations along with one pressure group from amongst Sanatan Hindus prevent us from providing more of these units to accommodate this ever growing population. After all, it is not just Sanatan Hindus opting for cremation anymore, are they?
If the authorities are really that concerned, they should speed up the process by having multiple chambers for cremation listing electrical disintegration as is the case in major Metropolis within India. Efficient, fast and environmentally friendly.
The Persians have an even cheaper version wherein the body perishes under the watchful eyes of the Eagles; a source of nourishment for their upkeep. Until, that is, the eagle population lately is on the decline.
Considering that there are some very strong obstacles placed along the way, savings can still be made without appearing to be ‘stingy’.
Just think of the costs that can be avoided. Embalming as well as the weighty wooden coffin, along with surplus limousines are just the minimum savings that can be made. Weekend funerals are almost twice as expensive as those conducted during the week. Let me explain further:
At first, my research took me to places where a period of 48 hours was discussed. However, I have since learned that there is actually no existing legislation that requires or calls for a dead body to be embalmed. A process whereupon all the blood – every last drop of it – is removed from the body with a view of mummifying it for public display! Blood, therefore is NOT part of the cremation but is washed away! They would like you and I to believe that it is medically disposed off! In reality, it is shoved down the drain, to put it crudely. Nowhere in any of the Sanatan Dharma Books have I read such a preposterous proposal. Yet, no one, NOT ONE of the predecessors has raised so much as an eyebrow against this practice of such barbaric public display. Should there be a need to preserve a body for any prolonged period, one can always use freezer facilities so readily available in the mortuaries. Again, instead of embalming; the entire body ought to be dipped in scented oils. This then, serves the following important purposes:
The aforementioned process was used by our ancestors where and when it was not possible to cremate the individual’s dead body on the day or the next morning. It was also appropriate if death occurred around or after twilight or needed to be preserved for days thereof. Perhaps because the loved ones need to travel in from further afield. There have been instances where the body was thus preserved, but this practice was an exception to the rule rather than a regular one.
Now let us look at the cost of a coffin, a wooden contraption that the body is boxed in. Once again, there is no requirement to have any boxes at all. A body can be placed in the cremation chamber with nothing to carry it in; if one so desires. Some funeral directors would have you believe that it is compulsory as well as legal necessity to have the body placed in a coffin. Hogwash!
Despite this, we have been psychologically brainwashed into not only dressing the deceased adequately – with newly purchased clothes – but also having to place the body in a wooden box / coffin. Yes, in the west or in “Civilised” world, this seems a better bet. Even if we were to allow for this extra unnecessary facility, why a wooden box when a reinforced cardboard box is not only stronger but also around a Hundred Pounds cheaper! Funeral Directors would have you believe that the cardboard box costs the same, if not more. Yet another expense imposed upon us – the unsuspecting family member of the deceased. Needless to say, there is a bigger profit margin in providing more trendier boxes known as coffins.
If you have had a misfortune to carry one of these wooden coffins, you will have noticed that the director instructs you to hold the coffin from the base and not the handles. This, they say, is because the handles are made from plastic and are not adequately attached. Really? Also that the base is screwed in and the weight of the body may cause it (the base) to fall. Wouldn’t see either of such scenarios on a preset moulded and compressed cardboard box. Also, since it is subsequently glazed (to one’s choice for a price, if required!), the basic box can have additional shine and the look can be even more trendier with no sharp edges.
The covering of the body is to preserve the dignity of the individual. In old times, first, the body was covered with one plain white sheet from head to toe; tucked in from every angle. However, before the final tuck, the clothes worn by the deceased were ripped apart and left there. This signifies that one was born with no clothes and should therefore depart in the same manner. The white sheet covering the body is to offer dignity plus convey a message of purity. Instead, we not only have a fully clothed body but it also includes the shoes! I have yet to know of anyone going to bed with their shoes on! Or even in their suits! Unless of course, one is drunk or mentally imbalanced. Ah! That also goes for spectacles, cash in the inside pocket of that expensive jacket and more. “In Case” is often an answer given. In case of what, may I ask? Even the soul has discarded that body soon to be disposed off. It is not going anywhere, not even to its final resting place … the crematorium or would that be the graveyard? It is not catching a bus or taking a taxi or having to pay for his or her passage to next life!
It’s a funeral, for crying out loud. Not a parade to show off your assets. Whilst arguing with the Priest for a few extra Pounds in fees that he or she may ask, the Limousine is hardly a necessity. Surely, there is at least one vehicle in a given household these days – well, almost every household! Is there any special reason to request multiple rather expensive, over bulging, traffic holding vehicles that move at a snail’s pace?
Not contented in helping you save so much, the costs can be further reduced if we stop insisting on having funeral arrangements:
Then, there is the “Home” ceremony. Have you considered booking an additional session at the crematorium? Think of all the benefits against a fee for one extra session usually discounted as no additional body is to be cremated:
The process of carrying out the actual ceremony will be made available upon request. Registration and/or additional fees to cover the costs may apply.
I, Bhasmank Mehta – your very own Hindu Priest will write more on the subject very soon. Here follows a brief ceremony along with a few points to note from my observations over the years:
Assuming that the ceremony begins at home, on the day of the ceremony, it is advisable for the Priest to arrive at least an hour before the coffin arrives. After ensuring that all the material items are placed in order, its best to begin with some prayers. I find “Shree Krishna Sharanam Mamah” to be an ideal Dhun. Why?
Because every stanza has a meaning. A meaning that informs all present not only the quality of life within Lord Krishna’s abode but also soothes the situation for those with a nervous disposition. Those either very close or even for that matter, overwhelmed. Although it takes around 3 hours to complete the full explanation of the entire Dhun, abbreviated, it can be short enough to fill the time until the Coffin is at the front door.
Primarily the ceremony consists of placing items in the coffin for a reason. Please remember that the “Coffin” is a recent introduction to Sanatan Funeral Services. Most of these items would be placed on or around the funeral pyre at the crematorium. As for the home service in India, the body is laid outside the front door on top of freshly laid cow-dung. This is to delay the decaying process. The body is bathed and prepared for its final journey on top of a wooden stretcher. Unfortunately, sometimes, without undue knowledge, some take it to an extreme and others do it because they are told to . The following may help everyone who comes across this situation for the very first time or even those considering themselves to be ‘expert’ in this field.
In the main, the ceremony is conducted by the eldest son in the household. A school of thought is that the eldest in the family usually suffers due to parents inadequacy in raising them for the lack of prior experience. This privilege is reserved for all those hard times endured to signify one last hard act to accomplish. On the question of what to do if there are no sons in the family. Personally, I find no objection for daughters to carry out this duty and if no children, the next of kin or the closest one to the deceased.
After the tilak (the red spot on the forehead with the aid of vermilion (kumkum) unless the deceased, whilst alive, was a widow/er. In this case, it would be sandalwood powder.) some Holy water from River Ganges is poured in the mouth. This is mostly impossible due to embalmed body with lips sealed shut. Another reason for this practice of embalming to be discontinued. In my humble opinion, if one can consume this holy water whilst alive, there is no reason to force this spoonful of water down the deceased’s throat anyway. Think about it, it’s not like the dead person is going to swallow that water!
Next is Tulsi (Indian Basil leaf). For those ignorant of the situation. Tulsi is another name for Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth and a wife of Lord Vishnu. Let’s face it, Laxmi is not going to be anyone else’s wife, is she? So, why try to place this in deceased’s mouth? Rather you place it alongside in the coffin to accompany the dead. Signifying that she shows us the way to Lord Vishnu’s abode.
Every step in any given ceremony is there for a reason. Needless to say, it will not only slow down manoeuvring through this website but often become irrelevant unless one is involved in that particular aspect of the situation. If so, do please get in touch with me for further explanation. For now though, just a few additional points to remember insofar as the Funeral ceremony is concerned.
Pind – it’s a ceremony where a small ball made from flour, that may be wheat, rice, barley or any one of many grain flour readily available is placed on the deceased’s chest. Lots of Priests insist on placing four or five Pinds or even more in the coffin depending on the timing of the individual’s death. Please remember that the actual Sanskrit phrase is “Sashtham Pindam” meaning Six Pinds. Only one of these Six is placed inside the coffin on the deceased’s chest. What happens to the rest of them? This will be revealed soon. If you cannot wait and you have signed in on Facebook, do please ask to join my group “Indian Maharaj” where all has already been revealed. Else, do please communicate with me, your very own Sanatan Hindu Priest, Bhasmank Mehta.
Please recall my words offering Tulsi (Laxmi) to Lord Vishnu – symbolically. For this reason, please use only ONE leaf. Like Tulsi, I have seen people leaving Cash, Holy Books and the like. Please … Avoid this practice. Cash or wealth is represented by Goddess of Wealth, Laxmi. She can only be submitted to Lord Vishnu (God of Peace) and most certainly not to the Lord of Fire. Equally, Holy Books are not for burning – that is an insult to Sarasvati, the Goddess of Knowledge. I am sure you all are aware of these facts … Or Are You Not? Its shockingly surprising, just how many people act to the contrary … unbelievable.
New clothes, numerous shawls and lots of unnecessary but expensive gifts are placed in the coffin. Just ask yourself … if someone asked you for some of these items, many would decline. I’ve had people telling me there is no one that poor in this country … Really? Come with me. I will show you so many that you will not have enough to share. Please think twice before committing all those items to fire. Traditionally, the only item required is one plain two metre length of white cloth to cover the body. That’s it. That is all.
Finally, two pearls … one for each eye. If there are grandchildren, let one of the younger daughters place these on either side of the nose by the eyes. Do not worry if one or both slip off to the side. A separate ceremony is conducted here since our eyes are the only organ that since birth, has remain exactly same in size and shape – as do a pair of pearls.
Then there are four coconuts representing not only the four corners of the pyre but also the symbolic offering of food, water and air; all in one that no other fruit can provide.
Insofar as Ghee or Butter is concerned, please only place one small packet of Butter. It is no longer necessary to place many as we no longer require these items to stimulate the burning of the fire. Nowadays, this is done either by gas being electronically ignited or by high voltage electrical charge. Personally, I’d rather have no such aids to ignite as we no longer have pyres in the west. Unfortunately, if I stopped this practice, many would think I have no knowledge of how to carry out a funeral service!
Finally, for those paying their respects at home or during the first of the two session ceremonies at the crematorium, may I suggest you leave reasonably quickly to allow the nearest and dearest to pay their final respects in peace.
More constructive criticism, likes and dislikes for the benefit of individuals on the street will be incorporated in due course, if necessary. Meanwhile, once again, if I, your very own Sanatan Hindu Priest, Bhasmank Mehta can assist you in understanding Funerals, please do not hesitate to contact me.
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