Varanasi, Monday, 25/06/2018
My name is Deliv, I will tell about the cremation ritual in Hindu tradition, just as we keep it here in Benares.
We are currently at Harish Chandra Ghat. Here, all bodies are cremated, with no distinction between castes and religions. Cremation here also includes electrical combustion. Besides, there is another ghat in Varanasi, where only Hindu bodies are burned.
Preparing the body for purification
The body of a deceased person should be burnt within 6 to 7 hours after death. Traditionally, the body is washed by family members and close friends. Many Hindu funeral homes recognize the importance of the family washing of the body and will allow the family to prepare the body. If this is not possible, the funeral home may wash and dress the body. For the ritual washing, the deceased’s head should be facing southward. A lighted oil lamp as well as a picture of the deceased’s favorite deity should be kept by the deceased’s head.
Traditionally, for the “abhisegam” (holy bath), the body is washed in a mixture of milk, yogurt, ghee (clarified butter), and honey. The body may also be washed in purified water. While the body is being washed, those washing should recite mantras. Once the body is sufficiently cleaned, the big toes should be tied together, the hands should be placed palm-to-palm in a position of prayer, and the body should be shrouded in a plain white sheet. If the person who died was a married woman who died before her husband, she should be dressed in red. If the mother or father dies, the sons shave their heads, beards and mustaches, before taking a bath in the Ganges and dress in white colors.
Family organise at home the ceremony with brahmin priest. Hindus generally hold a brief rite before cremation. The body should be displayed in a simple, inexpensive casket. To the forehead of a man should be applied vibuti – ash – or chandanam – sandalwood – and turmeric should be applied to the forehead of a woman. A garland of flowers should be placed around the neck, and holy basil should be placed in the mouth. During the wake, family and friends gather around the casket and may recite hymns or mantras. At the end of the ceremony, before the body is removed for cremation, family members offer the pinda – rice balls – for deceased. At the end of the wake, the casket is removed feet-first and brought to the place of cremation.
Then all family members and other families close to the dead will offer the food, new clothing and flowers. The body is placed on bamboo poles and wrapped together in the material. four people carry them on the shoulders of the house on the ghat. before burning, the body is immersed in the river – in this way, the last bath in the holy Ganges is offered to the deceased. He also reveals the head of the deceased, and every member of the family offers him sacred water for five times as the last consumption of water.
The family buys wood – cremation requires 360 kg of wood. A stack is made, and the body is laid on it, then wood is stacked on the top to facilitate burning. A holy fire is used to start the fire, which has been burning continuously for 45 centuries in a nearby temple. When the fire is brought, before laying, a cremation pile is circled five times in line with the direction of the sun’s motion
Every human body is composed of five elements – earth, water, fire, wind and sky. When the body begins to burn elements one by one go to nirvana. It takes 3 hours to burn the body – most families stay in cremation during this time. After three hours the body is not completely burned – the chest of the man and the hips of the woman’s body do not burn. So the last remnants of the bodies are thrown into the river. In the Ganges are many fishes and animals that feed on the remains of human bodies – their merit is the purity of the river.
Five kinds of dead bodies do not require burning – holy sadhus, pregnant women, children up to 10 years of age, patients with epilepsy, and people who died from snake bite. The body, together with a large, heavy stone, is wraped in a shroud. Then floats on the boat into the middle of the river and drops the body into river waters. These bodies do not need to be purified by holy fire.
The bodies for cremation in Benares come with their families from all over India. Currently, about 50 bodies are cremated every day. The cost of one cremation is about 6,000 rs. If the family of a deceased person is unable to cover these costs, cremation in electric crematoria is performed. But most of the traditional Hindu families, especially religious families, are trying to perform cremation using the traditional method.