Why Cremation In Hinduism

Types of Hindu Cremation

Cremation is an important part of the Hindu faith and has been practiced in India for thousands of years. Hindus observe many different types of cremation depending on the person’s social status, gender, and age. The primary types of cremation in Hinduism are the aerial, water, and earth methods.
The aerial cremation, or “astra-vidhi,” is often used for high-ranking individuals. The body is placed on a pyre and launched into the sky with arrows, along with the deceased’s personal effects. This ritual symbolizes their spirit ascending to the heavens.
The water-based cremation, technically called “sastra-vidhi,” is more commonly performed. The body is burned in a shallow pool of water and ashes then collected for burial. This ritual is symbolic of the cycle of life, with the ashes returning to nature from which it came.
The earth-based cremation, or “agni-vidhi,” is used by many lower-class Hindus as it is the most inexpensive option. A shallow hole is dug, the body is buried, and a fire is lit. The flames reach the subterranean burial chamber, burning the remains slowly and releasing them back into the earth.

Significance of Hindu Cremation

Cremation has a deep spiritual significance for the Hindus. The peak of the death-rite is the “Ritual of Throwing the Dust,” in which the deceased’s ashes are scattered in a sacred river or body of water. This symbolizes their departure from the material world of grief and suffering and their journey toward the afterlife, or Moksha.
According to Hindu beliefs, by performing proper cremation, the soul will have a smooth journey and less chance of being trapped in limbo. It is for this reason that cremation is seen as an important part of honoring the deceased.
Not only is cremation deeply meaningful for the Hindus, but it also has environmental benefits. Since the ashes do not decompose, they do not need to be disposed of, making cremation an eco-friendly option. This means that the body will not take up space in a cemetery or other burial ground.

Avoidance of Cremation

Though cremation is an important ritual in Hinduism, it is not performed by all. Some Hindus believe that the body should be kept as intact as possible in order to preserve the soul. For such people, it is important to find a respectful way to dispose of the remains without cremation.
One such practice is to bury the deceased in the holy Ganges River. Alternatively, the body may be placed on a wooden raft and released into the river. This is a respectful way to send the deceased on their journey and is seen as a great honor.
Another option for those who prefer not to perform cremation is to bury the remains in the ground. One can find a peaceful, secluded spot away from any public areas and bury the remains with a simple ceremony. This also helps preserve the environment.

Cremation Process

The cremation process in Hinduism is relatively simple and straightforward. Typically, cremation takes place in a dedicated facility and is performed in accordance with the age-old customs and rituals of the faith.
First, the body is washed and the eyes and face are covered with a piece of cloth. Then the body is wrapped in a shroud and carried to the cremation ground. Here, a member of the family will light the funeral pyre while others chant mantras and prayers.
Once the body has been consumed by the flames, the remaining ashes are collected and placed in an urn. The ashes are typically taken to a river and dispersed in the flowing water, or buried in a special area.

Sending the Soul on its Journey

When performed properly, Hindu cremation helps send the soul on its journey in a meaningful and spiritual way. It is an important ritual that helps connect the living and dead, bridging the gap between this world and the afterlife.
It is important for Hindus to remember that cremation is just one part of the Hindu funeral rites. Other duties such as chanting holy scriptures, offering food, and performing social and religious ceremonies are also necessary in order to ensure that the soul reaches the afterlife peacefully and without any obstacles.

Social and Cultural Changes

In modern times, the practice of cremation in Hinduism has been changing. Due to economic and social influences the traditional cremation solemnities are less respected and performed. In today’s society, most Hindus believe cremation is practical, financially manageable, and less cumbersome.
Crematories are increasing in popularity and are often used to host memorial services or to cremate the body in private. Some families also choose to cremate their loved ones in the place where they died, in order to capture the spirit of the deceased and their final resting place.
The shift away from the traditional process of cremation among Hindus has had both a positive and negative impact on the religion. While it has simplified a difficult process, it has also caused some to forget the true purpose of cremation in Hinduism.

Match-Makers and Priests

Cremation in Hinduism involves more than just the cremation of the body. After the cremation, there are other rituals to be performed. This is done to assist the departed soul in the afterlife and settle them comfortably in the spirit world.
One significant post-cremation ritual is the “Mahanirvana Yajna.” This is a process conducted by match makers and priests to help find the departed soul their next life partner. This is an important ritual that helps people understand the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
It is also customary for a priest to be present at the funeral and to conduct a ceremony called “Samskara.” This ritual aims to cleanse the soul of any sins that the deceased may have committed in their previous life. The priest will also recite classic Hindu mantras to bless the deceased as they start their journey to the afterlife.

Traditional Mourners

In Hindu tradition, the family of the deceased is expected to observe a 13-day mourning period after the cremation. During this period they will need to ensure that the funeral and cremation is conducted correctly. They must also ensure that the departed soul is able to reach the afterlife in peace.
Traditionally, it was customary for at least 4-5 family members to stay with the deceased before the cremation. The presence of family was believed to have a calming effect on the spirit of the deceased, helping them transition to the afterlife more peacefully. During this time, family members must observe a strict fast, wear minimal clothes, and abstain from smoking, drinking, and other vices.
At the same time, elders in the family may conduct ceremonies and observe special rituals to send their departed loved one on their way. This includes visiting temples and performing other religious activities. The family is also expected to donate food and clothes to the needy as a way of paying respect to the deceased.

Modern Practices

In modern Hindu society, many practices related to cremation have been changed or modified due to social, economic, and political factors. Some of these changes are positive, as they allow grieving families to respect the wishes of the deceased while still performing a respectful and meaningful ceremony.
Other changes, however, are seen as a breakdown in tradition and ritual. In particular, the disappearance of the 4-5 family members who traditionally stayed with the deceased before the cremation has caused sadness among many. While some families may still choose to include this in their cremation ceremony, it is no longer considered a necessity.
Most families today opt for cremation, as it is a more cost-effective and timely option compared to traditional burial. This is a practical and convenient option for those who wish to skip the additional rituals, such as “Mahanirvana Yajna,” as well as for those who live in cities or countries where cremation is legal.

Jennifer Johnson is an experienced author with a deep passion for exploring the spiritual traditions of different cultures and religions. She has been writing about religion and spirituality for the past ten years in both print and digital platforms, engaging readers in meaningful dialogue about the soul's journey through this life. With degrees in Comparative Religion and English Literature, she brings an insightful perspective to her work that bridges the gap between traditional knowledge and modern theories. A lifelong traveler, Jenn has lived in multiple countries exploring various paths to understanding faith, and her dedication to learning new things is palpable in every piece she creates.

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