When it comes to thinking spiritually, one of the most pondered upon and asked questions by us humans is what happens after death?
There are a lot of different views by people belonging to different faiths and by people believing in scientific theories. In our country, Hinduism is one of the oldest and the largest population, comprising 80% of the population of India. According to the Hindu religion, the human soul is immortal and never dies. After the death of a human, the soul(atman) is reborn in a different body through reincarnation. It is the good and the offensive actions (Karma) that determine the fate of the soul. The ultimate goal is to achieve “moksha,” i.e. liberate oneself from the cycles of rebirth and become a part of an absolute soul.
Hindu Funeral Traditions
The reason that the last rites practices (Antyesti) in Hinduism are very important is because of the beliefs and values that this religion has. As per the beliefs, our karmas of the present life are determining the length and the form of each of our rebirths (saṃsāra). To simplify each of our action and moral attributes are going to affect what we receive in our next life.
To end or escape this cycle of rebirths, one must achieve salvation (Moksha). Those who are saints or those whose ashes after the last rites are scattered in the holy waters of Ganga can only achieve this state. For others, fate will lead to reincarnation.
Through the process of cremation which involves the burning of the body in wooden logs, it is believed that the fire acts as a messenger. The Agni consumes the body and returns it to where it came from which is Earth. With this process, the soul can move to its next destination.
Journey of the soul
Based on the Hindu rituals and ceremonies, immediately after the demise, the soul does not reincarnate into the next form of life. It stays in a structure of (linga ṡarīra). The god of death also known as the Yama takes this form for an identity check. After this process, it returns the soul to the place of the deceased where it will stay at the doorstep. As per the beliefs, we must perform the cremation rituals before this return so that the soul does not reenter the body.
It is believed that by the 10th day of the demise the immediate family has purged the defilement. The Karta (Chief mourner) and the priest carry out the rituals of the śrāddha. They conduct these rituals to ensure the dignified rebirth of the next physical form for the soul (preta) of the deceased. To perform the ceremonies, a trench is dug on land near a holy river. Lord Vishnu is called on and ten balls of flour with ingredients such as honey, curd, ghee, sesame seeds, sugar, and milk are placed in the area.
One by one as the items are being placed the chief mourner says and wishes for the creation of a head, a neck, shoulders, heart, chest, and so on. The last and the 10th request is that the soul can digest and eat, which ultimately can satisfy the thirst and hunger of the new reincarnated body. With the completion of all these rituals, the soul leaves the world for its further journey. The other shraddha rituals are performed at the allotted periods depending on the caste. Throughout the journey, the soul is sustained by the rituals and ceremonies of the śrāddhas in which the family provides Brahmans with clothes, shoes, and money in the hope of benefitting the soul of the deceased.
After one year, the soul of the deceased will reach the Yama’s final judgement of whether it will receive svarga(heaven) or Naraka(hell) depending on the karma. After this decision, the soul will be reincarnated into the next form which could be a cockroach, a parasite, a mouse, a plant, or a human.
How to conduct dignified last rites?
For the peace and salvation of your loved one, all the rituals and ceremonies must be conducted as per the beliefs. To help families in such times and to guide them through the process service providers such as the Last Journey offers assistance in conducting all the funeral rituals. They ensure a dignified funeral service for your loved ones.
Read more at: Life After Death: Beliefs