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Hindu Mourning Rituals

By Saurav Rajbhandari

Being a Hindu in Nepal, we have a certain set of norms and rituals we are bound to follow by tradition. From birth to marriage and death, we have rituals for different stages of life. Also being a millennial in this day and age with technology and modernization getting its grip on society, it gets harder for people my age to follow these traditions. Gaining knowledge on cultural norms and values is important to pass it on to younger generations. Here are a few things I learned recently about Hindu Mourning Rituals after the sudden passing of an aunt a few weeks ago.

The Mourning Ritual

The chief mourner (Son of the deceased) is responsible for mortuary rituals; however, family members help in order to conduct the rituals. Rituals are conducted by a Brahmin priest. The rituals are divided into three phases corresponding to three rites of passage. Cremation is the first phase in which the corpse is offered as a sacrifice to the gods.

The second phase is believed to be the most polluted phase for the family. This is the 13 day mourning period during which mourners are not allowed to enter society. It is believed the second phase is dangerous for mourners as the ghost of the deceased tries to appease the mourners with various offerings. So rituals take place in which the ghost of the deceased is disembodied and given a new body by the chief mourner. Different Poojas are conducted, and during this period the Brahmin priest, along with the chief mourner, provide offerings to the ghost of the deceased person. They also create Pindas which are balls of cooked rice and barley flour mixed with ghee and black sesame seeds offered to the deceased.

In the third phase, the ghost is incorporated as an ancestor and worshipped. The mourners are no longer polluted and can enter back into society. However, they still cannot attend festivals and celebrations for an entire year.

The deceased person will now be worshipped each year as an ancestor. This ritual is called a Sradhha. The mourning rituals transform the spirit into an ancestor which has a cultural significance for Hindus. The spirit graduates into a form of god which is worshipped each year.

As for my observation of the rituals, I found that having a long period of mourning helps the family members create a support system. Family members are always together and never leave the side of the chief mourner. I think this psychologically empowered all of us to get through the first couple of days. In the 13 day period, other relatives also showed up in the Ashram to show their respects. I found that the long mourning period provides ample of time to remember and show respect to the deceased and move on with our lives. In my opinion, the mourning rituals not only are a form of worship but it also helps people psychologically deal with the death of a loved one.

What similarities and differences do you observe between Hindu mourning rituals and those of other religions and countries?

Reference: http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/contributions/pdf/CNAS_23_01_11.pdf

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