views from non-Hindu cultures



In some cultures, they keep some mementoes of the dead as a way to remember them. 
Graves, mausoleums, ancestral sacred places are the ways we keep “alive” the memory, and thereby we hope our loved ones. 

As humans, we often feel that if we are forgotten, somehow, that would be the ultimate death.  For this reason, Egyptian kings used to wipe out the names of their advisories from their mortuary temples.   Hoping that by denying them any recognition, they will be forgotten and that would be a fate worse than the physical death.

The Egyptians, like most humans, could not believe that their beloved relations could die and never come back, and hence found ways to fill this void by envisioning a system, whereby the soul of the dead could journey through the underworld and be reborn in the heavenly one.   The dead could communicate with the living and, on occasion, would need the body they had during their life.  To them, this physical body was essential in the afterlife aswell. 

Like all people, we mould the world from our experiences.  So did the Egyptians.  Coupling the daily birth and death of the sun, and the natural cycle of life in the world around them, they used their knowledge of the world around them to “reason” how this could be.  They saw the world die during the summer months, be submerged in raging torrents during the Nile floods, and be resurrected anew, with new vigour and new life after the floods.  They imagined the same thing must happen to the souls and bodies of the dead.

The major western religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have borrowed heavily from the Egyptian model of what happens after death.  The idea of final judgement, physical resurrection and heaven being a garden with a river running through it, are all ideas borrowed from the Egyptians.  All of this required being able to have a physical “body” that could be resurrected and one that could enjoy the fruits of the afterlife.  This necessitated a place where the dead could be kept till resurrection.  Early graves were just holes dug in the sand and the body covered over in hot sand.  The dry heat preserved the body remarkably well.  The rich and powerful hoped for a bit better end than being buried in hot sand.  They created the elaborate coffins in which they would be spared the hot scalding sand. However, this did not preserve the body very well.  So, elaborate methods were invented which would preserve the body.  As result, an entire science and economy grew up around “death”.  

The main idea was, people should not forget their dead.  Regular remembrance was a must to preserve the memory of the dead, least they are forgotten and “die”.  Feasts to commemorate the dead people’s achievements in life, rituals to sustain them in the afterlife and reverence for the mystic powers of the dead were instituted to make sense of it all.  The dead, like the living were given tasks to do, least they become lazy and wander off, away from their loved ones.  They were asked to protect their family and assist with such things as preserving the family line, protect it from disease and help in intervention with the Gods in times of need.

People still go to the graves of the loved ones and tell them of our joys and woes (more of the latter, and so little of the former !).  People often ask the dead “pray” for us and help us in dealing with our crisis.  The dead ancestors are often considered as our guardian angles and we request their help in times of financial or spiritual emergencies.

In Western religions, the dead have only two choices - to either go to heaven or hell. 
To live in either of those places in perpetuity.

Everyone hopes to go to the former and avoid the latter !



In some cultures, especially the tribes of Amazon, and Polynesia, Papua New Guinea, it is essential to imbibe the “essence” of the dead into the living. 
Some eat the flesh of the dead,
Some grind up the bones of the dead, or
Mix their ashes, with their food and consume these as part of the death rituals. 

This is a very physical, intense ritual, a way of become one with the dead, so that they (the living and the dead) can be together forever.  This helps them feel “one” with the dearly departed.   They feel this also passes on the essence of the dead to the living.  Thus, the dead keep living through their friends and family who have consumed them.  As they consume the essence of their loved ones, who have consumed the essence of their loved ones, going back to the mists of antiquity, they feel that their ancestors are with them at all times.


� Bhagwat    [email protected]


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