Hindu Rituals after Death


Amongst Hindus, there are a myriad rituals to follow after the death, all depending on which sect, cast and cultural background you have. 
There are some common themes, and they are explored in this article.

After the soul leaves the body, it “stays around” for a while.  Years of association with the body, relatives, house, material possessions etc, means it feels a twang of remorse for leaving it all behind.  The rituals we carry out, help the soul break those bonds and make a fresh start in the next world.

One of the reasons why we generally burn our dead, and not bury them, is so that the soul does not feel the pull of the physical association and does not remain bound to its previous life.  Usually, the personal items of the deceased are also passed on and given away as charity - as a way of breaking that bond.  By doing all this, the relatives of the dead are saying to the soul, “Look, all that you held dear in this world, has now passed on to others.  You too, should now move on.”

After due time, there is usually a feast in honour of the dead person and all the friends and family are invited.  This is to say to the departed soul, “Though we miss you dearly, all of us will remember your excellent qualities, the fun times we had together, and we are celebrating your “life”.   We are getting on with the life.  Please, you too should move on to your "new" life.”

Prayers, bhajans, various religious rituals are carried out to bring peace to the soul and calm it down.  The sudden departure from the physical world can be a shock to the soul and all these sacred activities are designed to bring peace to the soul.  They are also there to guide the soul and remind the soul that the physical world is transient, the spiritual world is eternal and that is the true home of the soul.

The rituals help confirm the closure of the life for the soul.  They also help guide the soul on its onward journey.  Depending on how much attachment the soul has for the physical world, “it” will seek a new body sooner or later.  Guided by the karmic bonds, the soul seeks a new life form to fulfil its desires.   Karma and kama propel the soul towards its new destination.  The rituals we perform, help it to severe the bonds with its old life.   

These rituals help the soul with the transition from the physical world to the spiritual world.  They also help the loved ones, still in the physical world, to transition from having their loved one, to not having them.  For a number of days, friends and family are duty bound by custom, rituals, and deep felt emotions to come and offer their support to the family of the dead. 

To be surrounded by so many loving people, reminds the family that it is not alone in feeling this loss.  They are also offered a shoulder to cry on, should they need it, and a good ear to listen to all that they may wish to share.  This offers the sort of support, therapists can't always give.  Being surrounded by familiar faces in familiar surroundings, helps deal with the loss far better than being alone, brooding over the recent loss.  It is important to find the proper closure to the suddenness of death.  Being with our loved ones, carrying out rituals offering peace to the departed soul, helps us find that closure. 

To satisfy ourselves that we have done all we can for the departed soul, there are rituals that we complete on the 13th day, end of the month, and at the end of the year.  We also perform “tarpan” when we visit sacred places during a pilgrimage.  These are the way we ritually invite the soul to take part in the pilgrimage with us and share the bliss thereof.  We offer food and water to the soul in a ritual to demonstrate our continued love and affection for them.

On an annual basis, we remember the souls of all our departed ancestors and friends during the Shradha Paksha.  During this fortnight, in the memory of our loved ones,  we eat their favourite foods and remember the good times we had with them.  This is our way of saying, “We love you and still have fond memories of you.  Be at peace, where ever you are !”  

It is important to remember these rituals are designed to provide peace and assurance to the living that their dearly departed are well, where ever they are.


� Bhagwat    [email protected]


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