Dr. Gloria Horsley spoke with Dr. Anasuya Tegathesan during the Association for Death Education and Counseling 2015 conference about the many grieving rituals in Hindu culture. Dr. Tegathesan is a Senior Lecturer at the Hope University of Malaysia, a prominent researcher and is happy to share her culture’s traditions with Open to Hope. One of the most common Hindu traditions is to add a type of leaf, similar to basil leaves, to water, then share the water amongst everyone after prayers and/or certain holidays. It’s also common during ceremonies to honor those who have passed.
She explains that Indian Hindus always cremate bodies, as it’s been part of the grieving and burial traditions for the past several thousand years. India is a semi-arid tropical country with a lot of diseases, says Dr. Tegathesan. As such, cremation is the healthiest means of treating the body after death and is also a way to handle such a highly populated country’s death statistics. However, there’s also a spiritual element. “We see the soul as something that moves into the next body,” she explains. “Once someone is dead, there should be no attachment to the physical body.” Instead, rebirth and reincarnation is paramount.
No Cultural Attachment
Overall, there’s no cultural attachment to a body once the final prayers and rituals are complete. However, the grieving traditions can be very diverse. Some northern communities have nine days of prayers, other groups have anywhere from 15-30 days. The body is often cremated in the first two days, followed by prayers on the third day. Prayers last about two hours, and they’re filled with chanting and rituals. Offerings are given to the poor, as well as to departed souls with no families.
“You are creating good karma for the person to move on,” she says. Traditionally, families don’t cook during the first two weeks, and instead the extended family cares for the affected family. This reduces financial burden, so Hindu death rituals make a lot of sense—complete with financial cushions.