Customs and responses to death and beliefs surrounding it tend to vary widely across the world. In all gilds, however, whether customs prescribe overt displays of grief or restrained behavior, the issue of death brings into focus certain fundamental cultural values. This article describes the richness and variety of funeral rituals performed according to the tenets of some of the major religions of the world,
Hindu cremation customs and rites:
Hindus believe in the law of karma, according to that they states, each individual passes through a series of lives until, impact of the actions of previous existences, the state of moksha, or liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth, is attained. The funeral ceremonies involves not only the family members of the perished, but also those of the extended kin network. When death is imminent, the person is lifted from the bed to the floor so that the soul’s free passage into the next life is not obstructed. Water from the holy River Ganges is given to the dying person and a tulsi (basil) leaf is placed in the deceased person’s mouth.
After death, the body is washed and dressed, preferably in new clothes. Married women are clothed in a pink or red sari and adorned with jewelery. Kumkum red powder is placed in the parting of the hair and a red spot or tilak is applied on the forehead. The woman’s father or brother usually provides the clothes, and when a man dies, the clothes are again provided by the wife’s father or brother. Except for young children under one year of age who may be buried, the customary mode of disposal of a dead body amongst Hindus is by cremation. The nearest male relatives of the deceased, such as the father, husband, brother or son, are generally forbidden to shave or cut their nails for eleven days following the death. This custom, however, varies in different parts of India. Within a family, a picture of deceased parents may be kept in the home shrine and it is usual to garland the picture.
Christian beliefs and practices:
Christians believe in one God who has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is described as the Holy Trinity. After death the body of the dead person may be moved to the undertaker’s Chapel of Rest. The word ‘chapel’ does not necessarily denote the place of worship, though in the case of believers the Funeral services often arranges candles round the coffin and displays a cross in the room. Some Roman Catholics or High Church Anglicans transfer the corpse to their church on the evening before the funeral; following the ritual reception of the body into the church, it remains there overnight.
The final rite in Christian burial is the graveside committal where the minister leads the mourners in prayer as the body is lowered into the grave. Instead of burial, some Christians may choose cremation. The ashes of the deceased may be scattered in a Garden of Remembrance or elsewhere. Some families keep the ashes at home. If the ashes are to be scattered in the Garden of Remembrance, the family may choose the garden and the precise place of dispersal, and if they wish, they may return a few days later to witness the scattering of the ashes.
Muslim burial customs and rites:
The Islamic concept of death is quite simple, the idea being that “from God Allahwe have emerged and to God we return.” Consequently, the official grieving period tends to be relatively short, usually not more than three days. The Imam (the prayer leader at the mosque) is informed as soon as possible after death and prayers from the Qur’an (Koran) are recited over the body. The body is then taken to the Funeral Director’s premises where it is washed by family members of the same gender as the deceased. This ritual is usually performed in a room that has been purified and from which all statues and religious symbols have been removed; After the body has been washed, it is swathed in a simple white cotton sheet or shroud; all Muslims are dressed alike to symbolize their equality before God. The body is then place in an unlined coffin.
According to Islamic customs, the prescribed mode of disposal of the body is burial. The burial of the body should take place before noon. The usual practice is for the deceased to be taken to the mosque, where special prayers are recited, before proceeding to the graveyard. A brief prayer session is also held at the cemetery. The body is then buried in the grave with the head and right-hand side facing Makkah (holiest meeting site in Islam).