Missed my date last week, jolted by the feistiest slipping away after years of 5 sisters alive and kicking; at 75, she left behind one ambition unfulfilled: become Pune’s oldest lady paraglider.
Dazed through last rites observing a shrunken corpse, family and rituals led to a mental rifling and Google Baba on death. Our ancient Vedas turned out to be lyrical hymns to Man’s relationship with Nature, plus ways and means of dealing with it.
Last rites for deceased humans later evolved into Brahminical platitudes and money-making practices, but the essence has survived. The soul/Atman is immortal. It is released at the Antyeshti rituals that return the body to the five elements, air, water, fire, earth and space…denoted in the Rigveda, section 10.16:
“Burn him not up, nor quite consume him,
Agni: let not his body or his skin be scattered,
O all possessing Fire, when thou hast matured him,
then send him on his way unto the Fathers.
When thou hast made him ready, all possessing Fire,
then do thou give him over to the Fathers,
When he attains unto the life that waits him,
he shall become subject to the will of gods.
The Sun receive thine eye, the Wind thy Prana (life-principle);
go, as thy merit is, to earth or heaven.
Go, if it be thy lot, unto the waters;
go, make thine home in plants with all thy members.”
Careful examination of those Vedic last rites leaves amazement over how scientifically natural they are: the consumable arthi, the kapal kriya to release the soul from the brain, followed by the disposal of the phool/ ashes … Dust to dust returns.
Hindu symbols to create appropriate energies, seemingly irrelevant rituals that generate those energies:
Lighting a lamp shows light to the soul as it exits the body; tying the big toes with a red Molli heads the soul in the direction of Pitrlok. A turmeric line around the body wards off negative energies that may harm the soul. Cremation breaks the body-soul bond to enable the soul to move to its new incarnation.
Reams have been written on post cremation family rituals that in modern times, boil down to what Kinnary in my book Silver Dreams calls “Closure”.
“Closure is important for a fresh start after death; if the family is not together for those days, ruminating, remembering, speaking, to close the chapter, it hangs fire; for that is what brings a sense of finish and closes that chapter.”
The undated Vedas composed centuries before being written, predate later scriptures promising entry to Krishna’s Vaikunth, or Shiv’s Kailash for the deserving.
But the death rituals prescribe neither of those. The deceased is headed for Pretlok, awaiting transition to Pitrlok, where three earlier generations of relatives await. The arrival of the newcomer will enable the eldest to wing out to a new destiny.
So does the soul count its karma, waiting its turn? Or head for rebirth right away? Different schools, different answers, quite confusing; but closure, Yes.