Garuda prayed to his Lord, Sri Maha Vishnu in all humility and devotion to relate to him as to what is to be done at the time when Death is sure to take away a man’s life.
The significance of this chapter lies in the fact that a man must remember to do certain things when death is about to approach him. No matter what a son or others may or may not do after one’s death, it is necessary for the one on death bed to do or get things done. This is important to escape hell and its torments in case none performs the rites and ceremonies to assure him of a safe passage to the other world.
This chapter gives detailed information regarding the rites for the dying.
Garuda expresses his gratitude to his Lord, Sri Maha Vishnu for telling him in detail about charity, daan. Now, he requests to be told the rites for the dying one to performed. Sri Hari describes the rites to be performed by the one about to leave the earthly body. He also describes how these rites lead him to attain a good state after death. For the one about to die, certain preparations need to be made. Near the holy Basil Plant the ground must be prepared by giving it a cowdung wash. Then sesamum seeds should be strewn over the ring-shaped ground already prepared. Over that the sacred durbha grass has to be spread on it and a Salagrama stone has to be put on the ground. If one dies in the vicinity of this sacred stone, the dying man’s sins would be absolved. For those who cannot earn merit by charity, dying in the shade or the vicinity of the Basil would be sufficient to get liberation. Such is the greatness of the Basil plant. The very household which nurtures Basil is as holy as a second bathing place near a river. Yama Kinkaras do not dare come anywhere near such a sacred spot. The dead man laid on the ground prepared as described above goes straight to Vishnu’s city if he breathes his last with a Basil leaf in his month. Holy things like sacred grass, sesamum seeds and leaves of Basil prevent the dying man from getting into a wretched condition. Sri Hari tells Garuda that sesamum is produced from His sweat and for that reason evil beings like Asuras, Daityas and Danavas do not approach anywhere near to the sacred things durbha-grass is produced from His hair, and by a mere touch of it, the dying one would attain the happy other world. Kusha-grass is sacred for Brahma, the Lord of creation is seated on that asan of Kusha grass. In the middle of the grass sits Janardana, another name for Vishnu, the slayer of the demon Madhu. On the tip of Kusha stays Siva. For this reason, no matter how many times they are used Kusha-grass, fire, mantras, Basil, Brahmins and cows do not lose their purity and sanctity. Durbha-grass becomes unclean, tainted when rice-balls (pindas) touch it. Brahmins lose their sancity by eating the offerings made to the departed. So too, the holy Basil, cows and mantras would be tainted when used for ignoble purposes. Fire also loses its sanctity when it is there on the cremation-ground.
When about to die, the dying man should be lowered to the ground prepared as described above. The ring shaped platform is so made as to have enough place for the Trinity, the deities and fire to stand on it. The ground should have no stain on it. If there is any impurity there evil spirits enter. For offering oblations (Shraddha), feeding Brahmins and worshipping the Holy ones, this ring is essential. The dying man should not be laid on any unprepared ground. Having placed the dying man on the properly prepared ground, one should pour water into his lips passing it through durbha-grass. This water must be Vishnupaadodakam, wash of Vishnu’s foot. Water poured on Salagrama is collected for this purpose. The dying one who licks even a drop of this water is absolved from all his sins and he goes straight to Vaikuntha.
After that the dying one should be given the water of Ganges, Gangajal, the eraser or wiper of all sins and the giver of great merit. He gets the merit which one gets from a thousand chandrayan vrats, observances where food intake is increased or decreased according to the stages of the moon. Gangajal washes away sins just as bundles of cotton would be consumed quickly when thrown into flames. He who drinks the water of Ganga made hot by the sun goes to the city of Hari. Bathing in sacred rivers has a sanctifying effect. The one who calls out “Oh Ganga! Oh Ganga!” before death would reach Vishnu’s city and would never be born again. Smaran, mere remembering and uttering the name of the sacred Ganga purifies man and makes him absolved of all sins. Listening to Bhagavat Puran too leads to mukti or salvation. Repeating a verse, or at least a half or quarter of it would absolve his sins. He would reach Brahmaloka and stay there for all time. When one knows that death is nearby, one should relinquish all. A Brahmin must do this by giving up all attachments and become a Sanyasi. The one who declares relinquishment even a few seconds before breathing his last would go to Vaikuntha and would never be born again. He would be able to pass away in peace and in ease. Through the seven gateways, the mouth, eyes, nostrils and ears go the consequences of the dying man’s good deeds. When a Yogi passes out, the life breath goes out of the head. When apaana wind joined with the wind of praan normally, praan becoming very small exits from the body. The body falls down like a tree stricken by time. The body from where the vital breath or life-wind has gone becomes hateful and untouchable and soon it exudes foul smell. It is detested by everyone. It is surprising that human beings take so much pride in the body which finally is worms, dung and ashes! After death the earth goes into earth, the water into water and fire into fire. Air passes into air and nothing remains.The human being with the five senses, panchendriyas, is always attracted by sensual things and is fond of sense- gratification. He tries to cling to life in vain but he is always surrounded by his own karma. He comes back to the earth endowed with good tendencies vasanas in a new body - all due to his own karma deeds like a house holder whose house is burnt in flames. Then, the divine messengers with plumes effulgent come, bringing a chariot decorated with tinkling bells. Those who know righteousness and are dear to the faithful and the good, carry the one whose rites have been performed along with them in their own chariot to the world above. That person in a body that shines splendidly, dressed in effulgent garments and decked with garlands, and diamond studed ornaments, (all because of the charity that went to his credit) obtains a place in the upper world of joy. He is honoured by the inhabitants of that upper world.