Consigning the Remains

Brief Summary

This chapter deals with the gathering of the bones from the funeral fire to which the body is consigned after a person’s death. There are many rites associated with the burning of the mortal remains of the dead.

Shlok 1-18

Garuda entreated his Lord Sri Hari to tell him about the rites performed to the dead body of the good man. He also asks his master to describe to him in detail the greatness of the faithful wife of the departed person. The Lord replied to him that he would tell him all about the ceremonies for the upper body performed by sons and grandsons to get release from their filial, hereditary debt. Though there is no need for many gifts or acts of charity, one should perform the funeral rites, antyeshthi, to his parents. The son who performs the ceremonies gets fruit equal to the fruit of performing an agnistoma fire ritual. The son should have his head shaven along with all his relatives to be rid of all sins. A son who does not have a shave when his father or mother dies cannot be called a son at all. How can such a person help the dead one cross the ocean of sansara? Head shaven and having bathed along with this relatives he must put on new clothes. Then the corpse has to be washed with water brought from the river and laved with sandalwood paste and garlands. Having covered it with a new cloth and the sacred thread one should present rice- balls (pindas) uttering the family name. He should offer the rice-balls (pindas) at the place of death. This would please the presiding deity and the earth too. Then the performer of the rites should make an offering at the doorway in the name of the one who has departed (the dead man). This stalls evil spirits from entering the house. The daughters-in-law of the house should perambulate (pradakshan) round the dead. Only after this the ‘carriers’ take the body on to their shoulders and make towards the cremation ground. If the son is to be one of the ‘bearers’ he gets the merit of performing an ashwamedha yaga. By carrying the parent, the son is redeemed of his debt. Halfway the bier-bearers need to stop. Again the corpse is given a wash and made an offering. Again oblations are offered to the evil spirits lest they should cause trouble on the way. After reaching the cremation ground the dead body should be laid down, head facing the north. The place-chosen for cremation needs to be cleaned, given a cowdung-wash and a platform prepared. On it the body is placed, worshipped again with flowers and akshatas, turmeric-coloured whole rice grains. The fire deity, the shining one, needs to be propitiated with a prayer to lead the dead one to heaven.

Shlok 20-35

Then a funeral pyre has to be made with sandal wood, Basil wood and the wood of trees called palasa and aswaththa. Then the dead body is placed on the pyre and offered rice-balls (pindas). The dead one’s travel begins with the rice-balls (pindas) placed in the hand. The dead one gets five rice-balls (pindas). If the time of death is free from “panchaka” an astrological position which is considered inauspicious, the pyre is lighted. (Beginning with the star dhanishta-five stars dhanishtha panchaka are considered inauspicious). In case the cremation needs to be performed in that ‘panchaka'. special rites prescribed therefore should be performed. These are ceremonies to pacify evil spirits. Proper mantras need to be chanted and proper charities should be made. If these are not done, the family would come to harm. If the ceremonies are performed the dead one goes to an elevated state. Note: Shloks 36 to 55 are omitted in this rendering since Sati is prohibited by Indian law.

Shlok 56-67

After the body is burnt, the dead man’s son should split open the Brahma randhra, a small opening on the skull in middle and offer an oblation of butter. This would make the son attain the lokas of his pitrudevatas, forefathers. The mantra’s purport is: “You born from him. May he be born again to you. Here is an offering to the upperworld.” So saying the butter is to be offered to the fire.

After this the family of the dead man should take a bath. The son should make tarpan with sesamum and water. Then the son should eat neem leaves and the family should walk back home, the womenfolk in the front and others following them. Reaching home the son should give food to a cow and eat off a leaf the food cooked after their return from the cremation. The ground where the dead one has been laid should be given a cowdung-wash. The son must leave a lamp burning towards the south on the twelfth day. For three days on the burning ground he should offer in unbaked earthen pots, milk and water. On the fourth day the bones need to be collected.

Shlok 68-101

For collecting the bones and ashes elaborate directions are given: The son would go home, bathe and change into a woolen cloth and wear a sacred ring round his ring finger made of durbha-grass known as pavitra. Thus prepared he makes grain oblations to the inhabitants of the cremation ground and circles the ground thrice. Sprinkling water on the burning pyre, now cooled down, he picks up the bones and places him on palasha leaves, sprinkles water and milk and performs shraaddha as prescribed by the purohit, or the panditji who leads the ceremony. All the bones and leaves are put in a pot. After shraaddha, the son walks fifteen steps northward digs a pit and the pot placed on a stool in the pit. Then another rice-ball (pinda) is offered to alleviate the pain of burning for the dead one. The jar is taken out to sprinkle water in the pot. The bones are worshipped again with mik, water, sandalwood paste etc. Then they are put in a leaf cup and dropped in the river Ganga. He whose bones are immersed in the water within ten days stays in Brahma Loka, never having another birth. The water of the Ganga or even a breeze coming from the river sanctifies the sinner. This is so because Bhagirath brought water to enable Sagara’s sons go to heaven by making the river flow on their bones. There is the tale of a hunter killed by a lion in the forest, who from hell went to heaven when his bones were dropped in the Ganga by a crow. Hence the son should immerse the bones in the Ganga. After this he should perform other rites prescribed for ten days. There is a provision for the obsequies of a person whose body could not be found. The figure of a man may be made of durbha. It can be burnt and the ashes thrown into the river on the very day his death is heard of. If a woman gone with child dies in fulness of pregnancy, the foetus should be brought out ripping the womb. Later the woman may be consigned to fire. A child which dies on the river bank may simply be thrown into the river. Otherwise, it should be burnt. (Only if the child is more than 27 months old) Then also the bones need to be immersed in the Ganges. If the foetus dies, there would be no rites. If a youth dies, young are to be fed. If the youth dies after upanayanam along with children, Brahmins also should be fed. If one above five dies, ten rice-balls (pindas) should be offered along with milk-food and a lump of sugar. If the father is alive, the twelfth day ceremony is performed to the dead one. In place of upanayanam, in the case of shudras, marriage is the sacrament. Prior to marriage for the shudras too rites are done according to age only. When ayati, a sanyasi or ascetic, dies there are very few rites. If one dies in boyhood or youth shayyaadaan (giving away of a cot) and other sacrifices/ceremonies (daans) are to be performed and made.

Shlok 102-107

For the ascetics there is no cremation and no water rites, No ceremonies are needed. A man, merely by holding a tridandi, staff, becomes Narayana. He never goes into the condition of the departed. Rice-balls (pindas) and water are not offered to them at all.

They are ascetics, the knowing-ones, who realize their state and nature. They are always free and holy. But his near ones may perform Gaya shraaddha etc. Certain holy men like hansa, paramahansa kutichaka bahudaka are also sanyasins. But when dead, they are to be buried, or, when there is a river near by, they should be thrown into the river.

1. The holy men listed here are given those names by virtue of their spiritual development.
2. There are Dandi Swamis, very holy men-some are called tridandis too.


More by :  Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.

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