(Practical Guidelines for Final Rites)
(*Extracts from a book published by Hindu Mandir Executive Committee, USA)
The purpose of this book is to provide a procedure to cremate the body of the deceased person in accordance with Hindu tradition in the United States. The Hindu Antyeshti sanskar varies based on the practices of people from different regions of India. The methods vary between families from the same region of India and these have been followed for centuries based on the traditions handed down from generation to generation. However, the core rituals have always been based on procedures outlined in the Vedic sutras and apply to all the individuals, irrespective of regional belongings.
In cities where the community has access to the services of priests from the temple or other sources, it is recommended that their services be availed. However, if priests are not available to perform the cremation at the chosen place and time, using this book, it is possible to perform the entire cremation ceremony without the help of temple/other priests.
One is never prepared for death as well as any preparation related to death. Following are some of the points helpful in preparation during death and after death.
Once it is established that the death is certain, inform all relatives and friends. If the nearest relative is in India, inform immediately and tell the truth about the individual’s health (as recommended by the doctor)… Tell friends and family to call and talk to the patient, if he/she desires to talk. Try to fulfill all desires or wishes of the individual, if possible. Just be with the patient and assure him/her that you will do the best you can to fulfill any wish… Do prayers everyday, eat together, plan your daily routine in such a way that one individual is with the patient at all times. The priest in the community should also be informed…. You may select a friend or a family member to work on behalf of the family to make arrangements.
Immediately after death, inform the family members and friends first. Contact the funeral home about the death of the individual. All funeral homes do not have cremation facilities. Two out of ten may have cremation facilities. Though it is preferred to have cremation ASAP, it may not be possible to do cremation before 24 to 48 hours (after death) due to legal issues. The death certificate can be obtained from a funeral home. If refrigeration of the body is permissible, embalming of the body should be avoided, as this practice is not in accordance with the Hindu tradition. This is another reason to arrange for cremation of the body as soon as possible.
The funeral can be planned in a dignified manner. The funeral ceremony may be short (up to 2 hours) and not too long (3 to 4 hours). The remains of the body can be collected from the funeral home later on. The funeral home should be informed prior to cremation regarding arrangement of collecting remains and storage if they are to be stored for a longer time.The cost of funeral in USA may range from $ 3,000 to $ 6,000 depending upon the facilities and services.
here are different customs and practices for Hindus regarding funeral based on regional and family traditions. One can take Asti (ashes) to India for Asti visarjan in a holy river. For practical purposes, one can do Asti visarjan in any river near their home in the Saxon the 10th day after death. Do not let family members drive by themselves on the funeral day. Friends and community members should accompany immediate family members of the deceased person. The family needs support during this tough time.
Following is the order of vested authority and responsibility for cremation of the deceased
Eldest son, Eldest of the next available son, Grandson (Son’s son), Adopted son, Grandson (Daughter’s son), Wife, Daughter, Younger brother, Brother’s son (eldest to youngest available), Father, Elder brother, Mother, Daughter-in-law, Sister, Sister’s son, Son-in-law, Friend.
Eldest son, Eldest of the next available son, Grandson (Son’s son), Adopted son, Grandson (Daughter’s son), Husband, Daughter, Husband’s younger brother, Husband’s brother’s son, eldest to youngest available, Husband’s father, Husband’s elder brother, Husband’s mother, Daughter-inlaw, Husband’s sister’s son, Friend.
In both cases above, if the chosen person is a woman or a minor son/daughter, the following ritual is performed, which provides for delegation of authority to the male person who actually performs the rites.
The person who actually performs the rites is called Kartaa. At the commencement of the ceremony, the chosen person should hand over 2 or 3 kusha (Darba) to the Kartaa. The Kartaa should keep the kusha tied to his clothes and keep them tied until the end of the ceremony. This ritual symbolically authorizes the Kartaa to perform the rites on behalf of the person who is actually entitled to perform the rites.
According to Hindu tradition, the body of the deceased person should be cremated as soon as possible, after death, subject to the guidelines indicated below. The body should be cremated any time between sunrise and sunset. No cremation should be performed during the hours between sunset and sunrise.
Following are some of the items to be considered in selecting the time and location:
1. Every effort must be made to cremate the body of the person with the minimal loss of time from the time of death. This factor should be kept in mind while selecting the cremation time.
2. Arrival of all the children/spouse of the deceased or the parent(s) in the case of cremation of body of children, to participate in the ceremony is desirable. However, if a delay of more than 2 to 3 days is anticipated in their arrival, resulting in further delays, it may be advisable to proceed with cremation of the body with the closest relative, who can perform the ceremony.
3. Please check with funeral home/cremation centers on the earliest and the last time of creation permitted and days they are open for business. Please call several cremation centers if available and select the center that will provide the earliest slot. It is advisable to select a location where it is possible to conduct both the ceremony and cremation under one roof. Some funeral homes offer accommodation only for memorial service/ceremony and require the body to be transported to another location for cremation.
4. The friends and well wishers shall be notified once the place and time of cremation are finalized. … It is however important to note that the cremation ceremony be completed as early as possible regardless of whether the well wishers can participate in the event. If they are unable to participate, a memorial service could be arranged at a later date for them to show their respects.
According to the Hindu tradition a memorial service is typically not performed prior to, during or after the cremation, on the cremation day. The emphasis is placed on performing rituals by the family, while this is witnessed by close relatives and friends.
The family may arrange for puja/bhajan/pravachan followed by a memorial service on the fourth day or on the 10th day or on the 13th day or at another time convenient to the family and well wishers. A lunch or dinner may be served.
During this time, close friends, well wishers and others may want to say a few words of support and share their grief and offer condolences to the family.
It is recommended to use the services of a qualified priest. If a priest is not available, the person who administers the ceremony assumes the role of the priest and guides the Kartaa throughout the cremation ceremony. It is recommended that the person who guides the ceremony be familiar with performing Hindu Vedic rituals.
The priest should provide guidance to the community members in collecting the required materials used in cremation, ahead of time and also play an advisory role to assist every one including personnel at the cremation center on the process to be followed. This will result in better cooperation and support from the cremation center.
Separate mantras are provided (where needed) depending upon whether the Kartaa is performing the ritual for his father or mother who passed away. If the Kartaa is performing the rituals for a person other than the father or the mother, the mantras are changed and indicated accordingly in parenthesis, whenever this occurs. The priest should carefully review the mantras prior to the ceremony and be thoroughly conversant with the chanting of the mantras.
Following materials are needed to conduct the cremation ceremony.
1. Plain Rice (2lb)
2. Sesame seed (1/4 lb)
3. Sandal paste (1 cup)
4. Garland (1 regular)
5. Garland (1 with Tulsi if available, if not available, use Tulsi to the extent available)
6. Traditional new clothes to decorate the body ( Dhoti, kurta, sari etc.)
7. Sandal wood stick(s)
8. Ghee (2 Lbs), a copper container for ghee with a metal spoon. The ghee should be made into a liquid form immediately prior to the commencement of the rituals
9. Long Kusha (quantity of about 20) (also called Darba, a type of grass stick used in Havan)
10. Container and metal spoon to dispense water (pancha pAtram)
11. A small kalash (container to hold water)
12. Ganga Jal
13. Match box
14. Cow dung patties if available (quantity of 4)
15. Coconut kernel (quantity of six, break these into small pieces, no more than 2 inches long)
16. Camphor (1 packet)
17. Lamp with varthi (one or two lamps as per family tradition)
18. Some families keep a picture of their Ishta Devataa and decorate with garland.
19. Havan Kundam (Havan kundam shall be made with an 8 inch diameter earthen plate wrapped in Aluminum foil, it should be small in size. This needs to be placed on the chest of the body during ceremony and will remain with the body during cremation in the electric oven).
20. A few rolls of paper towel for clean up.
21. A piece of string to tie the thumb fingers of the feet and hands of the dead body together.
22. Coins (about 30)
23. A packet of sand
The materials indicated above may be obtained from Temple/Indian grocery stores/local priests/ friends. Every effort must be made to collect these materials as soon as possible, since all these materials may not be available from one source.
The following activities should be performed when a determination has been made that the death of the person is likely to occur momentarily or within a short or foreseeable time. These activities can be performed even if the patient is in the hospital. A request to attending medical personnel shall be made in that case to ensure that these activities are performed.
During this procedure water from Holy river Ganga should be sprinkled on the body of the person and/or poured into the mouth of the person.
Take a few spoonful of Ganga water and feed through the mouth of the person who is in the last moments of life. Even if only a little amount of holy water can be given it is sufficient. Chant the names of Ram, Krishna, Shiva or Narayana as many times as possible while feeding the holy Ganga water. If the holy Ganga water is not available with the family make a request to other Hindu families and they will certainly assist at this time of need.
1. Chant names of Bhagwaan.
2. If desired and possible, play appropriate Bhajans, Chant the names of God on the right ear Vishnu SahasranAma stotra etc. of the person, if possible. Chant the names of Ram, Krishna or other Ishta Devataas according to the family tradition or the wish of the person whose death is likely to occur shortly. The son, daughter, wife or husband or other family members who are near the person should perform this chanting. All can join and chant if possible, while the immediate family member chants towards the right ear of the person. Chant at least a 108 times or more, if possible.
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Shiva Shiva Shiva Shiva Shivaya Nama Om Hara Hara Hara Hara Haraya Nama Om
Om Namo Narayanaya ! Om Namo Narayanaya !
One may also wish to read the seventh, twelveth and fifteenth chapter of Bhagavad Gita. One may wish to read entire Gita or any selected chapter(s) of Ramayana or any sacred scripture.
If the death occurs at home or away from home, call 911. The body is normally taken away in an ambulance for medical examination by the local county 911 emergency personnel. If the death occurs at a hospital an examination is performed. Once the death is pronounced, the body is allowed to be taken to a funeral home. The county laws vary. Normally the body is not allowed to be taken to one’s home.
The activities mentioned below are normally performed at the funeral home. The funeral home personnel may assist in performing some of these activities. They normally extend all possible help and accommodate the religious and emotional needs of the families. They usually have facilities to perform these activities. The families can perform these activities by themselves with the assistance of these personnel
The body should be carefully washed as appropriate and possible. If a full bath can not be performed, a symbolic sponge bath may be performed. In both cases, a small amount of holy water from Ganga should be mixed with the regular water. The reason for washing is that the body is being offered as Ahuti in fire and the body needs to be physically clean before offering to Devataas in the fire.
After washing of the body, new clothes should be used to dress the body. The old clothes should be discarded.
The underlying message in removing the old clothes can be gleaned from a Sanskrit verse:
Dhanãni bhumau pashavashcha goshthe, Nãri gruhadware sakhã smashãne, Dehashchitãyãm paraloka mãrge, Dharmãnugo gachhati jiva ekaha.
“Wealth will remain buried, cattle will remain in the pen, (his) wife will accompany (him) to the doorway, friends will accompany him to the crematorium, the body will come till the funeral pyre, but on the path to the next world, the jiva goes alone (with his karmas).”
The casket should be placed in the north-south direction. The body should be placed inside the casket, with the head facing south. The casket should be South decorated with flowers as appropriate. Place about 5 or 7 kusha inside the casket, underneath the body, with the tip of the kusha facing south. A coin should be placed beneath the body.
On the forehead of the body, Tilak should be applied in accordance with the tradition. It is customary to apply Chandan/Kumkum/Bhasma on the forehead. A garland containing Tulsi should be offered if available. More than one garland should also be offered if available. Any Maalas typically worn by the person or other Maalas may also be offered, if desired.
A piece of white string should be used to gently tie the thumb fingers of the feet of the dead body together. Similarly a piece of white string should be used to gently tie the thumb fingers of the hand of the dead body together. Tie them gently. The knots need to be removed later on.
1. Preta Agni Sandaanam
3. Day 2 – Sanchayana (Collection of Ashes)
The crematoriums offer the ashes, generally the day following cremation. The ashes are provided in a container. The container should be carefully carried and safely stored at a location outside of home (such as a garage). The container should not be taken inside home, including pUja room. The container should not be taken to any temple.
If immersion of ashes in holy rivers of India is not possible, it is perfectly alright to perform the immersion at any sea or river closest to the place one lives. According to our scriptures, water from all these sources is considered sacred, no matter where we live. It is preferred to immerse in a flowing river or sea and not in a lake. Please check with local regulations if any on immersion.
Transfer the ashes to an earthenware or copper vessel (Kalash). Pour milk and Ganga Jal into the vessel (Kalash). The entire container along with the contents should be immersed in the river or sea. The immersion should be performed prior to noon time if possible. Immersion should be performed on day 2, 3, 5, 7 or 9th day. Immersion should not be performed on Friday.
While immersing, chant the name “Naarayana…. Naarayana…. Naarayana”.
After immersion of Asti, a shower should be taken by the person(s) who performed immersion.
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