Hindu Practice - Death and Dying
This information should only be used as a guide as
there may be significant variations in practice. Whenever possible, instruction should be
sought from the patient, family or religious leader about appropriate practice and
- considerable variation between the observances of
Hindus from different castes, regions and financial status.
- close relatives, particularly wives, of seriously
ill patients will pray, fast and call upon the help of astrologers and others in order to
propitiate the gods and restore the patient to health.
- it is rarely accepted that death is approaching
- family and friends usually remain at the bedside
- It is the sacred duty (dharma) of the family and
one's sub-community (baradari) to deal with death in their family in accordance with the
teachings of the shastras, the sacred religious texts, to perform all the expected rites
and rimIs, to engage in acts of piety and charity so as to ensure the peaceful repose of
the departed soul.
Prior to death
- they are lifted out of bed and placed on the floor
- relatives gather round the dying person, dip a basil
(tulsi) leaf or two into the holy water of the river Ganges and place it on the lips of
- hymns and holy songs are sung
- loud shrieks may be expressed
- the body of the patient should preferably be sent
home unwashed after death
- ritual washing is carried out by the family
- last for twelve days
- family members sleep on the floor and eat only
- praying, readings from holy books and singing occurs
- the body is shrouded in a white sheet on the floor
with face uncovered
- many Hindu families engage Sikh priests, instead of
Hindu priests for the entire duration of the ceremony.
- the body is anointed, garlanded with flowers and
carried in procession to be cremated at the burning ghat
- the pyre is ignited by the eldest son
- mourners chant and wail
- close relatives wait until they hear the skull crack
open so that the spirit can depart.
- at a further ceremony the ashes are scattered into
the waters of the Ganges
- beggars are fed as a tribute to the dead person.
Death in a western society
- the widow will wipe out her wedding mark (sindoor)
- close female relatives wear white saris for a year
after a death
- sons often have their heads shaved, apart from a
small tuft of hair.
- death at home is preferable wherever possible
- a private room in hospital should be used if not
- those who can afford it prefer to fly bodies back to