What happens at a Hindu funeral?

ganesh in black and white

Have you been invited to a Hindu funeral? If it’s your first time, you might be probably wondering what to expect and whether anything is expected of you.

This article answers questions like ‘what do Hindu funerals look like?’, ‘where do they take place?’ and ‘what should I wear?’.

What is a Hindu funeral?

Like all religions, Hinduism has established customs and rituals that take place when someone dies. These rituals finish with a cremation ceremony attended by close family members.

These rites, taken as a whole, are usually called a ‘Hindu funeral’ in English. In Sanskrit, the traditional Hindu language, they’re known as Antyesti or Antima Sanskar.

Hindu funeral rituals are very old. Some are based on religious texts written more than 3,000 years ago. However, this doesn’t mean all Hindu funerals are the same. The structure and content of a Hindu funeral depend on the culture of the person who has died, as well as their personal choices.

What do Hindus believe happens after death?

Hindus believe in reincarnation, which means coming back to life in a different form. In Hindu tradition, this form could be a plant, animal or human.

A Hindu’s reincarnated form is determined by their karma. If a person behaves well in life, they’ll earn good karma and be reincarnated into a better form than before.

The ultimate goal is to reach moksha. This breaks the cycle of reincarnation and reunites a person’s soul with Brahman – the highest form of power in the universe.

Nearly all Hindu funerals end with a cremation. This is because they believe the body can stop the soul from moving on to its next form. By cremating the body, they allow the soul to escape quickly and continue its journey. Hindu burials are reserved for children and saints.

What happens at a Hindu funeral?

Generally, the Hindu ceremony after death happens in three stages. These are purifying the body, performing funeral rites and cremating the body.

Preparing the body

Preparing the body is an important part of traditional Hindu customs after death. Ideally, this process will happen at home shortly after the person has died.

Here are the steps for preparing the body:

The person who performs these rituals is called a kartā. This is usually the eldest son of the person who has died. If he isn’t able to take part, or the person had no sons, then other relatives are allowed to act as the kartā.

Performing funeral rites

Before the cremation, friends and family members are invited to visit the person who has died. This part of the ceremony often happens in the person’s home or the home of a close family member.

The casket is open, meaning people can see the body. Everyone is expected to look at the body and pay their respects. However, touching the body is not allowed.

Traditional funerals don’t include readings or a eulogy. Instead, people chant mantras, which are special kinds of prayers. A common death mantra is Om Namo Narayanaya. This translates as ‘I bow to the supreme God’.

The people at the funeral might perform other Hindu death rituals, depending on their culture and family traditions. These include placing piṇḍas (rice balls) or flowers around the body, sprinkling the body with water and anointing the person’s head with spices.

Cremating the body

Traditionally, the body is carried by family members to an outdoor cremation site, where it is burnt on a funeral pyre. The body is always carried feet first and is ideally cremated with the feet facing south.

The cremation ritual is called mukhagni. This is performed by the kartā. They circle the body and chant mantras, then light the funeral pyre. Everyone then watches the cremation.

Open-air cremations are not allowed in the UK. Here, the body is cremated in a crematorium instead. People may still be allowed to attend the cremation. Instead of lighting the fire directly, the kartā presses a button to start the cremation process.

In traditional funerals, only men are allowed to attend a Hindu cremation. Nowadays, though, women sometimes go to the cremation too. In any case, only close family members are invited. If you’re a friend of the person who has died, you probably won’t be expected to attend the cremation.

What happens after a Hindu funeral?

After the body is cremated, the ashes are collected and scattered in a special place. If a Hindu dies in India, their ashes will often be scattered in the Ganges river, which is holy to Hindus. Some British Hindus pay for ashes to be sent to India so they can be scattered in the Ganges.

It’s common for Hindus to observe a period of mourning, which ranges from 10 to 30 days. During this period, they might create a shrine in the person’s house and perform rituals.

How soon after death is a Hindu funeral?

Hindus traditionally aim to cremate a person’s body within 24 hours of death.

Sometimes it’s not possible to cremate the body within 24 hours. It might be hard to make arrangements this quickly, or there might be coroner’s investigations that need to take place first. Regardless, Hindus will usually try to cremate the body as soon as possible.

What should I wear to a Hindu funeral?

People traditionally wear simple white clothes at Hindu funerals. This is because white represents purity. This is different to many traditional funerals, where people usually dress in smart, dark clothes.

At modern Hindu funerals, people might wear modern clothing. If you’re not sure what to wear, ask the person arranging the funeral.

Are Hindu funerals expensive?

There isn’t much research looking at how much Hindu funerals cost in the UK. The price is likely to vary depending on where you live and what you want the funeral to include.

The average cost for a basic funeral in 2021 was £4,056 (SunLife). However, this has been calculated by looking at funeral costs across lots of faiths and cultures, so you should only consider it a rough guide.

How to find a Hindu funeral director

If you’re arranging a Hindu funeral, you’ll probably want to ask for help from a funeral director. Some funeral directors have lots of experience organising Hindu funerals, while others may not. Depending on where you live, you might have to call several funeral directors until you find one that can help.

You could ask at your local temple if there is anyone they recommend. Alternatively, you could start by using our free search tool. Simply enter your postcode to see a list of funeral directors in your area.

 

Funeral Choice helps people find and compare funeral directors in the UK. For more funeral planning help, visit our advice centre.

 

Photo by Unfold Memory on Unsplash

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Funeral Director fees

The price quoted contains the Funeral Director fees for a simple funeral. This includes:

  • Funeral Director fees for meetings, paperwork and running the funeral
  • Collection of the deceased and care prior to funeral
  • Hearse or appropriate vehicle for transport to the funeral
  • Basic coffin

The Funeral Director fees quoted do not include third party costs (often called disbursements). The Funeral Director will guide you through your options. These costs are:

  • Cremation or burial fees
  • Medical certificate for cremation
  • Clergy or officiant fee for conducting the ceremony

In addition to the disbursements you may want to discuss optional costs with your Funeral Director - these could include:

  • Funeral flowers
  • Memorial (venue hire, catering etc)
  • Memorial headstone
  • Orders of service
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What is a Direct Cremation?

A Direct Cremation is an alternative to the traditional funeral. This involves the cremation of the deceased without a funeral service. A Direct Cremation is generally the most economic option because costs of the coffin, preparation of the body, funeral service and expensive transportation are not included. However, many people choose Direct Cremations for reasons other than expense, for example:

  • - Wanting to have a memorial at a different time to the cremation
  • - Expressed desire from the deceased to not have a ceremony
  • - Individuals with relatives who face big physical or geographical challenges in coming together for a ceremony

The prices quoted for Direct Cremations include:

  • All charges, meetings and paperwork for the cremation
  • Collection of deceased and care prior to cremation
  • A simple coffin and urn for the ashes
  • Cremation fees and delivery of ashes to the family
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Attended funeral

This is Funeral Choice’s best estimate of this Funeral Director’s fees for an Attended Funeral, which is where family and friends have a ceremony or service for the deceased person at the same time as they attend their burial or cremation.

This price includes the following:

  • Taking care of all necessary legal and administrative arrangements
  • Collecting and transporting the deceased person from the place of death (normally within 15 miles of the funeral director’s premises) into the funeral director’s care
  • Care of the deceased person before the funeral in appropriate facilities.
  • Providing a suitable coffin
  • Optional viewing of the deceased person for family and friends, by appointment with the funeral director
  • At a date and time you agree with the funeral director, taking the deceased person direct to the agreed cemetery or crematorium (normally within 20 miles of the funeral director’s premises) in a hearse or other appropriate vehicle

In addition to the Funeral Director’s fee, there will be third party costs to consider (sometimes called disbursements) to cover the other aspects of a funeral (such as the crematorium or burial fees). Your chosen Funeral Director will be able to provide these for you.

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Unattended funeral

This is Funeral Choice’s best estimate of this Funeral Director’s fees and the crematorium fee for an Unattended Funeral, which is where family and friends may choose to have a ceremony, event or service for the deceased person, but they do not attend the burial or cremation itself. This is also known as a Direct Cremation.

This price includes the following:

  • Funeral Director's fees
  • Crematorium fee (for an unattended funeral) as selected by the Funeral Director

In addition to this fee, there might be additional third party costs to consider (sometimes called disbursements). Your chosen Funeral Director will be able to explain these for you.

If you wish to attend the funeral, you should view the “Attended Funeral” price instead.

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Why is this price Estimated?

We work hard to ensure the Funeral Director Fees we display are accurate and up to date. However, unlike with our partners, we cannot guarantee this price is correct today.

Funeral Director fees

The price quoted contains the Funeral Director fees for a simple funeral. This includes:

  • Funeral Director fees for meetings, paperwork and running the funeral
  • Collection of the deceased and care prior to funeral
  • Hearse or appropriate vehicle for transport to the funeral
  • Basic coffin

The Funeral Director fees quoted do not include third party costs (often called disbursements). The Funeral Director will guide you through your options. These costs are:

  • Cremation or burial fees
  • Medical certificate for cremation
  • Clergy or officiant fee for conducting the ceremony

In addition to the disbursements you may want to discuss optional costs with your Funeral Director - these could include:

  • Funeral flowers
  • Memorial (venue hire, catering etc)
  • Memorial headstone
  • Orders of service
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Funeral Choice charity donation

To redeem the £20 charity donation all you have to do is select the charity from the dropdown list in the Make Contact form. Once you have confirmed arrangements with that funeral director send us an email to info@yourfuneralchoice.com confirming the service has been arranged. After we receive this email we will make the donation to the chosen charity and confirm back to you.

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