Hindus believe the soul is reborn after a person dies. They believe cremation helps to release the soul.
What happens when a Hindu dies?
Many Hindus choose to die at home
Family and the home are sacred in Hinduism. Many Hindus choose to stay at home with loved ones at the end of their lives rather than in a hospital or hospice. If possible, their family will care for them in their last hours.
Family members perform certain rituals
Close friends, community members, and often a Hindu priest will help with these. They include:
Close family members (of the same gender as the person who’s died) washing the body with sesame oil, milk, yoghurt, honey, and/or ghee.
Dressing the person in funeral clothes, or wrapping them in a white sheet.
Dressing the forehead with essential oils. Hindu men will receive sandalwood, and women will receive turmeric.
Placing the hands in a prayer position.
Lighting a lamp near the person’s head.
Placing flowers, rice balls (which Hindus call ‘pinda’), and sprinklings of water around the body. Sometimes family members place rice into the person’s mouth. This symbolises keeping them fed on their way to their next life.
Once these rituals are complete, Hindus avoid touching the body as much as possible. A local crematorium will often provide a casket and arrange transport.
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A direct cremation allows you to respectfully cremate someone’s body without having to organise a funeral. You can then decide how to scatter or store their ashes at a later date if you need more time to decide how you want to remember this person.
What are Hindus’ beliefs about death?
Hindus believe in reincarnation
Reincarnation is where the soul of a person who’s died is reborn into something new.
Hindus believe that when the soul has left the body, the body no longer has a purpose. It’s just something that carries the person’s soul during their life. As such, Hindus usually cremate rather than bury their dead. They do not believe in keeping the body ‘whole’.
Hindu cremations often happen within 24 hours
Hindus believe cremating the body helps the soul to be reborn. They carry out funerals as soon as possible so that the soul can continue its journey of rebirth
Hindus very rarely embalm their dead. Embalming is where funeral staff use chemicals to stop the body from breaking down. Because the time between death and cremation is so short in Hinduism, embalming is not usually needed.
Have more questions about the cremation process?
Hindu families in India often travel to the Ganges
Dozens of cremations take place every day on the river Ganges in Varanasi, India. Hindus consider the Ganges very sacred. Families from all over the world will travel to the Ganges to scatter their loved one’s ashes.
Hindu funerals usually take place at crematoriums
Hindu places of worship are called temples. But Hindus do much of their worship at home. They do not believe you need to be in a certain place to connect with God.
Similarly, Hindu mourners do not hold funerals at the temple. They’ll often go straight from the home to the crematorium. They will then return to the family home for a gathering or wake.
Only a small number of people usually attend the cremation itself. If you’re not an immediate family member, or a follower of the Hindu faith, it’s unlikely you’ll attend the cremation.
Mourners will say some simple prayers or mantras
There is no holy book in Hinduism, so there are no religious readings. Eulogies are not usually read either, except at very modern Hindu funerals.
Instead, mourners say simple prayers as they carry the casket into the crematorium. There might be a Hindu priest leading the prayers. But often it’s a close family member, like the eldest son of the person who’s died.
This person might also be involved in the cremation itself. Many UK crematoriums are familiar with Hindu traditions. Some allow the chosen family member to start the incinerator or ‘cremator’.
What should I do at a Hindu funeral?
Hindus are very tolerant of other views and religions
They are not strict about what you should and should not say at funerals. It’s okay to give whatever blessing or condolence you feel is right.
You might find there is not much opportunity to speak to the family at a Hindu funeral. Guests are usually silent other than saying prayers. If you’re not a close family member, you might only be present at the viewing of the body, or the wake.
Hindus most commonly wear white to funerals
This is the same for both men and women, wherever the funeral takes place in the world. White is a symbol of cleanliness and purity in Hinduism. Black is sometimes thought of as a negative colour, so it is not appropriate to wear.
It’s usually okay to wear smart clothes in pale or plain colours. Clothes should cover the arms, shoulders, and knees. You do not need to wear a hat or head covering at a Hindu funeral.
The best thing to do is avoid bright colours and lots of accessories and ask the family if you’re unsure.
Hindu families may appreciate gifts of food
It is not traditional to bring flowers to a Hindu funeral. But food will usually be very welcome. Most Hindus avoid eating meat and eggs. Beef is especially forbidden, as Hindus consider cows sacred animals. Some appropriate things to bring include:
Arranging funerals and cremations