Dust may return to dust, but the show must go on for the spirit and it is our duty to facilitate this, so the departed can continue their journey.

How to deal with the physical remains of the dear departed? This dilemma must have teased the minds of survivors in the family since the time of Adam! In more recent times, when the Sage of Shirdi left his mortal coils, this was the big question that dragged on for days together.

Two major practices have come down the ages in this regard. These relate to burial or burning of the corpse. Both practices are guided by a common concern for the good of society and environment, as also advantage for the dead person’s spirit in the hereafter. Proper disposal of the remains post-death is the last of the 16 samskaras or nodal ceremonies enjoined upon a Hindu.

Sacred Elements

Early societies held two of nature’s elements as especially sacred: earth and fire. The preferred practice for disposal of the dead is directly related to a given tribe’s regard for these elements. Among those that held the earth as sacred, one group felt that the remains are best returned to the sacred earth; while another group felt that to lay the corpse to rest in earth would amount to defiling it. This group chose instead to consign the corpse to flames, to scatter it back to the panchatattva, five elements. Likewise, among those that held the fire as sacred, one group felt that the dead person’s remains are offered to fire — the supreme purifying agent; whereas another group felt that to burn the dead would amount to defiling the sacred fire. They chose instead to bury their departed.

Thomas Browne observes that the practice of burial or cremation has never been constant. European societies, for instance, formerly burnt their dead. This practice was gradually discarded in favour of burial as and when Europe converted to Christianity.

This points to another rationale for burial: faith in resurrection, whether for a second term in life, or as in Islam, to enable the person to rise on the 40th day in the current body to stand trial before god. In such cases, the dear departed is not buried but rather laid to rest in the earth.

There are of course other forms of disposal that have been practised: like feeding the lifeless body to birds; or consigning it to a watery grave. And there are combinations of burning and burial wherein the corpse is first burnt and then the incinerated remains placed in an urn — symbol for the womb, often designed accordingly — and buried in the earth. And, in the past, there was the practice of preserving the dead as mummies.

Om Namah Shivay

***Write ” Om Namah Shivay ” if you ask for God’s blessing on your life today. Please Like, Tag and Share to bless others!



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