What Happens at Hindu Funeral Services in the U.S.?

by Nicole Seaton

Hindu funeral services vary throughout the world, and can be simple or elaborate ceremonies taking weeks to complete. In the United States, Hindu funerals follow the main tenets of Antyesti, the traditional Hindu funeral rites. However, because of cultural assimilation and the physical distance from holy places associated with death in Hinduism, some modifications from the traditional ceremonies are made.

Cremation

Cremation is the preferred form of honoring the deceased in Hinduism. In India and Nepal, two countries where Hinduism is practiced, a funeral pyre is constructed and the body is incinerated outdoors. This is the traditional way to cremate bodies in Hinduism; but in the United States, bodies are cremated in a crematorium because the American public is uncomfortable with burning bodies in plain view.

Funeral Attire

In the United States, black is the common color for mourning. However, at a Hindu funeral, white is the proper mourning color. If the funeral takes place at a Hindu temple, it is appropriate to wear sandals, or shoes without socks, as they will have to be removed to enter the temple to pray. Because Americans are accustomed to wearing black to a funeral, it is polite for family members to inform non-Hindu funeral attendees about the cultural differences in mourning colors to spare both cultures embarrassment or discomfort.

Officiating

At the funeral, the body is displayed in an open casket, and may be adorned with flowers and sandalwood. Funeral rites are officiated by a Hindu priest, or Brahmin. Scriptures are recited in Sanskrit or Hindi, or in the local dialect of the deceased. Funerals and cremations in India often happen in the same location, whereas in the United States, the funeral takes place and the body is then transported to the crematorium. A Hindu funeral is open to family and friends of the deceased, but the cremation is a private rite of passage just for close family.

Prayer and Mourning

Because Hinduism is practiced in diverse regions of the world, funeral customs and rituals will vary. No one doctrine or religious leader exists in Hinduism, thus funeral rituals are not conducted under a specific set of religious doctrines. Nonetheless, all Hindu funerals in the U.S. incorporate an element of prayer and mourning. The duration and intricacy of the funeral depends on wealth, status and family tradition. At the conclusion of the service, the body may be transported home before it is taken to the crematorium.

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About the Author

Nicole Seaton has been a freelance writer since 2001. Her work has appeared in "The Reno News and Review" and "The Flow," a trade publication for the flame-working community. Seaton earned a Bachelor of Arts in international relations and Spanish, and has studied in Argentina and Spain.