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The death ritual and funeral rites performed in the first thirteen days following death, and marking the last saṃskāra (transformative ritual) of a twice-born person according to Brahmanical legal texts (Dharmaśāstra). The ritual is designed gradually to remove death, and the impurity associated with it, from the family of the dead person, so allowing them to re-enter normal social life. It is also designed to create a body for the deceased (preta) in the next world, and unite him with his ancestors, thus preventing his spirit from wandering homelessly, and bothering the living.

In summary, the funeral rites (in their most compressed version) are conducted through the following stages (mostly performed by priests or the eldest son): the dying or dead person is laid on the floor, head to the south; the corpse is washed, anointed, and wrapped in a shroud; six of the first sixteen piṇḍas (‘rice balls’ or ‘dumplings’) are sacrificed; on the day of death, if possible, the corpse is carried to the cremation grounds in an all-male procession; there, its feet are placed in water, representing the liberating Gaṅgā; the deceased's domestic fire is relit at the cremation grounds; the grounds are purified, the pyre is stacked, and the corpse laid out on it, feet to the south; the fire is lit from the deceased's domestic fire by the head mourner; the skull of the corpse is smashed to allow the soul to leave through the opening (brahmarandhra), marking the ritual time of death and beginning a ten- to thirteen-day period of impurity for the survivors (from this point, the śrāddha rites in a more specific sense begin); the wind is fanned and libations made; the head mourner bathes, circumabulates the corpse, smashes a clay pot, and returns home without looking round; from the first to the thirteenth day after the death a grass doll is worshipped on odd days, and it is during this period that the bones or ashes are gathered and scattered in the river and/or hung in a clay pot; on the tenth or eleventh day, the sapiṇḍīkaraṇa, the ritual to make an after-death body for the deceased, begins with the sacrifice of the remaining ten of the first sixteen piṇḍas; the deceased's personal utensils, money, bedding, and clothing are given to the priests, along with a year's supply of grain; the chief mourner is shaved, bathes, and receives a new sacred thread; the cow-giving (godāna) ritual is performed to help the deceased cross the river separating this world from Yama's realm; from the eleventh to the thirteenth day, a second (and perhaps third) set of sixteen piṇḍas are presented, and invited brahmins are fed; the sapiṇḍīkaraṇa (which, in the extended version of the rites, take place exactly a year after death—the deceased being cared for in the meantime through monthly, new moon śrāddha rites, called ekoddiṣṭas) culminates with the deceased being ritually bound to the forefathers (pitṛs). Ganeśa is worshipped; new clothes are presented to the head mourners; a meal is held with relatives and neighbours. Subsequently, periodic (e.g. monthly and annual) śrāddha rituals (ancestor worship) may also be performed. See also piṇḍa; sapiṇḍa; śrāddha.


Subjects: Hinduism.

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