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In most cultures, funerals are very sad occasions. In many ways, funerals are also an interesting way to learn more about the culture and the people who mourn their dead. In Hindu funeral rites, the deceased is bathed in purified water and dressed in new clothes. Generally speaking, if the deceased was a older male or female, the color of the clothes will be white. If the deceased was a young girl, the clothes may be in bright colors like red or yellow. Sometimes some flowers and jewels are placed on the body.
Then the dead is placed on a stretcher and carried to the cremation grounds. The south is thought to be the direction of the dead. Therefore, the feet are placed toward the south so that the deceased can walk in the direction of the dead. Usually the elder son, or the eldest male member will walk three times around the body. Then a torch is lighted and the body is left to burn. After the body turns to ashes, it is placed in an urn and sprinkled into a river. A dead body is considered impure. Therefore the family of the deceased are required by custom to take baths and avoid certain places, like temples.
The Sikhs also prefer to cremate their dead. On the day of the cremation, hymns are sung, chapters from the Sikh scripture is recited, and a final prayer is offered. Finally the ashes are collected and sprinkled into the water. Within ten days, some families choose to hold another final ceremony for the deceased individual. This may take place within a Sikh place of worship or at the home of relatives. A dish called लंगर is somtimes served. लंगर is a type of vegetarian dish. Hymns and prayers are recited and loud wailing or crying is frowned upon. After this ceremony the mourning period officially ends.
The Tamil people place uncooked rice over the mouth of the deceased and prepare the body for cremation. The family may hand the body over to the government officials at the crematorium. Once a certificate of death is provided, the body is burned. The custom is to break the coconuts and pour them over some stones. This is done so that the deceased will not be thirsty. Each month in a series of 12 months, offerings of food are provided for the holy men. It’s thought that by offering food to the holy men, the soul of the departed is being fed.
There are of course many different kinds of Indian funeral rites that I haven’t mentioned, so this isn’t a complete list of funeral rites. If there’s anything you can learn from Indian culture from these rites, it’s that Indian people have typically more than one day of mourning (in many cases, ten days). The love and attention shown to the deceased individual are characteristic of the strong bonds between loved ones.