The people in India believe in a number of different things when it comes to the death of a person. While there are dozens of different beliefs in this country, I think that focusing on the most spread out belief makes the most sense. And that belief is Hinduism.
Most Hindu people believe that for one person to experience rebirth or samsara, that same person has to go through the whole process of both life and death. The number one goal of all Hindu is to achieve a state without desire which results in liberation from samsara.
This state of salvation is also referred to as moksha. Once that person, or more accurately, that soul manages to finally attain moksha, they will become a part of Brahman which is the ultimate reality in their belief.
What happens when death is near?
Every culture or tradition around the world has a different way of preparing for death. For example, in Christianity, people start praying for the person to heal faster although if they are near-certain death, then they pray that the soul gets a clear passage to heaven. Just like in Christianity, Hinduism also has a way to prepare yourself for when death is imminent.
When a certain person is near their death, the family has the task to call a priest to gather around the bed of the sick. Both the family member and the priest then will need to chant several different mantras. It is also allowed to use a recording of different mantras if you are not familiar with them yourself.
When you finally understand that the death of the man or woman is very near, the body will need to be placed upon a grass mat that is placed on the floor. People mostly use grass mats because carrying the body outside to a patch of grass can be difficult both for the family and the sick. After they have been placed on the grass it is also very important that water from the Ganges River is collected or bought from your priest and then pour it in the mouth of the sickly.
Keep in mind, if you do not have enough time to follow this tradition before death, then you should immediately do it after the soul leaves the body.
What happens after death?
The moment it is confirmed that the person has died, all those that have been gathered around him/her will need to touch the body to keep it pure.
When should the funeral be done?
This is a question that a lot of people ask because it is not very clear in the history of tradition when a funeral should be held. Most Hindu believe that the funeral should be held as soon as the person has died or if you are unable to do it in such short notice then at least the next day or night. Whichever suits your family members better, although it is preferable that you do it sooner than later.
If you are unaware of the funeral process then you should talk with the priest you have invited to guide you through the steps you will need to take. You will also have to ensure that the funeral home you are in contact with is Hindu-friendly, otherwise, they will not be prepared with the right equipment to envision your plan. If you want to ensure that everything goes according to the tradition of Hinduism, you should check this website.
What about organ donation and embalming?
A lot of people make the mistake that it is not allowed in Hinduism for a person to donate his organs, but that is not true. It is completely acceptable to consider donating your loved one’s organs. It is also acceptable to embalm the body in Hinduism.
Preparation before the funeral
If you plan on following strict traditions regarding the funeral of your loved one, then the closest family members need to be tasked to clean and wash the body after death. A lot of Hindu believe that this is probably the single most important step when it comes to sending the soul to Brahman. If you do not feel comfortable to go through this step of the funeral process then you could speak with the funeral home you have hired to wash it for you.
If you decide that you will go through with the ritual then you will need to ensure that the head of the deceased is always faced toward South while it is being washed. You will also need to place a lit candle or oil lamp near the body and you will also need to acquire a picture of your loved one’s favorite divine being and place it next or onto the head. While most holy baths can be done with just water, many Hindu families believe that the bath needs to be done with a mixture of yogurt or milk with honey.
While the body goes through the cleaning process, all of the people present during the bath need to constantly chant mantras. Once the body has been properly cleaned, the hands need to be placed to form the position of prayer and then tied together. The feet also need to be tied together.
To finish up the preparation you will need a big enough white and plain white sheet to wrap up the body. It is also important to note that the wife or husband of the deceased needs to wear red.
What about the wake?
Almost every Hindu expect children will have to be cremated. But before the cremation, a short wake is held so people can pay respects to the person who has died. The body is put on display inside of a casket (it is required to be an inexpensive one). A necklace of flowers should be placed on the neck of the deceased. While people are coming to say the final goodbye around the casket, there need to be at least a few people who will constantly chant mantras.