What To Do When You’re Invited To A Hindu Funeral

America is a diverse place, filled with people from different cultures and practicing a variety of religions, of which Hinduism is one. Hinduism is thought to be, at minimum, 3,500 years old. As such, it is rich with rituals, ceremonies, and traditions that help people deal with many aspects of life, including death. If you have been invited to participate in the funeral of someone who practiced this religion, here’s what you need to know to avoid embarrassing yourself or causing distress to the mourning family with an unintended faux pas.

What to Wear

In America, it is customary to wear black to funerals to match the somberness of the proceedings. However, it is inappropriate to wear this color at Hindu funerals because it indicates mourning which, in this religion, is considered disrespectful to the deceased. This is because reincarnation—the passing of the soul to its next life—is one of the primary tenets of Hinduism. The person’s death is seen as a happy event rather than a sad one as it is believed the individual will eventually live again. Instead, attendees should wear white, a color that denotes purity and respect.

Also contrary to western funeral wear that tends to be formal, the clothing you wear to a Hindu funeral should be casual and modest. Wearing clothing that is showy, flashy, fancy, or otherwise draws attention is considered rude. Your footwear should also be casual (e.g. sandals or slip-on shoes) because shoes are generally taken off prior to entering the place where the viewing service will be held.

It’s important to note that you should wear clothes that are easily washed or bring a change of clothing. In the Hindu religion, things associated with death are considered impure. Therefore, when you leave the funeral, you may be required to wash your clothing to purify them or throw them away if you will be going to the home of someone who practices Hinduism.

Funeral Etiquette

If you are of a different faith—or no faith at all—your participation in the ceremony will be limited to viewing the body when the times comes to pay your respects, though you can participate in any portion of the ceremony that doesn’t interfere with your faith. Otherwise, you will be expected to sit quietly while friends and family members complete the ceremony, which typically involves chanting mantras or reciting hymns.

Hindus typically put the body on display in an open casket surrounded by flowers. As noted, you can view the decedent. However, it’s critical that you do not touch him or her as this is considered unclean and disrespectful. Additionally, it’s okay to express sadness at the person’s passing, but your reactions should be muted and modest. The focus of the funeral is to allow the decedent to pass peacefully to his or her next life. Excessive displays of emotion (e.g. loud crying or wailing) are unacceptable and you may be asked to leave.

Lastly, do not bring any recording devices such as cameras or tape recorders, and do not use your phone to take pictures during the proceedings.

After the Wake

Hindus cremate their loved ones rather than bury them. At the cremation site, friends and family typically perform one last ceremony before the decedent is committed to the fire. If you are not Hindu, you won’t be expected to participate, just sit or stand quietly to the side.

However, after the funeral is done, you may be asked to do a ritual cleansing if you will be going to the home of a Hindu person. As noted previously, things that have been in “contact’ with the dead is considered impure. The ceremony typically involves taking a bath and washing/discarding your funeral clothing, but may also include some prayers depending on the family. If the decedent’s body was displayed in the home, a priest may come by to bless and cleanse the house.

Hindu funerals are generally straightforward, as people in the religion like to keep the passing of a loved one as simple as possible. If you’re uncertain about what to do, it’s best to discuss talk to someone familiar with the religion, such as a Hindu priest, the decedent’s loved ones, or a funeral director with experience handling Hindu funerals.

3 Benefits Of A Green Burial

If living sustainably and minimizing your impact on the environment is something that you’ve been concerned with throughout your life, it’s understandable that you’d want to ensure that after you’ve passed away, your remains are handled in an environmentally responsible way. Unfortunately, traditional burial takes up a lot of resources and can be damaging to the Earth. If you’re working on your end-of-life plans, you may be looking for a greener and more sustainable way to handle the burial. Luckily, you have options, like a green burial. Take a look at the benefits of a green burial to find out whether or not it’s the right choice for you.

Green Burial Protects Natural Resources

Preserving natural resources as much as possible and avoiding any waste of those resources when you do use them is an important part of environmental responsibility. Conventional caskets made out of limited resources like wood and steel are not necessarily produced in a sustainable way. And even if the materials were gathered and manufactured responsibly, you’re still harvesting a natural resource just to bury it under the ground forever – not the best use of a limited resource.

With a green burial, you may choose not to have a casket at all. The objective of a green burial is simply to return the body to the earth, with as little as possible in the way of a container. You can be buried in a shroud made of cotton or wool if you like. Or, if you do prefer a casket, you can choose a green casket made of materials like hemp, recycled cardboard, bamboo, cork, or bamboo. These materials are more sustainable than ordinary wood, and they’re also biodegradable.

Green Burial Protects the Environment

Protecting the soil, water, and flora and fauna is another important aspect of environmental responsibility. Conventional caskets are often painted and usually treated with chemicals that slow down the biodegradation process. Then, as the caskets begin to slowly break down, those chemicals are released into the soil, where they can spread to the surrounding land and infiltrate the groundwater. This creates a potentially toxic environment for the plants and animals native to the area.

However, the easily biodegradable shrouds and caskets used in green burials will break down much more quickly. Because they’re not painted or chemically treated, there are no chemicals to leach into the soil. The natural materials simply return to the earth. What’s more, green cemeteries are usually cared for in an environmentally friendly way. Green cemetery caretakers use natural methods to keep bugs away and maintain the grass and plants.

Green Burial Protects Workers

People are part of the earth, and a good environmentalist knows that they need to be protected from toxins as well. You probably don’t think of a funeral home as a potentially hazardous workplace, but it can be. This is largely because of the embalming process, where funeral home workers treat the body of the deceased with chemicals like formaldehyde to keep the body from disintegrating quickly. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen, and it’s associated with certain types of cancers. It also causes symptoms like skin irritation, sore throat, coughing and wheezing, and nausea. Workers who are exposed to it are at risk for these problems.

Many people believe that embalming is required by law, but that is a myth. It’s only required under certain circumstances, such as when the body has to travel by plane. With a green burial, embalming is not desired anyway, because the goal is to return the body to the earth. So, by choosing a green burial, you’re protecting workers from exposure to potentially hazardous embalming fluids.

In some states, you can choose to have a green burial on property that you own. There are also a number of green cemeteries located around the United States. If green burial sounds like it might be right for you, find a green cemetery in your area to learn how to plan for your return to the earth. 

For more information about your various burial options, contact a local cemetery or funeral home like Memorial Mortuaries

What To Expect When Viewing A Cremation

In United States, the choice to have remains cremated is steadily increasing. In 2014, 46.7% of deceased Americans were cremated, and that percentage is expected to continue rising. With cremation becoming more common, you may be curious about what happens during cremation. While cremation services are not ritualistic in the United States, some family members opt to watch the cremation of their loved one in order to help gain closure after their death. If you plan to watch a loved one be cremated, there are several things that you should be prepared for. 

Cremation Tends To Be Less Ritualistic Than Burial

While burial is thought of as laying a loved one to their final resting place, it is better to think of cremation as a way of preparing the body, similar to embalming or dressing a body for an open casket funeral. In the United States, it is common to have a funeral or memorial service either before or after the cremation of the remains and cremation is less ritualistic.

Because of this, the actual act of cremation may seem mechanical and difficult to watch for many people. It is best to know exactly why you want to watch the cremation process and look to other ritual forms for comfort and closure. With that in mind, most crematoriums will accommodate a few viewers during a cremation.

Viewers Usually Watch From A Window In A Separate Room 

It is unlikely that you will be in the same room as the cremating chamber during the cremation for health and safety reasons. Instead, you will be asked to watch from behind a window in a special viewing room. In that room, you may carry flowers or say a brief memorial before the cremation takes place.

You May Not Be Able To See The Body Prior To Cremation 

In some states, once the body is delivered to the crematorium, the container that holds the remains cannot be opened. This means that you will not be able to see your loved one before the cremation process begins. If you want to see the body to say goodbye, it is best to do this at a funeral home during a wake or a viewing.

You May Experience Unexpected Sights, Smells, and Sounds 

The cremating chamber works at very high temperatures. Depending on where you are, you may experience loud noises and unpleasant smells. On rare occasions, you may see the body shift as it is cremated. The entire process generally takes from 2-3 hours. However, you can excuse yourself at any time if it becomes difficult for you to watch.

If Your Religion Requires, You May Be Able to Start The Cremation

Some religions require a family member to begin cremation. Some crematoriums will allow a family member to press a button that will start the cremation process. However, not all crematoriums are set up to function this way, and it is important that you discuss possible solutions with your funeral director.

The Number Of Viewers Will Be Restricted

Viewing rooms in a crematorium tend to be small. For this reason, viewers will be limited to close friends and family. For larger gatherings, you may consider a separate memorial before or after the cremation. 

While cremation is a respectful way to handle the remains of a loved one, the actual process of cremation in the United States is not set up in a ritualistic manner. For this reason, you should truly consider whether you want to watch the cremation process and ask plenty of questions to prepare yourself for what you will experience. Your funeral director can give you alternatives and prepare you for the process if you choose to view it.