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Survival of Hindu Cremation Myths and Rituals in 21st Century Practice – On the difference in Hindu death rituals in Dallas, Maldives and Bali


The Survival of Hindu Cremation Myths and Rituals in 21st Century Practice – On the difference in Hindu death rituals in Dallas, Maldives and Bali is the title of a thesis by Aditi Samarth, the professor of Humanities at a community college in Dallas (USA).


Aditi Samarth wanted to study how diaspora communities retain their traditions through rituals and ceremonies in the final rites of passage. Also, she was curious to know how the dead are memorialised in cultures lacking of physical memorials, such as tombs or graves.
  • Samarth found the Balinese funeral processions rambunctious with music and dance.
  • The cremations in Mauritius closely follow the Vedic model.
  • In Dallas, USA, funerals are governed by city and state laws and held in funeral homes with distilled rituals. Most family go for a casket for the viewing of the body, which is finally cremated in a sort of sturdy cardboard box.
  • Hindu final rites are evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. Despite technological advances in cremations, Hindu rituals hold the cremation, immersion, and release of the soul as the backbone of the final rites. This is consistent among the three Hindu cultures despite their many differences

Bali likes it boisterous 
In Bali, funeral processions are hearty celebrations, sometimes involving a few neighbourhoods (banjars). Women from each neighbourhood will colour-co-ordinate their costumes and carry offerings of rice cakes, incense, flours, sweetmeat and coins in a procession. 
If the deceased belongs to a high caste, the remains are ensconced in a paper-mache effigy – a bull, elevated on a pedestal. Mantras are performed, the effigy is blessed with holy water, coins are left for Yama, the god of death, and set ablaze. 
As the pyre burns, funeral dancers perform a ritual dance – the Baris Gede. The dance is intended to assist the departing soul in its journey to the afterlife. 
Meanwhile, the 'revellers' settle into a sort of picnic in the crematorium grounds – spreading sheets to sit on, opening and sharing food, card games commence among the men. 
Since funerals tend to be an expensive affair, many times, a family will bury their dead – sometimes for years – until enough money accumulates for the cremation ceremony.

Mauritius keeps it ancient

In Mauritius, the rituals are ascetic and closely follow the Vedic model and the Garuda Purana. "For instance, originally, the mourners would wait till the family paid a tax to the Chandala," says the author. "Now, even though there is no tax to be paid, the mourners will wait around a bit before leave." Women are not allowed into the funeral grounds.
Due to limited availability and high cost of timber, aluminium caskets decorated with flowers are used. It is not rented out on profit but shared by a community and carried, or driven, to the cremation centre. 
While most ceremonies across geographic locations are performed by male priests, Samarth found one exception. In Mauritius, a Sudra priestess performed an Arya Samaj ritual. 
Dallas is scientific

The cremation homes are not specific to any community – they cover all religions, and an assembly hall will serve for vedic rituals, as well as it would for a Jewish or Christian funeral. There is usually some sort of removable banner in the background – an 'Aum' which can be changed to a Cross or Star of David.