Why do Hindus stop the Funeral Procession at Three Places? (Post No.3362)

Compiled  by London Swaminathan


Date: 17 November 2016


Time uploaded in London: 10-08 am


Post No.3362


Pictures are taken from various sources; they are representational only; thanks.




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13 Day Hindu Funeral Rites- Part 2


Recorded by The Rev. J E Padfield B.D., year 1908, in his book The Hindu at Home.



The wailing of eastern women is proverbial, but must be witnessed or heard to be fully understood. The men are quiet in their grief for it is not seemly for a man to weep and wail; but the females abandon themselves completely to their sort and their lamentations are both loud and long. They  tear their hair, beat their chests and foreheads, roll  their bodies about as if in great agony, when they utterance to their sorrow for the dead.


Light at the head of the Dead body


As soon as death has taken place, a light is put at the head of the body and preparations are at once made for the funeral. The chief person present at it is the near relative, who has to perform the necessary rites, and who is called the karma karta or the one who performs. This is the eldest son, if there is one who is old enough to have received upanayanam. Failing such a son, the ceremonies are performed by the following persons:-

if the dead person is a woman her husband; if a man, his father; if the father is dead, the next brother and so on in order of nearest relationship.


(My comments: Even today Christians follow this Hindu custom. They light the candles at the place of death. I have written a few articles already about the significance of Number 3 and Number 7 in Hinduism and Indus valley Civilization. Please read them to understand this part of the article.)


Usually only a few hours elapse after death before the funeral takes place but there is no fixed rule on this point it seems to depend on circumstances. The dead body is now washed and adorned with the pundrams/ sacred marks, and then, clothed in one long white cloth only, it is put in a sitting posture, leaning against the wall the head alone being uncovered. The karta now performs a mam sacrifice in front of the dead. The fire for the homam is brought from the house fire, and the sacrifice consists of dropping into it ghee, rice, and the green twigs of the peepul tree. Mantrams like this are repeated the while:


O fire do thou turn towards me; look kindly towards me with thy seven tongues (spoken of in the vedas), graciously partake of my offering.

Number Seven!

After the homam, the body, enveloped in cloth, is placed upon the bier. The bier is formed construction of two long bamboos, with seven pieces of wood tied across. It is said that that seven cross pieces are used to represent seven upper worlds. Some of the fire from the homam is placed in a new earthen pot, to be carried in the procession by the chief mourner. The body, wrapped in the new cloth and fastened to the bier has the two thumbs, and the two great toes also tied together with cords. The bier carried by several of the relatives or at least by persons of the same caste.


The procession consists of few of the friends, sometimes even females, with the men carrying bier and the chief mourner, or karta, carrying the pot of fire. Where music is employed, the musicians playing their wild music also form part of the procession. Those who bury their dead always have music; those who cremate have it sometimes.


Three stops on the way! Why?


On the way to the cemetery or crematorium, the procession is stopped three times and the bier is placed on the ground. The face is then uncovered and a mantram is said. This is done from the fear that, owing to the speedy funeral the person may not be really dead after all.

The mantram used is this:

o spirit hast thou returned?

Aum, jiiva punaragacasivaa


The cemetery (shmashanam) is a vacant spot set for this purpose, usually situated to the north east of the town or village. It is generally a mere waste, barren, neglected spot with nothing to distinguish it from any other waste, except here and there a few blackened patches, from the recent or more ancient fires. These blackened places and a few broken pots are generally all there is to mark the “God’s acre” (Shiva Bhumi).


In villages, in the case of poor people, each house- holder gives a little fuel to help to form the funeral pile. This is collected by the vettian who splits the wood and prepares the pyre. He is a kind of public messenger and low official drudge attached to each village. He is always a Pariah. He generally holds a small piece of land which, with certain fees, forms his remuneration. For funerals, part of his fee is the sticks of the cloth wound round the corpse and the sticks of which the bier is made.

Naked we came, Naked we Go!


On arriving at the spot the bier is set down, and the body is put on the pile. The cloth in which it the body was wrapped is then taken off. Any jewels in the ear or elsewhere, the sacred thread and the waist cord are also removed. The body must be completely naked.  As it came into the world so it must depart. The corpse is laid on the pile with its head towards the south and its legs to the north. It is placed on its back, but the face is slightly turned towards the east, In some parts, the body is laid with its head facing the Himalayas.



Why three holes in the Water Pot?

The karta now performs the pradakshina ceremony in the anti clockwise direction. For all auspicious things it is clockwise. For death ceremony it is opposite direction.  He takes an earthen pot full of water and makes a small hole in the bottom of it from which water slowly trickles out. With his hair all hanging down his back he takes the pot of water on his shoulder and, as the water slowly runs out, he walks round the pile, having his right shoulder towards it. It is done three times. Before the second round second hole is made in the pot and in like manner a third hole is made before the third round. After  the three circumambulations, he throws the pot over his head behind him and dashes it to pieces. This is supposed to assuage the thirst the préta (disembodied spirit) during the fiery ordeal.


The karta now performs a homam/ fire sacrifice and then, taking some of the sacred fire, applies it to the right side, breasts and shoulders of the body as it on the pile. Then the supreme moment arrives when, taking some of the sanctified fire, he applies it to the pile, near the head of the body and sets it alight during which all time the priest repeats mantrams of which the following are specimens:


After performing the préta homam, he (the karta), takes brands from the homam, and standing with his face towards the south, places a brand on the right side,breasts and shoulders (of the corpse).


O Fire do not regret that thou art consuming this dead one. Do not sorrow whilst thou art consuming his skin and his whole body.”


After setting fire to the pile the mourners sit somewhat apart, whilst who carried the bier stay near to adjust the fire, until the skull is heard to burst.

The mourner then pours water upon it to cool the spirit. The karta is then shaved by the barber. After this he bathes His head and face must be completely shaved except the sacred top-knot; but  should the deceased be younger than he is, then shaving is put off until the tenth day.


Stone for the Dead!


The chief mourner now returns to the house with his friends, but they do not enter it. The simply go there to get the materials for the nitya karma sacri fice, which must now take place, and before doing of which the karta should not re-enter the dwelling. If it should be dark before the karta arrives, the nitya karma ceremony does not take place until the following morning. This ceremony can never be done after darkness has set in. The karta, accompanied by the purohita and many relatives or friends now takes some fire and fuel, rice, ghee, curds and pulse for a sacrifice. He also receives from the purohita, a small round stone called préta shila, which, when the consecration ceremony is performed with reference to it, supposed to become the personification of the disembodied spirit of the deceased. This stone the karta ties up in a strip of cloth previously torn from the winding sheet of the deceased. This strip of cloth he wears over the right shoulder, during the performance of the nitya karma ceremonies for the ensuing ten days. During all these ceremonies this stone is honoured and treated as though it were really the spirit of the dead.


(Throughout ancient Tamil literature, south is described as the direction of the departed souls. This shows that the culture is one throughout the country. Tamils have Hero Stones for people who did heroic deeds. Brahmins also lay a stone for the dead at the backyard or somewhere in the house. Now a days for lack of space they leave it somewhere. For the saints who are buried they place a Lingam or Tulsi plant on the  place of burial. This is also worshipped like the Tamil Hero Stones).


(The Hindu believes that when the soul leaves the body it assumes the little feeble mannikin,’ exposed to injuries of all kinds. In order to protect it, it is necessary to furnish it with a sort  of intermediate body, interposed, as it were,  between the gross body and the new body which under the law metempsychosis it will by and by assume. If it is not furnished with this intermediate body it will it wander about in the form of a preta or evil spirit. The rites by which the body is prepared are known as sraddha. They usually last ten days—- From Natives of Northern India by Crooke p. 218)

Pictures are from Benares/Kasi/Varanasi

to be continued………………


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