Why do Hindus dissolve ash in the River Ganges? (Post No.3366)

Compiled  by London Swaminathan


Date: 18 November 2016


Time uploaded in London: 8-28 AM


Post No.3366


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




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13 Day Hindu Funeral Rites- Part 3


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



32 different mantras
The party then proceed to a special place, outside the town or village, where such funeral rites are performed. This place is usually a well or is near a tank or river, and is used only for this particular purpose. On  arriving at the place in question, the karta proceeds to bathe and then to cook the food which he has brought. The preta shila/stone is then placed into a little receptacle formed for it of leaves and is then consecrated by the repetition of mantrams portion. A small portion of the cooked food is now waved before the stone as an offering. This is to appease the hunger of the preta, just as water, which is poured over it, is supposed to appease its thirst. After this the remainder of the cooked food is scattered to different sides a thirty-two different mantrams are repeated, calling upon the crows and kites to come and devour what is scattered. The mantras are appeals to the disembodied spirit, in the shape of the various kinds of birds, to come and partake of the food thus provided. All this is repeated every morning for ten days. The following is a specimen of the texts thus said:-


May this préta enjoy this food by means of the mouths of these kites and crows.”

Grdhra vayasa mukhena preto bhujyatam


When this ceremony is over, the scattered food is eaten by the kites and crows which fly around in expectation of the feast.


Nine different grains


After all this is finished the party return home. On entering the house, the karta purify his eyes before looking upon any of the household, by fixing them upon the light which has been placed on the spot where the deceased last lay. He then gets a pot of water which he suspends from a beam over the same place, where the dead breathed his last. A small hole is made in the bottom of this pot and the water is allowed slowly to drip on to the ground near the place, where the head lay. Some earth is also put there in which nine different kinds of grain have been mixed. The pot is left there for the ten days of the nitya karma. in order to quench the thirst of the spirit which is thought to still hover near the spot.


From the time of death up to this moment no food has been cooked in the house; but now a meal is prepared, a small portion of which is carefully placed near to the dripping water for the refreshment of the disembodied spirit. This food is renewed and placed there daily during the ten days of the nitya karma cere monies. This act ends the ceremonies of the funeral day itself, but not all the ceremonies for the dead.


Collecting the bones


On some one day of the ten during which the nitya karma rites are performed, there is a sanchanam (collecting). This takes place usually on the fourth day, and it is performed at the burning ground. It is different from and additional to the daily rite at the préta place.



Bones placed in the Ganges River


The karta and the priest accompanied by a few friends, and probably a few Brahmins, especially if a fee is given to them for so coming, will proceed to the burning ground, taking with them from the house fire, rice, ghee and curds with pots for cooking, and also some of the sacred darbha grass. The karta then gathers some of the pieces of bone that may be left amongst the ashes of the funeral pile. These bones are preserved in a new earthen vessel or urn for a time, after which they are taken and dissolved in some sacred river, or buried in an unfrequented place.



In the case of wealthy people, who can afford to pay the necessary expenses, it is a very common thing for Brahmins to be employed and well payed to take the urn (asthi patra) with the calcined bones all the way to Benares, there to be dissolved into the sacred Ganga (River Ganges).


There is a slokam or verse, which is current amongst the purohitas/priests and extremely popular, showing the benefit which will be derived from the bones being thus cast into the waters of the river Ganges


“How longsoever the bones of a man

Are in the waters of the Ganges

For so many thousands of years

They will be respected in Brahma lokam.


Yavadhasti manushayanam Gangatoyateshu tishtati

Tavadvarsha sahasrani brahmaloke mahipate



The rest of the ashes are carefully gathered together, and put aside or buried. The karta now proceeds to prepare a place for cooking the materials be has brought for the purpose. This is done by sprinkling a spot of ground with water and smearing it with the dung of a cow. He then bathes and cooks the food, after which he performs a homam/ fire sacrifice. This being done he with suitable mantrams, casts food to the crows and kites which have come there for the meal. This food is called prétabaram or food for the spirit.


On the tenth and final day of the mourning, the near relatives, with the family priest and the karta, assemble at the place where the nitya karma rites are performed for the last important ceremony. The food is cooked and scattered to the birds, with the repeating of mantrams for the last time;  after which the chief mourners shave and bathe, so as to be rendered free from defilement. The brass pot in which this food has been cooked for the past ten days, and the preta shila (the small stone), are now thrown into the water by the karta, for they are now done with. This is called shiladhivasam, or placing the stone. The pot is afterwards secured by the purohita as a fee. After this a homam is performed by the karta, alms are to distributed to attendant Brahmins and all proceed to their homes.

What happens to the wife of the deceased?

If the deceased was a married man, it is at this last ceremony that the poor widow is degraded into her state of widowhood. This rite is called sutrachédam or cutting of the cord.


No thought of youth or beauty, no bonds of nature or ties of affection can ward off this inevitable curse. The relatives and friends of the poor forlorn creature assemble at the house and the victim is adorned for the sacrifice. Her festive raiment is put on, and she is beautified with her jewels, flowers and sweet-smelling sandal paste. The beauty intensified with rouge and bright pigments, and all is arranged as for a festive day. For a time her loving friends weep with her and embrace her, condoling with her on her fate. After this is over she is taken in a palanquin to some sort and conveyed to the scene of her degrading. When she arrives, her bright clothing and jewels are taken off. Henceforth she must have only one coarse covering; her beautiful long hair, the glory of her womanhood, is cut off and her head is close shaven. The mangalasutram or marriage token is cut off and she is now a widow indeed. This cutting off of the marriage cord is always done by a woman and then she is taken back to her home.
11th Day

On the eleventh day there are some ceremonies at the house which include the feeding of Brahmins. On this day too, in times gone by, there was a ceremony called Ekahvanam (calling of one) by which a Brahmin for sufficient consideration, took upon himself the sins of the deceased and expiated the same by 21 days seclusion and by repating numberless times the Gayatri, with various ceremonies. This now appears to be an obsolete rite. Instead of it , 32 lumps of rice and ghee mixed together are taken and thrown into a pit near to  which a sacrifice /homam is made.

Bull is dedicated


A young bull is dedicated by being stamped with the mark of vishnu’s wheel or shiva’s trident. By this the sins of the deceased are supposed to be transferred to the animal which is meritorious to feed and care for. Sometimes a cow-calf  is also devoted, and a kind of marriage is performed between the two.

12th day
On the twelfth last of the various funeral ceremonies is performed. It is called the sapindi karanam. A few words should be said about mourning, for the Hindu idea of mourning is not conveyed by the English term. To  the Hindu it means uncleanness, ceremonial defilement and it is quite apart from the natural sorrow caused to survivors by death. The word used for mourning, in the true Hindu sense, is ashushi or sutakam, both which words mean ceremonial defilement. The duration of this mourning varies according to the condition of the deceased. In the case of mere infants the time is about one day. In the case of a boy who has not yet been invested with the sacred thread, or of a girl not yet married, the time is three days and after that, in either case the proper time is ten days. In the case of a married female, whether she has joined her husband or not, her own parents and brothers and sisters observe this ceremonial mourning for three days. During these periods, the near relatives of the deceased are considered unclean, and their touch would ceremonially defile any person or thing. They must not enter their own kitchen or touch any cooking utensil. The food, during the days of mourning, must be prepared by someone not personally connected with the deceased although of equal caste.


13th day

Thirteenth day is called Suba Sweekaram. Everyone in the family bathes and wear new clothes. They go to temple and worship . afer which they don’t go to temple for a year. Elders don’t celebrate the usual festivals but children do celebrate.


(My Comments:– It is not very comprehensive. But it will give some idea about the Hindu way of life. Lot of Dhanams (Gifts), at least 96 gifts are listed in the books. Garuda Puranam is recited on the 13th day or before that. Customs also differ from area to area. It is all done for practical reasons. When people find it difficult to follow certain rules for practical reasons, the elders in the family or in the community guide them to drop some or modify some rules. Hinduism is not rigid. If someone has to write what all happens from the minute of death to the first anniversary of the death, it will be a voluminous book. Every month some ceremonies are done for one year. The first death anniversary also has lot of rituals. Then they do Tarpan on new moon days and other important days throughout their life. Non-Brahmins don’t do all the rituals but they do pay respect to their departed souls twice a year or four times a year during Two Important New Moon Days and two equinox days)






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