The one who is born has to die one fine day. This is the cycle of life which cannot be reversed. Be it any religion, as we die, we leave our human body accustoming proper after death rituals. Hindu dharma as a religion is vast and so are its customs and rituals. Antyesti or the ‘last sacrifice’ is referred to as the funeral rites of a person in Hindu dharma. It is also known as Antim Sanskar, Anvarohanyya, Antya-kriya or as Vahni Sanskara.
Significance of Antim Sanskar
There has always been a belief that human soul or the Aatma is immortal. Hence, the ritual of the last sacrifice assures that the spirit is released from the human body. The concept of Antyesti has based itself on the ancient literature of Hinduism which states that the microcosm of all living beings is a reflection of a macrocosm of the universe (Source). The universe and human body both consist of five elements- earth, water, air, fire, and space. Therefore, this last passage helps the body to return to its five components. The ritual takes the deceased towards the path where he or she attains moksha. It is a process which leads the dead to a new life leaving behind the already possessed life.
Basics of Antim Sanskar
As the person dies the antim kriya gets completed within a day of his or her death. The body is wrapped in a white cloth in the case of the dead being a man or a widow, otherwise a red cloth for the women whose husband is alive. A Tilak, red, white or yellow is placed on forehead whereas the big toes are tied together with the help of a string. The body is placed in a position that the feet point towards the South; the direction of Yama. The last heed is paid to the body. Family members shower flowers over the body and take blessings of the deceased. Afterwards, the dead body is carried to the cremation ground by family members and friends. Chants of “Ram Naam Satya Hai” are heard as everybody moves to the cremation site. The chant meaning truth lies only in the name of God, purifies everyone. Moreover, unmarried young girls are not given any allowance to attend this ceremony on the ground.
The eldest son or any male mourner located closest to the family, or a priest is the lead mourner who bathes himself before conducting the antim sanskar. He then walks around the pyre of dry wood and recites a hymn. Next, some rice or sesame seeds are placed in the mouth of the passed away. After sprinkling the body with ghee three lines are drawn over the body. These lines signify Yama, the Lord of Death; Kala, the Lord of Time, and lastly the dead.The mourner again circles the dead body with an earthen pot filled with water and then drops it near the head. The pyre is put to fire and the close relatives circumambulate the ablaze pyre. The ceremony ends when the lead cremator performs kapala kriya i.e. a ritual where he pierces the burning skull with bamboo fire poker to break it or make a hole into it so that the spirit is released free.
The post-cremation ash is taken in a Kalash only to be released in River Ganga. If the river is far from access it can be consecrated to the nearest sea as well. As everybody who attended the sanskar return they take bath before feeding themselves as the ceremony of the last sacrifice is considered unclean. Also, to get rid off any spirits that might come along after the process. Furthermore, later the clothes worn by the lead mourner are thrown. If there is a demise of a child then he or she is buried according to the Hindu rituals. It is usually said that antim sanskar of a eunuch is a secretive ceremony that takes place in the laps of night.
On the 13th day after the death, also known as Kriya, the family members, friends, and relatives get together at a temple and pray for the deceased member. It is believed that during this time the soul continues to wonder. People are invited and are fed before this ritual takes place. After two to three days a Hawan is performed in order to pay the last goodbye to the deceased. Next, the Pandits (12-15 in number) are served with food who in return bless the family. Following them, the daughters of the family are given food and as they are done the remaining members eat the food.
Death indeed is a painful incident but according to the LifeBook, the one who born is bound to die one day.