Hindu funerals and death rituals

Hindu symbol in gold on dark background

Six minute read

At Poppy’s, we support people from all faiths and backgrounds to create a funeral that’s right for them. We build relationships and work together with community and faith leaders because we know how important their roles are.

Prolay Mukherjee has led funeral rites for some of our Hindu clients, so we asked him to share his experience of what happens in Hinduism when someone dies.

The origins of Hindu traditions around death and dying

Traditionally, most Hindus have lived in rural India. What we do when someone dies comes out of the culture of the villages in India, where people in the village would come and help the family. The community organise the last rites before someone is taken to be cremated.

The last rites

This is when we prepare them for the journey. It involves bathing them and decorating their body, putting sandalwood paste on their chin and their cheeks. We also put a garland of flowers around them, so they look beautiful.

We will cook some food for their journey, usually the staple meal of rice dough, and offer it to them. Under the guidance of priests, mantras are chanted. Then you take the person to be cremated.

In modern India and the UK, these rites usually happen at home. Although, some funeral directors provide a room or a chapel where the last rites can be carried out.


If you are able to choose cremation, you should. Hindus are only buried in exceptional situations.

Burial requires lots of land and there is the possibility the land could be dug up or cultivated and the remains found. Instead, we believe that cremation is the best way of returning of the body to the natural world. Cremation takes place as quickly as possible because we don’t believe in preserving the bodies.

In the villages, you could see the cremation happening in front of your eyes. In a Hindu funeral in the UK, there’s no requirement to witness the charging [the coffin being put into the cremator], but if you want to see it, you can.

In this case, the funeral director can arrange it and tell you what will happen, so that you are mentally prepared. I’ve been to funerals where some family members want to, and others don’t, but if someone explains what to expect, it makes it easier to decide.

Scattering ashes

Scattering the ashes is a modern way of doing things. It originated due to changes in the cremation process. In India, all cremation sites used to be near open waterways, so that the ashes were washed away immediately after the cremation.

In modern India and elsewhere, cremation sites now use modern, electric facilities, and there is no river nearby. Therefore, it makes sense to scatter the ashes in open water sources after the cremation.

There is a misconception that ashes must be scattered in the Ganges. This is not the case, it can be any open water source, because we believe they are all connected.

The cremation process returns the body to the natural world, through fire, air and water. Whatever remains after fire and air, should be scattered on the water.


The mourning period has various stages which can depend on what caste you belong to.

Traditionally, in the villages, the family will maintain isolation after a death in the household. They will see people in the village but from a distance. They won’t enter other houses but will sit outside when they visit.

Why isolation? Well, think of the recent pandemic. In villages, thousands of years back, you might not have known why someone had died, and whether that disease could spread. In these situations, it was very appropriate to isolate for a minimum of 14 days after the cremation.

It’s similar now — if we work in an office, we get leave when someone dies. It can be some time until you feel okay to return to work. In the villages, this was also the case — there was no need to work for 14 days.

In this mourning period, the family will wear simple clothes and eat simple food. Why? When someone dies, you are not mentally in a good state, you are likely to be in shock. You probably don’t feel like eating, or like cooking, so you will eat whatever is available.

At the end of this period, the family will make donations to the poor in memory of the person who has died. This is mentioned by the sages, with examples that make more sense in a village context, such as giving items like sandals, shoes or umbrellas to help people work and protect them from sun or rain. You make these donations based on your ability.


In the scriptures it says that there are certain times when it is important to remember those who have died and who are no longer with you. Whenever there are big changes in your life, like moving house, getting married, going to university or starting a new chapter, you must remember them and seek their blessing.

Śrāddha is the Sanskrit word meaning ‘paying respect or tribute’. A priest will come and perform the ceremony. It’s not only about the person who has died most recently, but you mention everyone who is no longer with you.

You won’t buy a house or get married every year, but every year you will remember your ancestors. All Hindus should remember their ancestors during Pitru Paksha, a two-week period in the autumn, before the festivals begin.

If you can go to temple, or have a priest, that’s good, but it’s not necessary. You can do the rituals yourself.

Why at this time? Because in the following days there are celebrations. Before you start the celebrations, you remember the people who are no longer there, and you can celebrate with their blessing.


We believe in rebirth in different forms. However, it depends on the karma of the individual — what actions they have done in their past life.

They could become a human, a bird, an animal, an insect, or they could gain liberation into holiness and be dedicated to the gods. The body changes but the soul never dies.

That’s why I tell people they have to be on the right path. Hinduism isn’t all about going to temple and worshipping God, Hinduism is a way of life — being honest, thoughtful of other humans and creatures around us, not greedy, those are the core principles.

Being on the right path means not only thinking of yourself. Even if you never go to temple, if you don’t harm anyone, that’s what’s important.

My experience

I did not start out doing funeral preparation, instead I would lead the rites around celebrations and festivals, helping the Bengali Hindu community. But when people got to know me as a priest, they approached when someone died and asked if I could help. If I am with them for the celebrations, then I should also be ready to help them when they need it.

There were things I needed to learn, but luckily a very learned and kind-hearted person, Mr Nirmal Mukerji, guided me.

Hinduism is so old — there are many different opinions. I have learnt while doing, so this is based on my knowledge and experience. There is always scope to learn more.

How Poppy’s supports Hindu clients

  • We can take someone home for last rites or offer our Friends and Family room for the family to come and carry these out.
  • We can dress people in whatever clothes you request for the funeral, often this is someone’s beautiful best sari.
  • We can organise for families to witness the charging. It’s important to decide before booking the crematorium — not all crematoria offer this and those that do usually only allow one a day. We can advise you on your choices and make all the bookings.

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