Hindus believe that death is the stage in life when a soul passes from one body to the next. While families still mourn the death of a loved one, the funeral service is a celebration of the beginning of a soul’s path, not an end. Immediately following the death, family members gather around the corpse to pray. The body is bathed in purified water, often a mixture of rose water and sandalwood. The corpse is then decorated with flowers and garlands, dressed in traditional white Indian garb and placed on a stretcher with flowers like roses, jasmine, and marigolds.
Only men go to the cremation site, led by the chief mourner. The chief mourner leads the rites. He is usually the eldest son in the case of the father’s death and the youngest son in the case of the mother’s. The closest relatives of the deceased carry the stretcher on their shoulders to the cremation ground in a funeral procession. The ceremony usually begins with scriptures from the Veda or Bhagavad Gita. A pyre is prepared, with the corpse lying with its feet facing southward. Jewels are removed and usually the eldest son circles the pyre three times, with the body to his left, sprinkling water around before setting the pyre on fire. The beginning of the cremation heralds the start of the traditional mourning period, which usually ends on the morning of the 13th day after death.
With a clay pot on his shoulder, the chief mourner circles the pyre. A relative knocks a hole in the pot, letting the water out, signifying life leaving its vessel. At the end of the turns, the chief mourner drops the pot. The head-shaving of the closest male relative is a post-cremation purification ritual.