Death, rituals and punishment - from the perspective of Garuda Puranam

When a Vaishnava dies, he goes back to Godhead as he has no attachment for his body or relatives. Sometimes he flies to Goloka by a divya vimaan (a divine aeroplane), sometimes by a divine chariot or sometimes by a Garuda etc. In the Goloka, he gets a spiritual body which resembles Krishna.

Death, rituals and punishment - from the perspective of Garuda Puranam

When a Vaishnava dies, he goes back to Godhead as he has no attachment for his body or relatives. Sometimes he flies to Goloka by a divya vimaan (a divine aeroplane), sometimes by a divine chariot or sometimes by a Garuda etc. In the Goloka, he gets a spiritual body which resembles Krishna.

When a materialistic person dies, his soul lingers around his body. This is because he has an attachment towards his body and bodily relatives. This is why Hindus cremate a departed person's body in a fire. This destroys the cause of attachment. But the death ritual does not end here.

When a person dies, his sons will first bathe the dead body and then clothe it in a single piece of cloth.  The body is rubbed with sandalwood paste.  The sons then perform a rite known as ekoddishta.  This gives the right to cremeate the dead body.  The rite can be performed at the place of death, the door of the house , the courtyard, the place where the dead body is resting, the cremation ground or on the funeral pyre itself.

The sons will carry sesamum, sacrifical grass (kusha), clarified butter and wood with them to the cremation ground.  And on the way to the cremation ground, hymns to Yama will be sung.

At the shmashana (cremation ground), another religious rite is observed.  A funeral pyre is made.  The clothing that the dead person is wearing is torn into two.  The body is draped with half and the remaining half is left in the shmashana for the ghost (preta).  Oblations (pinda) are offered to the dead man and clarified butter is sprinkled on the corpse.  The dead body is then placed on the funeral pyre with the head facing the south.

The fire is lit with the words, Great Lord Agni, take this person to heaven.

When the body is half-burnt, mantras are chanted and sesamum and clairified butter sprinkled on the funeral pyre.  This is the time to start weeping for the dead. The ghost feels good if it hears these sounds of mourning.

After the body is completely burnt, the sons offer oblations to the dead and circle the funeral pyre.  They then go to have a bath.  And while they have their bath, they must continue to say good things about the dead person.  Water is then taken in cupped palms and offered to the dead man.  This is known as tarpana (gratification) and tarpana is performed once, thrice or ten times.  The wet clothes are changed after the tarpana is over.

One must not sorrow over the dead person after the tarpana and after the dead body has been burnt.  Such mourning merely makes the ghost (preta) get attached to its earlier life, and serves no purpose.  If necessary, learned men can be called to discourse on the transience of the physical body and the inevitability of death.  This gives comfort.  On returning home from the cremation ground, sacred objects must be touched first of all.

A child under two years of age is not cremated.  The dead body is buried.

A wife can immolate herself on her husband’s funeraly pyre.  This brings great punya.  She spends as many years in heaven as there are hairs on her body.  She even rescues her husband from hell, no matter what sins her husband may have committed.  The husband joins the wife in heaven.  This sort of immolation is always recommended except when the woman happens to be pregnant.  So says the Garuda Purana.

There are some cases where cremation ceremonies are not to be performed, nor are the dead offered pinda or tarpana.  Such people have to suffer in hell.  These are instances of deaths rising from wild animals, fire, cholera, poison, snake-bites, lightning, or outright suicides.  Funeral ceremonies performed in such cases do more harm than good.  A special religious rite has to be arranged for such deaths.  This is known as narayanavali. It is only if this is done that the dead person does not have to go to hell.  In the case of snake-bite leading to death, the golden image of a snake has to be given to a brahman along with a cow.  Then the dead body is covered with palasha leaves and other sacred objects.  Then it burnt.  This rite is known as sarpavali.

Garuda Purana describes the journey of the departed soul.

The Garuda Purana is often recited at funeral (shraddha) ceremonies.  If the rites as mentioned in this Purana are performed according to the incantations, the ancestors are freed from all sins. On the occasion of the ceremony, pindas (oblations) are offered to the dead ancestors.  And the rite has to be repeated exactly one year after the date of death.

After the dead body has been burnt, there is a ten-day period of mourning and impurity for the sons and near blood relatives.

Every day, a pinda must be offered to the dead person. Water must also be offered. Thus the tenth pinda is offered on the tenth day. 

Each day’s pinda offerings are divided into four parts.

The first part is appropriated by Yama’s messengers. The second part is used by the preta to survive. The remaining two parts are used by the preta to reconstruct a body by means of which he can travel to Yama’s abode.

Within three days and nights, the soul assumes a new body. On the tenth day the embodied soul longs for food. On the eleventh and twelfth day, the soul of dead eats to his fill. On the thirteenth day, the soul of the dead is taken to the Yama loka.

Now he assumes a body of the pind (size of an arm) and feels hungry by day and night. During his long journey, the preta lives on whatever offerings are made to it in the form of pindas. (The pinda daan in death rituals vary from region to region of India.)

On the thirteen day, Yama’s messengers come for the preta. The preta now has a body, thanks to the pindas offered on the first ten days. Yama’s messengers grab this body and begin to drag it towards Yama’s abode. But the way is long and it takes three hundred and forty-eight days for the journey to be completed. The journey starts on the thirteenth day after death. Therefore, it is almost a year after death when the preta finally reaches Yama’s abode. During his long journey, the preta gets no food or water. It lives on whatever offerings are made to it in the form of pindas.

After one year has passed, the preta reaches Yama’s abode. As directed by Chitragupta, he suffers in hell.

There are sixteen cities that have to be passed on the way to Yama’s abode. Their names are Yamya, Souri, Nagendra, Gandharva, Shailagama, Krouncha, Krura, Vichitra, Vahvapada, Duhkada, Nankranda, Sutapta, Roudra, Payovarshana, Shitadhya, Vahubhiti. In between the cities named Vichitra nd Vahvapada, the river Vaitarani has to be crossed. This a terrible river and its currents are made of blood. There are boats for crossing the river. But only those who have donated cows on earth are allowed to cross by means of the boats. The others are dragged through the current and their flesh torn to shreds by fierce birds.

The most important naraka is rourava, reserved for those who lie or bear false witness.  The hell has a long expanse and is full of huge pits.  These pits are full of burning coal.  The sinner is let loose at one end of the hell and is made to walk to the other end.  Naturally, he keeps falling into the pits and gets severly burnt.  When he reaches the other end of the hell, he is released from rourava.  He then goes to other hells if there are other sins to be accounted for.

Another hell is named maharourava.  It is covered with burning sands.   The fires that burn there are so bright that they hurt the sinner’s eyes.  The sinner’s hands and feet are tied and he is thrown into the hell.  There he burns.  To compound his miseries, the hell is populated by fierce crows, vultures, wolves, mosquitoes and scorpions.  These bite him and sting him and eat his flesh as he burns.  After several years spent in maharourava, sinners are released.

Unlike rourava and maharourava, the hell named atishita is extemely cold.  There is no light there and everything is in total darkness.  The only heat that sinners can generate is by clinging on to each other’s bodies.  There are hailstorms which make the skin smart.  And there is no food to eat.  To satisfy their hunger, the sinners end up eating each other’s flesh and blood and bones.

The hell named nikrintana is quite different.  There sinners are tied to stakes and their bodies are sliced with sharp chakras.  The slicing begins with the feet and then moved up the body to the head and then again starts with the feet.  The tragic part of this is that the sinners do not die in the process.  For as soon as a part of their body is join up again.  Thus a sinner does not die, but continues to endure the misery.  And so it continues for a thousand years before there is release.

A hell named apratishtha is a place where sinners are whirled round and round until they begin to vomit blood and their intestines come out of their mouths.

Asipatravana naraka is a huge expanse.  The edges of the hell are extemely hot and there is a grove of trees in the centre.  The centre is also cooler.  The sinners are let loose at the edges and they suffer so much from the heat that they dash towards the centre.  Asi means sword and patra is the blade of a sword.  Vana is a forest. The hell is so named because the trees in the grove have leaves that are as sharp as the blades of swords.  When sinners dash into the grove, their flesh is sliced with the leaves of the trees.  And the grove is also full of fierce dogs which immediately eat up the torn flesh.

Next is the hell named taptakumbha.  This has hot (tapa) pots (kumbha).  The pots are full of boiling oil.  The sinners are hung upside down inside these pots and roasted.  And while they are being boiled in oil, vultures tear apart whatever portions of their bodies continue to be exposed.

There are many hells. But the seven major ones are the ones that have just been describedrourava, maharourava, atishita, nikrintana, apratishtha, asipatravana and taptakumbha.

All the hells are located under the earth. The hells are so terrible that a single day there seems like a hundred years on earth.  Imprisonment in any naraka is for a fixed term.  When all these tenures in different hells are over, it is time for the sinner to be born again.  And what he is born as is determines by the karma of his earlier life.  The greater the sins he committed in his earlier life, the more inferior the form he is born as .  And so the cycle of birth, atonement and rebirth continues.

Rewards for punya are received in heaven.  But these rewards are not forever.  Once the term is over, the person has to be reborn. 

After having paid for some of his sins in naraka (hell), a sinner is born again to pay for whatever has still not been accounted for.

The killer of a brahmana is first born as a dog, then progressively as a camel, a donkey, a frog and an owl.  A stealer of gold is born as a worm or as an insect.  The killer of a brahmana may also have tuberculosis, while the stealer of gold may have misshapen teeth.  A person who steals food starves in his next life.  A liar becomes dumb in his next life.  A stealer of oil is born as a cockroach and a stealer of green vegetables as a peacock.

If you steal fragrant substances, you will be born as a mole and if you steal foodgrains, you will born as a rat.

A stealer of fruits is born as monkey, a stealer of animal as a  goat, a stealer of milk as a crow, a stealer of meat as a vulture and  a stealer of salt gets only torn clothes to wear in his next life. 

Each receives in accordance with what each deserves. 

Source: IDT