Funeral Customs in Himachal Pradesh

Funeral customs in Himachal Pradesh share similarities with those of northern India but are imbued with unique and captivating traditions that set them apart.  In this article section, we'll explore the customs associated with death in Himachal Pradesh, shedding light on the intriguing rituals and practices that accompany this solemn journey.

Customs in Himachal Pradesh

Funeral customs and rituals in Himachal Pradesh are deeply rooted in tradition, reflecting the rich cultural diversity of the region. Let's delve into these customs:

Preparation for the Departure

As death approaches, the sick individual's body is gently lowered to the ground, a solemn precursor to the impending transition. A significant aspect of this process is ensuring that the deceased's head points north. This orientation holds great importance in local customs, as it is believed to guide the spirit to its afterlife.

Conchshells and Mourning

Upon the arrival of death, a poignant tradition unfolds. Conchshells are blown, serving as a somber signal to the family to commence mourning. This unique practice sets the stage for the subsequent customs.

Illuminating the Path

After the passing, a room is illuminated with a lamp fueled by mustard oil or licensed oil, sporting a cotton wick. The lamp is placed in the room and covered with either a woven grass basket or eastern pitches. Meanwhile, the deceased's body is carefully arranged.

During the procession towards the final resting place, various stops are made along the way. At these stops, stones and leaves are placed in honor of the departed soul, signifying a connection between the physical and spiritual realms.

The Halfway Ceremony: "Adhmargi"

At the midpoint of this somber journey, a significant ceremony known as "Adhmargi" takes place. It adds another layer of cultural depth to the funeral customs in Himachal Pradesh.

The Ritual of "Pind Dan"

Before the final rite of cremation, a ritual called "Pind Dan" is observed. It involves the feeding of balls of cooked rice, sesame seeds, and curds to birds and elements in the name of the departed. This practice holds a special place in the hearts of the people, symbolizing a spiritual offering.

  • It is considered auspicious to add fuelwood (Lakri Pana) to the pyre, ensuring a proper send-off for the departed.
This period observes as Patak for close relatives.
  • Patak involves abstaining from certain foods like meat, fish, garlic, and onions as a mark of respect for the deceased.

Immersion of Bones and Ashes

On the third day following the passing, the bones and ashes of the departed are immersed in holy places like Haridwar and Rewalsar. 

Condolence visits are traditionally discouraged on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Daughters of the deceased typically observe a protocol that involves arriving at the end of the month-long Sootak period. During this time, close relatives may choose to symbolize their grief by shaving their heads, and widows often opt to remove their marriage jewelry as a mark of respect and remembrance.

The Tenth Day: "Kapada Dhulai" and "Garud Puran"

The tenth day is a significant juncture in the funeral customs of Himachal Pradesh. On this day, clothes are washed ("Kapada Dhulai"), signifying the end of mourning. Additionally, the holy "Garud Puran" is recited by a Purohit or Charjee, adding a spiritual dimension to the customs.

The Culmination: "Kriya Karma"

At the conclusion of the ten-day mourning period, a pivotal ceremony known as "Kriya Karma" is performed. This ceremony represents the final stages of bidding farewell to the departed soul.

Gathering for "Solah"

After "Kriya Karma," the community comes together to arrange a ceremony called "Solah." This event involves the provision of food for relatives, friends, and villagers, emphasizing the communal support that accompanies these customs.

"Sharaddha" and "Chatur Varshik"

To commemorate the departed soul, the "Sharaddha" ceremony is conducted annually. This timeless tradition ensures that the memory of the deceased remains alive in the hearts of their loved ones. Furthermore, after four years, a special ceremony known as "Chatur Varshik" is observed.

Untimely Deaths and Unique Customs

In cases of untimely deaths, a special ritual called Sapindi is conducted, underscoring the community's respect for those who pass away prematurely.

Himachal Pradesh exhibits a remarkable diversity in its funeral customs, with distinct practices in different regions:

Customs in Kinnaur District

The Kinnaur district has distinct funeral customs, adding another layer of diversity to Himachal Pradesh's cultural landscape. Here are three notable customs related to the passing of a person in Kinnaur:

  • Dubant: In this practice, the deceased's body is ceremoniously drowned near a river, underscoring the region's unique connection to water and nature.
  • Bhakhant: Here, a different approach is taken as the deceased's body is reverently placed in an open field, allowing nature to play a central role in the final journey.
  • Phukant: The ritual of burning the deceased's body echoes more common practices but still holds its own significance in the cultural mosaic of Kinnaur.

In Kinnaur, a unique tradition known as "Drum Rating" takes place. When someone passes away, the entire village comes together at the deceased's house. The body is bathed in a large vessel called "Lam kunyal." These rituals are extensively discussed in Gautam Sharma Vyathit's book, 'Folklore of Himachal Pradesh.' 

Guarding Against Evil Spirits:

During the transportation of the body to the cremation ground, the legs are carefully turned behind at the knees using wooden pegs. This is done to ward off evil spirits, as it is believed that if the legs remain straight, an evil spirit might enter the body.

The Unique "FOA" Ceremony

In Kinnaur, the post-cremation ceremony known as "FOA" is distinct and spiritually resonant. It involves a Lama holding the deceased's body by the hair and reciting a prayer in the departed's ears three times, symbolizing the final connection between life and the afterlife.

For seven weeks following the passing, Lamas visit the deceased's home to recite sacred texts (Chhos). At the culmination of this period, the Lama and Jomo, an unmarried ascetic, read the texts together and are then offered sustenance by the family of the departed, symbolizing the continuity of life and spirituality.

Kinnaur also observes customs performed by Lamas during times of death, which bring a spiritual and monastic dimension to the proceedings.These are:

  • "Chholya": On the third day after death, the "Chholya" ceremony takes place. It mirrors aspects of the Kriya Karma observed in the plains but holds unique regional significance.
  • "Damkochang": On the 13th day after death, "Damkochang" is conducted. This practice, akin to the Kriya Karma, adds depth to the mourning process in Kinnaur, aligning with their cultural identity.
  • "Fulayach Ceremony": A year after the death, a lama performs the Fulayach (or Dalhyang) ceremony, signifying the completion of the mourning period and the soul's peaceful transition.

Customs in Lahaul Valley:

Funeral customs in Lahaul valley exhibit local variations, with specific rituals surrounding the passing of an elderly individual.

Upon an elderly person's demise, the Lama, a spiritual leader, plays a crucial role. The Lama performs a solemn ritual called 'Fuhan,' whispering an invocation into the departed's ear, beseeching the soul to leave the body. Following this, the deceased is seated in a corner, and a traditional lamp is lit in front of them. The body remains in the household for a period ranging from two days or more, depending on the family's status.

Subsequently, the body is placed on a bier and transported to the cremation ground. Along the procession, the Lama presides over prayers, while relatives mourn. Conch shells are sounded, and the procession includes individuals bearing a conch shell and a ceremonial flag, sometimes with an umbrella held over the bier. Periodic pauses allow for circumambulation of the body.

At the cremation ground, the shroud is divided into five pieces. Four segments are placed on the pyre's corners, while the fifth rests on the departed's forehead. The Lama recites mantras and supervises the offering of barley, rice, and butter into the pyre, which is then ignited.

The following day, the family gathers the ashes and immerses them in the Chandrabhaga river, concluding the ceremony. These customs are a profound part of the cultural and spiritual traditions in the Lahaul valley.

Customs in Spiti Valley:

In the Spiti valley, the services of the 'Jhanvar' or witch doctor are sought when someone passes away. This unique practice involves determining whether the body should be burnt, buried, or even cut into pieces and left on hilltops for wild animals to consume.

Funeral customs in Himachal Pradesh encompass a rich tapestry of traditions, beliefs, and practices, reflecting the spiritual and cultural diversity of the region. These rituals not only honor the departed but also strengthen the bonds of the community, offering solace during times of grief.

KNOW MORE ABOUT: Art And Culture of Himachal Pradesh

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