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Death Rituals In Hinduism And Christianity

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Hinduism and Christianity are two religions that have an abundance of similarities and differences in rituals and are practiced by people all over the world every day. A ritual is usually an activity that consists of various action performed in a certain order. Religious rituals differ from everyday rituals, such as brushing one’s teeth, in that they’re more formal and are done with a higher and more transcendental goal. There are six main characteristics of rituals that can be seen in religion: formalism, traditionalism, disciplined invariance, rule-governance, sacral-symbolism, and performance. By studying these types of attributes, it becomes possible to see the significance of rituals that wouldn’t otherwise be seen. In each religion, there are several rituals that a person has to conduct during his lifetime for important events. These essential ceremonial events are usually linear rituals, meaning they only take place once at a certain point in life. In particular, the comparison of death rituals between the two religions shows us the differing belief systems innate in each religion.

Colors play a huge role in many aspects of the death rituals between both religions. Though color is recognized as such a large part of these rituals, the variation in color combined with the reasoning behind the choice of colors differs vastly. In Hinduism, death is the last Samskara, which is a purification ceremony or rite that marks a major event in one’s life. When a Hindu person dies, the body is bathed and wrapped in clean, white khadi cloth. The white color signifies the purity of the soul after it has left the body. In Hinduism, white is a mixture of different colors and seeks to symbolize a bit of the qualities in each. The color represents purity, cleanliness, peace and knowledge. Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, is always shown in Hindu depictions as wearing a white dress and sitting on a white lotus. Furthermore, the Brahmin, which is the highest social caste, is associated with the color and Hindu religious leaders cover themselves with white ashes to represent their spiritual rebirth. It is also commonplace for people mourning the death of a loved one to dress in white clothing during the rituals. In Christianity, however, there is a large custom of wearing black attire to a funeral. Since funerals are usually somber occasions, wearing black shows that you are mourning the loss of someone and is a sign of respect. The reasoning behind this goes back to the Roman Empire and the dark togas that ancient Romans would wear to mourn the loss of someone. Overall, these differences in colors bring light to a more important realization when comparing the two religions. Hinduism is more focused on the exiting of the soul from the body, which leads to the eventual re-birth of the soul, while Christianity focuses more on the mourning of the end of a life. Overall, death rituals from both the religions try to comfort the souls and try to relieve the souls from the pain. However, in Hinduism, the deceased is not forgotten in any occasions and also the generations coming on make sacrifices to comfort their ancestor’s soul. Nonetheless, both the religions believe in soul leaving the body during death and reincarnation. However, Christianity does not openly admit the belief in reincarnation, in fact it states it in a different way by saying that eventually all the souls will find their way back to their corresponding bodies and will relieve themselves from the pain. The comparison between the two religions showed us how being similar in many respects their rituals differ from each other in a high manner. We found that there are pointing similarities between the motives behind performing the rituals.

Additionally, the steps taken to conduct the ritual and the ultimate fate of the physical body differs greatly between Hinduism and Christianity. In Hinduism, a large part of the rituals consists of an escort of the dead. The dying person is laid on the ground and has the water of the Ganges, kusa grass, tulasi leaves, and gold pieces on all bodily openings. The body is then weighed down with a black stone so that the soul will not fly away before it has been ritually prepared for the journey. The corpse is carried and brought to the place of cremation after being wrapped in white cloths. No one is supposed to cry because then the deceased would have to take on the tears and mucus against his or her own will. At the place of cremation, the corpse is laid with the feet in the water of a river, which is considered Ganges water and therefore liberating. The cremation fire is then lit with the domestic fire and the corpse is cremated the same day on a funeral pyre. From a ritualistic point of view, the fire is creation and immortality. The gods, say the Brahama texts, attained immortality first through the sacrificial fire. “The purpose of the entire funeral is to allow the deceased to attain the other world, the world of the pious, the kingdom of Yama, heaven” (Michaels p. 202). The cremation is thus primarily a sacrifice. The funeral pyre is cooled off with offerings of water to relieve the pain and suffering of the deceased. After the cremation, the ashes from this process are placed in a pot and need to be released into a holy river. Nowadays, due to the fact that a holy river is not nearby Hindus living in the western world, the ashes can be released in any body of water that can meet the ocean. The cremation ritual must also be performed within three and a half days of the death and the ashes of the deceased must be then immersed within three days. If it is not done within that time frame, additional rituals are needed to be carried out. Most Hindus prefer cremation in comparison to burial, even if burial is the common practice of the family: “This is based on the belief that a Jiva is made up of five elements of prakriti (nature) which need to be returned to their source upon its death. Of them fire, earth, water and air belong to the body and come from this world, whereas the fifth element the ether (fine matter) belongs to the domain of the subtle body and comes from the higher worlds. By cremating the body, the elements are rightfully returned to their respective spheres, while the subtle body along with soul returns to the worlds beyond for the continuation of its afterlife” (Death and Afterlife in Hinduism). The cremation fire is lit domestically and brought in on a dish. The corpse is cremated on the same day usually on a funeral pyre. From the Brahmanic and ritual point of view, the fire represents creation and immortality. Fire is an essential part to many Hindu rituals and so the departed should gain heaven with fire. Hindu funeral rituals have two main purposes and goals. Firstly, they are done in order to make sure a soul’s migration is peaceful and happy when going to the other world. Additionally, it is meant to save the family members of the deceased from the after effects of pollution consequent upon the death of a relative. “According to Hindu beliefs, when a person dies, irrespective of whether he is far or near, his family members are polluted by the very process of his death and remain so for some time till the soul completes its journey to the other world and till they are purified through rituals” (Death and Afterlife in Hinduism). The dead body being buried is a preferred practice in Christianity, unlike in Hinduism. During the funeral of someone who has recently passed, the first stage of the ritual is the conveyance of the body to the church. The priest goes to the house of the deceased with the rest of the relatives and one of the clerics carries the cross and another carries holy water. After this, the coffin is sprayed with the holy water before it can be taken outside of the house. Candles are given out in the congregation and during the mass due to the fact that in baptism, Christians are considered the Children of Light. The corpse is taken to the grave after the absolution and the priest blesses the burial plot. A new grave in a cemetery is considered blessed but land that hasn’t been used before becomes blessed after holy water is sprinkled on it. The coffin is then lowered into the grave and the coffin is again sprinkled with holy water. After a few other prayers and appeals, the ceremony is over. Here there are a few different contrasts between the religious rituals. Primarily, the action of burial instead of cremation is extremely different and illustrates a stark difference in religious belief. Despite this, the fact that “holy water” is equally present in both Hinduism and Christianity shows a connection between a value for water that is specifically holy. Additionally, the presence of fire in Hinduism and Christianity with cremation and the candles, respectively, show another connection between the two seemingly different rituals. Altogether, there are many differences between the symbolism of the various rites during each respective death ritual but it is important to understand the small connections between certain aspects of the rituals that show similarities that may not be apparent on the surface.

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Another major difference in the rituals of the two relations is the gender roles played during the respective rituals. According to Hinduism, women are not allowed to be part of the cremation rites. The last time that they are even allowed to witness the body of the deceased is before the ritual bath at home and, even so, are only allowed to witness this procedure from a distance. Only male family members, known as the karta are permitted to accompany the deceased to the cremation ground. These traditions stem from the Puranas and through the patriarchal society that has been developed in Hindu countries. In Christianity, on the other hand, besides the fact that priests are usually males due to patriarchy, males and females are given equal opportunity to perform the rituals. There is a clear contrast between Hinduism and Christianity that becomes apparent here which is the fact that Christianity is much more gender neutral than Hinduism is when it comes to death rituals. Both religions do show different levels of acceptance of women within the religion depending on what segment of the religion is being studied, but this brings light to the fact that when riutals and ceremonies are concerned, Hinduism has stronger negative views of women having equal roles in religios practices than Christianity does.

The acceptability of a death when the cause is involved is another topic that varies greatly between religions. Suicide, specifically, has major implications in both religions and are not accepted in the same way that other causes of deaths are. In Hinduism, suicide is spiritually unacceptable and taking one’s own life is considered a violation of the code of ahimsa, or non-violence. Therefore, suicide is equally sinful as murdering another. Hinduism accepts a person’s right to end one’s life through the non-violent practice of Prayopavesa, which is fasting to death. Despite this practice being acceptable, it is strictly restricted to yogis who are of old age and who have little desire and responsibilities left in life. Sati, or widow burning, is a custom where a widow immolates herself on her husband’s pyre or takes her own life in another fashion shortly after her husband’s death. The practice continued to occur scantily in India in the 1980s, although it is officially banned. In Christianity, nothing in the Bible actually prohibits suicide and it doesn’t outwardly condemn suicide. Furthermore, there are people in the Bible who have committed suicide. However, many Christian dogmas have an unfavorable viewpoint of suicide. According to the Roman Catholic Church, suicide is a sin which violates the commandment that “thou shalt not kill” but the extent to which people are responsible for that sin changes for specific cases such as suicide. The Catholic Church’s Catechism states: ‘We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives” (Paragraph 2283). It also states that ‘Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide” (Paragraph 2282). The Catholic Church used to deny suicides a Catholic funeral mass and burial but has since changed this practice. Overall, it is clear that Hindus have a much different view on suicide than Christians do.

Overall, Hinduism and Christianity have many differences and similarities in customs for death rituals. The varying color of clothing worn by those who mourn the death of the deceased, differences in the way the body is laid to rest, and gender roles in the ceremony rites comprise only a few of the characteristics that can be analyzed to show the variances between the religious beliefs. Despite these blatant differences, it is important to understand that these differing religious beliefs do not entail a complete disparity in values but rather bring light to traditions that have been passed down through generations.

Works Cited

  1. Bell, Catherine. Ritual Perspectives and Dimensions (Revised Edition). Oxford University Press, 2009.
  2. Catechism of the Catholic Church,
  3. “Comparing Religious Rituals: Hinduism and Christianity.”,
  4. Flood, Gavin D. An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press, 2017.
  5. Michaels, Axel. Homo Ritualis Hindu Ritual and Its Significance for Ritual Theory. Oxford University Press, 2016.
  6. V, Jayaram. Death and Afterlife in Hinduism,

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Death Rituals In Hinduism And Christianity. (2022, February 24). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 30, 2023, from
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