Kashmiri Pandits – Funerary and Post Funerary Rites

By Dr. S.S. Toshkhani

Funerary and post funerary Rites:

Dr. SS ToshkhaniThere is much similarity between the broad features of Kashmiri Hindu funerary and post-funerary rites and the standard Hindu funeral ceremonies, yet there are quite number of variations and modifications too. For a Kashmiri Hindu, as for Hindus everywhere, death is not the end of life but its continuation in a separate world, the pitriloka or the abode of the deceased ancestors. That is why the last rites that he performs for a deceased kin, called the antyeshti, include prayers for everlasting peace of the departed soul and gifts and offerings to make his life-after-death as an ancestor as smooth as possible. These rites are performed in three phases – pre-cremation, cremation and post-cremation, procedures for which are followed from Vedic and Puranic traditions with elements from Shaivagamic rituals too. A small section of the community adopts the esoteric Shivakarma practices also which are quite elaborate and take a long time to perform.

The pre-cremation or pre-dis-posal rites begin with the ritual last bath and include a brief shraddha and kalashpuja, homa and recitation of papanasha or expiatory verses. The ceremony called anatsreth in Kashmiri is performed generally by the eldest son or a close relative of the deceased and he alone is entitled to perform the cremation ceremony.

After the pre-disposal rites, the bier carrying the body of the deceased is taken in a procession to the cremation ground, everyone chanting kshamtavyo me aparaddhah on way to it.

Three pindas of barley flour -the bodha pinda, the makardhwaja pinda and the Yamaduta pinda – are offered to the deceased in the meanwhile. At the crematorium, the ground for the funeral pyre is cleansed and smeared with cow dung. Figures of brahma kalasha, jwala linga, agnikunda, and Chittavasa are drawn on the spot by the officiating priest with barley flour. Sacred fire is lit on the drawing of jwala linga (‘column of flame’) and the brahma kalasha placed on the figure of an eight-petaled lotus is worshipped with flowers and saffron paste, reciting the verse ‘tat Vishnohparamam padam’’. Nine oblations from the pranita patra are poured into the sacred fire with the mantra ‘ritamva satyena parisamuhyami’etc.. Then the performer of the cremation rites offers oblations of clarified butter into the sacred fire with the sruva spoon. The oblations are accompanied by the mantras ‘ayushah pranam santanu svaha’ etc.. The mantras ‘ayur yajnena kalpatam svaha Iprano yajnena kalpatam svaha/ … yajno yajnena kalpatam svaha are also recited while making the ajya oblations. These mantras show that cremation is regarded by the Kashmiri Hindus as a kind of yajna or sacrificial offering into the sacred fire. However, we shall not go into the details of these funerary rituals, but just point out some of their uniquely Kashmiri features.

Worship of the chittavasa or mayajala is one such feature. It is a part of Kashmiri Shaivaritu-als but has been incorporated into the mainstream Kashmiri funerary ceremony. It is symbolic of the departed soul’s liberation from the snares of this illusory world and is drawn with lines looking like a mesh or net. Nine pegs are fixed at specific points on its diagram. The chtitavasa can also be made with thread. Before the pyre is lighted, worship of the deities that preside over the chittavasa is performed after reciting the Gayatri mantra three times. The pyre is built on the chittavasa and the dead body is placed on it with its head to the south. The performer of the rites lights the pyre with a piece of lighted wood from the head if the deceased is a male and from the feet if it is a female. After the pile is set to fire, the performer goes thrice around the burning body sprinkling water from a water pot placed on his left shoulder. On completing the third round, he breaks the water pot on an axe or a stone near the head of the dead body, reciting the mantra ‘namo mahimne ut chakshushe…’ Then with two blades of Darbha grass in hand he recites “pttuh” or “matuh”, or whosoever be the deceased, “antya kriya nimittam chittavasa devatanam achchhidram astu”. Everyone present at the cremation chants “Om yo Rudro Agnau ya apsuaushadhishu yo vanaspatishu yo Rudro vishva bhuvaha vivesha tamai Rudraya namo namah”, and throws a piece of wood on the burning pile as a last tribute to the deceased.

Those attending the funeral at the cremation ground take a bath at a nearby stream (these days, people only wash their hands and face at the crematorium and take the bath at their own homes). Before the mourners return from the cremation ground, they light a fire with dry straw outside it. This is called “tshay zalin” or “burning the shadow”, implying that the mourners, except the family members and very close .relatives of the deceased, are now free from defilement caused by death. Possibly it is the dread that the deceased may follow as a preta or disembodied spirit that lies behind this ritual.

After cremating the body of the dead person, his ashes and unburned bones are collected in an urn and taken for consign-ment to sacred waters. Kashmiri Hindus would generally go to the confluence of the Vitasta and Sindh rivers at Shadipur in Kashmir for the purpose or to Hardwar for the purpose. Some would also consign the ashes of their kin to the waters at some other sacred sites also like Gangabal, a lake formed by the stream called Harmukutganga and considered very sacred by Kashmiri Hindus. But that was before their exodus from Kashmir. Post-funerary ceremonies like the tenth, eleventh and twelfth-day shraddhas are performed by the Hindus of Kashmir not much differently from the standard procedures laid down in Hindu-religious texts, a few local customs notwithstanding. On the tenth day after cremation, the chief mourner goes to the bank of a river and gets his head shaved to indicate the end of the mourning. All blood relations and other relatives also gather there to offer oblations of water and sesame to the deceased. Rice is cooked on spot to prepare pindas for offering to the departed soul and Vaivasta Yama to satisfy their hunger. The performer takes a bath and offers libations with handfuls of water.

The eleventh-day shraddha is performed offering scents, flowers, incense, ghee, sesame and water to the departed soul and the pitaras. Propitiating them with fruit, roots and obeisance, the performer of the rites worships Brahmanas on this day. On the twelfth day of the cremation, the ceremony of ‘sapindikaran” or is performed. Called ‘pyand mi Ivan’ or ‘bahim doh’ in Kashmiri, this ceremony is regarded as most important as through it the soul of the dead person passes into the pitriloka or the abode of the manes.

The funeral and post-funeral rites mentioned above form the norm for Kashmiri Hindus and are generally based on the or-dainments of Laugakshi as well as practices mentioned in other ritualistic texts. They incorporate several features of what is known as Shiva Karma or practices followed by a section of Kashmiri Pandits known as Shiva Karmis – a sect whose numbers are few. Their practices appear to be based on Shaivagamic rituals of the non-dualist Kashmir Shaiva School. They are lengthy, elaborate and quite complicated as far as funeral and post-funeral rites are concerned, which involve a series of pujas, nyasas, mudras, mandalas, yagas, homas and mantric utterances. For the Shiva Karmis, Shiva alone is supreme and is to be worshipped along with the deities of Shiva Brahmanda or the ‘Cosmos of Shiva’. Shiva is the Supreme Being and the source of all activity in the world. He is to be worshipped in his five forms -Sadyojata, Vamadeva, Aghora, Ishana and Tatpurusha. . Shivastutis or hymns to Shiva are recited to mark the antyeshti instead of the usual papanasha mantras or mantras for redemption from sin. He is hymned as “sakala kala vimishrah sadasat sarvesha” (“the embodiment of all arts and the Lord of Truth and Untruth”). The dead body (shava) is regarded as Shiva svarupa or a form of Shiva and not just a corpse. The purpose of Shiva Karma is to achieve ‘Shiva nirvana’ or liberation of the deceased and his ultimate union with Shiva. Another important feature of Shiva Karma is utterance of the mystic syllables jum’ or ‘jurnsah’ with Om at the beginning of a mantra and the Tantric ‘astraya phat’or ‘vashat’ or ‘vaushat’ at the end. With mantras the Shiva Karmis seek to purify not only the mind but also the 36 categories that constitute the manifested world. A Shivakarmi makes ajnana khadga or ‘the Sword of Knowledge’ with 36 blades of Darbha grass to “strike” towards the end at the head of the deceased and free him or her from karmic bonds. There is certainly much more to Shiva Karma rituals and their esoteric meanings but they need considerably more space than we can afford here.