Burial Rituals across the World
The news of a loved one’s death hits every person differently. The aftermath of that news, then, takes unique forms the world over as cultures celebrate the life and honor the death of individuals in ways often singular to their culture. Let’s look at seven distinct burial rituals. The act of placing visitation stones is significant in Jewish bereavement practices. Small stones are placed by people who visit Jewish graves in an act of remembrance or respect for the deceased. The practice is a way participating in the mitzvah of burial. The stone is placed by the left hand.
- Sky Burial
Sky burial is common in Tibet among Buddhists who believe in the value of sending their loved ones’ souls toward heaven. In this ritual, bodies are left outside, often cut into pieces, for birds or other animals to devour. This serves the dual purpose of eliminating the now empty vessel of the body and allowing the soul to depart, while also embracing the circle of life and giving sustenance to animals.
“Dancing with the dead” best describes the burial tradition in Madagascar of Famadihana. The Malagasy people open the tombs of their dead every few years and rewrap them in fresh burial clothes. Each time the dead get fresh wrappings, they also get a fresh dance near the tomb while music plays all around. This ritual—translated as the “turning of the bones”—is meant to speed up decomposition and push the spirit of the dead toward the afterlife.
- Water Burial
Many cultures, especially in Nordic countries, have embraced water in their rituals of choice for the dead, from laying coffins atop cliffs faced toward the water to actually using the water as a burial ground. Some set bodies adrift in “death ships,” either along a river or sent out into the ocean, giving the bodies back to the gods or places most valued by the people of the area.
- The Parade
Celebrating the life of the deceased can take many forms. A tradition from Varanasi, India, involves parading the dead through the streets, the bodies dressed in colors that highlight the virtues of the deceased (red for purity or yellow for knowledge, for example). In an effort to encourage souls to reach salvation, ending the cycle of reincarnation, the bodies are sprinkled with water from the Ganges River and then cremated at the town’s main cremation grounds.
- Tower of Silence
One Zoroastrian who pray to fire tradition requires vultures to keep its ancient burial ritual alive. In that tradition a dead body is believed to defile everything it touches—including the ground and fire—and rising a corpse to the sky for vultures to devour was historically the only option.
Bull’s urine is used to clean the body before tools, which are later destroyed, are used to cut off clothing. The corpse is then placed atop a Tower of Silence, out of the way of the living who could be tainted by it.
- Ashes to Death Beads
While countless burial traditions around the world include cremation, South Korean has taken it a step further by turning the ashes of the deceased into beads. These beads have a bit of a shine to them and come in an array of colors, from pink or black to turquoise.
Placed inside glass vases or even open in dishes, the beads can then take center stage inside a home, a more decorative choice than a conventional urn. In a country where space is at a premium and cremation is becoming the only realistic choice for burying the dead, getting something beautiful out of the process gives loved ones a new tradition to embrace and an heirloom to treasure.
- An Array of Filipino Traditions
When it comes to the Philippines there were just too many to choose from. The Tinguian people dress the deceased in the fanciest of clothes and sit the body on a chair, often placing a lit cigarette in the lips, while the Banquet people blindfold their dead before placing them in chairs at the entrance of the home.
The Cebuano people dress children attending funerals in red to lessen the chance that they will see ghosts.
The Sagada region features coffins hung from cliffs, bringing the souls of the dead closer to heaven, while people in Cavite often entomb the deceased vertically in a hollowed-out tree chosen by the person before death.
The diversity of regions in the Philippines has given rise to a diversity of Filipino burial rituals that comes second to none.
Based on Jewish laws, traditions and customs, a Jewish funeral usually takes place within one day following the date of death and these are solemn and reflective services followed by a gathering at the mourner’s home, which marks the beginning of Shiva.
The first seven days following the funeral is known as shiva, and the mourners generally stay at home and receive guests to help them pray and reflect upon their loss. Judaism allows for a deep mourning period during which celebration of life and beautification of your self and your surroundings are considered distractions from the religious healing process.
A Jewish funeral usually occurs within 24 hours after the death; however, in the modern world, there is allowance and acceptance to delay the burial for mourners to travel and for appropriate arrangements to be made. The funeral is a private time for the family and the religion provides that there is no public viewing of the body. This provide that the body is buried in a plain and unordained wooden casket. According to Jewish law, the body is washed and not embalmed.
The casket is usually closed and the funeral service conducted by a rabbi is usually short, reflective and solemn. A eulogy is delivered, and family members and close friends often read psalms, prayers, and share stories in their own way. Jewish funeral services can take place at the synagogue, funeral home or graveside at the cemetery.
At the graveside of a Jewish funeral, it is a common tradition, along with a sign of respect and love to the deceased, for the mourners and friends to participate in the actual burial. Today, many people place a few shovels of soil onto the casket to symbolically follow this tradition.
To bury a loved one is an incredibly difficult and emotionally painful act, but the traditions and customs of participating in the burial are considered psychologically beneficial. The act of shoveling soil onto the casket helps provide closure and give a physical connection of saying goodbye to their loved one for a final time. It also helps with the realization that the death occurred and allows for the grieving process to truly begin.
With around 2.4 billion followers globally, Christianity is the largest religion in the world. It is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ and focuses on the relationship its followers have with God. The religion is divided into a number of sub-groups, the largest being Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. Each Christian group follows their own set of customs and rituals, including how they approach funerals and death.
Christian beliefs about death
The Christian faith revolves around a belief in heaven, hell and purgatory. Where a person’s soul will end up is determined by how they act throughout their life; the righteous will go to heaven and be in the presence of the Lord, while the sinners will go to hell. For those who have committed forgivable sins in their lifetime, Christians believe they must serve time in purgatory before they can move on to heaven.
Christians and cremation
Typically the Christian faith prefers burials over cremations; this is because it interferes with their beliefs on resurrection and the afterlife. However, if a loved one is cremated, the church asks that their ashes are respectfully buried instead of scattered. Organ donation is seen as an act of charity and therefore accepted by numerous branches of Christianity.
What are Christian funeral rites?
Christian funeral rites are a set of principles and actions that are carried out when a loved one dies. Common rites include, but are not limited to:
- A eulogy
- Bible readings
- The Rite of committal
Interestingly, Protestant funeral rites are simpler and less extravagant than Catholica funeral rites Catholic funerals place greater focus on rituals, whereas Protestant funerals are more focused on remembering the deceased. The overall purpose of a Christian funeral is to help the deceased’s soul enter into Heaven, while offering comfort and support for mourners.
What happens at a Christian funeral?
Like most religious funerals, a Christian funeral service is tailored to the person who has died. The service is usually carried out at a church, crematorium or cemetery and will include prayers, a sermon, readings, hymns and sometimes music or poems
Under normal circumstances, a deceased Muslim is to be washed, shrouded and a communal prayer performed before a body is interred in a grave in the shortest possible time after death. Muslims are also forbidden to cremate or embalm their deceased.
There are primarily two sects within Islam (Shi’a and Sunni) that hold different views on a number of religious issues.
For the most part, however, Muslims commonly believe that the good deeds one does in life will yield entry into Paradise on the Day of Judgment, also called the Last Day, when the world will be destroyed. Many Muslims believe that until the Last Day the dead will remain in their tombs, and those heading for Paradise will experience peace while those heading for Hell will experience suffering.
When Death Is Imminent
When a Muslim is approaching death, family members and very close friends should be present. They should offer the dying person hope and kindness, and encourage the dying person to say the “shahada,” confirming that there is no God but Allah. As soon as death has occurred, those present should say, “Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un” (“Verily we belong to Allah, and truly to Him shall we return”). Those present should close the deceased’s eyes and lower jaw, and cover the body with a clean sheet. They should also make “dua’” (supplication) to Allah to forgive the sins of the deceased.
When To Hold A Muslim Funeral
According to Islamic law (“shariah”), the body should be buried as soon as possible from the time of death, which means that funeral planning and preparations begin immediately. A local Islamic community organization should be contacted as soon as possible, and they will begin to help make arrangements for the funeral service and burial, assist the family in identifying an appropriate funeral home, and coordinate with the funeral home.
Organ donation is generally acceptable for Muslims, as it follows the Qur’an’s teaching that “Whosoever saves the life of one person it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.” If there is any question as to whether or not organs may be donated, it is best to consult with an imam (religious leader) or Muslim funeral director.
Routine autopsies are not acceptable in Islam as they are seen as a desecration of the body. In most cases, the family of the deceased may refuse to have a routine autopsy performed.
Embalming and cosmetology are not allowed unless required by state or federal law. Because of the prohibition on embalming and the urgency with which the body must be buried, it is not possible to transport the body from one country to another.
Many Muslims living in America have a desire to be buried in the country of their ancestry, and this cultural practice, while acceptable in some communities, is in conflict with shariah. An imam or Muslim funeral director should be consulted if there are any questions on the matter.
Cremation is forbidden for Muslims, and for the most of the Jewish. Christians do it as it is cheaper way, and Jesus never say anything about it, they translate dust to dust and ashes to ashes wrongly, our body is made of sand so it is dust go to dust of the earth, and what he meant with ashes is the furniture and what we own, in that time all that go as ash, burned furniture or decay woods. Jesus body never got burned so to burn a body is a sin.
Preparing The Body
To prepare the body for burial, it must be washed (“Ghusl”) and shrouded (“Kafan”). Close same-sex family members are encouraged to give Ghusl, though in the case of spousal death the spouse may perform the washing. The body should be washed three times.
If, after three washings, the body is not entirely clean, it may be washed more, though ultimately the body should be washed an odd number of times. The body should be washed in the following order: upper right side, upper left side, lower right side, lower left side. Women’s hair should be washed and braided into three braids. Once clean and prepared, the body should be covered in a white sheet.
To shroud the body, three large white sheets of inexpensive material should be laid on top of each other. The body should be placed on top of the sheets. Women should, at this point, be dressed in an ankle-length sleeveless dress and head veil. If possible, the deceased’s left hand should rest on the chest and the right hand should rest on the left hand, as in a position of prayer.
The sheets should then be folded over the body, first the right side and then the left side, until all three sheets have wrapped the body. The shrouding should be secured with ropes, one tied above the head, two tied around the body, and one tied below the feet. The body should then be transported to the mosque (“masjid”) for funeral prayers, known as “Salat al-Janazah.”
When a Muslim dies, the body should be buried as soon as possible after death, thus there is no viewing before the funeral.
Salat al-Janazah (funeral prayers) should be performed by all members of the community. Though the prayers should be recited at the mosque, they should not be recited inside the mosque; instead, they should be performed in a prayer room or study room, or in the mosque’s courtyard. Those praying should face the “qiblah”—that is, toward Mecca—and form at least three lines, with the male most closely related to the person who died in the first line, followed by men, then children, then women.
After Salat al-Janazah has been recited, the body should be transported to the cemetery for burial. Traditionally, only men are allowed to be present at the burial, though in some communities all mourners, including women, will be allowed at the gravesite.
The grave should be dug perpendicular to the qiblah, and the body should be placed in the grave on its right side, facing the qiblah. Those placing the body into the grave should recite the line “Bismilllah wa ala millati rasulilllah” (“In the name of Allah and in the faith of the Messenger of Allah”).
Once the body is in the grave, a layer of wood or stones should be placed on top of the body to prevent direct contact between the body and the soil that will fill the grave.
Then each mourner present will place three handfuls of soil into the grave. Once the grave has been filled, a small stone or marker may be placed at the grave so that it is recognizable. However, traditionally, it is prohibited to erect a large monument on the grave or decorate the grave in an elaborate way.
Steve Ramsey, PhD.