Antyeshti Sanskar Ceremony: Funeral Rites & Rituals

The greatness of Indian culture is evident in the lifestyle and traditions maintained by its people. The sixteen Sanskars are also an inherent part of the lifestyle undertaken by India and its people. With the tide of time, there were changes in the sixteen Sanskars also. According to Vedic traditions, the first Sanskar is Garbh Dharan Sanskar (conceiving a baby) and the last one is Antyeshi (the last rite). Birth and death are eternal truths and their existence cannot be denied by anyone. The Antyeshti Sanskar ceremony is solemnized when the soul of a person leaves his body. It is also known as Daah Sanskar in Hinduism. It is known by different names in other religions. The ceremony is ceremonized by the relatives of the dead person. Every ritual performed during this Sanskar has special importance. The Sanskar  rituals are commemorated both religiously and scientifically. Nowadays most people cremate the dead body just by burning it between a few woods. It is not the correct way to bid farewell to the deceased as it manifests a sentiment of disrespect. Hence, it is necessary to commemorate this Sanskar with the help of proper rites and rituals. Let us understand the importance of this Sanskar and the proper rites and rituals to organize this ceremony.

Read: Rituals to perform Vidyarambh Ceremony

Importance of Antyeshti Sanskar in Hinduism

Antyeshti is the last Sanskar according to Hinduism. According to the Dharamshastras, it is believed that the unfulfilled desires of the deceased get pacified when the last rites are performed duly without any omission. The departed soul leaves every desire and fantasy behind and starts travelling to the other side. During this time only, the Sanskar of the ‘body’ is performed according to rites and rituals. The meaning of Antyeshti is ‘last Yagya’. This Yagya is performed for the body of the deceased.

The importance of this Sanskar is mentioned in ‘Bodhayan Pitru Medha Sutra’. It says;

“जातसंस्कारैणेमं लोकमभिजयति मृतसंस्कारैणामुं लोकम्।”

“jātasaṃskāraiṇemaṃ lokamabhijayati mṛtasaṃskāraiṇāmuṃ lokam।”

which means that with the commemoration of other sanskar ceremonies, a human being gains control over this world and with the help of Antyeshi Sanskar, a person gains victory over the other world (heaven) also.

In another shloka, it is mentioned,

“तस्यान्मातरं पितरमाचार्य पत्नीं पुत्रं शि यमन्तेवासिनं पितृव्यं मातुलं सगोत्रमसगोत्रं वा
दायमुपयच्छेद्दहनं संस्कारेण संस्कृर्वन्ति।।”

“tasyānmātaraṃ pitaramācārya patnīṃ putraṃ śi yamantevāsinaṃ pitṛvyaṃ mātulaṃ sagotramasagotraṃ vā dāyamupayaccheddahanaṃ saṃskāreṇa saṃskṛrvanti”

which means that when your relatives and acquaintances die, you should cremate the dead body by duly observing all the rites and rituals.

Things to Remember Before Conducting the Antyeshti Funeral Ritual

  • New clothes, bed, sheets and mattress should be brought for the deceased.
  • Flowers should be brought for the decoration of the death bed.
  • Materials like barley flour, sesame and rice should be mixed and kept ready for pind daan. If barley flour is not available, then wheat flour should be mixed with barley.
  • Make arrangements for the sacred fire or Agni, either from home or at the cremation ground.
  • Organize the necessary materials required for the aarti like plate, roli, akshat, incense stick and match box.
  • The materials required for hawan like sandalwood, incense sticks, dry basil basil leaves should be kept ready.
  • For the final offering, pour ghee inside a coconut after making a hole in its shell.

The materials mentioned above should be kept ready. Preparing, bathing and clothing the body of the deceased and preparing the platform for carrying it can be done simultaneously. The rituals and Pind Daan are performed, and the body is brought outside and kept on the bamboo platform. Flowers are offered and the journey from the house to the cremation ground is started.

Cremating the Dead: Rituals to Follow

Apply cow dung paste on the walls. After that, the deceased person’s body should be washed with Gangajal while chanting “ॐ आपोहिष्ठा / oṃ āpohiṣṭhā”.

After washing, put new clothes on the dead. The body should be decorated with flowers and  sandalwood while chanting,

“ॐ यमाय सोमं नुनुत, यामाय जुहुता हविः।
यमं ह यज्ढो गच्छति, अग्निदूतो अरंकृतः।।” …..ऋ 10.14.13

“oṃ yamāya somaṃ nunuta, yāmāya juhutā haviḥ
yamaṃ ha yajḍho gacchati, agnidūto araṃkṛtaḥ।।”…ṛ 10.14.13

The person who has undertaken the responsibility should sit facing South. After purifying himself, he should place akshat, flowers and water on his hand and take an oath while chanting the following,

“……….नामाऽहं (मृतक का नाम) प्रेतस्य प्रेतत्त्व – निवृत्त्या उत्तम लोक प्राप्त्यर्थं औधर्वदेहिकं करिष्ये।”

“……….nāmā’haṃ (name of the deceased) pretasya pretattva – nivṛttyā uttama loka prāptyarthaṃ audharvadehikaṃ kariṣye।”

Procedures to Start the Shav Yatra

  • After undertaking the oath, first pind daan should be done.
  • Lift the dead body and bring it near the death bed.
  • The death bed should be decorated with flowers and sandalwood before.
  • Offer flowers to the dead body and start the shav yatra.
  1. Pind Daan

Five offerings are made during Pind daan. Human conscience is not limited to the body. In order to please it, it is necessary to transcend certain desires which are quite trivial. For the pacification of the soul and its consciousness, the belongings of the deceased are sacrificed. Pind daan is the representation of this tradition. The following rites are performed while offering Pind daan:

One should hold the pind daan with his right hand first and add flowers, kush, water, barley, and rice to it while chanting mantras. After the mantras are being chanted, pind should be offered on the required place with one’s thumb.

  • The first offering should be made inside the house after the oath which is done after cremation ritual. The pind should be placed on the waist. The following mantra should be chanted:

“……….नामाऽहं (मृतक का नाम)….मृतिस्थाने शवनिमित्तको ब्रह्मदैवतो वा, एष ते पिण्डो, मया दीयते, तवोपतिष्ठताम्।”

“……….nāmā’haṃ (name of the deceased)….mṛtisthāne śavanimittako brahmadaivato vā, eṣa te piṇḍo, mayā dīyate, tavopatiṣṭhatām।”

  • The second pind is offered after placing the dead body on the death bed. The pind should be kept on the middle of the chest and mantra should be chanted:

“……….नामाऽहं (मृतक का नाम)….द्वारदेशे, पांथ निमित्तक एष ते पिण्डो, मया दीयते, तवोपतिष्ठताम्।”

“……….nāmā’haṃ (name of the deceased)….dvāradeśe, pāṃtha nimittaka eṣa te piṇḍo, mayā dīyate, tavopatiṣṭhatām।”

  • The third pind should be offered in the road and placed on the stomach.

“……….नामाऽहं (मृतक का नाम)….चत्वरस्थाने खेचा निमित्तको विष्णुदैवतो वा, एष ते पिण्डो, मया दीयते, तवोपतिष्ठताम्।”

“……….nāmā’haṃ (name of the deceased)….catvarasthāne khecā nimittako viṣṇudaivato vā, eṣa te piṇḍo, mayā dīyate, tavopatiṣṭhatām।”

  • The fourth pind should be given at the place where the body will be burnt and the offering should be placed on the chest.

“……….नामाऽहं (मृतक का नाम)….श्मशानस्थाने विश्रान्ति निमित्तको, भूतनाम्ना रुद्रदैवतो वा, एष ते पिण्डो, मया दीयते, तवोपतिष्ठताम्।”

“……….nāmā’haṃ (name of the deceased)….śmaśānasthāne viśrānti nimittako, bhūtanāmnā rudradaivato vā, eṣa te piṇḍo, mayā dīyate, tavopatiṣṭhatām।”

  • The fifth pind should be offered after the funeral pyre is lit. It should be placed on the head.

“……….नामाऽहं (मृतक का नाम)….चितास्थाने वायु निमित्तको यमदैवतो वा, एष ते पिण्डो, मया दीयते, तवोपतिष्ठताम्।”

“……….nāmā’haṃ (name of the deceased)….citāsthāne vāyu nimittako yamadaivato vā, eṣa te piṇḍo, mayā dīyate, tavopatiṣṭhatām।”

  1. Bhoomi Sanskar
  • The dead body should be placed on a proper place after reaching the graveyard.
  • Necessary arrangements should be made to clean the funeral pyre.
  • Spray water on the place while chanting mantras. Daub it with cow dung and make it as clean as the Yajna fireplace.

“ॐ देवस्य त्वा सवितुः प्रसवेऽश्विनोर्बाहुभ्यां पूष्णो हस्ताभ्याम्‌ ।
सरस्वत्यै वाचो यन्तुर्यनत्रिये, दधामि बहस्पतेष्ट्वा, साम्राज्ये नाभिषिंचाम्यसौ।”

“oṃ devasya tvā savituḥ prasave’śvinorbāhubhyāṃ pūṣṇo hastābhyām‌ ।
sarasvatyai vāco yanturyanatriye, dadhāmi bahaspateṣṭvā, sāmrājye nābhiṣiṃcāmyasau।”

  • Some family members should reach the graveyard and successfully conduct the rites mentioned above before everyone arrives with the dead body.
  • Chant mantras before decorating the pyre and seek blessings from Mother Earth.
  • The graveyard soil possesses certain virtues as it gives a new direction to life. It should be used after offering it prayers and performing purification.
  • For this rite, the person conducting the Antyesti Sanskar should come forward near the purified area.
  • The person should complete a round of the land or circumambulate around the soil keeping his hands folded and pray to it.
  • Water should be showered on the land with the help of kushans. Chant the mantra, “ॐ कार लेखन हेतु / oṃ kāra lekhana hetu” during this time and write “ॐ” with your middle finger on the ground.
  1. Samidharopan (Maryadakran)

Mekhlas are made around the yagna vessel. For it, four big wooden sticks are placed in all four directions, hereby acting like a boundary for the funeral pyre. All the other wooden sticks are kept inside it. The person who is conducting the ceremony should place the Samidhas.

  • The first samidha faces the east. This is related to money. It means, that money must be earned ethically, as it is required to fulfill the necessities of life. But we also need to understand that money is not everything, as under its influence, a person wanders away from the real purpose of his life. Therefore, keep a wood eastward to limit the aspiration of money.
  • The second samidha faces the west, which is kept to follow celibacy. This samidha controls the lust of a person.
  • Similarly, the third is kept for success, dignity and wishes.
  • Fourth one is kept to keep all malice and hatred away.
  1. Chita Rohan or Preparing the Pyre
  • After the wooden pyre is formed, the ritual of lighting the pyre is carried out.
  • For this, the sacred tree branches of Banyan, Gular, Dhak, Mango, Shami etc. are used.
  • If there are deodar or sandalwood tree branches, then it is much better.
  • After collecting all these items, place the body of the deceased on the pyre.
  • Chant the mantra “ॐ अग्ने नय सुपथा राये/ oṃ agne naya supathā rāye” and wish for a better afterlife.
  • After preparing the pyre, offer the fifth pind with accurate mantras.
  1. Lighting Fire on Pyre
  • Light the grass with a coal.
  • Now go around the pyre with the fire stick and keep it near the deceased’s face for a quick ignition.
  • Chant the mantra “ॐ भूर्भुवः र्धौरिव भूम्ना… / oṃ bhūrbhuvaḥ dhauriva bhūmnā”.
  • After the fire is ignited, give an offering of ghee seven times. During this time, chant the mantra “ॐ इन्द्राय स्वाहा / oṃ indrāya svāhā”.
  • After this, all the people present there must give seven offerings of the fragrant Havan items while chanting the Gayatri Mantra.
  • At last, give a special offering in the “yagna” for the departed soul.
  1. Social Prayers
  • After the pyre is lit, people present there must remain calm and pray for the welfare of the departed. During this time, one must chant Gayatri Mantra in his heart.
  • The collective prayer should be done until the Kapal Kriya is completed. The Kapal Kriya is performed when the fire catches the bones of the skull.
  1. The Last Rite: Kapal Kriya or Smashing the Skull

The head of a human being is considered as the revolving center of one’s life. Thoughts and actions generated within the mind creates one’s personality and the person acts accordingly. Development of one’s mind mustn’t remain hindered, which is why the act of Kapal Kriya is performed.

  • For this, firstly the person sitting in the Antyeshti ceremony must take a bamboo branch in his hand and stand where the head of the deceased is.
  • Everyone present there must grab a handful of havan ingredients for the last offering.
  • The middle area of the skull is soft and opens up easily when exposed to fire. In the same area, press with the sharper side of the bamboo stick and poke a hole.
  • Now chant “ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं / oṃ pūrṇamadaḥ pūrṇamidaṃ” and keep the coconut prepared for the final offering near the head using the bamboo stick.
  • Until the pyre gets cooled down after conducting the Kapal Kriya, all the people other than 2-4 can leave or perform as per the local traditions.
  • Before leaving, note that every rite is completed.
  1. Ash Immersion after a Funeral
  • After the Antyesti, the rite of ash submersion is conducted. For this, the astral remains must be collected and submerged in the sacred river.
  • It is the law of collecting the ashes on the third day after the pyre gets cooled down.
  • Also, if you want to collect them early, then sprinkle water or a mixture of milk and water on the ground and only then collect the ashes.
  • Chant the mantra while collecting the ashes,

“ॐ आ त्वा मनसाऽनार्तेन, वाचा ब्रह्मणा त्रय्या विद्यया, पृथिव्यामक्षिकायामपा रसेन निवपाम्यसौ।।” ….का. श्रौ. सू. 258.6

“oṃ ā tvā manasā’nārtena, vācā brahmaṇā trayyā vidyayā, pṛthivyāmakṣikāyāmapā rasena nivapāmyasau।।” ….kā. śrau. sū. 258.6

  • Collect these ashes in an urn.
  • Then place them near the sacred river, sea or immersion ground etc.
  • Before the immersion, take flowers, rice and barley and chant

“ॐ यमग्ने कव्यवाहन, त्वं चिन्मन्यसे रविम्। तन्नो गीर्भिः श्रवाय्यं, देवत्रा पनया युजम्। ॐ यमाय नमः। आवाह्यामि, स्थापयामि, ध्यायामि।।”

“oṃ yamagne kavyavāhana, tvaṃ cinmanyase ravim। tanno gīrbhiḥ śravāyyaṃ, devatrā panayā yujam। oṃ yamāya namaḥ। āvāhyāmi, sthāpayāmi, dhyāyāmi।।”

for Lord Yam and,

“ॐ इदं पितृभ्यो नमोऽअस्त्वद्य ये, पूर्वासो यऽ उपरास ऽईयुः। ये पार्थिवे रजस्या निषत्ता, ये वा नून सुवृजनासु विक्षु। ॐ पितृभ्योनमः। आवाह्यामि, स्थापयामि, ध्यायामि।।” ….19.68

“oṃ idaṃ pitṛbhyo namo’astvadya ye, pūrvāso ya’ uparāsa ‘īyuḥ। ye pārthive rajasyā niṣattā, ye vā nūna suvṛjanāsu vikṣu। oṃ pitṛbhyonamaḥ। āvāhyāmi, sthāpayāmi, dhyāyāmi।।” ….19.68

for appealing the ancestors. Offer the flowers and pray with folded hands.

  • Then, take the urn in your hands, stand near the banks of the sacred river or stream and chant the mantra while immersing the ashes of the deceased along with flowers, rice and barley:

“ॐ अस्थि कृत्वा समिधं तदष्टापो, असादयन शरीरं ब्रह्म प्राविशत। ॐ सूर्यं चक्षुर्गच्छतु वामात्मा, द्यां च गच्छ पृथिवीं च धर्मणा। अपो व गच्छ यदि तत्र ते, हितमोषधीषु प्रति तिष्ठा शरीरैः स्वाहा।।” …. अथर्व० 11.10.2 9 ऋ० 10.16.3

“oṃ asthi kṛtvā samidhaṃ tadaṣṭāpo, asādayana śarīraṃ brahma prāviśata।
oṃ sūryaṃ cakṣurgacchatu vāmātmā, dyāṃ ca gaccha pṛthivīṃ ca dharmaṇā। apo va gaccha yadi tatra te, hitamoṣadhīṣu prati tiṣṭhā śarīraiḥ svāhā।।” …. atharva0 11.10.2 9 ṛ0 10.16.3

  • After that, chant the following mantra while wishing for a better afterlife of the deceased:

“ॐ य़े चित्पूर्व ऋतसाता ऋतजाता ऋतावृधः। ऋषीन्तपस्वतो यम तपोजाँ अपि गच्छतात।। ॐ आयुर्विश्वायुः परिपातु त्वा, पूषा त्वा पातु प्रपथे पुरस्तात्। यत्रासते सुकृतो यत्र तऽईयुः, तत्र त्वा देवः सविता दधातु।।” – अथर्व.

“oṃ ye citpūrva ṛtasātā ṛtajātā ṛtāvṛdhaḥ। ṛṣīntapasvato yama tapojām̐ api gacchatāta।। oṃ āyurviśvāyuḥ paripātu tvā, pūṣā tvā pātu prapathe purastāt। yatrāsate sukṛto yatra ta’īyuḥ, tatra tvā devaḥ savitā dadhātu।।” – atharva.

  • Carry out Tarpan on the bank only after this.
  • After the tarpan, greet the saints and eternal powers present in the pilgrimage and conclude this ritual with this mantra.

“ॐ ये तीर्थानि प्रचरन्ति, सुकाहस्ता निषंगिणः।
तेषा सहस्रयोजने व धन्वानि तन्मसि।।”….- 16.61

“oṃ ye tīrthāni pracaranti, sukāhastā niṣaṃgiṇaḥ।
teṣā sahasrayojane va dhanvāni tanmasi।।”….- 16.61

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