Samskaras Origin and Significance

Antyesti Samskara (funeral ceremonies)

This is the last of the S but is not less important than the earlier one because to the Hindu the value of the next world is higher than the present one. There were many factors that brought into existence the rites and ceremonies on the occasion of death. First was the horror of death. Primitive man could not fathom death. In an attempt to avoid death several ceremonies arose but man had to accept death soon. He then made proper arrangements for making death and life after death easy.

The survivors had mixed feelings when they’re near one died. It was believed that the deceased had some interest in his family property and was therefore, lingering around the house, might cause injury to the family. So attempts were made to avoid his presence and contact. A formal farewell address was given to him. The next sentiment was love and affection towards the deceased. They thought it was their duty to help the dead in reaching his destination after death. The corpse was disposed off by means of fire, so that the dead, being purified, may be allowed to enter the holy place of the Fathers. Until these rites and ceremonies are performed the soul of the man is not finally dismissed to its place in the next world, as it is not elevated to its due position in the cult of ancestral worship and it continues to be Preta, haunting its relatives unpleasantly.

Why did the custom of Cremation come into existence?
1. Tribes without a settled abode may have found it convenient to carry about the remains of their dead or to remove such remains beyond the possibility of desecration by their enemies.
2. Another reason may have been the desire to be quit of the ghost. The fortress of the ghost was destroyed by fire and it was frightened away by its flames.
3. Fire, consuming forest, grass and refuses might have suggested its utility in burning the dead also.
4. In the beginning the above reasons might have been active but the most potent factor was the religious belief of the Aryans during the Vedic period. They regarded fire as the messenger of the gods on earth, and the carrier of oblations offered to them. The material things that constituted Havya could not be bodily and directly conveyed to the gods in heaven, hence the services of a messenger and carrier like Agni were needed. So also when a man died his body could be sent to heaven by consigning it to Agni. After the body was consumed and reduced to ashes, the dead could receive a new body in the world of Yama and join his ancestors.
5. Another religious belief was that the evil spirits mostly originated from the wicked souls of the dead persons buried in the earth. So the people decided to limit their number in the terrestrial region by cremating the bodies and sending the dead to the regions of Yama, to receive greater punishments or rewards for their actions.

The Hindus see the cremation ceremony was one that releases the soul from the body for its upward journey to heaven.

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