Last Saturday, the Broome Street Temple held a shraddha ceremony to honor Shri K. Pattabhi Jois’ one-year death anniversary. Hindus believe that when a soul departs the body, it remains in a state of limbo for one year: neither as an earthly body nor a heavenly body. The soul’s journey to heaven takes one year, and each month, offerings are made to feed the spirit. These offerings are called shraddha, and on the 12th month, the final shraddha is performed to complete the death journey.
The final stage of the death journey is meant to be full of joy, love, chanting and prayers. When we were in India last month, we witnessed several funeral pyres on the River Ganges and the celebrations surrounding them. Only men are allowed to be present at the cremation ceremony (we were told, “Not for religious reasons, but because women cry too much and it’s supposed to be a happy time”), and they wear white (not black). Cremation is much more than disposing of a body, it is releasing the soul from its earthly existence. If you’re Hindu and you are fortunate enough to be cremated on the banks of the Ganges, your soul will be released from moksha, the cycle of reincarnation that binds us to earthly bodies.
Hindu cremation ceremonies on the Ganges in Varanasi
The Mahabharata says that every union must one day end with separation:
“Develop this attitude based on wisdom: I am alone. There is no one who is mine; nor do I belong to anyone. Even this body does not belong to me. These objects of the world are not mine; nor do they belong to others. Or, all things belong equally to all beings. Therefore there is no need for any mind to grieve over these.”