Hinduism prescribes funeral rites from a distance

Hinduism prescribes funeral rites from a distance

And Hindu Council of New Zealand provides clarity
Nitika Sharma
Auckland, March 31, 2020

When we woke up two months ago, Covid‐19 was something in the distance and life carried on as normal. A month ago, it was nearer to us with the first case of Covid‐19 confirmed in New Zealand.

As we wake up now, we are in a world that no one could have wished.

The feeling of being in our ‘bubbles’ and our streets being empty is nothing but surreal.

But it is an important step that we need to take, united to stop the spread of this virus ‐ together as one country and together as one people.

Lifestyle changes

Alert 4 Lockdown also means that our communities have had to make a number of changes to how they are practicing their dharma. We thank the Hindu community for adopting this new normal so quickly and efficiently.

As we continue to understand how the lockdown applies to all other aspects of our lives, it has now become clear that the lockdown rules apply to how we farewell our loved ones.

A difficult topic for some of us to talk about, it is an important conversation to be having to be prepared should the unfortunate situation, which no one wishes for, occur in our families.

Government regulations

The government has strict rules in place for when a loved one passes away, regardless of the cause. These rules apply to everyone, every culture, every religion. This means that we are no longer able to hold formal funerals, viewings or private funerals at homes.

We are aware of what we are asking our communities to sacrifice.

We are asking people to forgo the way that we have always said goodbye to our loved ones.

It is the one time in our lives that we don’t want to rush our emotions. During these unprecedented times we are asking a lot of our communities, but this sacrifice is one we have to make.

Religious perspective

There have been several discussions around what this means from a religious perspective of being able to perform the ‘Antim Kriya,’ final rites. We have been in discussion with a number of our learned pundits and guru’s in New Zealand and abroad.

Pundit Vasant Shukla of Acharya Ashram said that our Shastras mention about the ability to perform the final rites from a distance.

“There are prescribed ways to do this using Vidhi. A lot in the Dharma is based on symbolism and there are ways that the rituals can be completed with the use of earthly materials that can represent the human body,” he said.

Acharya Ajay Tiwari said that the Hindu Dharma is very broad and age old.

“There are a number of ways of following the path to perform the rituals. In our normal lives, we follow what is widely done and accepted. But there are several things in our scriptures that are written for such situations. This might be the time we have to use it and the wider community can also learn about it,” he said.

Pundit Tiwari said that most of us believe in Bhagwan (God) who we don’t see, but we still perform Pooja on the Prateek (representation).

“There are ways we can perform Antim Kriya on the Prateek of the departed. We need to perform the rituals for the Sadgati (Salvation or Liberation) of the Atma, that is the important part here. I will be willing to work with families to explain this if needed,” he said.

Two Options

The current guidance gives us two options: (1) Embalm the earthly remains of our departed one and wait for Alert 4 to be lifted and then hold the funeral (2) Funeral Directors take charge of the cremation. In this situation, the ashes will remain with the Funeral Home and can be dispersed once the lockdown ends.

We ask why such stances need to be taken for a time when families and loved ones seek closure?

This is because Covid‐19 is now in our community in Aotearoa.

We need to do everything in our controls to eliminate this virus by not giving it anywhere to go. This will protect the people in our communities with weakened immunities, those who have other underlying conditions and all those who are at increased risk.

The Dharma

We have a Dharma towards the rest of the community and now is the time to be looking after them selflessly as well.

This may be a big ask for some people and we understand it can be a very difficult situation. We are in conversation with one funeral home so that there can be cameras available for people to participate in the final journey of their loved ones. In case of the Funeral Directors taking charge of the cremation, a pundit can be available remotely with the family and funeral director to help facilitate the rituals.

Please don’t feel you are alone. If required, get in touch with your Pundit to understand how they can support you and your family.

If in doubt, get in touch with us and we will connect you with someone who is set up and able to perform the final rites of your departed one.

We have pundits available who can help anyone through this time with full understanding of how what and why.

We are all in this together. We have to unite and support each other during this time.

Nitika Sharma is Joint General Secretary of the Hindu Council of New Zealand based in Auckland. Further information can be obtained on 020-41202317.

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