Last Rituals-Part 3: Last Rites for Jains

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(Editor’s note: This is the part-3 of Last Rituals Series published by INDIA New England News in collaboration with the Desai Foundation. There are many different religions and communities in India and each has different beliefs, customs, prayers, and practices regarding last rituals. In today’s series, we focus on last rituals for Jains.)

The following section on Jain rituals was written using information from Jain Funeral Practices & Observances: Practical Guidelines for the Community by Dr. Tansukh J. Salgia.  This section goes through rituals practiced before, during, and after the cremation while incorporating major Jain beliefs about death and the afterlife.

In order to keep the Earth clean and pure, Jains cremate those who pass away.  The cremation is done as soon as possible and cannot be done between sunset and sunrise of the day following the death.  Before the cremation takes place, a service with family and friends of the deceased occurs if the family feels this is suitable.

Before cremation and the beginning of the service…

  • Before the cremation the body is rubbed with a wet cloth. It is clothed and should not be left alone up until the time of cremation.
  • At the service and while at the funeral home, a table holding a lit deevo, agarbati, perfumed incense, and cotton are used to purify the environment. The deevo is kept on the right side of the head and constantly burns until the cremation takes place.  The head of the body points towards the north.  A picture of the deceased with a garland around his or her neck is kept on the table along with religious pictures and books.
  • Flower petals and rice are placed on the side for family and friends of the deceased to place on the body or a separate table to pay their respects; however using live flowers should be avoided as much as possible because Jains believe a Soul is present in every living thing.
  • After people pay their respects at the beginning of the service, the men and women sit on separate sides of the room. • The leader of the service welcomes guests and sings the Namokar Mantra. This mantra honors those who have achieved liberation of the Soul or who are about to achieve liberation.

Middle of the service…

  • A fellow friend or family member may explain to guests Jain beliefs regarding the eternal nature of the Soul, reincarnation, and the Soul’s liberation. In short, the belief is that a separation between the physical being and the Soul, or spiritual aspect of the person exists. We are attracted to and love the spiritual aspect of the person and that Soul lives on forever or is reincarnated after death.
  • Selected quotations or excerpts from Jain scriptures and prayers that emphasize “…the positive reassuring knowledge that [the] Soul is eternal and that [the] Soul continues after death” (Salgia 33) can be recited. Reciting these prayers or scriptures provides comfort and reminds Jains that death is a time to celebrate the Soul’s eternal nature, possible rebirth, and liberation or Moksha from the life cycle and material world.
  • A priest performs rituals for the peace of the departed Soul.
  • Selected bhajans and Shradhanajali are recited.
  • Eulogies by guests who would like to speak are read.
  • A period of silence in order to pay further respect to the departed Soul. • Reciting the Shivamastu Sarva Jagatah (a prayer of well-being), can conclude this middle section of the service nicely.

Concluding the service…

  • To begin the last section of the ceremony, the long version of the Namokar Mantra is recited. • Recite the short version of the Namokar Mantra three times to wish peace for the Soul on its journey away from the body and on its path to liberation. • Prayers for auspiciousness and to wish the Soul luck in the afterlife, like the Kshamaapanaa Sutra, are recited.
  • Together all of the guests recite the Mangal Paath Mantra to “protect [themselves] and [to] promote one auspicious event in [their] lives” (27).
  • While the closed casket is being taken to the cremation room the guests constantly chant “Jin naam Satya hay.” “Jinwani Satya hay.” “Arahant naam Satya hay.” “Siddha naam Satya hay.” If possible, women and children should avoid going with the male family members and close family friends to the cremation room.

The Cremation…

  • The cremation is performed in a place where living things will not be harmed. “Ghee, camphor and sandalwood powder are sprinkled all over the body and the eldest son of the deceased…goes round the pyre three times sprinkling water all over the body.”
  • During the cremation the Shanti path is chanted.
  • Milk is poured over the platform afterwards and the remains are buried in the ground and dissolved with salt over the burial site.
  • After the cremation and burial of the remains, a puja at the home of the family of the deceased or at a hall can be done for further blessings upon the departed Soul.

These rituals help “Jains affirm their belief that there is meaning, purpose, and hope in death as in life; and that there is renewed life and potential for elevated life after death.”  They provide comfort and closure to the family and close friends of the deceased and aid in the coping process.  As a reminder, these rituals vary depending on what the Decedent’s family and/or friends feel comfortable doing and appropriate for the person they are honoring.  As with this whole process, there is no specific ritual or practice, social or religious, that you have to do; you should do what you feel will honor the memory of your loved one and what will help you cope best.

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