We as a race are wonderfully varied. Our cultures and traditions are just as unique as our features and language. We celebrate and commiserate with spectacular diversity, and our rituals concerning death are no different. In this blog we look at 10 amazing ways these cultures bid farewell to their loved ones.
1. The Ghost Festival:
Also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, is a traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival held in certain East Asian countries. On the fifteenth day, the realms of Heaven and Hell and the realm of the living are opened, and both Taoists and Buddhists perform rituals to absolve the sufferings of the deceased. The Vu Lan ceremony, which takes place during the Ghost Festival, is an annual holiday reminding each person to appreciate what they have.
2. Hindu Cremations:
It is preferable to die at home, surrounded by family. The soul is believed to go on, according to one’s karma. Bodies are cremated quickly, usually within 24 hours, in order to liberate the soul quickly. Mourners wear white, not black, and people do not bring food to the wake. Ashes are scattered over water, the most desirable place being the holy Ganges. A lot of Hindu families living outside India will make the pilgrimage to do this.
3. Ngaben Elaborate Ceremonies:
In Balinese culture, people go through a period where they bury the dead for a while usually near Pura Prajapati. They will then cremate many recently dead on the same day in an elaborate community-based Ngaben ceremony. Once the families are financially ready, they select an auspicious day, make bade (elaborate animal structured coffins made of resin and then smoothed over) to carry the deceased, and announce the event in the village.
4. Japanese Funerals:
Family members use chopsticks to pick up the bones of their loved one after cremation and place them in an urn. The foot bones go in first and the head last. This is one of several stages, following a wake around the open casket, the giving of a Buddhist name to the deceased and a funeral.
5. Confucian and Korean Traditions:
Funerals revolve around devotion to parents and Confucian traditions. In Korea, families keep cremation beads in their homes as a unique way to honour the deceased. The beads are made by cleaning and refining the ashes into a fine powder. They then heat them to ultra-high temperatures. The process reduces the ashes to a molten state which then solidifies into beautiful crystals beads.
6. Aboriginal Funerals:
When a loved one dies, elaborate rituals begin. First, a smoking ceremony is held in the loved one’s living area to drive away their spirit. Next, a feast is held, with mourners as they partake in food and dance. The body is traditionally placed atop a platform and is covered in leaves as it is left to decompose. It has been reported that in some traditions, fluids from the platform can help identify the deceased’s killer.
7. Spiritual Dancing in Southern Africa:
In a mysterious ‘rain dance,’ they transport their souls to the spiritual world to speak with the dead.
8. Chinese Funerals:
Are rich in superstition and rituals, which include removing mirrors and hanging cloth on the doorway of their homes. If the remains of the loved one are correctly laid to rest, they believe that this releases positive energies to their descendants and enhances their fortunes and health.
9. American Natural Burials:
Called Crestone (and the location of the only outdoor cremation site in the US), people can be cremated there regardless of religion, with the body typically wrapped in a cloth and surrounded by wood and branches of juniper. If they wish, family members may set the torch themselves. The practice is part of a growing “natural death” movement in the US that includes green burials and home funerals, and is partly a response to the country’s rising funeral costs.
10. Zoroastrians’ Towers of Silence:
Believe death is considered evil: polluting the pure earth with decaying matter is seen as sacrilegious. Instead, bodies are exposed to the elements atop Towers of Silence, and left to be eaten by scavenger birds. Cremations are seen as polluting nature and fire, both of which the Zoroastrians thrive to protect. This deep respect towards all things natural has led some scholars to proclaim Zoroastrianism as the “world’s first ecological religion.”