A dying Hindu will be visited by as many of their family and friends as possible. Passages from holy texts (Vedas) will be read to them and prayers will be said with them. Various holy substances such as Ganges river water, holy threads and dust will be brought in, and the forehead of the dying person may be marked with a paste made from blessed dust or kumkum (a red turmeric dye).
Because of their belief in reincarnation, Hindus believe that their body is an empty shell once the spirit or atman has departed it, and must be returned to the earth it came from as quickly as possible. For this reason, a dying Hindu may ask to be placed on the floor so that they can be as close to Mother Earth as possible for their final few breaths.
Ideally, death should take place at home; if possible, a dying Hindu patient should be discharged.
A dying Hindu will wish to see as many of their family as possible before they die, and so they will expect to have many visitors. The family need to be told if their relative is likely to die so that they have the opportunity to perform the required ceremonies. They will often bring ritual items (such as Ganges water and holy dust) with them, and say prayers or read from their holy texts. They will not wish to leave their dying relative alone before death, and will usually try to ensure that at least one person is in attendance at all times. Failing that, it will be appreciated if a light is left on at the bedside. Not being given the opportunity to do any of these things will cause great distress, because allowing a relative to die alone is considered to be a disgrace on the family. Where possible, visiting times should be extended to allow for this, and the patient moved to a side room to accommodate a potentially large number of visitors.
The eldest son has a particularly important part to play in any rituals surrounding death in the family, and he may be expected – and may wish – to stay with his dying parent or relative, regardless of his age. This could be problematic if the eldest son is a child or even a baby.
dying suddenly or while unconscious
The normal process of dying requires a Hindu to concentrate their mind on their personal mantra, helping them to die in the right frame of mind for an easy reincarnation. However, if a patient is unconscious at the moment of death – or dies instantly such as in a car crash – then this will not be possible.
A family member will chant a mantra into the right ear of an unconscious person – or someone who died suddenly – and will place holy ash on their forehead. Vedic verses will be chanted, and milk or Ganges water will be trickled through the lips to nourish the atman until after cremation. If the patient is in hospital, then the family will appreciate a few minutes of privacy so that they can carry out these important rituals.
dying at home or abroad
As previously stated, many Hindus will prefer to die at home rather than in hospital, and may therefore ask to be discharged into the care of their family. Similarly, the parents of a dying child will expect to be able to take their child home and care for them until death.
Within the realm of Bharat – the total extent of the world known to ancient Hindus and blessed by Brahma – lies the city of Banaras, which is sited on the banks of the river Ganges. If a Hindu dies within the city limits, the holiness of the location ensures that they achieve moksha – the final end of their cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth (samsara). For this reason, some Hindus (perhaps from the older generation, or particularly devout Hindus) may ask to be discharged from hospital so that they can travel to Banaras and die there.
Donation, or selfless giving (daan), is the third of ten virtuous acts (niyamas) in Hinduism. Hindus have a strong belief in life after death and the ongoing process of rebirth. Organ donation can help to save the lives of others and is therefore acceptable within Hinduism. However, Hindus tend to believe that the organ carries with it some of the atman of the donor, and that the recipient takes on some of the aspects of the karma of the donor, including their emotions, likes and interests. They may also be concerned about the afterlife of the donor while part of him or her continues to live in the recipient.
Some Hindus may be happy to donate some organs (e.g. the corneas) but not others (e.g. the heart). Other Hindus may be horrified by the whole idea because it interrupts the samsara (cycle of birth and rebirth).
However, Hinduism presents no religious objection to blood transfusions, either as a donor or recipient; the atman resides in the organs and not in the blood.
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