Everything does pass, and we can endure and we can survive!! – Rahul Dravid
On death the Individual Soul gets a subtle body. It is this subtle body which undergoes the experiences between birth and birth. That also carries the ‘black box’ of impressions, tendencies from one birth to another.
The process after death
None of us, not even the greatest of men, God Messiahs, prevail once the body departs! A new ‘energy, source or force rebuilds or destroys. Do we all then work for the fruits/rewards? Yes; so as to enjoy them here and now. In general we obey our traditions, environment, and conscience and do our works as it gives some kind of satisfaction. We don’t realize that it is all temporary; it passes and gets a new mould with the new time and space.
Why no past remembrance
Are we really conscious of our sins [being mad after money, jealousy, lust, selfishness] so that we cherish those memories after death? Do these become the red hot metal, boiling oil on our other body, the subtle body, different from this physical body? Would we after this experience turn to be kind and merciful? Why do we not remember anything of past [merits or demerits]? I think only the impressions; tendencies are carried, duly classified, instead of the whole of incidents or instances as it would be next to impossible to carry everything of so many pasts! Can we, even while alive, count or call back what all we did? Let us be frank enough. Many times we don’t want to.
World after Death
What is that world to which we all are destined to go from this world? I believe both this world and the destined world are all made by us by our own actions, dreams and the fiber of our personality, character.
Various worlds after death
These are different from the Gods’ and Devas’ worlds such as Brahma Loka, Vaikunta, Kailasa, Indra Loka etc. Depending upon your merits [punya] and penance one can reach these Lokas of Gods. Otherwise in the normal course, after death, the reference to different ‘Loka’, include: Yama Loka, Pitru Loka in south direction, Naraka Loka [hell], Swarga Loka [heaven]. All these are but different ‘state’ of understanding, realization. They are all true as long as we have not realized ourselves. They become immaterial or they don’t appear once the realization of Brahman dawns on us. So all these different world can be experienced by us with this very physical body here and now. If we can get to that state, stage that is moksha, freedom from bondage, freedom from death [so from birth too]! There is a hymn from Veda about the place where King Vivasvan’s son resides, a secret place in the heaven!
It is a practice amongst Hindus to have this purana read in the house from the first day of death up to and including the twelfth day. This deals with the journey of the Soul after death. It also gives a detailed account of the various ceremonies, rites to be carried out towards the dead body as well as the Soul. While performing ceremonies there are two kinds. One ceremony is for the natural death and the other is for unnatural like accident or suicide. It provides detailed instructions as to the number of days the ceremonies are to be conducted and what is to be done on each day. Directions are given right from placing the dead body right up to its reaching Pitru Loka. We all know Rahu Kala! There are two other ‘time-kala’ given in the almanac. They are Yamakandam and Kulika Kalam. The dead body should not be removed from the house to cemetery during Kulika Kalam. These ceremonies, rites in so far as it relates to Brahmins are done after taking into account the directions given in their respective Sutras [rules and regulations] like Bhodhayana Sutra or Apasthamba Sutra or any other Sutra as applicable.
Paths and Needs: There are detailed descriptions of the various paths, rivers and mountains that the Soul has to pass through before reaching the after death worlds. So as to make this travel smooth, food and water are offered during the rites conducted after death. Other needs are met through offering food and gifts to the deserving and through ‘mantras’. However the food provided to the dead on the tenth day will be without any taste [without salt, sweet] so that the dead get dejected and continue their further journey! There is a mention of one unimaginable ceremony which is completely forgotten [for good?!]. A living person and the dead body would be connected with a coir rope and through relevant mantras the ‘pretha’ state of the dead [a condition of the dead immediately after death] would pass on to this person and this person would be fed a feast. Such a person is supposed to be gifted with whatever he asks for [demands!]. [anything and everything including money, land, gold and precious metals and perhaps even kingdom]. Where can one find such persons to take or give such gifts? It is simply impossible to be conducted in the present days.
Soul of Suicide
What about Soul of the suicide? Such a one suffers more, becomes more unhappy and restless after discarding the body. Such a Soul comes to know that it was not merely the physical body and that its Soul has no death and has continuity! So such a thought, when it dawns, aggravates the agony, anguish, sorrow from which it thought it can escape! Given this perspective it would be difficult to deal with the subject of pulling the life out of the terminally ill.
Offerings to Dead
Offerings to pitrus are carried out in the normal course of a Hindu’s life. Though there are various ceremonies after the death [for twelve days] and offerings to pitrus at other times of the year, Hindus also have what is known as ‘Mahalaya Pakasham” of fifteen days during Purattasi [September 15 to October 15] for propitiating the dead! During these fifteen days Pitrus come down to us from their world to receive our offerings and to bless us. The Christians call it ‘All Souls’ Day’. The Mohammadens call it ‘Muhurram’. How do these offerings reach the pitrus while some of them might have taken even rebirth? The belief is that in whatever form the dead has taken, it reaches them through the effect of the Mantras and sincerity with which it is offered. Pitrus are offered ‘tharpanam’ for 96 days in a year. Tharpanam is a form of ‘debt being paid back’. It is offered to Gods, Hermits and Manes. It is libations of water and sesame seed. In Thamizh it is said “எள்ளும் தண்ணியும் இறைக்கணம்” [splashing sesame seed and water with relevant mantra]. Every year there is annual ‘sraddha’ ceremony. It is called ‘thivasam’ or ‘thevasam’. Thivasam literally means ‘the day’. Here is it is the day of death, the day to remember and honor our dead elders. Ceremonies to Pitrus are supposed to be done after the noon time which is the time when Pitrus arrive. Due to modern day life styles and constrains we perform these ceremonies as early as possible in the morning hours and get along with our day’s routines soon after! Offerings to ‘crows’ is offerings to Pitrus.