Hindu Funeral Rites : Only a Man’s Right?


Rahat Sharma is a final year Law student who is an ardent believer that every dark cloud has a silver lining. Through her words, she continues to pursue the same and is determined to bring about the change awaited.

Hindu Funeral Rites : Only a Man’s Right?

Since time without beginning, we have believed it to be true that women do not possess the right to perform last rites of the departing soul, or even worse, be present at the funeral ground. But how many of us have made an effort to understand the plausible reasons behind such a practice. Although being heavily preached in our nation, very few know that there exists no legal backing to this custom. Also, it isn’t entirely a custom too. It goes back in time, the time when our forefathers vehemently believed that only male of the family could light the fire of the pyre. The first preference was given to the eldest son of the deceased followed by rest of the male members in the family in case he had no son. All this was due to their belief of only a son possessing the power to pave the way for the soul to “moksha” or “heaven”. It was a preposterous desire of all in society to be blessed with a boy. This became a huge factor leading to female foeticide in the olden days. A girl child was regarded as a burden in the family due to dowry anyway and now furthermore as she would not lead them to heaven. However, this isn’t the only reason for the same.

Some other reasons given were:-

Emotional Fools – Yes, the reason given for preventing women in the funeral ceremony is that they are too emotional and weak-hearted. Due to this, they may not be able to watch the body of the deceased being burnt slowly. Also, while in the midst of the ceremony, if they commit the offence of shedding a tear, it would hamper the spirit from reaching it’s desired destination; heaven, thereby leaving it to wander about and haunt. 

Being a Female – A prevalent belief is such that firstly unmarried women must not be allowed since they are pure souls, an easy target of the evil spirits wandering in the Shamshan ghat. Secondly, since hair is regarded as a negative element of the body, it is important to shave one’s head to escape evil spirits from taking control. As it is presumed to be tough for women to shave off their heads, thus, they are told to remain at home. Lastly, even though loss is equal for all but a woman is expected to show her grief by staying home and cleaning up rather than being present at the funeral site.

Muscles are for Men – Another extremely valid reason given is that women, who are known to bear a child for 9 long months, don’t really possess the physical strength to perform rituals of the ceremony. This includes carrying the body, gathering wood or lighting the pyre fire with a log. 

Wondering about the origin of such logical and legitimate reasons? Going back in time, before the human race was blessed with technology, fire was created by rubbing two stones against each other. Since the task required a great deal of strength and of course, courage, the funeral rites were prejudiced and meant to be conducted only by men. Being followed for generations, this eventually was termed as a custom.

Property Melodrama– Oh! Who knew that there existed a connection between last rites and property fights? Somehow, it is based on an unfounded notion giving rise to this reason wherein as soon as a female is allowed to perform the last rites, she would be entitled to a right in property. Living in a patriarchal society like ours, ruled by the law of the man, society left no stone unturned in ensuring that women did not have equal rights.   

Defying all these above reasons, many women have taken action in the past. We may not know the names of all these brave hearts but one such example was Gopinath Munde’s daughter, Pankaja Munde who created history by performing her father’s antim sanskaar (last rites) in front of the entire nation. Unknowingly, she became the voice of the voiceless and broke the silence. We are one step closer today to overwrite this prejudice. You can check out the campaign called #MyDaughterWill. Rightfully, we must ignite the fire from within, and light the pyre, for this is no more a Man’s world ruled by Man’s laws. 

Opinions are of the writer.


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