In This Article Death

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Afterlife and Immortality
  • Karma and Rebirth
  • Folk Traditions
  • Ghosts, Possession, and Exorcism
  • Mythology
  • Ritual Impurity
  • Dying and Bereavement
  • Death in the Vedas, Sutras, Upanisads, and Puranas
  • Death in the Mahābhārata
  • The Widow
  • Dharma and Ethics
  • Death in Non-Hindu Indian Traditions

Hinduism Death
by
Ariel Glucklich
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 January 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0014

Introduction

Like every other religion, Hinduism has treated the subject of death as one of the major concerns of human life, both as an existential problem to be overcome and as a great intellectual, spiritual, and moral mystery. Death occupies many areas of the religious life of Hindus, including mythology, philosophy, medicine, ritual, social arrangements, and even sacred geography. It pervades high Sanskritic culture along with village and folk religions, and the scholarship bearing on the subject of death in India reflects this diversity. This article covers the broad range of areas and academic approaches to death throughout Hindu South Asia.

General Overviews

Due to the open-ended and fluid nature of this subject matter, there are very few works that focus exclusively on death and cover it in its full range of application. Filippi 1996 is the most thorough but Ghosh 1989 and Wilson 2003 are good overviews. Brief chapters in comparative volumes, such as Hopkins 1992, Hikita 2000, or Rambachan’s essays in Coward 1997, tend to be useful, if general, introductory approaches to death in India. Butzenberger 1996 introduces older scriptural approaches to the subject.

  • Butzenberger, Klaus. “Ancient Indian Conceptions of Man’s Destiny after Death.” Berliner Indologische Studien 9 (1996): 55–118.

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    Contains a general overview of major characteristics of the afterlife in the Vedas and Brahmanas, including the netherworlds, worlds of the fathers, the moral quality of man’s destiny in the afterlife, and its darkness and sufferings.

  • Coward, Harold G., ed. Life after Death in World Religions. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1997.

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    This broad survey includes three chapters by Anantanand Rambachan, covering the person and views of death and afterlife.

  • Filippi, Gian Giuseppe. Mrtyu: Concept of Death in Indian Traditions. Translated by Antonio Rigopoulos. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 1996.

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    Presents a comprehensive survey of Indian ideas regarding death, as well as life. These are drawn from philosophical systems, tribal and folk sources, scriptures, and myths. The book also discusses the relation of death and pollution.

  • Ghosh, Shyam. Hindu Concept of Life and Death as Portrayed in Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanisads, Smrtis, Puranas and Epics: A Survey and Exposition. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1989.

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    Directed at a nonscholarly Hindu readership and is programmatic. It presents a comprehensive overview and synthesis of a large number of texts on the topics of death and the afterlife, along with rituals that range from sraddhas to yoga.

  • Hikita, Hiromichi. “Funeral Ceremonies and the Destiny of the Dead.” In The Way To Liberation: Indological Studies in Japan. Vol. 1. Edited by Sengaku Mayeda, 13–29. New Delhi: Manohar, 2000.

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    A brief but detailed overview of the topic of death and the afterlife based on primary sources beginning in the Rig Veda and running through the Puranas.

  • Hopkins, Thomas J. “Hindu Views of Death and Afterlife.” In Death and Afterlife: Perspectives of World Religions. Edited by Hiroshi Obayashi, 143–155. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1992.

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    A brief but accurate general overview on the topic of death and the afterlife—a good starting point.

  • Wilson, Liz, ed. The Living and the Dead: The Social Dimension of Death in South Asian Religions. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003.

    E-mail Citation »

    Presents a wide-ranging collection of essays on the social dimension of death and death rituals. Contributions include siddhas, female Brahmin ritualists, Tamil rituals, Buddhist nuns, and other topics related to death and dying.

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