In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section 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 and Sati
  • Dharma and Ethics
  • Death in Non-Hindu Indian Traditions
  • Suicide and Self-Sacrifice

Hinduism Death
by
Ariel Glucklich
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 March 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2023
  • 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, few works 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. More recent overviews are Doniger 2014 and Elmore 2006.

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

    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.

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

  • Doniger, Wendy. On Hinduism. New York: Oxford, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199360079.001.0001

    This substantial work contains several chapters on death and rebirth, on karma and on reincarnation. The material is based both on mythological and on more philosophical sources.

  • Elmore, Mark. “Contemporary Hindu Approaches to Death: Living with the Dead.” In Death and Religion in a Changing World. Edited by Kathleen Graces-Foley, 23–44. New York: Routledge, 2006.

    A contemporary empirical investigation of how death is understood in India today and how technological and ideological changes have influenced approaches to death.

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

    Presents a comprehensive survey of Indian ideas regarding death, as well as life. These concepts 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.

    Directed at a non-scholarly 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.

    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.

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

  • Schumbucher, Elisabeth, and Claus Peter Zoller. Ways of Dying: Death and Its Meanings in South Asia. New Delhi: Manohar, 1999.

    A general overview of conceptions of death and the process of dying based on conference presentations.

  • 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.

    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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