Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Nepalese funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Nicaraguan funeral traditions and Senegalese funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
Religious and Death Beliefs
Hinduism is the most common religion in Nepal with 81.3% of the population. The next most common religions are Buddhism at 9%, Islam at 4.4%, and Kiratism at 3%.
When it comes to death, both Hindus and Buddhists believe in reincarnation. For Hindus, the goal is to be released from the reincarnation cycle and achieve Moksha. For Buddhists, the goal is to escape the cycle by reaching Nirvana.
Nepalese Funeral Customs
For a Hindu Nepalese funeral, cremation is the most common end-of-life arrangement. However, it isn’t at a crematorium like here in North America. It takes place outside, typically on the banks of the Bagmati River. They also may hold a funeral service before the cremation takes place. As for Buddhists, they also may choose cremation or sky burials.
To begin the Hindu cremation process, they dip the body into the river three times. The chief mourner, who is usually the deceased’s son, lights the funeral pyre. The deceased’s family also participates in the funeral procession by bathing in the river or sprinkling holy water on themselves. They believe the river spiritually and physically purifies the family. After the cremation, some families put the cremated remains in an urn to spread during a special end of the year ceremony.
The mourning period length can vary, but it’s typically around 11 to 13 days long. It serves as a time to grieve, honor the deceased, memorialize them, and support their family and friends. During this time, mourners can’t eat certain vegetables or meat. They also can only wear white clothing and nothing made out of leather, such as belts, watches, or shoes.