This book comprises a smorgasbord of essays on death, dying, funeral rituals, ancestor ceremonies, ghosts, and other subjects in the realm of Mrityu, the god of Death, and aparam, the Sanskrit and Telugu word for human End Time. The focus stretches from the Rg Veda to present-day Hinduism, textual and non-textual. The title of the book is that of the first essay, an ethnographic and Vedic/Classical Sanskrit textual study of the sapindikarana ritual that occurs on the twelfth day of a full-scale, textually accurate funeral. That field work was accomplished during a year-long study of funeral rituals in Varanasi, the ancient city of Kasi where it is most auspicious for Hindus to die and be cremated in a final sacrifice of the body. Much of Hindu belief and practice stems from the personal fate of the preta, also known as the jiva, that survives obliteration of its used body.The intentions with this field study were first to provide textual and photographic documentation of one paradigmatic ritual in the extraordinarily rich and complex social and geographic diversity of Hindu funerary practices, and second to open for inspection of sraddha traditions in the key period of transition from Vedic to Puranic practice.
The need for a wide range of ethnographic studies of Hindu funeral and ancestor rituals is still a pressing one, particularly in an age when religious customs are rapidly changing and countless routines disappearing. When Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31, 1984 worldwide television coverage of her cremation funeral was an opportunity for millions to observe orthodox practice. The author was enlisted by the NBC News Network to provide step-by-step commentary. Outsider perception of that event, however, could not reveal the fact that every day in India thousands of people who consider themselves Hindus are given non-Brahman rituals including earthen and riverine burials. The curiosity about dying in India led the author to engage in