“Hare Krishna” refers to the movement led by the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. This movement finds its roots in Hinduism, relying on the core scriptures of the Bhagavad Gita and the Shrimad Bhagavatam. Though its Hindu roots are thousands of years old, the Hare Krishna movement was first brought to the west by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in the 1960s. Because it is a relatively young belief system, Hare Krishna funeral customs may vary as the movement evolves.
Hindu Funeral Customs
As the Hare Krishna movement finds its roots in orthodox Hinduism, many followers have a traditional Hindu funeral. Although unmarried Hindus may be buried, married Hindus are typically cremated soon after death. Hindus bathe the body and anoint it with water, sandalwood and turmeric powder, dressing the body in new cloth. The body is placed on a bier, often near the shore of a river, and a Brahman and the departed's family chant mantras and make ritual offerings. After the cremation, the family collects the ashes and disperses them over holy waters, most commonly over a sacred river.
Hare Krishna Customs
Like most Hindu funerals, Hare Krishna funerals often entail cremation quickly after death. Mourners sometimes honor the dead by sprinkling rose petals over the coffin or bier. Incense, such as the essence of sandalwood, may also play a role at the funeral. As per the Hindu tradition, ashes are spread over holy waters as the Krishna faith specifically forbids the scattering of ashes over land.
Hare Krishna funeral customs often focus on simplicity. During a brief service, the body may be displayed in a simple wooden coffin. At the funeral ceremony, Hare Krishna priests may read from the Bhagavad Gita rather than leading mourners in hymns. The entire funeral process, from death to the spreading of the ashes, generally takes only one day.
Beliefs About Death
Followers of Hare Krishna believe in the concept of the eternal soul, which is at one with God, or Krishna. As the soul is part of Krishna and each person possesses a soul, the philosophy emphasizes connectedness and brotherhood. Hare Krishna practitioners also believe in the transmigration of the soul, more commonly known as reincarnation, after death. The act of scattering ashes over a holy river symbolizes the first step of the soul on its eternal journey.