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Cremation Ceremony

Rituals after death: Several rituals are to be performed for the peaceful and satisfactory send-off of the inner soul (Aatmaavu) of the person who dies and to integrate the inner soul with Lord Vishnu. These are to be done mainly by sons and grandsons (one each of each daughter) of the dead person. These rituals are described below: (Click here for Impending Death)

1. Cremation: Namboothiris believe in cremating the dead body, which should be done as early as possible after death. Even arrival of sons and daughters need not be awaited, as the dead body disintegrates fast. Just before death, the body has to be laid on the floor which has been, carpeted with sand and Dharbha Pullu (a variety of grass). Spiritual hymns (Cheviyilothu) are to be recited in the ear of the dying person in order to mesmerize or spiritualise him/her at the time of death. It is believed that this process may lead to accepting death with peace and tranquility. Water (preferably Kaasi Theertham) has to be poured in the mouth of the person by kith and kin. Once death is confirmed, kith and kin are to walk around the body (circumambulate, Pradakshinam Vekkal) and do "Namaskaaram" (men in prostrate position and women in folded knee position). After bathing, the Seshakriyakkaar (those performing rituals) have to clean the body, in the step-by-step ritual as given in the respective reference manual ("Chadangu Pusthakam") as per the family's Vedic sub-division. Othikkan (Vedic expert) of the family has to be consulted in case of doubts.

2. The body is then covered using a long unbleached cloth, properly tied on to a specially made bed of bamboo, and carried away by the sons. Female members do not come out of the house. Some classes of Namboothiris have certain rituals to perform on the way to the funeral pyre while some others have some Manthrams to chant and rituals to perform by laying the body on the western side of the funeral pyre. Several rituals are to be performed after keeping the body on the pyre.

3. The funeral pyre is arranged in the north-south direction. The body is then laid on the pyre made of mango tree logs with head towards south and legs to north. The body is covered with more logs. The Sruvam (long wooden spoon) which was used during marriage and the subsequent "Oupaasanam" of the dead person, has to be kept on the nose of the dead body. Several Manthrams and rituals are then to be done before and after lighting the pyre, the process taking at least two hours. After cremation, Udakakriya (described below) has to be performed. The participating persons then take bath. Food should not be taken by anybody in that family, once they hear of the death until after bathing following cremation.

4. Sons, daughters and grandsons (daughters' sons) of the dead person and those who have to do further rituals are called "Sheshakriyakkaar". They have to do some/all further rituals like Udakakriya, Bali, Pindam, Deeksha, Sapindi and Sraadham. Those who have "Pula" (pollution) can now become clean by performing "Punyaaham", ( Click here for 'Punyaaham' details) which is the traditional step by step process of cleansing themselves (after bathing), performed by five other Namboothiris.

5. "Ekarcha-samskaaram": If death occurs on or after the twelfth day of birth, but before completing eight years (eleven years in the case of girls), "Ekarcha-samskaaram", a shorter version of the regular Samskaaram, will do. But there is no difference in "Pula", "Pindam", "Sapindi", "Sraadham", etc.

Pula (Pollution, defilement): The first ten days are observed as "Pula" for all family members of the dead person. Other families having same ancestorship as that of this family, also observe "Pula". Married daughters have "Pula" only on the first three days. If the dead person is a married lady, then her original family members have three days' Pula. During Pula, family members should not touch water wells, deity, or enter kitchen, temple, etc. Also, they have saveral other don'ts. Hence cooking has to be done by other Namboothiri families, not having Pula relationship with this family.

Pulassudham: Pulassudham is to be observed by all the family members throughout these days, which is part of keeping the neatness. As part of Pulassudham, common family articles touched by those having Pula, are to be cleansed properly. Other Namboothiris (male and female), if accidently touched by Seshakriyakkaar, are to undergo "Punyaaham" (described above), after taking bath. If touched by other Pula members, Namboothiris (men and women) need only a traditional bathing.

Udakakriya: During those 10 days, after performing the daily rituals like  Sandhyaavandanam (silently performed during this period), male Shesahakriyakkaar and others having Pula have to do "Udakakriya". Since Udakakriya needs more than one bathing, it is usually conducted on the bank of bathing pond or river. After Udakakriya and the bathing, "Kottubali" (or Patta Naatti Kriya) has to be performed in the "Nadumittam" (central quadrangle inside the house) using "Kavyam". Kavyam is the cooked raw rice to be offered to the inner soul of the dead person. All these steps need several other items and utensils like Darbha (a type of long grass), Pavithram (pointed finger ring made of Darbha), Cheroola (leaves of a special herb), Ellu (sesame), Manjal (turmeric), Thulasi (sacred basil for Ganapathi Homam) etc.

Food: The Seshakriyakkaar eat only once a day during those 10 days, and that too without using salt. Rice, banana, curd, ginger, coconut and "Avil" (flattened rice) are the allowed food items.

Pindam (and Bali by daughters): On the 11th day, sons and sons of daughters perform Pindam, while Bali is performed by daughters. Both Pindam and Bali have standard, algorithmic, long processes, that require atleast 3 hours. Several other Namboothiris are to be fed. This process also varies dependng upon the type of each of the Seshakriyakkaar. For example, sons follow the prescribed rituals of the dead person. Daughters (and their sons) follow methods prescribed for their husband's (father's) family. Some of the steps are to be done by daughters of the dead person, also. Other than the items used for Udakakriya, this process needs "Anjanam", curd, sandalwood paste, "Then" (honey), etc.


In the case of an unnatural death, instead of the usual "Pindam", "Naaraayanabali" has to be performed. Namboothiris should not touch the dead body. Cremation and "Sanchayanam" are done by "Soodrans" and not by the "Pindakarthas" or other Namboothiris. The usual "Samskaaram", "Punah:samskaaram" and Sanchayanam must not be performed, and if done even inadvertently, a "Praayaschitham" called "Thaptham Krichhram" should be performed.

What constitutes unnatural death - is purely subjective. Suicide, murder, dog / snake bite, being gored to death by an elephant, etc. are all considered unnatural, requiring Naaraayanabali, unless one got killed accidentally, like getting trampled by elephant. In case of doubt, the "Othikkan" (click), and finally the "Vaidikan" (click) decides whether it was unnatural or otherwise.

Unlike the normal 10/3-day "Pula" (click - "Defilement caused by Birth or Death of a Relative), unnatural death results only in pollution ("Asuddhi") for the husband / wife and children similar to "Uppupula", except that others shall not perform sacred rituals like "Sraadhham" sitting with such polluted persons. Other members of the Illam and close relatives get purified just with a bath. Those who are to perform Naaraayanabali shall not touch anyone, enter temples, nor eat rich food; they can perform the daily rituals like Sandhyaavandanam.

On the day prior to Naaraayanabali, after performing Sanchayanam (by Soodrans), a special "Daanam" (offering) called "Praajaapathyam Krichhram" should be offered to pious Namboothiris invited for this purpose. This is to lessen the severity of the sin, which supposedly caused the unnatural death.

The soul of the dead is believed to merge with those of his ancestors through the performance of "Sapindi" (click), but not with unnatural death, owing to the severity of his sins. Namboothiris believe that the next best thing is to merge the soul with Vishnu through Pooja, though without attaining "Moksham" (salvation). Unlike the case of natural death, the annual Sraadhham is to be performed, though some Vaidikans assert that it is not.

During the first year of an unnatural death, only the Naaraayanabali needs to be performed, whereas, with natural death, 16 "Shodasa-pindams" (see box) are to be performed before the first anniversary Sraadhham. The Sraadhham ritual is identical to the normal one.


"Deeksha" (period of mourning and abstinence) is for one year, during which "Pindam" is to be performed on 16 specified days. These are collectively called "Shodasa-pindam".


1 11th day
2 30th day
3 41st day
4 to 14 (11) Every month on the death-star ("Nakshathram")
[It is called "Maasam Oottal"]
15 171st day; "Shad-maasam Oottal"
[Easily calculated as the third day after the day of the week of death after five months and the "Idappakkam" (dark or "Karutha-dwaadasi").]
Eg.: If death occurred on a Tuesday and white or "Velutha-dwaadasi", then the 171st day will be the Friday after five months.
16 346th day; "Samvatsaram Oottal.
[Found as above, but 11 months instead of 5 months.]

On all the above-mentioned 16 Pindams, a pious ("Uthaman") Braahmanan symbolizing the deceased, and another symbolizing his "Pretham" (soul) and "Sishyan" (assistant) should be fed.

If "Deeksha" is observed only for 41 days, one Pindam is performed on the 11th day, one the 30th day and 14 on the 41st day.

If instead, Deeksha is over on the 12th day, the first one will again be on the 11th day, and all the remaining 15 Pindams will be on the 12th day.


If there are no male persons eligible to perform "Pindam" for the deceased - sons, the person whose "Upanayanam" was performed by him, or near relations, "Pindakartha" - any Namboothiri who belongs to the same "Charanam" ( a Kausheethakan for a deceased Kausheethakan, etc.), may perform the Pindam, and is called "Cooli-pindam".


If "Pindam" falls on Tuesdays or Fridays, "Santhi-homam" should follow Pindam. On the ground south of where Pindam was performed, a stone mound symbolising a mountain is formed, and Santhi-homam performed just north of it, and "Kaalan" (representative of "Yaman", the god of death) is, again symbolically, driven away across the mountain. Kaalan is said to visit the family on such days, and quite reluctant to leave. This Homam is believed to drive him away.

Restrictions for "Saamavedis"

Saamavedis" are restricted from performing "Pindam" on stars, Uthram, Uthraadam, Uthrattaathi and Rohini. If the performer is a Saamavedi, it is performed on the next day. If the deceased belongs to a "Charanam" different from a Saamavedi daughter, her performing "Bali" is also postponed to the next day.


Some Aadhhyan (elite) Namboothiris, during Pindam, perform an Agni Homam (offer to Agni, god of fire / energy), although not prescribed in the texts on Vedams. Some of them drop the offering ("Thooval") on the north and south sides of the fire pit (Agni Kundam), while some others do it only on the south side.

Daughters performing Pindam have to ritually feed another Namboothiri. One Namboothiri each is required for "Pasu Daanam", "Dasaaham Daanam", Ekoddishtam Daanam", "Ekoddishtam Oottal" (representing the soul of the dead person), Daanam before Homam or Bali, and Daanam by her son (if any) before "Pindam Vekkal"

Deeksha: Deeksha (penitential discipline, penance) period is flexible. Each Seshakriyakkaaran (participant) may opt for 12 days, 41 days or 1 year. During Deeksha period, Seshakriyakkaaran has to do "Nithya Sraadham" (daily "Sraadham"), which is another ritual to be carried out with several Manthrams and processes. Strict Brahmacharyam has to be observed. Sexual relationship, shaving and haircut are not allowed during Deeksha. One outside Namboothiri (on behalf of the dead person's inner soul) has to be fed, once in a day, in algorithmic and traditional manner (Kaalukazhukichoottal). On the monthly death-day during Deeksha, two outside Namboothiris are to be fed in the same manner. Strictly, only lunch and dinner are allowed. Uluva, Kaayam, milk, Ulli (onion), red chilly, Muthira and Pappadam are prohibited. Only coconut oil made in the family or pure ghee is to be used.


Deeksha observed for the dead refers to the self-negation during the year-long mourning period. Apart from the normal daily routines like "Sandhyaa Vandanam", certain other rituals are also to be performed daily during this period. Deeksha is to be performed by all those who have performed Pindam.

In addition to the daily rituals, ritualistic feeding of Namboothiris is to be done on 16 different occasions. The first is on the 11th day of death, then on each of the 12 occurrences of the star ("Nakshathram") on which the person died (12 Maasa Pindams), the 41st day ("Thripaksha Maasam"), the 171st day ("Shad Maasam"), and the 346th day ("Samvatsara Maasam"). On each of these 16 occasions one perfect Namboothiri is to be offered a meal in the traditional style ("Kaalu Kazhukichu Oottal"), preceded and followed by prescribed rituals. These are to be performed by those who observe Deeksha.

Sapindi: Sapindi is the process of integrating the inner soul (Aatman or Aatmaavu) to God Vishnu's abode (Vaikunttham). Sapindi of father has to be done first before doing it for mother. Hence, if the mother dies first, the process of Sapindi for mother is usually delayed till father's death.


"Sapindi" for the dead is performed with the goal of ritualistically merging his soul or spirit with those of the immediate three paternal forefathers - father, grandfather and great grandfather. If any of the three are alive at the time, Sapindi is postponed until after the death of all three. In the case of married women, the three will be her husband, his father and grandfather.

As a part of Sapindi, seven perfect Namboothiris are fed in the traditional ritualistic manner. Two of them represent "Viswadevathaas" (gods of earth) for receiving their blessings, three represent the three immediate forefathers, one, the departed soul, and one, a passer-by ("Vazhipokkan").

Deeksha Veedal (Release): Veedal is the process of closing the chapter of these rituals at the end of Deeksha. If inconvenient, Deeksha can be terminated ("Deeksha Veedal") either on the 12th day (the day after the Pindam), or on the 41st day. In either case, the Kaalu Kazhukichu Oottal for the remaining future occasions must still be performed. On the terminating day in the latter case, the 30th day is to be observed as a traditional feast day for the departed soul.

Sraadham: Sraadham is another step by step process to be performed by Seshakriyakkaar, on the death anniversary day, every year. It also has several Manthrams and processes.

A Namboothiri usually has to perform all the above rituals for his father, mother, grandparents, bachelor or married uncles (brothers of father) having no sons in the same caste, person who was his Aachaaryan during his Upanayanam, etc.


If a child dies before it is 11 days old, its cremation is performed by a member of the Nair community, with a Bhoomidaanam ritual in which Namboothiris do not participate. Pindam, Sapindi and Sraadhham are not performed

Summary of Manthrams: As mentioned in the begining, Manthrams are to be drawn from the prescribed  book meant for the respective class of Namboothiri. However, summary of all these cremation Manthrams is more or less the same. Thus, for Aaswalaayanans the eldest son recites Manthrams, some of which are his own requests, while some others are on behalf of the inner soul and the dead body. Several Manthrams are chanted to show to the inner soul a safe path to Vaikuntam, to make it immortal in Vaikuntam, for cleansing the funeral pyre by sending off previous souls present there, etc. There are Manthrams to God to help burning the body so as to enable the participants to take out bones later.

| Article No:8.5 | Last update of this article:2nd November 2004 |
Article prepared by: P.Vinod Bhattathiripad and K.D.Nambudripad with inputs from P.M.Narayanan Namboodiri, Perangalloor Mana, Ongallur, Pattambi, Palakkad dt.

1. "Aaswalaayana Grihya Manthram" written by Porakkudinjam, Published by P.G.N.Bhattathiripad, Choolissery - 680 548, Kerala (1987, Kairali Press, M G Road, Thrissur-1, Kerala.)
2. "Ente Smaranakal" by Kanippayyoor Sankaran Nambudiripad, 2nd edition, 1171 (1995), published by Panchamgam Press, Kunnamkulam, Thrissur dt.

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