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Are Women Allowed To Conduct The Hindu Funeral Rites?

funeral rites women

Ever since Atal Ji’s funeral, the propensity to undermine Hindu rituals has been restarted by all those people who have not cared to examine the traditions, irrespective of their political leanings. To find self identifying Hindu Nationalists succumb to this deviation is a sign of worry. Upon seeing the funeral of their beloved leader in which his adopted daughter conducted the funeral rites, several pro-Hindu portals, intellectuals, supporters are adamant to prove that Hinduism is not patriarchal or misogynist and the recent funeral vindicates this assertion. This is exactly the same line of reasoning offered by the enemies of the Hindus and those Dhimmi Hindus who accuse the religion of misogyny. To agree with their line of reasoning and try to defend by using absurd arguments results in nothing but dilution of our own tradition. I find no difference between this issue and the Sabrimala temple issue. 

Before delving deep into the matter, let us see what the scriptures have to say in this regard. The injunctions of the scriptures follow a clearly laid out hierarchical order to follow in case of contradiction or confusion: Shruti, Smriti, Sutra, Purana. Some scholars posit an exchange in the positions of the Sutra and Purana, but there is complete unanimity regarding the first and second status of Shruti (Vedas) and Smriti respectively. In this regard, it is unambiguous that Vedas (Shruti) shall hold the highest status and all traditions should adhere to them, otherwise, they are nullified by their own contradiction.

The position of the Vedas on the funeral rites

Now I shall present the revelation of the Veda which is in itself a sufficient condition to settle the matter of funeral rites, and all other scriptures are merely complimentary to them but never the substitutes. It is heartening to see that Rig Veda has expounded on funeral and property rights, something which could have been very well absent in the presently known corpus of the Vedas (which are अलौकिक and hence source of all true knowledge), and in that situation one would have to look at other scriptures to ascertain the authenticity of the matter. The Rig Veda ‘reveals’ in the 3rd Mandal, and 31st Hymn the conclusion that it is not the daughter’s duty to cremate the parent when male heir still exist. The 3rd Mandal is the second oldest Mandal of the Rig Veda preceded by Mandal 6th, according to Shrikant Talageri, and several other Indologists who have examined the historical significance and chronology of the Rig Veda. And I agree with this hypothesis rather than of Western Indologists who have messed up the chronology in order to peddle the AIT nonsense, which is thoroughly disproven or atleast still unproven the last time I checked. The 3rd Mandal is, of course, a family Mandal of the Vishwamitra Gathinah. The concerned verses state the following:

शासद वह्निर्दुहितुर्नप्त्यं गाद विद्वान रतस्य दीधितिंसपर्यन | 
पिता यत्र दुहितुः सेकं रञ्जन सं शग्म्येन मनसा दधन्वे || 

Rigveda. 3.31.1

Wise, teaching, following the thought of order, the sonless gained a grandson from his daughter.
Fain, as a sire, to see his child prolific, he sped to meet her with an eager spirit.

न जामये तान्वो रिक्थमारैक चकार गर्भं सनितुर्निधानम | 
यदी मातरो जनयन्त वह्निमन्यः कर्ता सुक्र्तोरन्य रन्धन ||

Rigveda. 3.31.2

The son left not his portion to the brother, he made a home to hold him who should get it. 
What time His parents gave the priest his being, of the good pair one acted, one promoted.

In the verse, वह्नि or vahnih refers to an oblation-giver, sacrificer or a priest. Sayana, in his commentary on this verse refers to him as sonless, the father of his daughter only, and he transfers his property through his married daughter into another family. The sonless father, according to Sayana, “stipulates that his daughter’s son, his grandson, shall be his son, a mode of affiliation recognized by law; and relying on an heir thus obtained, and one who can perform his funeral rites, he is satisfied.” It is very important to understand that these verses have been considered very obscure in this hymn devoted to Indra, and so most commentators have failed to provide a satisfactory explanation because of the extremely disjointed and aloof nature of the verses. Following Sayana’s interpretation who states that after having obtained the son, the son does not leave his portion to “the brother”, in my firm opinion, this difficult verse offers a very subtle way towards realising its intent. It is pertinent to note that the verses have been revealed from the perspective of a “vahnih”, a particular sacrificer (all Aryas are sacrificers) who is sonless. The relationships exist with respect to this sonless man. He obtains a grandson from his daughter, who he can gain as his own son. Henceforth, he rushes to his daughter to meet his “prolific child”. The son doesn’t leave his portion (his duty to conduct the funeral rites of the man and acquire his property and perform oblations to him when he is deceased), to the brother of the “sonless man”. Here the brother referred to cannot be the older brother of the born child because then there wouldn’t even be the requirement of this younger child for the funeral rites of the sonless man. As already explained that the son referred to here is the acquired son of the sonless man, failing to acquire which the funeral rites and property would have passed down to the patrilineal kin (brother) of the sonless man and his descendants. 

He made a home refers to the Sanskrit portion गर्भ, which is the womb of the woman, which will hold the son in order to enter this world so that he gets the duty of the funeral rites and acquisition of the property of the sonless man. The parents of the son who is born give the “vahnih” (sacrificer, not necessarily a Brahmin priest, as there are multiple meanings of a word and all priests are sacrificers) his “being”. The being here refers to the child born who now belongs to the sonless man in the capacity that he has the duty to conduct the funeral rites of the man and acquire his property, which otherwise would have been the duty of the paternal kin of the sonless man. 

I think it is absolutely clear that it is no duty of the daughter to conduct the funeral as long as her son is present, and other male heirs are there. The question that is left is whether daughters can cremate if male heirs don’t exist. The answer is both a yes and no, depending on the context which is laid down in the subsequent arguments. By the grace of Indra, I have been able to offer the revelation of the Vedas interpreting in my extremely limited intelligence. I don’t claim to be eligible to interpret the Vedas correctly, but then anyone who can claim that is requested to offer the correct meaning.

Now the Upasana Kaand (Samhita) of the Vedas must be enough to dispel all confusion, and there should be no further need of the Karma Kaand (Brahmana) and Jnana Kaand (Arayanaka/Upanishad), or of any of the Smrities, Sutras or Puranas; but for the satisfaction of the naysayers I shall explain the position of the Smritis obtaining their authority from the Karma Kaand of the Vedas.

Manusmriti says the following in the situation of funeral rites:

He who has no son may make his daughter an ‘appointed daughter’ in the following manner: [He shall mark the declaration]—‘The child that may be born of her shall be the performer of my funeral rites’. 

He who has no son may make his daughter an ‘appointed daughter’ in the following manner: [He shall mark the declaration]—‘The child that may be born of her shall be the performer of my funeral rites’. – 9.127

In ancient times Dakṣa Prajāpati himself made ‘appointed daughters’ in this same manner, for the purpose of multiplying his race. – 9.128

He gave ten to Dharma, thirteen to Kaśyapa, and twenty-seven to King Soma,—having honoured them with an affectionate heart. – 9.129

The son is as one’s own self, and the daughter is equal to the son; hence so long as she is there in her own real character, how can anyone else take his property? – 9.130

Whatever may be the separate property of the mother is the share of the unmarried daughter alone; and the daughter’s son shall inherit the entire property of the man who has no son. – 9.131

The daughter’s son should inherit the entire property of the sonless father; he shall also offer two cakes—to the ‘father’ and to the ‘maternal grandfather.’ – 9.132

In this world, between the son’s son and the daughter’s son there is no difference, in law; for the father and mother of each of them were both born of his own body. – 9.133

But if a son happen to be born after the daughter has been ‘appointed,’ the division must be equal; as there is no seniority for the woman. 9.134

If the appointed daughter happen to die without a son, the husband of that appointed daughter may, without hesitation, take that property. – 9.135

Either appointed on not appointed, if a daughter bears a son to a husband of equal status, through that son does the maternal grandfather become endowed with a ‘son’s son’; he shall offer the funeral cake and inherit his property. – 9.136

Through the son one conquers the worlds, through the grandson he obtains immortality, and through the son’s grandson he attains the regions of the Sun. – 9.137

Because the Son delivers his father from the hell called ‘Put,’ therefore has he been called ‘Putra,’ ‘Deliverer from Put,’ by the Self-existent One Himself. – 9.138

Between the Son’s son and the Daughter’s son there is no difference in the world; since the daughter’s son also, like the son’s son, saves the man in the next world. – 9.139

These verses are unambiguous and resounding in their approach. They affirm the critical concept mentioned in the Vedas, Manusmriti and other scriptures that a man is born again through his wife in the form of a child (both son and daughter). The son is one’s own self and the daughter is equal to the son therefore when the daughter has a son no one else must take the property. Manu mentions that in this world there is no difference in the son’s son and daughter’s son (although its evident that son’s son has the primary duty to offer funeral cake than daughter’s son). In case of a sonless man, whatever be the personal property of a woman (Streedhana) is the property of the unmarried daughter only but the daughter’s son gets the property of the man. The daughter’s son should offer two cakes (funeral rites), to his biological father and maternal grandfather. Its also mentioned that the appointed daughter’s husband (son-in-law) has the duty if she has no son.

The etymology of Putra is clearly explained. Putra is one who saves the man from ‘Put’ or hell (by carrying out his duty towards Pitris). In that case, Putri must also save her father from hell, but if she doesn’t have the duty to conduct funeral rites, in what capacity does she save the father from hell? Surely, by giving birth to her son who fulfills the duty towards the man. The daughter may also be called Putri because she helps the man to fulfill one of the obligations towards “Manushya” which is separate from the obligation towards Devas, Rishis, and Pitris. In fact, a person has an obligation towards Bhutas (elemental forces of nature) as well. The daughter enables a different family to propagate its lineage after marriage and in this manner absolves the man of his responsibility by adopting the Pitris of her husband’s family, a phenomenon which is the consequence of the “Kanyadaan” ritual, another much-maligned ritual that has become an eyesore to the Neo-Hindutvawadi Feminists. The daughter is officially initiated into the lineage of the other family by absolving her of the duty towards the ancestors and descendants of her father’s family.(as she cannot marry within the family, so doesn’t have any obligation to have to continue the lineage of this father).

The position of the Dharma Sutras and other Smritis on funeral rites

Now having concluded the laws of Manav Dharma Shastra by Manu, I shall explain the position of the Dharma Sutras briefly because they strictly adhere to Manu Smriti. In the Apsthambha, Boudhayana, Gautama and Vasistha Dharma Sutras, the same sequence is followed. 

A father who has no son should offer an oblation to Fire and Prajapati, proclaim ‘Your son is for my benefit’, and appoint his daughter. – 28. 18 (Gautama)

According to some, he may appoint the daughter by his mere intention. – 28.19 (Gautama)

The estate of a man who dies sonless is shared by those related to him through ancestry, lineage, or a common seer and by his wife. – 28. 19 (Gautama) 

This shows that the property is shared between his paternal kin who cremate the man, and the property is also compulsorily shared with the wife of the deceased man. 

If one among many brothers of the same father has a son, then through that son they all become men who have sons––so states a Vedic text. – 17.10 (Vasistha)

If one among many wives of the same husband has a son, then through that son they all become women who have sons––so states a Vedic text. – 17.11 (Vasistha)

Now, these two Sutras are exceptionally informative. They establish that if a man is childless (no son or no daughter), in that case the sons of his brother are authorized and eligible to conduct the funeral of him and his wife. They also establish that if a woman has a daughter but no son, and if the husband of the woman has sons through other wives, then that woman is mother of the son from the other wife as well and that son can conduct the funeral rites of the woman.

The position of the Garuna Purana on funeral rites

Now we have seen the position of the Dharma Sutras and till now there is no authority given to daughters regarding funeral rites. Now lets observe what Puranas have to say in this regard. Garuda Paruna which deals with death prominently says the following:

If there is no son the wife, should perform them (ten-days’ ceremonies) and if no wife the brother; or a Brâhmiṇ’s pupil or a proper kinsman should perform them. – 11.13 

The ten-days’ ceremonies, for the man who has no son, should be performed by the sons or grandsons of his younger or his elder brother, O Bird; – 11.14

Manu declared that if, of brothers of the same father, only one has a son, they are all considered, on account of that son, to have a son. – 11.15

If a man has several wives, but only one of them has a son, all of them have a son, on account of that son. – 11.16

Now don’t let the verse 13 confuse you because its mentioned that the wife can perform the ceremonies. The ceremonies are the ten-days’ ceremonies after the funeral and not the funeral rites. The succeeding verses clearly establish the position of Shruti, Smriti and Sutra that if the man has a brother who has a son, then that son should perform the funeral rites of the sonless man and his wife. Now, if we were to read between the lines and consider a situation where a man has no son, no brother, no brother’s sons or grandsons, no daughter’s son and no son-in-law, only then the wife may be eligible to perform the funeral rites herself before carrying out the ten-days’ ceremonies. Its interesting to realise that even the Puranas haven’t explicitly stated that daughters are themselves eligible to perform funeral rites and they actually point towards the wife who may perform them even in the presence of the daughter! Although it’s a logical conclusion that daughter maybe authorised when all other options are exhausted including the wife, according to Puranas. 

Countering juvenile arguments against the Shastric position 

These were the scriptural evidences in favour of the continuous tradition of funeral rites that have been largely followed unadulterated since time immemorial but face an existential threat from sentimental, so-called-progressive Hindus who love to flatter themselves with the proposition that since they are BJP supporters or they perform Yoga in their personal life or they are great adherents of the Bhakti Marg, so they must be above the law and start peddling absurd arguments that Hinduism is ‘boundless’ or ‘infinite’ or ‘ever-changing’ and is not bound by any “rules”. Now, after establishing the scriptural supremacy of the traditions, I am going to launch a scathing attack on those juvenile arguments that seek to dismantle our laws and traditions by delving into the लौकिक aspect of the situation, because people cannot grasp अलौकिक truths through their limited perception. 

Some people are inclined to indulge in Brahmin-phobia by making baseless allegations of an unhealthy Brahminical supremacy on those that stick to the traditions. When they are told to abandon the Brahminical laws because they do not respect the institutions and Rishis, they hashtag #ToHellWithManusmriti and accuse others of being sexist and misogynist Brahmins. Countering their grotseque perceptions, let me remind that the laws have been derived from the Brahmins due to the simple reason that they alone are the “adhikari” to teach the Vedas. Other Varnas are permitted to study the Vedas but even in times of distress they are prohibited to teach the Vedas which are the exclusive traditional duty of the Brahmins. This means that they have no right to start an oral tradition, and hence all the laws derived from the Vedic corpus are Brahminical laws. There is no doubt regarding this fact between both Western and Swadeshi scholars and commentators. There is a huge debate on the fact whether someone is a Brahmin by birth or by Karma, but today is not the day to expound on that. The fact remains that in either situation, the laws of various rituals and rites are Brahminical laws. To express one’s disdain for Brahmins by peddling Brahmin-phobia and questioning them for maintaining traditions is horrendous and there is no doubt that such people were Patita (fallen) according to erstwhile standards. To disparage young Brahmins who use the words “Brahminical laws” and for others to blame those young Brahmins for giving others the reason to hate them is both obnoxious and hateful.

Daughters who want to snatch away the duties of men in order to quench their ignorance and ego should spare a second to think about the younger brothers who get no opportunity to lead the funeral. God forbid if younger brothers decided to break all traditions and start fighting for “equal rights”. Rather than doing the cardinal mistake of equating apples and oranges, in form of men and women, the women should concentrate more on the fact that they are obligated to do Shraddh for the ancestors of their husband’s family, just like younger brothers end up performing the same job which has suddenly started to appear lowly to some people. Apparently, lighting the pyre has become the new road to empowerment now.

Financial aspects of the situation

Delving further deep into the matter, lets consider the financial aspects of the situation. The person who has the duty to cremate is also obligated to finance the entire thing right from the funeral to the 13th day. The younger brothers may or may not contribute to the expense according to their whims (although almost all sons contribute according to their capacity, but I have seen infighting over this in real life among people in rural areas with my own eyes). So, the eldest son has the singular responsibility to arrange for all the finance, and Manusmriti exhorts him to even beg at the doorstep of an outcaste to fulfil this obligation. Such is the norm. How cool is that now? The eldest son is suddenly duty bound and should start saving money for his parents’ funeral as well besides funding his children’s education, life expenses, savings and investments, lest his younger brothers give him the cold shoulder at the last moment. This also explains why its more of a duty than a right, and any attempt to dismantle the order prescribed in the scriptures is akin to snatching away the duty of the authorised person. 

I have never expressed that women are altogether banned from cremating. I have maintained that women are eligible as the last resort when all other valid options are exhausted. Regarding Brahmavandin women, they can be categorised into two situations: those who marry and those who don’t. Regarding those who marry, they are bound to the same rules as mandated in the scriptures for other women, because their husbands are ordained in the Vedas as well just like them. Rishis realised the concept of hypergamy adequately. If the woman is an unmarried Brahmavandin as found in the Vedas in certain verses, she is eligible to perform the rites if she has no brother or if the brother is not initiated into the learning of the Vedas. That is the only exception. 

Additionally, there is no penal provision for transgressing the procedure of funeral rites, and so even in the past the King was not sanctioned to impose any punishment for transgressing the rites. Similarly, there is no penal provision in present times, and cremation by women is sporadically found albeit regularly in today’s times and it shall continue to. However, that doesn’t give the authority to promulgate these incidents and to normalise them. Dismantling traditions owing to one’s own convenience is a travesty of Dharma and everyone participating in it willingly is bound by Karmic laws. Rather than virtue-signalling other people, or labelling them with the glorious epithets of a ‘patriarchal’, ‘sexist’, ‘misogynist’, or of deliberately promoting revisionist tendencies in lieu of one’s delusion and vilifying the entire Hindu resurgence movement , one should learn to maintain the few proper rituals that are still prevalent since time immemorial, the chiefest of which are the marriage and funeral rituals. 

It is better to abandon the funeral rites altogether if one wants to contribute to the loss of tradition willingly. There is no doubt in my mind that electric funeral using solar power shall become the new norm in future. It’s an insult to the Vedic hymns that are chanted during such funerals and one should completely do away with this high poetry, and be done with all the ‘Brahminical’ laws that constitute the religious traditions of this mighty land, the land that was once ruled by the mighty Bharatas, sanctified by innumerable Rishis alluding to the Guru-Shishya Paramapara. There is much more to say, but the arguments are countless while time is limited. 

Verily, with the following words I conclude this 3800 word write-up.

नमः सदास्मै जगद ईश्वराय; लॊकत्रयेशाय पुरंदराय।

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