Quellenkunde zur indischen Geschichte bis 1858

5. Unbewegliche Hinterlassenschaften

6. Burial customs / by Edward Balfour (1885)

hrsg. von Alois Payer


Zitierweise / cite as:

Balfour, Edward <1813-1889>: Burial customs (1885). -- (Quellenkunde zur indischen Geschichte bis 1858 / Alois Payer ; 5. Unbewegliche Hinterlasenschaften, 6.). -- Fassung vom 2008-03-31. -- http://www.payer.de/quellenkunde/quellen056.htm 

Erstmals publiziert in:

Balfour, Edward <1813-1889>: Cyclopædia of India and of eastern and southern Asia, commercial, industrial and scientific: products of the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms, useful arts and manufactures / ed. by Edward Balfour. -- 3rd ed. -- London: Quaritch. -- Vol. 1. -- 1885. -- S. 516  - 522.

Erstmals hier publiziert: 2008-03-31


Anlass: Lehrveranstaltung FS 2008

©opyright: Public Domain

Dieser Text ist Teil der Abteilung Sanskrit  von Tüpfli's Global Village Library

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In the south and east of Asia, the modes of disposing of their dead are almost as varied as are the races themselves. It has been remarked that the mode of disposing of the dead has from the earliest times been symbolomatic of the opinions as to the worth of the deceased while he was amongst them, or indicative of their views as to the future condition of the departed. In general there has been little display over the remains of women ; but whether with men or women, the prevailing habit has been to convey the remains to some quiet resting-place with a decorous solemnity, and there erect some lasting memorial over them. [...]

At the present day, monuments erected [S. 517] with brick or stone, and in the form of pillars or upright or horizontal slabs of stone, or cupolas, or upright, or sarcophagi, beneath which the remains are laid, are usual modes of marking the deceased's resting-place. But in more primitive times's, the cairn or heap of stones, the monolith, the cromlech, the circle, the heaped-up barrow of the Celtic tribes, the tumulus, as the Romans called it, were usually resorted to, and many of these to be seen in the south and east of Asia.

The cairn was formed of stones gathered from the vicinity, and set round about the resting-place of the dead and piled over them ; and this is all that is given to the Mahomedan pilgrim who falls in the desert. The monolith or single stone was usually placed perpendicularly near the spot. The cromlech, consisting of two, three, or more upright stones, with a flat stone placed over them, formed a sepulchral chamber, and was the earliest approach to the cupola or dome. The circle, or enclosure of upright stones set singly at varying spaces apart, are found surrounding the cromlech or cairn. The barrow, or tumulus, often raised to a considerable height, and covering a large area, is the most noble, and has been the most enduring ; and with these the bodies of the departed were not interred in graves sunk below the surface, but were placed on the surface of the ground, and then the earth was heaped up. The barrows, many of which have been opened, are found sometimes to contain skeletons, in other cases urns only, while occasionally both urns and skeletons, or urns and ashes, appear together. The urns are often found to contain burnt bones and relics ; but in the earliest barrows are war weapons, such as stone hatchets and hammers, celts of the same material, both arrow-heads and spear-heads of flint, with beads of various substances, and torques or collars and armlets of gold or bronze. Somewhat later, the celts and weapons are of bronze, and the sword is found to have been broken, indicative that the warrior's race had been run. The ornaments remain the same, and coins are found.

The methods adopted for the disposal of the dead from the most ancient times have been interment, burning, embalming, launching into rivers, and exposure. [...]

In British India, and in all the south and east of Asia, interment, cremation, and exposure are all practised by one or other of the races occupying it. [...]

... as the Hindus from remote India send the bones, or the entire bodies, to the Ganges at [S. 518] Benares. There, Chagda or Chackrada, near Sooksagur, is an abyss said to have been made by the chariot wheel of Bhagirath. The place is a great Golgotha, where the dead and dying are brought from a great way off to be burnt and consigned to the Ganges. The deceased is seldom conveyed by any of his relations, unless from a short distance. Poor people generally send forward their dead for incremation in charge of bearers, who never betray the trust reposed in them.


Colonel Tod tells us that the tumulus, the cairn, or the pillar, are still raised over the Rajput who falls in battle ; and throughout Rajwara sacrificial monuments are found, on which are seen, carved in relief, the warrior on his steed, armed at all points ; his faithful wife (sati) beside him, denoting a sacrifice ; and the sun and moon on either side, emblematic of never-dying fame. Tod's Rajasthan, i. p. 74.

In Saurashtra, also amidst the Cathi, Comani, Balla, and others of Scythic descent, numbers of palia or joojar (sacrificial pillars) are conspicuous under the walls of every town, in lines, irregular groups, and circles. On each is displayed in rude relief the warrior, with the manner of his death, lance in hand, generally on horseback, though sometimes in his car ; and on the coast the pirates of Budha are depicted boardirg from the shrouds.

In the Panjab, near Bamian, in Afghanistan, and near Kabul, the sepulchral monuments remaining of ancient times are topes. They consist of a mound, on which is erected a cupola, supported by walls of masonry, more or less in a Grecian style of architecture. One near Manikyala is 80 feet high and 320 feet in circumference. In its centre were found vessels of gold, silver, and copper, with coins of Rome and the Bactrian Greeks. In a chamber 60 feet deep was a copper box containing animal remains. It is one of many topes or stupas.

Many cairns are found in different parts of Southern India, and, prior to the stupas or topes, this seems to have been a common mode of covering the dead. Indeed, as Colonel Cunningham remarks, the tope is only a cairn regularly built. On the Neilgherry hills are found remains of cairns, cromlechs, kistvaens, and circles of upright loose stones, which are nearly identical with those found in Europe in the ancient seats of the Celts. In these cairns are found vases, cinerary urns, and other vessels of glazed pottery, which sometimes contain human bones, more or less charred, and mixed with ashes ; sometimes a little [S. 519] charcoal alone. Theyy are met with in various districty in the Presidency of Bombay, in almost every part of the Dekhan and peninsular India, from Nagpur to Madura, in immense numbers on the Animaly, a range on the south side of the great Coimbatore gap, which forms the commencement and northern face of the Southern Ghats, those on the Animally being of a more advanced order and a better condition than the Neilgherry tombs. [...] Major Congreve directed much attention to those on the Neilgherry Hills; and Captain Meadows Taylor discovered and examined a large number of these remains at Rajan Kooloor, in Sorapur, and also at Siwarji, near Firozabad, on the Bhima, and devoted much attention to the comparison of them with similar remains found in England. He calls them Scytho-Celti cor Scytho-Druidical. Neither the hill people, the Toda and Kurubar, nor any Hindu, knows anything about the race to which these sepulchral remains belonged ; and neither in Sanskrit literature nor in that of the Dravidian languages is there any tradition on the subject. The Tamil people generally call these cairns Pandu-kuri. Kuri means a pit or grave, and Pandu may refer to the Panda or Pandava brothers, to whom so much of Hindu mythology relates. The race who raised these cairns were probably dwellers in the country prior to the advent of the present Dravidian occupants, and were expelled by or ultimately became absorbed in the latter ; or they may have been a nomade shepherd race, who had wandered into India after it was peopled and settled, and then wandered out again, or became absorbed amongst the people of the country. But the remarkable fact connected with the people whose religious rites and usages of sepulture gave rise to these cairns, is that they have everywhere disappeared from Southern India, and not even a tradition of their existence survives.

In the centre of peninsular India, around Hyderabad, in the Dekhan, and at Bolarum, and at Secunderabad, there are many burial-places of that race, of whose existence nothing is known ; and about 20 miles S.E. of Secunderabad is one great resting-place of the dead, a vast burial-ground extending over miles, which must have been the place of interment of a huge number of people, or used through many centuries. The mode of interment in all these has been to select a large stone, beneath which a winding tunnel or way had been excavated ; and the remains of bones and urns, with weapons, are found deposited in a central cavity, a circle of large loose stones being drawn around, the circumference of some of these circles being between one and two hundred yards. [...]

In Ceylon, formerly, after burning the bodies of the deceased kings of Kandy, their ashes were carried by a man in a black mask to the Mahawelli Ganga, where he embarked in a canoe. At the deepest part of the river he clove the vase with a sword, scattered the ashes on the stream, and, plunging headlong after them, dived, arose near the opposite bank, whence he fled to the forest, and was presumed to be never more seen. The canoe was allowed to drift away, the horse and elephants that accompanied the procession were set at liberty in the woods, and the women who had strewed rice over the remains were transported across the river and forbidden to return.

Several of the Hindu customs resemble practices mentioned in the Old Testament, as in Jeremiah xvi. 6 : 'Neither shall men lament for them, nor cut themselves.' For the Hindus, on the death of a relation, express their grief by loud lamentations, and not unfrequently, in an agony of grief, bruise themselves with whatever they can lay hold of. Ezekiel xliv. 25 : 'They shall come at no dead person to defile themselves ;' and touching the dead defiles a Hindu, who must bathe to become clean again. Job xxvii. 19 : 'The rich man shall lie down, but shall not be gathered,' i.e., his soul shall be left in a wandering state ; and Hindus believe that persons for whom funeral rites have not been performed, wander as ghosts and find no rest. Jeremiah xxxiv. 5 : 'So shall they burn odours for thee.' Scented wood and other odoriferous substances are placed upon the funeral pile of a rich Hindu, and burnt with the body. Matthew ii. 18 : 'Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.' The lamentations of a Hindu mother for her child are very loud and piercing ; it is, indeed, almost impossible to conceive of a scene more truly heartrending than that of a whole town of such mothers wailing over their massacred children. 'In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning.'

Rajendra Lal Mitra, writing on the funeral ceremonies of the ancient Hindus, says the first ceremony was was the removal of the dead from the [S. 520] house to the burning ground, and this was done on a cart, drawn by two bullocks, or by aged slaves. The procession was headed by the eldest of the party, and included an old black cow. The animal was sacrificed at the burning ground, and its fat, flesh, and organs were placed on the corpse, which was subsequently enveloped in the raw hide of the animal. The wife of the dead was made to lie by the corpse, and was thence removed by a younger brother, a fellow-disciple, or a servant of the dead, who offered to marry her. The ceremony of burying the bones was performed on the 3d, 5th, or 7th day ; and on the 10th day the mourners assembled together, and, after certain oblations, offerings, and prayers, raised a circle of stones, and then retired to the house of the chief mourner to feast on kid's flesh and barley.

As a rule now, the dead of Vaishnava Hindus are burned. As death draws near, a lamp is lit at the bed-head, and a ' homa ' sacrifice performed with camphor and cocoanut ; and as life dies out, the five elements of the cow are dropped into the mouth of the moribund from a tulsi leaf. Within two or three hours the body is lifted, and this is done early, as none of the household nor any of the neighbours can partake of food until the remains be disposed of. The pile of wood or cow-dung cakes used is about two feet high, and on it are placed some tulsi leaves, a little sandalwood, and the deceased is laid with his feet to the north. When laid on the pile, a cloth is placed over the face, and raw rice is placed on it over the mouth. The heir of the deceased places a charred bit of sandal-wood or a tulsi branch at each corner of the pile, and a Vityan sets fire to the mat, using fire taken from the sacred fire lit at the bedside of the dying man. On the following day the heir and friends visit the pile, remove the skull and the bones, on which he and all with him pour water and wash them, wash them with the sikai, anoint them with oil and honey, and clean them with milk, and place them all on plantain leaves anointed with butter. A young cocoanut shoot is then placed on the skull, and the whole put into an unburned earthen pot, and taken or sent to a river or to the sea; the person who conveyed it returning to the temple, where he pronounces aloud the deceased's name, and adds, 'Pray for him.' Often they are sent to a holy river, even to the Ganges at Benares. The men relatives shave. The hair of the Brahman widow's head is shaved. The body is not always carried through the doorway of the house. If it be an inauspicious day, or if the house door be so placed that the courtyard has to be crossed, then the remains are carried through an opening broken in the wall. Captain Butler, writing of the Hindus of Assam (Travels, p. 228), says if a man die inside a house, no Hindu can eat in it afterwards, or reside in it, as it has become impure ; it is generally pulled down and burned, and a new house erected on the same spot. All Assamese, when dying, are therefore invariably brought out to die in the open air on the bare ground, that the building may be preserved, and also to ensure the happier liberation of the spirit from the body. The remains of Hindus are unclothed for the last rites.

Children under eight years of age and unmarried girls are buried, as also are all who die of smallpox, as the belief is that this ailment is a manifestation of the presence of the goddess Ammun, Mariatha, Mariamma, or Kali, and the anger of the goddess would revert on the family if burned. The dead from cholera are similarly buried.

In the mode of disposing of the dead, the wish expressed by the deceased is attended to. Vedantists all bury ; also all the Gosai, all the Lingaet or Vira Saiva, the five artisan castes, the Kansala, goldsmith, carpenter, ironsmith, brazier, and stonecutter, all the Byragi and Sanyasi, and the gurus of the sects, the Pandarums, the Kashai, likewise all the non-Aryan races and tribes not admitted into Hinduism. The dead of the Vedantist sect, and those of the Lingaet and artisans, are placed seated, the last in a grave five feet square, with a ledge on the south.

As the artisan's life becomes extinct, the body is made to assume the attitude to be preserved in the procession and in the grave. It is placed against a wall, the legs are crossed underneath in the usual sitting attitude, and the head is fastened to a nail driven into the wall, and so retained till rigidity ensue. They are borne to the grave in a car, on the shoulders of relatives or friends. On reaching the burial place, the Oodwan reads prayers, and the body is seated on the side ledge with its face looking northwards ; salt and ashes of cow -dung are placed on the head.

Amongst the Aryan Hindu, the great bulk believe in spirits and worship them ; their worship of ancestors, 'pitri,' is continuous ; they also believe in demons and evil spirits ; transmigration through clean and unclean animals is a point of faith, and a great majority regard the soul as an emanation from the Deity, and look to re-absorption and annihilation as the point of attainment for the good. Many of these are Buddhist views.

Hindus of Sind are not allowed to die in bed, otherwise one of the males of the family who has attended upon the deceased becomes in a state of impurity, and must visit some well-known place of pilgrimage, as the Dhara Tirth, the Narayan-Sar in Kutch, etc. When near death, the sick person is placed on a spot smeared with cow-dung (Chanko, Lepan, or Poto), and when in the last agony, the five sacred elements are poured into the dying person's mouth.

The Mahomedan, when about to die, has his spirit calmed by the 'Yasin' chapter of the Koran being read to him, and is either washed (Ghassal) at his own house, or taken, within a few hours, to a Ghassalkhana, specially built for the purpose, near the cemetery, and where men or women washers perform the duty, and then put on burial clothes and apply camphor and antimony. The body is conveyed in a box with much solemnity, with wreaths of flowers and perfumes laid over the covering ; the coffin is carried on men's shoulders, and from time to time is heard the Ty-eb part of the Mahomedan creed : 'There is no deity but God, and Mahomed is the prophet of God ;' and on reaching the grave, funeral service is read, consisting of the four portions of their creed (takbir), and a blessing (dua) is asked, which all present repeat. After the Fatiha, the body is lifted from the coffin and gently lowered into the grave, laid with the head to the north and feet to the south, and turned on its side with the face towards Mecca. Each person then takes a little earth, and, repeating the words in chap. 112 of the Koran, 'We created you of earth and [S. 521] we return you to earth, and we shall raise you out of the earth on the day of resurrection,' he puts the earth gently into the grave. The body is then protected with wood and covered in. The Fatiha is again repeated, and again at the door of the cemeteryy, and at this juncture two angels, Moonkir and Nikir, approach the dead, make him sit up, and inquire who his God and prophet are, and what his religion is. If he has been a good man, his answers are satisfactory, and odours from paradise are diffused around the departed; but if had, he is bewildered, and these angels torture him. They believe that the dead continue in a conscious state, and dogs and horses or other polluting animals are not allowed within the cemetery; women, also, do not enter, lest the repose of the dead be disturbed. Mahomedans do not speak of a person as dead, they say he has passed away, has taken his departure ; and the living all believe in, and hope for, resurrection in a future state [...]

The monuments over Mahomedan tombs have usually been of earth, or of unbaked brick ; but every material, and of the most enduring kind, is employed, and the names are sometimes engraved on the tombstones. The tombstone of a man is distinguished by a raised part in the centre, and that of a woman by a depression. In Turkey, a pillar with the carved figure of a turban distinguishes the grave of a man. The prevalent form in India of Mahomedan tombstones of the rich is a dark or black tombstone, with verses of the Koran engraved on it, and covered by a cupola.

Some of these domes are very magnificent. Those of the Adal Shahi dynasty at Bijapur and Gogi have attracted much attention, as also have those of the Bahmani dynasty at Kulburga and Kutub Shahi dynasty at Golconda. The cupolas at Roza where Aurangzeb is buried have not any display, and that of Aurangzeb is the least ostentatious. His daughter's tomb at Aurangabad is large, and many of the tombs at Dehli and Agra are great structures. That of Mumtaz Begum, known as the Taj Mahal, is particularly remarkable. Reformers amongst the Mahomedans consider that unbaked brick or earth should alone be used.

The Christian doctrine that man, in all that he can do of good, is still without merit, is not shared in by any of the Mahomedan, Buddhist, or Hindu sects, who all consider that a personal merit is gained by their good doing; and a Mahomedan passing a funeral of a Mahomedan, turns with it a short way, and lends his shoulder to convey the body to the grave, to bring a merit on himself.

The Parsce or Zoroastrian race are to be found scattered from Hong-Kong in the east to Great Britain in the west, a small but intellectual remnant of the once great Median nation. A considerable body of them dwell in Bombay, in Gujerat, and the western towns of India. Their sick are never allowed to expire on a bed. When the moment of passing away is near, the sick person is removed to the ground, and bathed and washed. The reasons alleged for this removal are various ; but the one ordinarily accepted amongst them is that a dead body is an unclean thing, necessitating that all who touch it shall destroy their clothes, and whatever is touched by it must be destroyed. For these reasons, the dead, in Bombay, are carried by a class of Parsees called ' Nessus salar,' -- Nessus meaning unclean (Najis, PERS.). These men, clothed in white, carry the remains to the Dokhma, or tower of silence, and lay the body on its raised upper floor. The Dokhma is without any roof covering ; is open to the sky, so that birds of prey, vultures, kites, have the freest approach. The raised floor has a deep well, surrounded by a raised platform, with channels converging to a well. The corpse is laid on a partition of the platform, and the decomposing matters flow along the channels into the well. When the well is full, the bones are removed and buried outside the Dokhma. The fire-priests are paid to pray for the dead, monthly, for a year, and thereafter on every anniversary of the demise. After the demise, and before the removal of the body, a dog is brought near to gaze on the departed. This is the 'Sag-did' or dog-gaze, and, by one account, is said to be had recourse to with the object of ascertaining, from the dog's movements, the state of the soul of the departed ; by another account, it is practised from the belief that the dog is a naturally chaste animal, and the view of the chaste dog falling on the dead will expedite the translation of the soul to heaven across the Chigvan bridge. See Bridge.

The non-Aryan and non-Hindu races of British India are estimated at about 20 million souls, but, except the great Gond nation, and the Kol, the Bhil, and the southern Shanars, most of them are in small tribes, and many are occupying forests and mountain fastnesses, or are dwelling on the outskirts of towns. They in general bury their dead.

The Sowrah of the hill ranges of the Circars, mostly those hills near Chicacole, near Kalahanda, and southwards as far as Bradachellum, bury their dead with their weapons.

The Chenchwar race, farther south, in the forests of the Nalla-Mallai, bury their dead and sometimes burn, and, like the Tartar races, they carry the deceased's weapons to the grave.

The Kuki race of Assam, up to the middle of  the 19th century, continued to make inroads on the plains, not for plunder, but to secure heads, and they have been known to carry off fifty heads in a night. On the death of a chief, the body is smoke-dried, and kept for two months with the family. If a raja fall in battle, they immediately proceed on a head-hunting expedition, and bring in the heads of those they kill, hold feastings and dancings, and, after cutting the heads into pieces, send a portion to each village. This is considered in the light of a sacrifice to the manes of the deceased.

The Khatsya hill race, 4000 to 6000 feet above [S. 522] the level of the sea, inter their dead on the undulatory eminences of the country. These are dotted with groups of huge unpolished squared pillars and tabular slabs, supported on three or four rude piers. Menhir are there ; one of them seen was 30 feet out of the ground, 6 feet broad, and 2½ feet thick, and in front of each is a dolmen or cromlech of proportionately gigantic pieces of rock.


In Spiti, in the N.W. Himalaya, when a person dies, the body is sometimes buried, or burnt, or thrown into the river, or cut into small pieces and burnt. Admonitions are made over the body to the departed spirit, such as, 'Do not trouble yourself, you cannot enter it (meaning the dead body) ; in summer it quickly becomes corrupt, in winter it freezes and is too cold for you.' [...]"

Zu: 5.7. Famines / by Edward Balfour (1885)