Antyeshti / Antima Sanskar / Antya-kriya / Anvarohanyya
Antyeshti is a last rites or Ritual performed for easy passage to his/her soul, This ritual has other names like Antima Sanskar, Antya-kriya, Anvarohanyya, or as Vahni Sanskara.
Antyeṣṭi (अन्त्येष्टि) is a composite Sanskrit word of antya and iṣṭi, which respectively mean “last” and “sacrifice”. Together, the word means the “last sacrifice”. Similarly, the phrase Antima Sanskara literally means “last sacred ceremony, or last rite of passage”.
Death is inevitable : We should all understand one thing, from the moment a person is born he is moving towards death. The mind does not easily accept it when a person close to us is ‘no more’ – and believes that he has in fact attained paraloka, that jiva (the soul) cannot be destroyed though the sarira (the body) can be.
The human body and the universe consist of five elements in Hindu texts – air, water, fire, earth and space. The last rite of passage returns the body to the five elements and its origins. The roots of this belief are found in the Vedas, for example in the hymns of Rigveda in section 10.16, as follows,
Burn him not up, nor quite consume him, Agni: let not his body or his skin be scattered,
O all possessing Fire, when thou hast matured him, then send him on his way unto the Fathers.
When thou hast made him ready, all possessing Fire, then do thou give him over to the Fathers,
When he attains unto the life that waits him, he shall become subject to the will of gods.
The Sun receive thine eye, the Wind thy Prana (life-principle, breathe); go, as thy merit is, to earth or heaven.
Go, if it be thy lot, unto the waters; go, make thine home in plants with all thy members.
The final rites of a burial, in case of untimely death of a child, is rooted in Rig Veda’s section 10.18, where the hymns mourn the death of the child, praying to deity Mrityu to “neither harm our girls nor our boys”, and pleads the earth to cover, protect the deceased child as a soft wool.Book A Pandit for Antyeshti / Last Rites
The last rites are usually completed within a day of death. While practices vary among sects, generally, his or her body is washed, wrapped in white cloth, if the dead is a man or a widow, or red cloth, if it is a woman whose husband is still alive, the big toes are tied together with a string and a Tilak (red, yellow or white mark) is placed on the forehead. The dead adult’s body is carried to the cremation ground near a river or water, by family and friends, and placed on a pyre with feet facing south.
The eldest son, or a male mourner, or a priest – called the lead cremator or lead mourner – then bathes himself before leading the cremation ceremony. He circumambulates the dry wood pyre with the body, says a eulogy or recites a hymn, places sesame seeds or rice in the dead person’s mouth, sprinkles the body and the pyre with ghee (clarified butter), then draws three lines signifying Yama (deity of the dead), Kala (time, deity of cremation) and the dead. Prior to lighting the pyre, an earthen pot is filled with water, and the lead mourner circles the body with it, before lobbing the pot over his shoulder so it breaks near the head. Once the pyre is ablaze, the lead mourner and the closest relatives may circumambulate the burning pyre one or more times. The ceremony is concluded by the lead cremator, during the ritual, is kapala kriya, or the ritual of piercing the burning skull with a stave (bamboo fire poker) to make a hole or break it, in order to release the spirit.
All those who attend the cremation, and are exposed to the dead body or cremation smoke take a shower as soon as possible after the cremation, as the cremation ritual is considered unclean and polluting.The cold collected ash from the cremation is later consecrated to the nearest river or sea.
In some regions, the male relatives of the deceased shave their head and invite all friends and relatives, on the tenth or twelfth day, to eat a simple meal together in remembrance of the deceased. This day, in some communities, also marks a day when the poor and needy are offered food in memory of the dead.
The necessity for Antyeshti (Apara karma):
While the deeds of a person when alive have a great deal of impact on his station after death, the apara karmas done for him after his death by his son or the karta have an equally crucial impact. Regardless of how the person conducted his life, if his (or her) Charama samskara is not done properly, his ‘preta’ is not released from his body, because he continues to suffer from the same sensations that prevailed during his life. He will feel the sadness from the shortcomings in his Apara karma, and that is good neither for him nor for his family.
When a grahasta dies, two kinds of death rites are possible.
• Brahma medha samskara
• Paitru medhika samskara
Brahma medha samskara is a specialised variety that is performed when the deceased person himself had done Veda adhyayana and the Karta is also familiar with Veda mantras.
Paitru medhika samskara which is discussed here is the general ritual, for all the others.
Essence of Apara karma:
Apara karma, which spreads over 12 days, should be done by a dutiful son or the Karta properly, and under suitable guidance of the Purohit and elders. He can repay his debt of gratitude to his parents in no better manner than doing their death rites with sincerity, devotion and above all complete faith. In essence, the objective of funeral rites is to facilitate the migration of the soul of a dead person from the status of preta to the abode of the pitrus.
Apara karma is done in two phases: the rites during 12 days immediately after death, called Apara Karma; and the performance every month thereafter for 12 months on the same day (tithi), called Maasika. In addition, there are Sodakumba Sraaddhas, four Una masikas to the performed over the year.
Never the spirit was born, the spirit shall cease to be never. Never was time it was not, end and beginning are dreams. ~ Bhagavad Gita
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