Cover Photocredit: Design Indaba
Around the world, there are many different ways to commemorate and respect the deaths of those who have passed. In North America, cremation and ground burial are the most common means of burial. Here we are highlighting five (5) dramatic (and graphic) death customs that were or are still practiced today.
Warning much of this article is graphic in nature.
Tibetan Sky Burial
In Tibet people believe that the body is just a vessel for the spirit of people and after death the soul has already left the body and is being reincarnated. They believe that vultures are a form of angel called Dakinis that help take the body of the deceased up to heaven to await reincarnation. This is where the Tibetan Buddhist ritual of a "sky burial", or feeding the deceased body to vultures came about.
The ritual starts by chanting around the body of the deceased for three days. Afterwards the body is wrapped up in the fetal position in cloth, just as they were when they came into the world. Once ready for the sky burial ritual the body will be unwrapped and expertly cut apart. While the body is being broken down juniper incense is burned to summon the Dakinis. Once the entire body is eaten, the ritual is over.
Ghana has an interesting tradition in which they turn coffins into art. In Ghana, coffins are customized depending on what the deceased did for a living or what they loved. For example, fisherman will often get coffins that look like fish or boats. See some more examples of coffins made in Ghana.
The Practice of Sati
In historic India, when a husband died the widow would burn herself alive with her husband’s body at the funeral. This was done to show devotion to her deceased husband. It is said that after doing this the woman would turn into a goddess. Sati is now illegal and is rarely done anymore. The last time someone did this was in 2008, when a 75 year-old woman jumped into her husband’s funeral pyre during his funeral.
Sokushinbutsu is the process of self-mummification. Japanese Buddhist monks mainly practiced this tradition from the 11th - 19th century. Today it is outlawed in Japan to mummify one's self. In order for monks to turn into mummies it takes many years. First they would change their diet to eat only seeds and nuts for 1,000 days. While on the diet they would also workout rigorously. These two things together would burn all the fat off their bodies and help prepare themselves for mummification.
After 1,000 days of eating seeds and nuts they would change their diet to bark, roots, and a special tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree which was poisonous. The monks would continue this diet for another 1,000 days. Drinking the poisonous tea would purge the monks of their body fluids and also make them poisonous so maggots wouldn’t eat them after dying. After 1,000 days of the bark and root diet, the monks would lock themselves into a small stone tomb with only an air tube and bell to let the other monks know if they were alive or not.
This practice is thought to have been done by thousands of people but only twenty-four (24) were found to be successful thus far. Monks that were able to mummify themselves were then considered to be Buddha.
Different people from different cultures around the world embalm bodies as part of a funeral ceremony although it is most popular in North America. Embalming is means of temporarily preservating the body that entials replacing the blood with chemicals
Embalming in America didn’t become popular until after the Civil War when many soldiers were embalmed on the battle field to allow for transport home after the war. While embalming is quite popular in North America today, not many get creative with the process.The two people below made special requests to be embalmed and displayed as if they were doing their favorite activity.