Why Do We Immerse the Ashes of the Dead in the Ganga?
“A deep acceptance of death happens for the living–and it is also for the dead.” — Sadhguru
Q: Sadhguru, Namaskaram. When we burn a dead body, in India we always put the ashes in the Ganga or a nearby river. Is there any significance to this?
Sadhguru: When someone very dear to you is dead, though you know they are dead, somewhere, your mind will start playing tricks. “Maybe he is just sleeping, maybe he is going to sit up now, maybe he will come back out of the ashes.” But when you spread the ashes in the river, you know it is over. A deep acceptance of death happens for the living – and it is also for the dead.
The Dead Must Move On
Upto forty days after death, the being still takes time to completely leave the body. Even if you have burned the body, it will look for certain elements of the body like the ash or something that belongs to them, such as their used clothes.
This is why in Hindu families, the moment the person dies, all the clothes that the person used, especially those clothes which touched the person’s body, like underclothes, are burned. This is because the being still looks for elements of the body, maybe the sweat, maybe the smell of the body, because the realization has still not come that it is over. If you keep the ashes in one place, there is a tendency for the being to look for that. So the ashes are released in a river where they will spread and be immersed. That way, they cannot be found. Everything possible is being done to make the being understand that it is over.
Runanubandha: Breaking the Bond
Another aspect is that whenever you touch someone – either because of blood relationships or sexual relationships, or even if you just hold someone’s hand or exchange clothes – these two bodies will generate runanubandha, a certain commonality. A physical sameness happens.
When someone dies, traditionally, you are looking at how to completely obliterate the runanubandha. The idea of putting the ashes in the Ganga or in the ocean is to disperse them as widely as possible so that you do not develop runanubandha with one who has departed. For you to continue your life, you must break this runanubandha properly. Otherwise, as is happening in modern societies, it can affect your physical and mental structure. It weakens your body and mental structure in such a way that instead of cherishing all the beautiful things that happened between two people, you will suffer it. It can also lead to a certain derangement of life.
To avoid this, we try to destroy the physical memory alone – not the psychological memory. You should not lose the psychological and emotional memory. Someone who meant so much to you – why should you forget them? You must cherish that relationship forever. But we want to destroy the physical memory.
There is another reason why we want to disperse ashes. The qualities of the person remain in the ash after death. Even if you burn the body, it is possible for a forensic laboratory to identify the person from the ash with DNA analysis. So if you keep it in an urn for example, this being may still hover around! This is why those who practice occult wait at cremation grounds to gather ashes for rituals – they want to attract the being towards them. They want to do sorcery and grab that being to make use of it in a different way.
When someone dear to you dies, you want to make sure their ashes do not get into the wrong hands. You do not want your ancestor or relative to be misused for a long time or become a victim of sorcery. When you immerse the ashes in the river, nobody can take it. Another way to disperse them is to go to a mountain where the wind is blowing, and let the ashes out so that it spreads all over. The intention is that nobody should be able to pick up even a small handful of ash.
Editor's note: Kayantha Sthanam is Isha’s Cremation Service that revives ancient traditions and death rituals with a powerful energy basis, conducting them in the spirit of service rather than as a commercial venture. We request your support and contributions to help us offer these services to more people. For more info, visit Kayantha Sthanam – Isha’s Cremation Services.