Shmashana

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Shamshana outside Indian village

A shmashāna (or smashan) is a Hindu cremation ground, where dead bodies are brought to be burnt on a pyre. It is usually located near a river or body of water on the outskirts of village or town; as they are usually located near river ghats they are also called smashan ghat.

The word has its origin from Sanskrit language: shma refers to shava ("corpse"), while shana refers to shanya ("bed").[1][2] The other Indian religions like Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism also use shmashana for the last rites of the dead.

Practise[edit]

As per Hindu rites, the dead body is brought to shmashana for Antim Sanskar (last rites). At cremation ground, the chief mourner has to obtain the sacred fire from the Dom caste, who reside by the shmashana and light funeral pyres (chita) for a fee.[3]

Various Hindu scripts also give details of how to select the site of shmashana: it should be on northern direction of village with land sloping towards south, and it should be near a river or a source of water and should not be visible from a distance.[4]

Dead bodies are traditionally cremated on a funeral pyre usually made of wood. However, nowadays in many cities of India there are electric or gas based furnaces used in indoor crematoria.[5][6]

Spiritual role[edit]

The shmashana is said to be abode of ghosts, evil spirits, fierce deities, tantrics. Therefore, people in general prefer to avoid going near shmashan at night. Per Hindu rituals women do not go to shamshana, only males go to shmashana to perform last rites. Only the Doms and Chandalas reside in or near Shamshana.

Shmashana is a place, where followers of Vamamarga like Aghori, Kapalika, Kashmiri Shaivism, Kaula of now scarce Indian tantric traditions do sadahna (for example Shava sadhana) and rituals to worship Kali, Tara, Bhairav, Bhairavi, Dakini, Vetal, etc. invoke occult powers within them. Shmashana is also used for similar purpose by followers of Tibetan Buddhist traditions of Vajrayana, Dzogchen for sadhna of Chöd, Phowa, Zhitro, etc. The deity called Shmashana Adhipati is usually considered to be lord of Shmashana.

There are also cases of sattvic worship on smashan. For example, Shailendra Sharma, a realized yogin, has been living on a smashan near the Govardhan hill since 1993. He found and installed a natural shivalingam there and began to perform daily puja of Shiva worshipping.[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Diana L. Eck (1982). Banaras: City of Light. Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 33–. ISBN 978-0-7102-0236-9. Retrieved 9 September 2012. 
  2. ^ Bibek Debroy, Dipavali Debroy. The Garuda Purana. Lulu.com. pp. 174–. ISBN 978-0-9793051-1-5. Retrieved 9 September 2012. 
  3. ^ Lalita Prasad Vidyarthi; Makhan Jha; Baidyanath Saraswati (1979). The Sacred Complex of Kashi: A Microcosm of Indian Civilization. Concept Publishing Company. pp. 60–. GGKEY:PC0JJ5P0BPA. Retrieved 9 September 2012. 
  4. ^ Ahsan Jan Qaisar; Som Prakash Verma; Mohammad Habib (1 December 1996). Art and Culture: Endeavours in Interpretation. Abhinav Publications. pp. 2–. ISBN 978-81-7017-315-1. Retrieved 9 September 2012. 
  5. ^ A modern indoor Electric crematorium in Surat, India
  6. ^ Cemetery Staff Go On Strike From May 1. DNA India, 25 May 2010 - At every cemetery, there is a death register karkoon (clerk), also known as a DRK, an electrician for electric crematorium, a furnace operator and labourers.
  7. ^ Biography at Shailendrasharma.org