Garuḍa Purāṇa 11

Garuḍa asks the Lord to explain Yama’s kingdom. The Lord not only begins to describe Yama’s kingdom, but also begins to describe the procedure to be followed immediately after death.

The distance between the earth and Yama’s world is 1,032,000 Kilometers (approximately 641,255 miles. (Distance between the earth and the moon is 384,000 KMs and the distance between the earth and the sun is 149,598,000 KMs).  Due to the effect of karma, a man falls sick causing his death.  The mode of one’s death also depends upon one’s karma. When a man is dead, his body should be kept on the ground after purificatory rituals discussed earlier.  Śālagrāma (sacred stone) should be placed near the body.  Tulasī leaves (basil) should be placed in both the hands of the body and also on its neck. Pieces of gold should also be kept in the nine apertures of the body.  The body should be covered with two sheets of clothing.  The body should be carried through the back door.  Sons and other relatives should carry the body on their shoulders. While placing the body on the pyre, head should be facing north.  His son should perform ceremonies facing the eastern side.    

When the subtle body is leaving the gross body, which is known as death, the messengers of Yama arrive on the scene. When the subtle body finally comes out of the gross body, causing death of the gross body, the subtle body is still able to see the entire universe.  The departed soul could see the messengers of Yama and the attendants of Lord Viṣṇu. This means that the soul can  see both good and bad and the departed soul begins its journey according to its karma.  A subtle body which has a bad karmic account feels for its sins at this stage.    

A soul has to travel the entire distance to reach the world of Yama.  The path becomes rough for the sinners and the path becomes comfortable for virtuous. Lord begins to describe Yama.  He has four arms holding a conch, a discus, a bow and a staff.  He treats the virtuous with respect and sinners with rudeness. He hits the sinners with iron rod and club.  He sits on a buffalo (Yama is called mahiṣa vāhana; mahiṣa means buffalo and vāhana means vehicle).  His body appears dreadful to sinners and radiant to virtuous. The soul is in the size of one’s thumb (it means the subtle body. Soul and the subtle body always travel together. The subtle body is pushed out of the gross body by air.  The subtle body cries out when it comes out of the gross body).

It is said that one should not boast of his body as it is liable to death and decay. The purpose of acquiring wealth is charity; purpose of speech is to say the truth; purpose of a body is spirituality. The subtle bodies of those who do not follow the virtuous path are tortured by the messengers of Yama on the way to Yama’s place.  

The Lord proceeds to explain the purpose of six piṇḍa-s. The first one is offered at the doorway where the departed soul is called as pāntha (pāntha means wandering).  The piṇḍa offered here satisfies those deities that dwell at the entrance door.  (It is believed that some deities reside at the main entrance door of a house. It is always ideal to offer incense sticks at the entrance door. A conch with anti clock wise lines tied on a yellow cloth above the main door frame is said to ward off evil spirits entering through the main door). In the courtyard of the building lives Khecara, a gandharva. Third piṇḍa should be offered to Bhūta at the resting place.  Bhūta is considered as one of the demigods. Fourth piṇḍa is offered to piśāca-s (piśāca is said to be a flesh eating demon), rākṣasa-s (rākṣasa means an evil demon) and yakṣa-s (yakṣa means a supernatural being and said to be the attendants of Kubera). These three said to preserve the sanctity of the dead body till it is completely burnt. The fifth piṇḍa is offered at the side of the pyre where the dead body is placed. The dead body is now known as preta.  Because of these five piṇḍa-s, the preta attains purity to be placed on the fire.  Fire is considered as very sacred.  Vedas worship Agni (fire) more than any other gods.  By satisfying the above referred non-human characters, preta attains purity to offer it to the fire.  

The funeral pyre should be lit from the eastern side. Once the body is completely burnt, the remains of the bones are collected and during this time the sixth piṇḍa is offered. The ashes are then immersed in sea or river.  At the southern part of the house, a pit is made and for the next ten days, piṇḍa-s are offered here daily, along with milk and water. There is no specific mantra or any specific rites while offering these piṇḍa-s. The piṇḍa offered during the ten day period is divided into four parts. Two parts build up a new body for the dead. The third part goes to Yama’s servants and the fourth is consumed by the preta. The subtle body gets a proper shape in three days and three nights and on the tenth day, the subtle body develops hunger. Irrespective of other offerings made to the preta (the subtle body of the dead is always called preta), it gets satisfied only by offering flesh (normally, a piece of banana is offered instead of flesh).  During eleventh day and twelfth day ceremonies, the preta eats as much as possible.  On the thirteenth day, the soul’s journey begins to the world of Yama dragged by the servants of Yama.  During it journey, the soul regrets for every evil action it had done during the past birth.

Further reading: Soul is nothing but the Brahman Himself. Sins committed by a person do not affect the Soul within.  The suffering is only to the gross body when life exists in a body and to the subtle body, when the subtle body leaves the gross body at the time of death. Depending upon one’s karma, the subtle body also undergoes sufferings and pains or happiness and pleasures. One’s karmic account is embedded in his subtle body. Apart from karmic embedment, subtle body also has the impressions of his subconscious mind. Karma affects, both the subtle body and the gross body independently.  Subtle body undergoes pains or pleasures in the hell or heaven as the case may be and the gross body undergoes pains or pleasures in the earth.  For s single evil action, there are two types of sufferings, one for the subtle body and another for the gross body.  When the gross body suffers, the subtle body within does not suffer. Based on these believes, it is said that thoughts are more powerful than actions.  Impressions of thoughts get embedded in the subconscious mind, which always goes along with the subtle body and has the capacity to manifest in subsequent births.    

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Further Readings:

Garuda Purana - Last Rites

Garuda Purana - Pinda

Garuda Purana - Journey To The World Of Yama

Garuda Purana - Karma And Rebirth