Death in Indian and American cultures

Most studies concerning human beings in the context of their culture as for a long time dealt with human death. Matters related to mortality have been given much attention in anthropology. Anthropology is the study of man in association with his culture (Piven, 2004). Human mortality and its rite do reflect the societys values and is also a significant aspect in determining them. The way that death is explained in a society does a lot in shaping the view of life in that society. It is the way a person expects to end that determines how heshe behaves in life. It is a fact that death is inevitable for every person. It is common in every society that every person has to die at a certain age. What differs is the answer to the question of death among societies (Twomey, 2007). Matters concerning death are explained differently by different cultures. This paper is a comparison of death in America and India.

Death in Indian and American cultures
Death matters are related to religion. The most prominent religion in the United States is Christianity while in India it is mostly Islamic and Hindu. The ultimate end of every human being is death. This is universally known across all cultures and across all religions. This is the most common aspect relating to death in America and India. There are other common elements, but they differ with the communities in question. They are common in the two cultures but may vary according to individual societies or people. One of the aspects of death in these two cultures is the belief in reward and punishment (Roppolo  Crow, 2007). The two cultures believe that after death the good people will receive their reward in heaven while the evil will be punished in hell. There is a faction of people in American culture who believe that death is the end and that there will be nothing after it. This is referred to as the state of nothingness. In the Indian society, almost every person believes in life after death. If there are any people who believe that nothing happens after death, they dare not express their views because this would be disrespecting their cultural beliefs. It is worth noting that Indians hold their culture and religious beliefs so dearly. Indians do not believe in the transmigration of souls. Hinduism believes that the departed soul moves through the pretaloka which is the world of spirits and ghosts up to the pitraloka which is the heaven. This is why after death the Hindus performs a lot of rituals. The rituals are believed to be for assisting the departed soul through its long journey (Tillett, 2005). America being a multicultural society has diverse beliefs in issues associated with death. Death in this society has a variety of explanations. Some people take it to mean dwelling in heaven or hell. Death is taken by some other Americans as a state of nothingness. There is yet another faction that believes it to be a transitory state that people enter before they return in another life or in another form (Frykenberg, 2003).

All the cultures believe in the separation of the soul from the body. The souls depart in different manner. Christians believe that the moment a person is dead, the soul leaves the body. The orthodox Muslims believe that when an individual passes on, the angel of death appears. This angel sits at the head of the dead person and talks to hisher soul depending on the character of that person. The souls of the evil people are commanded to leave to the anger of Allah, and the souls of the good people are asked to leave to the compassion of Allah (Piven, 2004).  
Americans unlike the Indian culture has gone through a lot of transformations in the views and understanding about death. Religious beliefs in America can be traced back from the puritans. The puritans colonized New England in the 17th century (Joshi, 2006). Back then, the beliefs about death that were held by this group were completely different from what the American society believes presently. The theological branch that dealt with death back then put people in a frightening state in death. The idea of the puritans concerning death was that every persons fate, whether old or young, was to forever dwell in hell. They believed that only a few people who had been chosen by God would go to heaven (Twomey, 2007). This group of people was only known to God. In this case, people had no control over their fate. They were left with no other option but to live a clean life, praying that they would be among the selected few who would see heaven.  Because of this belief, the time of death was the most tormenting time in a persons life. Death was not taken with calmness and acceptance. Due to the fact that there was no assurance of a persons fate after death, even to the most religious people, death was a period of terror and torment. Without knowing whether a person was among the selected few, the thought of burning for ever in hell was unbearable. As a result these people approached their death with doubt, fear and dread (Joshi, 2006).

The key purpose of belief is to provide people with a rough idea on what to expect after death. Most cultures believe that they know what happens to their people when they die. As a result they possess a mental image of where the dead goes and why they die. It a common belief across most cultures that death came up as a result of the fall of man. This is in other words as a result of mans fall from Gods grace. In this case death is everywhere and it is a reminder of Gods authority over his people. It was such belief that was held by the puritans (Joshi, 2006).

As time went by, the belief of the puritans started loosing ground. The community, due to enlightenment, came to realize that it was no use for a person to live a clean life while realizing that they were most likely destined to destruction. This was the cause for the society to do away with the beliefs of puritans. In fact this was the alternative taken by most people in the community. Due to this, people view of life and beliefs concerning death transformed (Joshi, 2006).

By the period of the American Revolution the sanctified view of death had been done away with completely. By the 19th century, the puritan view of death had disappeared completely and its place taken by a more naturalistic view. In this approach, the concern was not more on the dead individual but the immediate family. It is during this period that secularism began to take effect. In America secularism has affected the social values to great extent. It has brought in a lot of changes in the society (Twomey, 2007). This has made death and death-related issues to become less spiritual. Secularism has resulted to death becoming easily avoidable than was possible in the past. Although there were no major changes in the Indian culture concerning death, secularism brought in a few changes. The ritual of visiting graves was done away with. There was also a reduction in the mourning period. There were other simple changes, but the view of death in this culture never changed (Piven, 2004).

Even if Islamic is not the only religion practiced in India it has grown to be one of the most dominant in the region. The work of Islamic religion concerning death is detailed in the kit al-ruh. This can be translated to the book of soul. This book was recorded in the 14th century. According to the Islamic religion, death is predetermined by God. It is Allah who gives people life, decides the length of their life on earth, and decides their death (Tillett, 2005).

In both the American and the Indian culture bodies of the dead are disposed amid rituals. In the American culture the rituals performed are not as diverse as those performed in the Indian culture especially by the Hindus. The Hindu community cremates their dead and in most cases, the ashes are then buried. In American, most of the communities bury their dead. Muslims also bury the dead. It is worth noting that even in the American community, there are those who opt to bury dead people. This is not directed by any cultural belief, but it is directed by personal choice. In both cultures bodies are well prepared for ultimate disposal. In the Muslim community, the body is washed by people who are experienced in this field (Frykenberg, 2003). The body is then wrapped in a white cloth, and then put into the grave. There is usually no viewing of the body, except by the immediate relatives. The participants believe that, by participating in the ceremony, they will rewarded by God. Islam put the dying person facing Mecca (Roppolo and Crow, 2007).
In the past, different societies in America believed in contact with the dead. This is a practice that was carried out by spiritualists. In the American society, the development of science affected their view on death (Twomey, 2007). Most scholars and theorists began challenging the idea of god as the giver and ultimate taker of life. In contrast, this idea has never affected Muslims belief on the omnipotent Allah as the giver and taker of life. Science came in with evolution theory as an explanation of where people come from and their ultimate end. This theory is an argument that life evolves constantly. The beliefs of the society concerning death changed with the development of science being in a position to relieve peoples suffering through improved medicine. The development of the germ theory challenged the belief that it was God who caused people to die. In the images of the many who chose to believe in the scientific theory, the place of God as the control of nature was taken up by the scientific explanations. Science brought up an argument that death is not governed by the laws of nature. Therefore as people were in a position to be in command of nature, then they could control mortality as well. The Indian culture even with the development of scientific theories, still holds to the fact that they do not have any control over death (Piven, 2004).

In the 19th century the view of death as a natural occurrence had taken effect. In the American culture, death began to loose its sacred touch in the 19th century continuing up to the current time. Though most Christians and other religious factions in the United States still see death in a religious light, most of the Americans view it as a natural occurrence and when it happens, it does not cause a lot of fuss. Some authors have referred America as a death-rejecting society. Compared to the Indian community, the United States does not take death and the things related to it seriously. The Alaskan Indians have been referred to as death-affirming. This is due to the fact that they are well prepared for it and the moment it comes, every person in the community participates. Proof of American denial to death can be obtained from the Kubler-Ross states. This are practices in the united states of placing their dead in sterile facilities away from everybody. The places where these death people put are normally not visited by anyone, no even friends and relatives. In America death is usually referenced with euphemisms (Cassell, 2005).  No one in the United States is open in discussing death and the dying is avoided even by the relatives. Dead people are usually removed from their beds very fast and put away until when they are collected for burial. Man-made carpeting is utilized to mask the earth at the burial ground. In most cases the bereaved are given mild sedatives so that they do not suffer the pain caused by death of a beloved one. These are all revelations of denial in death (Roppolo and Crow, 2007). This can also be observed in the way the bereaved acts after the death of someone close. The first thing they do mostly is to remove all the items of the dead person so that they are not always reminded of the death. In the Indian culture, there is acceptance and understanding of death. They do not deny it as the Americans do. Death is taken as part of their faith in God. They fully understand that it is the destiny of every one and that it is their religious duty to accept and participate in death-related rites (Twomey, 2007).    

Despite the fact that America is a multiculture society, there has been one uniform aspect as far as death is concerned. Across all cultures in the United States there is the aspect of institutionalizing burials. Unlike other cultures like the Indian, burials in most of the United States have less involvement of the relatives and other members of the society. There is usually the fast removal of the body from the funeral facility, embalming, organized viewing, and speedy burial (Cassell, 2005). All the preparations for the burial are carried out through hired services. In most of the Indian community, the respect and the sacred image of death is still prevalent. In the Indian community, death is viewed as the whole family and society event. There is still the element of the dying person being allowed to see his family and as much as possible given the chance to set things in order before dying. In America, there are facilities like hospices and nursing homes where the dying is isolated as they await their final moments. People here are rarely visited and when this happen, it is usually for a few hours. In India people who are about to die are kept company by relatives and friends who encourages them and assure them that they are not alone. Mourning in the Indian community is a major even where the whole community participates. Various rituals are performed in a systematic way (Piven, 2004).

This paper is a research on the similarities and differences of death in Indian and American cultures. The similarities in the two cultures view of death are brought about by the fact that they both know that death is inevitable. The various processes that reflect the acceptance of death in people is culturally defined thus created the differences in the two cultures. In the Indian society, nothing much has changed in the view and understanding of death. In America on the other hand, since the time of the puritans, a lot has changed in their view and understanding of death. In India religion is part of culture. Death is connected to religious. This is the reason why in India death and issues related to death do not change. America culture on the other hand has become totally separated from religious issues. There is a very big distinction between culture and religion in the United States.


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