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IE Studies 2, Requirement 3

Describe and compare the disposition of the dead in two cultures. (100 words for each culture)

We know that the Vedics both buried their dead as well as cremated them. This developed in Hinduism into a requirement that bodies be burned and floated down the Ganges river, which leads to a modern vision of these Vedic funerals that is not particularly accurate. The Rgveda has a hymn (Hymn X.16) that describes the process of disposing of the dead in cremation: here, two Agnis are called on, one to destroy the body (the "bad Agni") and one to guide the soul to the Fathers (the "good Agni"). This cleanses the spirit of any impurities that may have been in the body, and leads it, whole, to be with the Fathers in heaven, retaining its self an knowledge. (Maurer, 258) Items were burned or buried for the deceased to use after death (MacDonnell, 165)

Norse sources also bring us notions of creamation and burial, with grand tombs and burials being uncovered by archeologists and a strong notion of burning bodies being found in the lore (c.f. Baldur, Beowulf). Here, we have sagas and eddic poetry that gives us much information about the disposition of the dead. (Davidson, 187) Both Beowulf and Baldur are given kingly bruials where earthly wealth is taken from human use and given to the deceased. It was also well-known in Norse culture that the burial must be proper, or else the dead may rise as a draugr rather than rest within the burial mound. (154)

Both cultures used burial and cremation in their recorded history, with cremation seeming to be the preferred method of disposing of a corpse, at least mythically. We also know that when cremation occurred, the body was provided with wealth and riches that were either buried or burned with the body, and slaves were sometimes provided. In neither culture, however, were wives forced to throw themselves onto funeral pyres (though voluntary wife-sacrifice is mentioned in RV X.18.9).


  • Davidson, HR Ellis. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. London: Penguin. 1990
  • Enright, Michael J. Lady With a Mead Cup: Ritual, Prophecy and Lordship in the European Warband from La Tene to the Viking Age. Portland, OR: Four Courts Press. 1996
  • MacDonnell, A. A. Vedic Mythology.
  • Maurer, Walter. Pinacles of India's Past: Selections from the Rgveda.
  • Puhvel, Jaan. Comparative Mythology. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins. 1987


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