I asked a learned friend the question (‘According to the Jain faith, why do we need to bathe after touching a dead body?’) because my grandfather passed away recently. This made me think about the rituals that are in place and the fact that the generation that will become ‘the elders’ mostly, do not have a clue about what is done or why it is done! Thus it was time to ask some questions.
It can be a stressful and emotional time. A time when some people don’t see the big deal with things like this. When others don’t want anything to go ‘wrong’. Some will not want to do anything wrong through fear that the soul will not be at peace and so on. Thus it is important to know and be accurate about what to do and how to do it.
I have asked quite a few questions surrounding death and the Jain rituals that follow.
Do we need to bathe after touching the person who’s died whether it’s after paying respects at the funeral parlour or after a funeral?
The system of taking a bath is age old from the times when the funeral almost always took place near a river or stream. The ashes were then put straight into the river. The system of funeral involved use of deadwood and cow dung. Hence people were likely to become ‘dirty’ from the handling and smoke which covered the heads and clothing of all present. Hence they would always go to the funeral with a towel, and take a dip in the river after the event.
In this day and age, the act of taking a bath/shower after the event is useful in terms of mental peace of washing away the thoughts of the event. Physically it does not have meaning. If one has handled the cadaver, it is certainly advisable to take a bath/shower.
Another learned friend of mine wrote: –
The convention of bathing after and not before the funeral was to protect the participants from the germs and infection that they may have acquired in the process of cremation. Now with the electric crematorium this bathing is not deemed necessary although some still continue with the old practice. They do not even touch the clothes they have to wear until after they had a bath or a shower.