What is the significance of the 13th day death ceremony ritual in Indian culture?

Why thirteen days? What is the cultural or mythological cause and importance, and what is believed to happen in the thirteen days after the death of a person?


Answer by Raakhee Venugopal:

Thank you for the A2A.
I am not aware if there is a specific ritual on the 13th day after death. In Kerala (in my community[Nairs],at least), we have specific after-death rituals only on the third day and on the sixteenth day after death, besides the daily bali tharpanam that is.
The after death rituals are mainly done for two aspects…
  1. For the Body (shareeram)
  2. For the Soul (atma)
In our community, it is said that the body should not be allowed to undergo decay and hence it is to be cremated (dahanam) within 12 hours after the person passes away. The daily bali tharpanam is conducted from the next day onward.
On the third day after cremation, the left-over bones from the cremation site are collected and after some other associated rituals, they are ceremoniously deposited in a deep river or in the sea. This is called asthi sanchayanam or just sanchayanam.
The dahanam and the asthi sanchayanam rituals are for the salvation of the body. These have no connection with the salvation of the atma.
On the sixteenth day, the function is much more elaborate. In the morning, we have the function that is presided by an ilayathu wherein it is believed that the atma of the deceased person is taken to Vaikuntham by the attendants of Lord Vishnu. During the period between dahanam and the sixteenth day function, the atma is said to be moving step-by-step towards Vaikuntham, accepting oblations from various celestial beings on the way. Until this time, the bali tharpanam is believed to be the daily meal offered to the atma of the deceased soul, which has been elevated to the position of pitrus after release from the earthly body. After the sixteenth day function, the soul is said to have found its place back at the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu once again. There is an elaborate feast on the same day. This is known as pathinaar adiyanthiram or just adiyanthiram. This brings a close to the official period of strict mourning for the family of the deceased, though the bloodline of the deceased person traditionally refrain from attending or celebrating any religious festivities (Onam, Vishu, conducting weddings, etc.) for a year after the death. In modern times, there are people who relax these customs to suit their ‘busy lifestyles’ and posing the age-old argument of ‘Who decides all these time frames? Where is all this written down? We should change when times change!’ Nowadays, I have come across families where the entire after death rituals are over within five days after the death of the person. Call me old-fashioned…but I believe that if customs are being followed, they should be followed in their entirety. Not in a way that is tailor-made to suit the people observing the customs.

What is the significance of the 13th day death ceremony ritual in Indian culture?


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