How do different cultures say goodbye to their loved ones? Discover fascinating funeral traditions from around the world.
In cultures and religions across the world, people have special ways to say goodbye to loved ones. These are just some of the many fascinating traditional funeral rituals from around the world.
The elaborate ceremony of Balinese cremation
Photos by William Cho and Roger Price
Traditional cremations in Bali are a colourful and elaborate event that can take weeks or even months to prepare.
The coffin, or Lembu, is shaped like an ox or horse (pictured left) and decorated with gold and red. The Waddhu is a decorative tower carried during the funeral procession (pictured right). The more levels your Waddhu tower has, the more important you were in life. Royalty traditionally have nine levels in their funeral Waddhu.
These incredible, ornate structures are set aflame and cremated with the person who has died. The ashes are scattered on water in a final funeral ceremony to say goodbye.
Orthodox Russian rituals to say farewell
Photo by Nicubunu
Eastern Orthodox funerals are important rituals with a set structure. There will often be an open coffin, which mourners will circle round in an anti-clockwise direction. Priests sprinkle soil and holy water onto the person who has died as part of the traditional funeral ritual.
A common feature of Russian and Slavic funerals is Kolyva, or Coliva, a traditional symbolic food made from wheat and dried fruit. Kolyva is formed into domes and sometimes decorated with sweets or and a candle.
Week-long funerals in Tana Toraja
Photos by Sergey
In the Indonesian region of Tana Toraja, funeral rituals are an important part of communal life. Funerals can last for weeks, with dancing, prayers, feasts and family gatherings. The coffin is carried on a bier shaped like a traditional house (pictured left) and interred in cliff side caves that watch over the village.
The people of Tana Toraja don’t see death the way that we do. When someone dies, they are not gone, just changed. Every few years, the family returns to the cave to wash and re-dress their loved one, giving gifts and food to look after them until the next visit.
Mourning rituals of Japanese Buddhists
Traditional Japanese funerals are called kokubetsu-shiki and are led by Buddhist monks. The bereaved family will dress in black and mourners will present them with envelopes of money as a sympathy gift.
Japanese Buddhists are usually cremated and the family will often observe the cremation as a sign of respect. Afterwards, the family take part in a ritual called kotsuage, where they sort through the cremation ashes with chopsticks (pictured right). Any fragments are placed in an urn, which is buried at the family grave.
Amazing Ghanaian fantasy coffins
Photos by Regula Tschumi
In the West African country of Ghana, funerals are more like giant family reunions or parties than a sombre ceremony. There’ll be singing and dancing, as well as plenty of food and drink.
Nothing embodies the joyful spirit of Ghanaian funerals quite like fantasy coffins. These handcrafted wooden coffins come in almost any shape imaginable, from birds and beasts, to designer shoes and mobile phones.
The coffins usually reflect the hobbies, personality or career of the person who has died. For example, a fish-shaped coffin is a common request for fishermen, or important leaders are often buried in a wooden lion.
Colourful Alaskan spirit houses
Photos by Zdenek Svoboda and Theo Liane
In the small town of Eklutna, Alaska, indigenous traditions have mixed with Orthodox Christian beliefs in the form of these brightly coloured graves. They are known as spirit houses. After someone dies, the family will erect a spirit house to cover their body, painted in the family’s colours.
According to native Athabascan beliefs, everything taken from the earth must be allowed to return to it. Therefore the spirit houses are not maintained or repainted, but allowed to crumble and become part of nature again.
Cremation on the sacred Ganges
Photo by Dennis Jarvis
The River Ganges is the most sacred place for Hindus. Its waters are believed to cleanse the spirit and the river is the path by which souls can ascend from earth to heaven.
When a Hindu dies, they are traditionally wrapped in an orange shroud and cremated on the banks of the river. Their ashes are then scattered onto the sacred waters so that they can make their way to heaven.
Now that Hindus live all over the world, many choose to be cremated near their home and then have their ashes repatriated to India to be scattered on the Ganges. Hindus may also scatter ashes on other rivers, as every river is symbolic of the Ganges’ purity and spiritual significance.
What will your funeral be like? Will you have a traditional ceremony or modern celebration of life? You make arrangements in advance and know you’re getting the farewell you want with a funeral plan.
About the author
With a Masters from the University of Bristol, Jessica Hanson has worked in the funeral sector for several years, following the latest industry trends and writing about end of life planning. Jessica has previously written as a blogger for the Huffington Post, covering topics such as death positivity, understanding grief and how funerals are changing. You can find Jessica on LinkedIn and Twitter.