Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Mongolian funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Irish funeral traditions and Russian funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
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Mongolian Death Rituals
When someone dies, their family removes any items that would make their spirit want to stay on Earth. For example, there’s usually one object that the deceased always used in life that they’d want in death. So their family needs to find out what this object is and get rid of it. This way, the deceased can properly prepare for rebirth and prevent any bad luck.
To move the body out of the home, they must go through a window or hole in the wall. This prevents evil spirits from following them out of the doorway.
Mongolian Funeral Ceremony
During a Mongolian funeral ceremony, lamas may direct the funeral since more than half of Mongolians are Buddhist. The lamas are the only ones allowed to touch the deceased during the ceremony. They also lead prayer, burn incense, and leave food offerings to ward off evil spirits.
Mongolian Buddhism has some similar funeral rituals to Tibetan Buddhism. Like Tibetan funeral traditions, some Mongolians have sky burials. This is when you leave the body in a high, unprotected place exposed to elements and wildlife. They also believe when the soul moves on, the body is an empty vessel.
They also may place stones around the body to prevent evil spirits from getting to it. Then once the physical body is gone, the stones represent the deceased’s soul. It’s also bad karma if the family doesn’t complete all the necessary rituals.
Some Mongolians choose traditional in-ground burials. Typically, the casket has red and black decorations, symbolizing the colors of mourning. There’s also a miniature yurt placed on the gravesite to represent the new home for the deceased’s soul.
After lowering the casket into the grave, family members sprinkle milk and rice around the gravesite. They also surround the casket with clean sand, not the dirt dug out of the ground. Children also may throw sweets or other food offerings around the gravesite.
Afterward, everyone circles the gravesite three times to say goodbye. Then, they drive home a different route to confuse any evil spirits trying to follow. There’s also usually a funeral feast at the deceased’s family’s house following the burial ceremony.