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 Myanmarese funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Swazi funeral traditions and Hispanic funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
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Buddhism is by far the most common religion in Myanmar with 88% of the population identifying as Buddhist. They believe in reincarnation — the cycle of death and rebirth — and that the dead are reborn in a form that reflects who they were when they were alive.
However, the goal is to escape this cycle and reach Nirvana, a heavenly paradise without suffering. And unlike other cultures who worship their ancestors, Buddhist Myanmarese people worship Buddha.
Myanmarese people believe the deceased’s spirit stays by the body for a week after their death. If the death occurs at the end of the year, they have the funeral service before the new year. This way, they don’t bring any bad luck into the new year. If it was a violent death, there’s a small funeral and immediate burial so the deceased’s spirit doesn’t haunt them.
Preparation of the Body
If the person died at home, their family bathes the body and dresses them in nice clothing. They also place a coin in the deceased’s mouth for the afterlife toll payment. To prepare to deceased for their afterlife journey, they leave the doors and windows open so the spirit can leave.
There’s an all-night wake before the funeral service. Throughout the night, everyone plays card games and drinks tea. There’s also a structure resembling a tent for viewing the deceased and paying your respects.
Myanmarese Funeral Service
The funeral for a monk is more elaborate, but these are the funeral traditions for an average Myanmarese person. Myanmarese funeral rituals typically last an entire week, since they believe the spirit lingers for this long. On the first day, monks chant prayers to protect the soul. Then on the seventh day, they believe the deceased accepts their death and their spirit leaves the living world — which is why they leave the doors and windows open.
Funeral guests shouldn’t wear bright colored clothing. At the service, they’ll receive funeral gifts including a fan with the deceased’s name and a book with scriptures. They also give a condolence gift to the grieving family, such as a monetary donation or a flower wreath. In return, the family may give them tea and black melon seeds as refreshments.
Burial or Cremation
The burial or cremation occurs on the third day. Burial is more common overall, but cremation is more popular in cities. Either way, there is a funeral procession to the cemetery or crematorium with monks performing chants and other funeral rituals. Before the burial or cremation, there is an offering of turmeric-coated rice.
Seventh Day Offering Meal
Some Myanmarese funeral guests may have an invitation to the seventh day offering meal on their funeral fan gift. This meal is to thank the monks for blessing the deceased. In return, monks perform the Buddhist water libation ceremony, which is the ritual pouring of liquid or grains like rice as an offering to honor and remember the deceased.
They also may have post-funeral ceremonies to thank the community for their support. At these ceremonies, everyone eats a meal, desserts, and guests may give monetary donations to the grieving family.