This paper was presented at the
National Seminar on
Indian Psychology: Theories and Models

SVYASA, Bangalore,
December 26 - 28, 2007



Decoding ‘Antim Sanskaar’ (Hindu death rites): insights on cultural continuity from Hindu, Maharashtrian families

Rachana Kulkarni Bhangaokar — University of Baroda, Baroda


The study is an attempt to reveal the local, cultural frameworks underlying the development of social-moral reasoning in the Indian context. Taking a cultural psychological perspective, it attempts to configure the mentality-practice edifice (custom complex) for the Hindu death rites or ‘antim samskaar’ and unravels the role of tacit socialization in the development of social-moral reasoning. Using a hypothetical scenario enmeshing the normative (Hindu) cultural practice of cremating the body and a social-moral dilemma, in depth interviews were conducted with 120 respondents selected from two caste groups - Brahmins and non- Brahmin (Maratha) within the Hindu, Maharashtrian community of Baroda city. The two-generational sample design comprised both middle-aged parents and one of their young adult children (boys and girls) from 40 families. Justifications given by the respondents to resolve the hypothetical scenario were coded within the “Big Three of Morality” framework comprising ethics of autonomy, community and divinity (Shweder, Much, Mahapatra, & Park, 1997; Jensen, 1996). Qualitative analysis of the data reveals respondents’ tendency to find the ‘madhala rasta’ (middle path) and resolve the situation such that, to the extent possible, psycho-social needs of all agents involved are met amicably. Decisions also highlight that situational preferences and constraints for each individual are largely determined by their family roles, gender and position within social hierarchy. The ethic of divinity is used prominently along with the ethic of community and autonomy. All three ethics amalgamate meaningfully to create the custom complex for the concept of antim samskaar (Hindu death rites). A comparison, across generations, of mentalities supporting the performance of the Hindu death rites reveals aspects of cultural continuity as well as social change.

Email the author, Ms. Rachna Kulkarni-Bhangaonkar, at