The Living and the Dead

Social Dimensions of Death in South Asian Religions

Edited by Liz Wilson

Subjects: Religion
Series: SUNY series in Hindu Studies
Paperback : 9780791456781, 224 pages, September 2003
Hardcover : 9780791456774, 224 pages, September 2003

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations


Note on Transliteration and Transcription

Introduction: Passing On: The Social Life of Death in South Asian Religions
Liz Wilson

1. Ashes to Nectar: Death and Regeneration among the Rasa Siddhas and Nath Siddhas
David Gordon White

2. Human Torches of Enlightenment: Autocremation and Spontaneous Combustion as Marks of Sanctity in South Asian Buddhism
Liz Wilson

3. When a Wife Dies First: The Musivayanam and a Female Brahman Ritualist in Coastal Andhra
David M. Knipe

4. Return to Tears: Musical Mourning, Emotion, and Religious Reform in Two South Asian Minority Communities
Richard K. Wolf

5. Deanimating and Reanimating the Dead in Rural Sri Lanka
Jonathan S. Walters

6. The Suppression of Nuns and the Ritual Murder of Their Special Dead in Two Buddhist Monastic Texts
Gregory Schopen

7. A Funeral to Part with the Living: A Tamil Countersorcery Ritual
Isabelle Nabokov

8. Dead Healers and Living Identities: Narratives of a Hindu Ghost and a Muslim Sufi in a Shared Village
Peter Gottschalk

List of Contributors


Explores the social treatment of death in South Asian religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and other traditions. Includes material on women and marginalized groups.


This collection examines the social dimensions of death in South Asian religions, exploring the ritualized exchanges between the living and the dead performed by Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and other religious groups. Using ethnographic and historical tools associated with the comparative and historical study of religion, the contributors also record the voices and actions of marginalized groups—such as tribal peoples, women, and members of lower castes—who are often underrepresented in studies of South Asian deathways, which typically focus on the writings and practices of elite groups. For many religious people, death entails a journey leading to some new condition or place. As the ultimate experience of passage, it is highly ceremonial and ritualized, and those beliefs and practices associated with the moment of death itself—death-bed ceremonies, funerary rites, and rituals of mourning and of remembering—are examined here. The Living and the Dead offers historical depth, ethnographic detail, and conceptual clarity on a subject that is of immense importance in South Asian religious traditions.

Liz Wilson is Professor of Comparative Religion at Miami University and the author of Charming Cadavers: Horrific Figurations of the Feminine in Indian Buddhist Hagiographic Literature.