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Role of Crow in the Death Journey
(Information provided by Janine Donnellan)
It is interesting that the crow, much despised bird, becomes very important on the occasion of Pindadana (Hindu funeral proceedings). The Crow is supposed to be messenger of Yama, the Lord of Death. Hence, there is a prayer. Master of the ceremony recites, "O Crow! Thou art the messenger of Yama. Please accept this offering (food-pinda) and satisfy the hunger of the departed Spirit that has proceeded to the Abode of Yama."
On the tenth day when the pinda (balls of cooked rice ) is offered to the ancestors, all wait eagerly for the temporarily holy crow to pounce and partake of the food. Delay on the part of the crow suggests that the deceased had some unfulfilled wish which was compelling. Often the priest advises the performer to declare there and then to fulfill the last wish of the departed soul. All heave a sigh of relief, when the crow descends or condescends to peck at the food!
Pindadana relieves a preta (deceased) from the agony of hunger and thirst. Four pindas are prepared. One for the deceased and the three for his paternal ancestors. This rite known as sapindikarana completed the Antyeshti Ceremony.
For all Hindu ceremonies Agni (sacred fire), water (symbol of purifying Ganga, the sacred river), Grass (darbha), Tulasi, Earth, grains, etc. are a must. God-given bounty was seen by the ancients in simple things.
Lastly, immersion of asthi or remnants of the bones of remains in sacred rivers ensured that a man returned finally to elements from which he took his mortal form. It is believed that when a person dies, the soul assumes three of the five elements (viz., fire, wind and ether), that rise from the dead body while the two more (earth and water) remain below. With the aid of pindas offered daily during the ten days after cremation, the soul assumes yet another form and after the twelfth day performance the soul finally sheds that delicate form as well, and assumes a third body according to the nature of its karma, to go to heaven.