How Asian cultures approach death

by Isabella Chua

Everyone dies eventually. But the way we approach death can be informed by culturally specific practices.

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Looking forward to death at Varanasi

According to Hindu beliefs, cremating bodies in the open alongside river banks is considered the most spiritually appropriate way to release one’s soul. Credits: Mandy, CC BY 2.0.

The water in the Ganges river is considered pure and holy by Hindus. Other than scattering ashes in the river, people also bathe in the water to cleanse themselves of sins.

Hyolmo Buddhists of Nepal

The 58 Wrathful Deities are mentioned in the Bardo Thodol. They appear in the form of frightening demons and animals. If the deceased realise that they are merely projections and cannot harm them, they will be eligible for rebirth or Nirvāna. Credits: Utilisateur Djampa, CC BY 4.0.

The Torajans of Indonesia

Water buffalos being sold at the Pasar Bolu livestock market at Rantepao, Sulawesi. The cost of a buffalo ranges from US$2,000 to US$40,000. It is customary to sacrifice at least 24 buffalos of different types and colours at the ceremony. Due to the hefty cost, it is becoming more acceptable to sacrifice three to four buffalos instead. Credits: Liu Yijie.

During ma’nene’, corpses are dressed to the nines and paraded around the village to greet living relatives, friends, and even tourists. They are also given snacks and cigarettes to celebrate the occasion.

Ancestral worship in Singapore

It is never too late to pamper your loved ones. Besides burning money offerings during the Qing Ming Festival, descendants may also burn paper versions of the latest Apple products, limited-edition branded bags, and more. Credits: ProjectManhattan, CC by 3.0.

Green burials in Asia
(Currently adopted in Taiwan, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea)
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Disclaimer: Our stories have been researched and fact-checked to the best of our abilities. Should you spot mistakes, inaccuracies, or have queries about our sources, please drop us an e-mail at
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