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Captivating photos showing death rituals around the world

A collage of death rituals around the world, from Venice, Ethiopia, China, India and the U.S.

Death rituals around the world are as varied as they are fascinating, with a diversity of funeral customs reflecting the many different ways that people say goodbye and lay their loved ones to rest. These photographs capture some of the unique burial rituals and funeral traditions from around the world.

Venice, Italy

A motorboat with a casket on the back, driving down the Grand Canal in Venice Photo by Stephen Walli via Flickr

Known as ‘the floating city’, Venice is criss-crossed with hundreds of canals instead of roads, making it a no-go for cars and trucks. That means that when someone dies, a speedboat hearse bears them to their final resting place, which may well be on one of the city’s many island cemeteries.

Chennai, India

A funeral hearse laden with garlands of yellow, orange and pink flowers in India Photo by Roadconnoiseur via Flickr

For many Indian Hindus, it is a tradition to decorate the hearse or funeral cart with colorful flowers, usually in orange, red and pink. Sometimes mourners will make elaborate structures over which they drape garlands of flowers, making for a colorful procession to the place of the cremation.

Tigray, Ethiopia

Mourners making their way to a funeral, one carrying a large drum Photo by Rod Waddington via Flickr

Funerals are a big event in Ethiopia, with the whole community involved in the arrangements, procession and ceremony. Bereaved family members are not expected to do any chores during the mourning period, so friends and neighbors oversee the provision of food and accommodation for guests who travel from afar for the funeral.

Kathmandu, Nepal

Mourners gathered on the steps of a river running through Kathmandu city Photo by momo via Flickr

The Bagmati river, which runs through the city of Kathmandu, is considered holy by Buddhists and Hindus alike. The person who has died is wrapped in an orange shroud and cremated on a wooden pyre on the riverbanks. Their ashes are then scattered into the sacred river.

New Orleans, U.S.A.

Musicians playing the drums at a jazz funeral Photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans via Wikimedia Commons

Jazz funerals are loud and lively, with musicians leading the funeral procession. This photo shows the traditional New Orleans funeral of musician and vocalist Danny Barker, who died in 1994. Usually the music will be quite somber as the procession makes its way to the burial site, but once the person is laid to rest, the band lets loose with more upbeat tunes and songs to celebrate their life.

Ubud, Bali

Pallbearers carrying a gold and black coffin shaped like an ox Photo by William Cho via Wikimedia Commons

In Bali, coffins are built in the shape of an ox and are called ‘lembu’. Often lavishly decorated with gold and red detail, the lembu are burned in a cremation ceremony known as Ngaben, a ritual carried out to purify the soul of the person who has died.

Bundang-gu, South Korea

Korean mourners dressed in black, leaving offerings at a loved one's mountainside grave Photo by Sunghwan Yoon via Flickr

People traditionally bury their loved ones in mound-shaped graves on mountainsides in South Korea, although cremation – and the scattering of ashes at sea – is becoming more popular. Families visit their loved one’s grave on the anniversary of their death and during important remembrance holidays including the three-day autumn harvest festival, Chuseok, to clean the grave and pay their respects.

Huntington Beach, California

Around 50 surfers, sitting on their surfboards in the ocean, forming a circle and holding hands Photo by Joel Kramer via Flickr

Boasting some of the world’s best-known surf beaches and home to the International Surfing Museum, it’s perhaps not surprising that California’s Huntington Beach has seen mourners come together to pay tribute to fellow surfers. In this photo, a group of water sport enthusiasts gather to scatter the ashes of their late friend.

Pretoria, South Africa

Singers dressed in colorful clothing, singing and dancing at a funeral. Photo by GovernmentZA via Flickr

South Africa is home to many different cultural groups and religious beliefs, each with its own unique take on saying goodbye to a loved one. A common feature of funeral services is an emphasis on music and dance as a way of paying tribute to someone special.

Tana Toraja, Indonesia

Pallbearers carrying an elaborate gold and red coffin Photo by Sergey via Flickr

Communities in Indonesia’s Tana Toraja region have some of the most complex funeral rituals in the world. Here, funerals can take months to prepare and can last for days. The elaborate red and gold coffin is carried to the grave on a funeral bier shaped like a traditional Tana Toraja house.

Pinyao, China

A store in China selling large paper funeral decorations in bright colors Photo by McKay Savage via Wikimedia Commons

These large paper decorations are a traditional feature at Chinese funerals and are also used to decorate graves. Available in different colors and sizes, these decorations each have the Chinese character meaning ‘remembrance’ at their center.

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