Book Review: ‘The Final Farewell’ by Minakshi Dewan

Exploring Diversity in Funeral Customs

Book Title: The Final Farewell: Understanding the Last Rites and Rituals of India’s Major Faiths
Author: Minakshi Dewan
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Number of Pages: 312
ISBN: 978-9356994782
Date Published: Oct. 26, 2023
Price: INR 379

The Final Farewell by Minakshi Dewan Book Cover

Book Review

Prehistoric tribes viewed death differently, with some dredging it as unnatural and others as a shift in existence. Religions have unique practices and beliefs to help members cope with bereavement. Funeral rites and customs aim to help families bid farewell, incorporating rituals, viewings, mass ceremonies, and cultural attire. These practices have ancient roots and are vital components of community, characterized by significant symbols, communal gathering, ritual action, and cultural heritage.

The Final Farewell” by Minakshi Dewan is a profound exploration of death rituals across various faiths in India. In this comprehensive book, Dewan meticulously details the practices observed in India’s major religions, transcending mere documentation to offer readers a deep understanding of the cultural, spiritual, and historical dimensions woven into these rituals. Most religions have funerals within a week of death, with Catholic rituals taking place three days later and Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu rites sometimes happening within 24 hours.

Funeral traditions include rituals, viewings, mass services, and ethnic apparel to assist families in saying their final goodbyes. These behaviors have ancient origins and are essential components of community, as evidenced by major symbols, communal gatherings, ritual activity, and cultural legacy.

The book explores the burial practices of five major faiths, highlighting the unique rituals and ceremonies of each faith. It also delves into the complexities of cremation, burial, mourning customs, and symbolic ceremonies. Some chapters highlight the societal inequalities faced by lower castes and women, highlighting the need for reform in cultural practices. The chapter titled ‘Last Rites among the Kinnar: a Neglected Group’ stands tall in the book for its eye-opening contents. The book also encourages readers to consider the implications of such discrimination and advocate for more inclusive burial traditions.

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The Final Farewell” by Dewan explores the economic and environmental costs of saying goodbye, focusing on the financial burdens on families during funeral arrangements and the ecological footprint left by traditional burial methods and cremation. The book encourages a holistic approach to death rites, despite some criticisms. Its urban-centric perspective may limit its usefulness in rural or culturally diverse contexts, but it remains an excellent resource for understanding the complex aspects of saying farewell and encouraging empathy, understanding, and discourse about death and its rituals.

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