Birth and death have ever proved to be a mystery to the human mind. If birth, generally, has brought joy and satisfaction to a family, death, on the other hand, especially of a near and dear one, has invariably caused grief and consternation.
Again, disposal of the dead body was often looked upon as a religious duty and custom. There seem to have been many ways of disposing off the corpses: leaving them in a forest or an open field or on the top of trees, immersing in rivers or the sea, burial and cremation.
Existence of the burial system might have been due to the belief that the dead person’s soul still resided in the body and might be resurrected to a better birth in course of time.
Even by the time of the Ṛgveda, cremation seems to have gained precedence over all the other methods though burial was not unknown (vide Ṛgveda Saṁhitā 10.18.10-13). However, burial was the rule as far as dead infants and yatis or saṁnyāsins (monks) were concerned.
The body of the dead yati had to be bathed, adorned with new cloth and buried in a pit as deep as the daṇḍa (staff) which he used to carry. Special Vedic mantras like the Puruṣasūkta had to be chanted during the burial process. The śikya (loop of strings), the pavitra (cloth used for filtering water) and the kamaṇḍalu (water-pot) had to be placed on the various parts of the body as recommended by the dharmaśāstra works and the pit filled with salt, sand and earth. A mound may be raised later on the spot.
Burial seems to have been resorted to in the case of the yatis or saṁnyāsins since they had ceremonially given up the Vedic fires at the time of taking saṁnyāsa.
In the modern times, except certain classes of the lower castes, all the others prefer cremation to burial.