This past weekend, Hindu temples across the country commemorated Chawla's life and the lives of all the crew members. At Houston's Sri Meenakshi temple, Chawla's father silently lit the fourth of seven candles — one for each astronaut. The service included prayers, songs, and brief statements by Chawla's friends and colleagues. Hundreds of people attended an hourlong service at the Hindu Temple & Community Center in Sunnyvale, Calif., where they recited a mantra in praise of God that had been chanted by Mahatma Gandhi. At a brief ceremony at New York's Ganapathi Temple, participants said prayers for the peace of the astronauts' souls. "Our tradition and philosophy tell us … that they are safe in a different home which is really our true abode," says Dr. Uma Mysorekar, who attended the New York ceremony and is president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America.
Though Hindu funeral rituals typically center around the cremation of the body, Hindu theologian Arvind Sharma of McGill University says that the tragic case of the Columbia victims will not pose a religious dilemma. "Whatever remains can be found [can be] cremated and … deposited in a sacred location or river," says Sharma.
Though the Hindu belief in reincarnation does not necessarily lessen a grieving family's pain, says Sharma, the belief that life continues in some form does provide some comfort. The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, often referred to at Hindu funerals, is particularly relevant in light of Chawla's legacy: "No one can destroy the imperishable spirit."
Read more: Memorial Service Prayers
Laurel Salton Clark — Unitarian
Commander Laurel Salton Clark, 41, a Unitarian, was deeply connected to the Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church in her hometown of Racine, Wis. She was married there, and her younger brother, Daniel Salton, is an active member and Sunday School teacher. The Rev. Dr. Tony Larsen, minister of the church for 27 years, met her when she was a teenager and officiated at her wedding to Capt. Jonathan Clark in 1991. Dr. Larsen spoke with Beliefnet shortly before leaving for Houston to be with Clark's family.
"On Sunday we held a remembrance for Laurel during the 'Joys and Concerns' portion of the service. We lit candles for Laurel. There was nothing written down, but I spoke spontaneously. Here's what I recall I said at that time: "'Although we grieve for Laurel's loss, we know she was doing what she really wanted to do. She really believed in the space program, and the scientific and medical work they were doing in outer space. And it's fitting that all those astronauts of different cultures and nationalities could get along and work together. It's a model for how we might do that on earth. We must be joyful for all of the things she represented.'"
Dr. Larsen also read a portion of a remarkable e-mail that Clark had sent from the shuttle on Friday to family and friends.