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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hindu Cremations

In the news this week was a story about the English researcher who spoke of the environmental costs of cremation and I am reminded of how important a ceremony it is in the Hindu religion.

They believe that until a body is cremated, the soul will remain nearby and that only when it is consumed by fire will it be released to go to the sacred place where it may be reincarnated into a new life. Their next life depends on how well the person had lived in their past life.

There is often much money spent on elaborate carved wooden cremation pyres – there was even a workshop devoted to building them just at the end of our street in Ubud, Bali. Kids often gathered to play with the shavings and build their own pyres. Many people attended cremations and tourists are welcomed as voyeurs of the spectacle and traditional ritual ceremonies around lighting the pyres.

On one occasion in Bali we were touring the north of the island by car and had stopped for lunch when we were approached by a pleasant young man who offered to be our escort to a local cremation. Arriving at the site, the ceremony was already in progress and any wooden pyre had been burned revealing the body on a concrete platform. The family of the body must have been poor and to us, not understanding the rituals or language, it was a very crude sight. There was a large tank of kerosene hoisted into a tree and a hose from it fed a burner trained on the body. We were there about an hour and one of the refills of the kerosene tank, until all that seemed left was the skull. A holy person would soon arrive to crack it open to release the soul and the ashes would then be taken by the family to the ocean to be scattered out to sea.

For Hindu’s there is no question or choice in what happens to their bodies when they die. We do have a choice and mine is to leave my body to a medical school, and leave some locks of hair for family should there ever be need for DNA analysis. For those with concerns about the considerable amount of fossil fuel energy used in cremation of a body, there are some natural burial sites set aside where burials are recorded but no markings are allowed to identify the grave. I know of one such natural site a friend chose for his burial and I am curious about their prevalence.

I believe it to be only considerate for each of us to face our inevitable death and let our families know our wishes for burial and any events they would like to see around it. Rie

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rie, I recently found your blog and have been reading it each time you post. Thanks for all the good info and insights. Pat in SC