Every religion has its own belief in the way one should be laid to rest after death. In Nepal, both Hindus and Buddhist alike cremate the body on a wooden pyre after death. I have personally been to quite a few cremations including those of my close ones. I can state that the traditional cremation process and the strenuous rituals attached to it are quite an ordeal to the mind and body. I feel that it intensifies the suffering of the grieved ones.
Observing the process of a traditional cremation is not a very pleasant experience. Moreover, it is an extremely torturous experience for the ones carrying them out. There are a hundred and one nitigrities to be carried out without really understanding why! Amidst all the turmoil, the family of the deceased even need to decide on the type of wood that is to be used for the pyre. The logs come with different price tags attached; Sandalwood being the choice of the more affluent ones with the slightly ‘lesser beings’ opting for mixed or simple logs. They no doubt undergo massive guilt complexes at not being able to afford the best wood for their loved ones.
I believe that the experience of bidding our loved ones goodbye for the last time should be a peaceful and sublime one. Instead, in a traditional cremation, there is so much commotion and ‘must-dos’ attached that we hardly seem to be in the frame of mind to do justice to the moment. Rather than giving our undivided attention to the deceased, we are thrown into a flurry of random and chaotic thoughts and actions which can be quite a tormenting experience.
The last straw is when callous comments like, ‘Oh, is that part of a leg that I can see’ or ‘I can see part of the skull’ or even, ‘how quickly or slowly s/he’s burning’ can be overheard. “Can you keep shut and show a little sensitivity?” is what I feel like shouting. But to pay homage to the deceased I just choose to keep shut myself. Those are times I have wished that there were electric crematoriums in Nepal. I personally wish to be put into one when my time comes, saving ‘myself’ and my dear ones the torture attached to traditional cremations. I hear that this facility will soon be available at Pashupatinath. In fact, I have heard that electric crematoriums are being offered as an option from this year onwards. I feel that this is indeed great news but how this option is received by the people remains to be seen!
Our society is still quite conventional when it comes to social norms and practices dictated by religious interpretations. Customs and practices related to death are significantly dominated by religious beliefs and societal directives. Failure to fulfill stated norms has been attached with terrible consequences, even to the extent of instilling fear of the soul not receiving salvation. Changing norms attached to death therefore is in itself a huge challenge. But all said and done, the time for us to adopt changes has come.
Many cultures and religions of the world have the tradition of burying their dead. But due to various reasons; constraints of spaces for cemeteries probably being the primarily factor, many of them have switched over to cremation via the electric incinerator. Some have even gone to the length of deciding what they wish to be done with their remains after death. The creator of “Star Trek” Gene Roddenberry wished to have his remains shot into space. Journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes were mixed with fireworks and shot from a 153 foot memorial tower in accordance to his wishes. There are even companies that immortalize loved ones into pieces of jewelry by incorporating the carbon from their ash into synthetic diamonds. Others have even gone to the length of turning the ashes of loved ones into works of art.
We may not be ready for such dramatic choices, but we have to be ready to make a difference in the way we are laid to rest. The choices we make today can and should make things better and easier for generations to come. We have already made quite a few bold changes. Women who were not allowed to go to the ghat earlier on are lighting cremation pyres today. This has challenged the fact that ‘sons’ are the doorway to heaven. If this hard core belief can be challenged and changed, the choice of switching over to a cleaner, smoother and less tortuous method of cremation should no doubt be adopted more easily. Rest assured, I believe that even the deceased will be able to truly Rest in Peace.