Cremation Vs Burial. And the National Green Tribunal
Yes, cremation in the open grounds can generate large amounts of ashes, which are later submerged into rivers and water bodies, especially the Ganga River. Still, the developed modern world considers cremation is preferable to burial. Why?
“What’s more natural and environment friendly – burning or burial?”
According to natural law, all creatures die and fall in the surface of earth. There are other creatures in the eco-system to eat the dead body. The remaining part would decay and join the soil. That’s how nature had designed the animal and plant kingdoms in the earth. So, both methods of disposing a dead body – burning and burial – are NOT natural.
“Cremation creates pollution. So Hinduism should adopt burial.”
Some religions use high-powered mike as part of god worship – isn’t that creating sound pollution? You cannot finger one religion when it comes to pollution. Remember, most of the religions pollute the mind by brain-washing you.
“Traditional cremation consumes nearly one tree!”
It was mandatory for a Hindu to plant at least three trees in his/her life time. Burial in a wooden coffin also consumes tree!
“Electric cremation is the best. It is a greenest way of disposing off dead bodies”
Yes, I am all for smokeless electric incinerator. But, it is not the greenest way either. In order to generate that amount of electricity, somewhere additional thermal power needs to be generated or additional dams, nuclear reactors need to be built- there is no “safe” way.”
“Burial is better than cremation. It is natural, less expensive, a ‘neater’ and ‘nicer’ way of disposal.”
If you bury a dead body in soil in a remote area or desert, it is okay. But in a religious ceremony, soil is replaced by barren concrete or stone. Tree is not saved if used for wooden coffin with special wood laminated with metal and other materials. The expense depends on how you decide to bury and what quality of coffin, etc. you use. In most countries, it is very expensive to bury because you have to buy land. There is also ongoing maintenance cost to manage the grave. Acres of wasted lands (even in the middle of commercial areas) in terms of cemeteries. There are Churches in the cities whose graveyards are ‘full’!
“Uday, burning with wood will cause air pollution…”
Yes. That’s why modern world uses electric incinerator. As per studies conducted by CANA (Cremation Association of America) and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency on Human and Animal Crematories) in June 1999, when the dead body is confined to fire for cremation the results showed that the emissions of nearly all the tested pollutants are increased. However, in a Hindu traditional cremation, when consigning the corpse to fire, these pollutants’ risks are reduced if they strictly follow the rituals. Hindus have been using specific types of firewood like sandal wood, ghee and Havan Samagri (materials for sacred offering) that prevented pollution to some extent. By adding ghee to the fire, the temperature of the flames is increased, resulting in total destruction of those germs and worms. Experiments have established that there is less risk of environmental pollution and emission of foul smells because of the disinfecting properties of the additives. However, electrical cremation doesn’t have any such direct pollution issues.
“The dispersal of ashes in the river led to water pollution.”
In olden days charcoal and wood pieces used to purify well water. But today, yes, ashes create water pollution. Every day millions of animals are cut down and butchers dump the waste in rivers. The waste water, factory waste and all sort of pollutants end up in river. Hence burn waste is a negligible.
“It’s our duty to fight pollution.”
The air pollution caused by wood while cremation is negligible compared to pollution from vehicles and factories. Air is more polluted by the vehicles on the road and by exhaust from the factories, not by burning dead bodies. If tribunal is serious about reduce pollution, ask the government to improve the public transportation services and ban plastic and its uses. The old cremation grounds are surrounded by trees to balance the nature. Nowadays greedy people cut the trees and the pollution level has increased. We have cremation ground in heart of cities, without any such precaution and that’s deplorable.
“Burial has NO health hazards”
Burying a diseased person may lead to spread infections. The body will also decay, and release many gases that might be unpleasant to anyone around them. Sometimes, nearest ponds and well get infected and you won’t be to drink water from that. I have seen in villages where dead bodies buried in middle of the farm field which not only makes the burial plot unsuitable for farming but also the land of at least 0.5 meters around the periphery.
“Cremation Vs Burial is a Hindu Vs. other religion issue”
It is a misinformation that Hindus ONLY burn. Hindus do not cremate saints, holy men and children. Many sects among Hindus prefer burial. Jainism and Sikhism also strongly prefer cremation. The Ancient Greek also used to cremate the dead bodies. Egyptians buried their dead, while Babylonians embalmed it. Persians originally followed cremation, was prohibited during Zoroastrian period. The Phoenicians used to follow practices, burial and cremation. Cremation is permitted and performed by Christians and Jews in some places, while in Islam cremation is strictly forbidden. Burial is mandatory only in Islam. According to Islamic belief, their god Allah will resurrect all dead bodies from the graves on judgment day and send them to heaven. If they cremate the body then there will be no body for their god to resurrect so they believe that they should not cremate the dead. They consider body belongs to god and burning it is disrespectful.
“Cremation began in India as part of Brahminical culture”
Indians followed cremation even before Vedic culture. In the Cemetery H culture during Harappan phase, bodies were burnt, and bones were placed in burial urns. There was burial as well as cremation during the Vedic period. Rig-Veda too makes a reference to cremation, in the 10th Mandala, where it invokes the ancestors who are “both cremated (agnidagdhá-) and uncremated (ánagnidagdha-)”. Brahminical culture began after Puranic period. The castism came to India with the advent of invaders. So this statement is not true. Cremation was considered part of advanced culture.
“Why do Hindus follow cremation?”
According to Hinduism, a person’s body is composed of 5 elements- earth, fire, water, air and sky. The cremation ceremonies of Hindus are directed towards returning the body to these elements. Agni, the god of fire is seen as a link between the gross and subtle, the seen and unseen and the known and unknown dead bodies were disposed by cremation. I do not know how to explain these concepts on a rational platform.
Hindus believe in Jeevatma (not to be confused with soul). Cremation of a person’s dead body is therefore, supposed to rid the departed Jeevatma of any attachments to the body it previously resided in. Cremation produces a feeling of detachment in the freshly disembodied subtle body and to encourage it to pass on, rather than hover around loved ones. Reincarnation literally means “entering the flesh again.” Burning ensures the Atma is released and free to enter a new body, continuing on its journey toward Nirvana.
“Uday, you claim that anything and everything in Sanatan Dharma MUST can be explained using science and rationality. What about cremation?”
A Human Being does not always die from old-age; mostly, he may die due to diseases. If he is burnt, the micro-organisms in his body will die (no pathogen survives at the temperature of fire). Thus, by burning of a body after a person is dead, you are preventing it from being a source of spread of any disease.
Cremation helps in not wasting the land as there is a practice of planting seeds to make sure the agricultural land is not wasted. This may not be true in the current scenario, but this has been the basic theory.
Burning is an easier to say good bye. There are no physical remains, so the detachment comes quickly. Healing from death of near/dear is quicker than others. So better burn it and get over with it…Burying focus on a body-centric life. It gives you an idea that physical body is everything. Even after burying the near and dear thinks and refers the place (grave) as kind-of residence of the dead person and go spend time there for anniversaries, birthdays and more. Cremation makes sure there is no such fuss, no bio degrading, no ants, no worms, no birds…
In India, where there were many trees, firewood was easily available, while soil held moisture. It was seen as optimum to burn the body as the additives used while burning the body (Various herbs etc.) protect people from contamination from the dead body, and reducing the volume of the body made it easier to dispose off the remains. Also, these Burning Grounds were placed next to rivers generally, thus ensuring a swift spread of the nitrogen content received from the body to create more fertile soil downwards.
The geographical origin of a particular religion also matters! Christianity is spread mostly cold countries where it would have been stupid to waste wood burning corpses.
Islam hails from the deserts. No forests, no wood. No burning. Thus, putting a dead body into the sand ensures that the water content from it will be drawn out rapidly, and the body will shrink in size, thus decaying rapidly.
The only religion that has a philosophical angle to the post-demise practices is Zoroastrianism; they leave the body at tower of silence for the vultures. The Parsis believe that even after death a person should be valuable to some life form.
The bottom-line: With time, we should adopt to greener way. As Cremation is a civilized way to dispose a dead body, the whole civilized world is now trying to follow this as the best method of funeral tradition adopted from Hinduism. However instead of wood burning and in accordance with time, they follow Electric cremation as an alternative Method. Cremation is building up as a form of funeral even in non-Hindu countries like USA-33%, UK-75% and China-40%. It has many advantages. In many other countries Christens also opt for cremation because space constraints and burial services are very expensive.
And in India, the government should promote crematoriums with international quality and standards. It can be a very profitable business too. Every District in India deserves one. It must be located at some quiet areas.
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