Sunday April 22, 2018

Upholding Hindu Cremation: Lets stay true to our tradition

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Hindu Cremation. Photo: Wikipedia
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Here is an article by Sanjay Adhikari wherein he gives a call for upholding Hindu traditional way of life and traditional practices like Cremation. The article was originally published in The Kathmandu Post

“Sanskrit is an orthodox subject of feudalist Brahmans” is what I remember from my memory of class two. The school I studied in trusted these words and dropped Sanskrit as a subject. These words left a great mark on my mind. I thought wearing a coat, a pair of pants, speaking in English, and using a fork and spoon would make me modern. I hallucinated that I was modern, but this hallucination ended during my A-levels, when I found out that 14 universities in Germany were teaching Sanskrit for developing the modern mind. What we threw away, calling a feudal orthodox subject, was a tool for modernity and development for them.

A few weeks ago, the Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT) introduced electric cremation as a symbol of modernity and development. PADT claims there is no difference between the traditional cremation process and the modern electric cremation process from a Dharma perspective, and that it is more beneficial economically and environmentally. Is the modern PADT modern enough to analyze the value of the traditional cremation process from a sociological perspective?

Any action has both costs and benefits, but the benefits should exceed the costs. If we look at the benefits of the PADT electric cremation process, then yes, it is a great step for environmental conservation. As claimed by PADT, nearly 300 kg wood is needed to cremate a body on a pyre which will be conserved once the electric cremation process is brought into practice. It seems by their statement that electric cremation is a great achievement for environment conservation. But to critically analyze the situation, will those trees that were used for burning be conserved for fresh oxygen, or will they be used for something else entirely? Say to make luxury furniture? If the trees will be conserved and the resources are not allocated somewhere else for luxury, it is a great step for change as future generations will enjoy a greener Nepal.

Likewise, a lot of environmental activists believe that the remaining wood after the pyre burns out is a cause of pollution in the Bagmati river, and that electric cremation will decrease the pollution. Again critically analyzing, is the wood remaining after traditional cremation polluting the Bagmati river or the sewage from houses around? Let us also consider this as an advantage of electric cremation that water pollution will decrease in general. Similarly, PADT claims, cremating a body on a pyre cost around Rs 7,000, but cremating a body in electric crematorium is much cheaper, around Rs 3,000. They are also providing free cremation to economically challenged people. The economic benefit people will be getting from electric cremation and a step towards environmental conservation is appreciable if we see superficially what PADT is trying to show.

PADT is only seeing what it wants to see in order to prove itself correct, but they are not seeing it from the sociological perspective. Malinowski, a sociologist, anthropologist and ethnographer in his work Argonauts of the Western Pacific writes about the practice of Kula ring exchange. By studying his work, Kula ring exchange can be defined as a practice done by tribes of Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea, which spans 18 island communities where participants travel hundreds of miles by canoe in order to exchange Kula valuables consisting of red shell-disc necklaces (veigun or soulava) that are traded to the north (circling the ring in clockwise direction), and white shell armbands (mwali) that are traded in the southern direction (circling counter-clockwise). If the opening gift is an armshell, then the closing gift must be a necklace and vice versa.  The exchange of Kula valuables is also accompanied by the trade of other items known as gimwali (barter).  Malisnowski critically argues, “Why would men risk life and limb to travel across huge expanses of dangerous ocean to give away what appear to be worthless trinkets?” His question gives birth to an analysis that the Kula ring seems to be a simple traditional process for the people of the tribes, but in reality, it has a huge social significance—it welds together a considerable number of tribes. It won’t be debatable to say from his work that a traditional function of a tribe is as complex, rational and practical as of modern society practices in order to bind their people into one community. Every society is unique and functions differently to bring people into the common consciousness.

By the same token, the tradition of cremation is seen as just burning the dead by PADT like the tribal people of Papua New Guinea with regard to the Kula ring are simply engaging in it as a practice but not as a tool of social unity.

For most people, every practice of ours is barbarian, irrational and has no value. We need to come out of an inferior complex and leave this mentality, or else we will fall for the same trap of individualism. By disregarding our traditions and way of society, we will fall in the trap of the west creating a society of individualism. Let’s stop individualism before every social institution gets fragmented and we create a fragmented society of an individual.

Adhikari is currently a student at Kathmandu School of Law.

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Right of Nature: Are Rivers Living Beings?

Should rivers be considered Living Entities?

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Right of Nature
Many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

By Dr. Bharti Raizada, Chicago

Science says that water bodies are not living entities, as water does not need food, does not grow, and reproduce. Water is required for life, but in itself it is nonliving.

However, many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

The Maori tribe in New Zealand considers the Whanganui River as their ancestor and the Maori people fought to get it a legal status as a living being. In 2017, a court in New Zealand gave this river the status of living being and same rights as humans, to protect it from pollution. Thus, now if someone pollutes in it then it is considered equivalent to harming a human.

ALSO READ: Worshiping mother nature part of our tradition: Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Right of Nature
Rivers are sacred in many religions, including Hinduism. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

Rivers are sacred in Hinduism also. Hindus believe that the Ganga descended from heaven and call her Ganga Maa. A few days after New Zealand’s court decision, Uttarakhand high court in India gave the Ganga and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries the status of living human entities. The Court-appointed three officials as legal custodians. However, the court did not clarify many aspects related to this decision.

After this verdict some of the questions, which naturally came to mind, were:

Can Hindus still do rituals of flowing ashes, leaves, flowers, diyas in river or no? Can a dam be built on the river after this judgment? If some damage, to a person, animal, plants, or property, occurs because of river e.g. overflow, hurricanes, flooding etc., how the river will pay the liabilities? What if all rivers, oceans, ponds etc. are given the status of living beings? Will drinking water from river become a crime? What about taking water and using it for routine needs,  agriculture or building structures? Will it be illegal? If a child throws a stone in water, will it be a criminal act? Will fishing be considered stealing? What about boating? If someone is using heat near water and water evaporates, is it equal to taking the body part of a human being? What about taking a bath in the river?

Right of Nature
If the river gets a living status, as human, then we cannot use it for anything without its permission, so everyone has to stop touching the water. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: Decoding supernatural: What is the nature of entities and gods who influence human behavior

Other queries, which arise, are:

Will animals and plants get the same status? What if you kill an ant or a chicken etc. or cut a tree? Will all animals and plants get a legal custodian?

Where is all the waste supposed to go? It has to go somewhere back in nature, right?

Uttrakhand state government challenged the judgement in Supreme Court and the latter reversed the judgment.

Right of Nature
So where do we stand? In my opinion, granting living status to nature is a different thing than giving protected status or preserving nature. Image by Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: How nature destroys the negative tendencies in a positive manner

Ecuador’s constitution recognized the Right of Nature to exist, specifically Vilcabamba river, in 2008.

Then Bolivia passed the law of the right of mother earth and granted Nature equal rights as humans.

Many communities in the U.S.A. passed the Right of Nature law.

These laws are creating a dilemma or quandary also, as people need to use these resources. We cannot live without using natural resources. However, there is a difference between using natural resources and afflicting or destroying these. So, please use natural resources very diligently. Try not to vitiate nature.

On World Water Day (March 22), please start taking care of rivers, so that there is no need for future celebrations. It should not be a one-day celebration anyway, we should scrupulously look out for nature all the time.

Dr. Raizada is a practicing anesthesiologist.