Thursday February 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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In Pakistan, Hindus don’t get even a ‘Crematorium:’ Will you believe that?

There are a lot of Hindu family residing all over Pakistan and still, there are very few cremation grounds where their last rites can be performed in that area

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Not having a crematorium in Peshawar is just one of the woes that the minority communities are facing since long. Wikimedia Commons
Not having a crematorium in Peshawar is just one of the woes that the minority communities are facing since long. Wikimedia Commons
  • Due to the lack of cremation grounds, some Hindus and Sikhs travel hundreds of kilometres just to perform the last rites as per their religious practices
  • As per reports, there were about 12 cremation grounds before Independence
  • Unfortunately, Hindu’s and Sikh’s have to face the same problem in the neighbouring state as well, that is Afghanistan

Death is said to be a great leveller. But the tragedy struck to some section of society in Muslim-dominated Pakistan is altogether different.

Due to the lack of cremation grounds, some Hindus and Sikhs travel hundreds of kilometres just to perform the last rites as per their religious practices. People who can’t even afford to travel, they have no option but to bury the mortal remains of their near and dear ones.

As per reports, there were about 12 cremation grounds before Independence. But with the passage of time, they vanished in the thin air of the terror-torn nation. Even in areas lying in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where about 35,000 Hindus and Sikhs live, the cremation grounds are also rare.

Also Read: Today’s Social Issues and their Answers to Children

The law of the land is non-existent for the minorities communities like Hindu’s and Sikh’s. Without taking no-objection certificate, people from these communities can’t move an inch even. The grief-stricken families have to wait for the clearances, as they are left with no other option.

People are forced to travel long distances to cremate their relatives from the areas like Swat Bannu, Kohat, Malakand etc. The cost to travel such long distances ranges from Rs 40,000 to Rs 70,000 and on the top of it, the fear of robbery during these travels cannot be ruled out. Not all the Hindu families can afford to perform the last rites in the manner they want.

Unfortunately, Hindu’s and Sikh’s have to face the same problem in the neighbouring state as well, that is Afghanistan. The minority communities are compelled to bury the dead because cremation grounds are vanishing fast in Pakistan.

Although, Pakistan boats that the minority communities enjoy equal rights in their country, the ground reality seems to be completely different. Wikimedia Commons
Although, Pakistan boats that the minority communities enjoy equal rights in their country, the ground reality seems to be completely different. Wikimedia Commons

Although, the administration of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has allowed the minorities communities to perform cremation near temples. But most of the temples are built on the agricultural lands and commercial areas, which have already been encroached upon by land mafia.

There are a lot of Hindu family residing in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and still, there are very few cremation grounds where their last rites can be performed in that area.

Although, Pakistan boats that the minority communities enjoy equal rights in their country, the ground reality seems to be completely different. Not having a crematorium in Peshawar is just one of the woes that the minority communities are facing since long.


After much of the protests, finally, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has started building the facility from the chief minister’s fund, as per some government sources.

There are almost 50,000 Sikhs and Hindus in Peshawar. And unfortunately, due to lack of proper facilities, people over there are also facing the same situation what others are facing in areas like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Also Read: 7 new-age social issues in India that need a check

To expect some kind of generosity from the war-torn state like Pakistan is out of the way. Instead of spending extravagantly on the military expansion, Pakistan should come forward and full-fill the basic amenities for the citizen of its country. It’s the people who make the country and not the other way round.