Friday December 14, 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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Puja for The Spiritualism, Not for Vulgar Entertainment

The westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures" and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those "holy books" only in the drawers of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods' idols !!!

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he westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures"

By Salil Gewali

Any auspicious days in Hinduism are expected to be observed with a complete purity of action and thought. The same holds true for other religions too. As per the Hindu scriptures, the believers are required to stay away from any kind of sense gratifications, particularly when the specific days are dedicated to Gods and Goddess such as Navratri, Laxmi Puja, Krishna Janmashtami, Shivaratri, to name a few. The pathway to devotion and spiritualism should not be “desecrated” by the blot of the brazen entertainment. The scriptures logically explain why it is antithetical, and its adverse consequences.

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Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.

 But, what a huge irony, rather a blasphemy that many people these days have started to choose the auspicious days of Gods to satisfy their base senses. Without a wee bit of regret, a certain class of people holds almost every auspicious day as the most “unmissable” occasion to booze with the friends, and what not, and stagger back home, lol! Such bizarre practices are fast catching now than ever.  Sadly, hardly any conscious people and spiritual organizations stand up and take the right measures to check such godless deviations.

What is quite unpleasant is that such a kind of unholy practices are often being facilitated by certain “Hindu intuitions” as well. On this past Laxmi Puja, the “propitious time” to perform the ritual had fallen between 6 PM to 7:53 PM. Yours truly decided to use that span of time for meditation. But hell broke loose. Apart from fireworks around, the Bollywood songs in high decibel burst forth from a certain Hindu institution quite frustrated the mission.

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Sadhu Sanga Retreat, 2016

 One senior citizen laments – “Nothing could be irreligious than the fact that a favorable time for “puja” is also being used for the wrongful purposes. We rather expect the “Hindu institutions” to teach our children Bhajan, Kirtan, and other spiritual activities, not the loud and feverish parties and disturb others.”

Another college student adds “Having been much disturbed by the noise pollution, I have persuaded my parents to shift our place of residence to elsewhere, not at least near holy places with an unholy mission. I have started to see such institutions with the eyes of suspicion these says.” Is it that our institutions are unable to use their “discretion”, and as a result, they fail to differentiate between right and wrong?  One is deeply apprehensive that Bollywood songs and vulgar dances might as well be included as a part of the “puja ritual” as we have long accepted the fun of fireworks bursting as an integral part of Laxmi Puja which in fact is just an entrenched “misconception”.

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Hinduism is expected to be observed with a complete purity of action

Needless to say, our roar for consumerism has almost drowned the whisper of inherent spiritualism. We are only just sending out the wrong messages. I’m afraid, the whole culture itself might be looked down with derision by other faiths. It might just become a subject of ridicule! It is no exaggeration, such negative notions against the “wrong practices” are all what we often read these days in several newspapers and social media. Do we want others to demean our profound spiritual heritage thus?  I believe it calls for a serious soul-searching.

Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.  It warns in the strongest terms that mankind should absolutely be careful not to fall under the influence of any short-lived sense gratifications. Or else, our endeavor to “practice and preserve” the sanctity of a religion/spiritualism will be a futile exercise.

However, on the other hand, the westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our “scriptures” and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those “holy books” only in a drawer of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods’ idols !!!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’.

Twitter:@SGewali.