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Britain’s Hindu Open-Air Cremation Debate

Davender Ghai, a practicing Hindu, had asked for an open-air cremation when he dies but it was denied by Newcastle city council in Britain. Davender Ghai had argued then that denying him an open-air ritual ‘will enslave his soul in endless earthly entrapment.’ This debate had taken place in March 2009. It seems an appeal on the matter in the High Court will be taken up in this week. Jay Lakhani has started another debate by suggesting in his article in the Guardian UK that Hindus don't need open-air cremation.

And there is no religious reason to demand open-air cremations. To pursue this 'right' in court goes against the spirit of Hinduism.

To a Hindu like me, what was particularly worrying in the earlier hearing, at the high court, was the insistence that unless cremation takes place in the open air, the soul remains trapped in the body. Ghai complained that, without such a cremation, his soul would be enslaved in "in endless earthly entrapment". Such insistence would undermine the whole premise of Hinduism. Hinduism clearly teaches that at death (not at the time of cremation) the soul departs from the body (Bhagavad Gita 2.22).

Hindu priests who are in charge of liturgy should realize that though the rituals they are insisting upon are important, they should adapt and change with the requirements of modern living. Unfortunately many are not prepared to do this, putting a stubborn insistence on ritual over common sense. The spirit of Hinduism, in contrast, would seem insist that rituals should not be allowed to overwhelm or displace the philosophic foundation of religion. The reason many Hindus in India continue to cremate their dead in the open air is not because there is great theological significance to it, but simply because they do not have the less gruesome alternative we have in the UK. In fact evidence suggests that Hindus in India are now setting up gas-fired crematoriums.

Hindu Blog’s view

The notion of individual soul is ignorance and this is what Upanishads are constantly trying to remind us. All animate and inanimate is that – which we refer as God or Brahman or the Supreme Soul. When the veil of ego and ignorance is lifted we will see this Supreme Soul in each living and non-living. This is Moksha and this has to be attained in this world itself.