Although, cremations are part of everyday living and dying in Britain, the thought of outdoor cremations is anathema to some. However, for many Hindus and Sikhs, this practice is seen as a significant component of their faith, the cleansing nature of the open fire, allowing the soul of the deceased to be freed. Davendar Kumar Ghai has recently highlighted this issue, with his legal fight to obtain the right to an open-air cremation.
The Independent points to 4,000 years of Hindu open-air cremations, and also acknowledges the early reluctance to accept any alternative to burial within nineteenth century Britain. Even so, Mr Ghai believes there are important precedents for his case, citing instances whereby Sikhs and Hindus have been granted outdoor cremations in Britain, including 53 World War I soldiers, as well as more recent cases. It is suggested that for many opponents to outdoor cremations, there is a fear of the unknown, together with an Abrahamic belief that fire is synonymous with hell. Hopefully, the forthcoming judicial review will provide an opportunity to explore just some of these issues.
By Simon Weightman
A New Handbook of Living Religions
Death and Afterlife
By Douglas J. Davies
The Blackwell Companion to the Study of Religion