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29 October 2014
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The Anglo Asian Society Campaign
The Anglo Asian Society Campaign

Cremation controversy

The Newcastle based, Anglo Asian Friendship Society, are behind a campaign to legalise open-air cremations in the UK. The Anglo Asian Friendship Society President, Davender Kumar Ghai writes about the campaign, and we'd like to hear your opinions.


Do you agree with open-air funeral pyres, or do you think cremations should only take place at indoor crematoriums? Share your opinions on the BBC Message board.

Birth, marriage and death are commemorated in every culture and in India, whether president, peasant or priest, Hindus believe that open-air funeral pyres are essential for the peaceful reincarnation of one’s soul.

Fire (agni) features in weddings and worship and is a potent presence throughout one’s life: purifier, liberator and eternal witness. 

Family members are intimately involved in their loved one’s anthiyeshti (final wish). Cleansing the body, they carry and rest it down upon the wooden deathbed.

Earthly ties

In prelude to lighting the pyre, the eldest son smashes a clay pot of water to denote the deceased’s severed earthly ties.

The fire is tended, propitious elements added and the ashes allowed to naturally cool for immersion into a stream of flowing water.

Modern cremations, however, satisfy only the lowest common denominator of these and many other religious requirements, paving the way to akal mrtyu (bad death).

Most critically, the soul languishes in restless torment when ashes are intermingled in cremation chambers. 

For the uninitiated, the prospect of open air pyres can provoke dread and apprehension.

Profound experience

In reality, they are intimate, uniquely profound experiences that can inspire acceptance of mortality and recognition that, truly, in the midst of life we are in death.   

Nevertheless, we insist British pyres will be discreetly and privately located, considerate to the grieving families and to cross-cultural sensibilities.

They will be available for £500 and for free for those who cannot afford it, in contrast to the £2000 (and rising) presently paid for impersonal, gas cremations that deny the family control or any sense of emotional closure.

The Environment

437,000 wooden coffins are wastefully burnt each year in the UK and crematoria are amongst the highest emitters of poisonous mercury into our atmosphere.

"Conversely, pyres are an organic and inherently more natural means of disposal.  "

Conversely, pyres are an organic and inherently more natural means of disposal. 

Indeed, emissions from Cumbrian Foot and Mouth cattle pyres, even whilst burning 400 tonnes at a time, were comparable to levels commonly found in any British city.  

Multiculturalism

Some argue we should adopt British norms and not encourage cultural segregation. However, as a grassroots race relations charity, our members are living, breathing proof that one can be fully Hindu (or Muslim or Sikh) and fully British.

In truth, it is their very British-ness that expects respect for sincere religious beliefs, whether Hindu or any other. Members of every creed and colour have signed our petition, some even requesting funeral pyres themselves.

Jon Harle speaks to Dr Anand from the Anglo Asian Friendship Society, about open-air funeral pyres, during BBC Radio Newcastle's Sunday Breakfast:

audio Jon Harle speaks to Dr Anand >
Audio and Video links on this page require Realplayer

Do you agree with open-air funeral pyres, or do you think cremations should only take place at indoor crematoriums? Share your opinions on the BBC Message board.

last updated: 04/05/06
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