I asked a learned friend the question (‘According to the Jain faith, why do we cremate the deceased?’) because my grandfather passed away recently. This made me think about the rituals that are in place and the fact that the generation that will become ‘the elders’ mostly, do not have a clue about what is done or why it is done! Thus it was time to ask some questions.
It can be a stressful and emotional time. A time when some people don’t see the big deal with things like this. When others don’t want anything to go ‘wrong’. Some will not want to do anything wrong through fear that the soul will not be at peace and so on. Thus it is important to know and be accurate about what to do and how to do it.
I have asked quite a few questions surrounding death and the Jain rituals that follow.
Why do we cremate?
In Indian tradition it is believed that the dead body starts breeding an infinite number of lives. The longer it remains, the greater the quantity of such life and hence the greater the sin. When a body is buried, it literally depends on this life to bio-degrade it and that can take many years.
We try to cremate the body as soon as death is confirmed, and in India, (even today,) this is done literally within hours if possible. This is done to avoid the breeding of bacterial and other life in the cadaver.
Cremation is also better in preservation of land as burial as we know takes acres and acres of land which is not reusable. Scientifically, one may also consider the fact that if the body was diseased, the germs would most certainly pollute the earth, the water which flows through it and the atmosphere which is around it. Any plants which grow on that land could also be carriers of such diseases which would then feed into the food chain of germs, animals, birds.
Psychologically, a burial remains a constant reminder of the departed person and hence is likely to cause trauma on visits to the grave. Cremation on the other hand severs all attachment to the departed. Detachment is considered the prime awareness in Jainism.
Another learned friend of mine has written: –
In India and East Africa there were no coffins; dead bodies were tied to a number of planks and carried by the mourners on foot to the crematorium. They were cremated with wood and no clothes were removed from the make shift coffin or the human body.
It was deemed to be the duty of the youngest member of the family to ignite the funeral pyre and where possible, as in Benaras, by the river bank.
Cremation is environmentally and ecologically much more healthy and takes virtually no space of any kind. When we say dust to dust then cremation is the best solution. When infants die at a tender age their bodies are cremated.
Jews and Christian followers are also moving towards cremation as there is scarcity of the burial plots. Sometimes they are piled up to 6 or more as there is space. These cemeteries are ultimately sold off by the Council and some officials make a killing in selling land worth millions of pounds for a song. You may remember Lady Porter’s case.