Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Jay Lakhani Questions the Case of Open Air Cremations (U.K.)
February 16th, 2010
LONDON, ENGLAND, February 14, 2010: (Following is an editorial comment by Jay Lakhani of the hindu Academy, UK). The court of appeal has ruled in favor of a Hindu man in that it is his right to insist on an open air cremation. It is one thing to insist that the individual should have the full right to dispose of his body in a manner that suits his belief system, but then if what he is insisting upon raises concerns about public health and safety, the Hindu religion would suggest that the greater good, rather than an individual’s wishes, should be taken into account.
To a Hindu like me, what was worrying in the earlier hearing was the insistence that unless cremation takes place in open air, the soul remains trapped in the body. 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).
The second argument offered in favor of open air cremations was to do with maintaining hard and fast liturgy. If this is the case, then the same scriptures that prescribe the complicated cremation liturgy also insists that the only fire that can be used to light the funeral pyre must come from the sacrificial fire which is kept lit in the individual’s home. I know of no Hindu home in the UK that has a sacrificial fire!
It is one thing for the Hindus to insist on their human rights in keeping some of their traditions alive but they sometimes do not realize that this can show Hinduism in a poor light and can undermine its potency. Such dogmatism by some Hindus undermines the claim of this religion to being a living religion prepared to evolve with the times.
What worries a Hindu like me is that the real motives behind such insistence may not be protecting human rights, but serving the self-interest of a few priests. Hindu priests who are in charge of such liturgy should realize that though the rituals they are insisting upon are important, they should evolve with the times. Unfortunately there are some who are not prepared to do this - this turns into stubborn insistence on rituals over common sense. Hinduism would insist that rituals should not be allowed to overwhelm or displace the philosophic foundation of religion.
The reason why Hindus in India continue to cremate their dead in open air is not because there is some 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, and to little opposition.
If this appeal is upheld then I suspect many gullible Hindus would be prodded into re-adopting open-air cremation over less gruesome indoor cremation in the UK. It is one thing to insist upon Human Rights but if this is carried out at the cost of sacrificing the credibility of Hinduism as a living, constantly evolving religion, then I have to oppose it.