Hindu open-air cremations to go ahead in Britain

Open air cremation of the English poet Shelley (Painting by Louis Edouard Fournier 1889)

I am happy to learn that after many years of repeated refusals, permission has finally been given for open-air cremations here in Britain.

It means that Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and Vaishnavas will be able to conduct funerals as per their religious requirements: outdoors and under the sky.

It also means that we stand a chance in this country to look at death, rather than hiding it away – or hiding away from it. And if we do that we might begin the discussion, once again, on what comes after life.

Open air cremations, where the remains of the deceased are consumed by flames from a wooden pyre, are not actually as foreign to these islands as we might think. Stonehenge certainly holds urns of cremated human remains; the Vikings were partial to setting fire to an entire ship at some funerals; the poet Shelley left orders that he was to be cremated in the open on the shore of a lake; and in 1915 no less than 53 such open cremations took place in Sussex, England. They were all Indian soldiers who had returned wounded from the European war, and died in Brighton.

So the new legislation is welcome, and will be a great relief for those of us who have had to be heavily compromised whenever we perform funerals.

You can read more about it here.



Filed under Journal

3 responses to “Hindu open-air cremations to go ahead in Britain

  1. Peter Hayes

    Dear Kripamoya Das,

    The cremations that you talked about in Brighton were carried out on the Downs high above the city. Roma and I walked up the area on a very chilly January day.The Chattery Monument was built over the cremation site to commemorate the contribution and sacrifice that these Indian soldiers had made for this country. I have some photographs of the monument, which is very beautiful in its isolated spot with usually only crows,cows and sheep for company. If I could work out a way to attach them to this I would. The Local Hindus and Sikhs have a gathering there some time in June to commemorate the event.
    We will join them this June.

  2. Radha Dasi

    While as a Vedic follower I support the idea and practice of open-air cremations, there are still some practical issues to consider e.g. the body, esp the bones are not entirely burned unless you have a very much hot and very sustained fire. One must also then dispose of the certain amount of ash and “particulates” that are left. That is the reason why so many crematoriums in India traditionally are by a river. So, this is a very good thing but must be carried out properly and in a dignified manner.

    • Yes, that is true, but it is also true of mechanised crematoria here in England. They expose the remains to a sustained heat of 800c but still not everything is consumed. So that must be taken into consideration. The main point is that everything must be done with the utmost hygiene, safety, and dignity.

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