Eco-cremation in India: A climate-friendly death

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Cremation is the traditional method of disposing of the deceased in India. However, with 8.5 million Hindus dying each year, funeral pyres exact a huge environmental toll: felling over 50 million trees, polluting rivers and emitting eight million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air, and adding to India’s already critical air pollution problem.

Traditional cremation in India takes a minimum of five to six hours to cremate the body, using lots of wood. [Al Jazeera]

The Indian government recognised the environmental impact of cremation in the 1960s.

They tried to address the problem by introducing an alternative method that costs only $10, which is less than half the cost of a traditional cremation.

A gas-based crematorium, introduced by the Indian government in the 60s. [Al Jazeera]

The main problem with the new method, however, was the lack of wood. Without the use of this material, rituals could not be held and once a body is placed within the gas chamber, families would be reduced to sitting and waiting for the completion of the burn. 

Even with the best government-subsidised intentions, gas and other forms of more environmentally-friendly cremation haven’t caught on.

“One of the most important and central ways to think about cremation is to begin to think about that person himself or herself participating in the ritual as a sacrifice,” explains Dr Ravi Singh, a sociologist of funerary rituals.

“Wood, generally, is very significant. Fire is an aesthetic that is seen with a certain degree of grace. I think that this [the reluctance to adopt alternative ways of cremating] is part of a certain kind of orthopraxy that you do what you have been doing, and this is very difficult to shed in the case of death rituals universally,” he explains.

Mokshda invented a cremation method that uses only 150-200kg of wood, while the body is cremated in two hours. [Al Jazeera]

Mokshda, an NGO in Delhi, has found a solution to make cremation more environmentally friendly while still allowing rituals. 

“We use only 150-200kg of wood for cremation instead of 400kg in a conventional cremation. This system we are using only wood, cow dung cakes and whatever things people generally use in a conventional system only, so there is no deviation in the rituals which we follow,” Gard explains

“When the fire picks up, then they will close both the sides and then the cremation process will happen,” he continues. 

“Providing proper air that is through the chimney hood so that the natural draft of air, so when more oxygen is coming in the combustion, efficiency increases and increases the heat energy. In this, the cremation process is over in two hours,” says Gard. 

Mokshda’s system is only 15 years old; a relatively insignificant amount of time when taking on a centuries-old tradition; one that the NGO and other climate change warriors hope will continue to be embraced. 

Source: Al Jazeera

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