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Cremations go electric in Nepal

By Joanna Jolly
BBC News, Kathmandu

Funeral pyre at Pashupatinath temple
It is argued that traditional funerals are not sustainable

Authorities at one of the main temples in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, say they are to install an electric furnace for cremations.

They say this will help deal with an increase in the number of funerals at the Pashupatinath temple while at the same time protecting the environment.

For centuries, Hindu worshippers have brought their dead to the temple.

Usually bodies are cremated on wooden funeral pyres by the side of the Bagmati River, Nepal's holiest river.

But authorities say that this is no longer sustainable.

Deforestation

"Using wood-burning pyres is creating a huge pollution problem," says Shyam Shekhar Jha, Senior director of the Pashupatinath Area Development Trust.

Shyam Shekhar Jha
People are now more environmentally conscious
Shyam Shekhar Jha

He says an increase in population in the Kathmandu area has meant the number of bodies being burned every day has doubled in the past five years.

As each funeral pyre uses between 350-500 kgs of wood, the increase in demand is leading to deforestation around the Kathmandu Valley.

Although electric crematorium are common in neighbouring India, the Pashupatinath furnace will be the first of its kind in Nepal.

Temple authorities at Pashupatinath tried to introduce an electric crematorium 30 years ago, but it was rejected by worshippers who were concerned they would be prevented from performing traditional burial rites.

But Shyam Shekhar Jha says he is confident that now the new system will be adopted without resistance.

"This is a very sensitive matter, but we have made sure all the ritual requirements will be fulfilled in the new design," he says.

"Also, people are now more environmentally conscious."

Quicker

The new crematorium will cost around $780,000 and will be financed by the government.

Worshippers at Pushapatinath temple appeared to welcome the installation of the electric furnace.

Pashupatinath temple
It's hoped that the new system will reduce pollution on the Bagmati

"It's better because when you burn with wood, there is a high chance that the body is not completely burnt because the wood sometimes gets wet and does not set alight," says 21-year old Basanti Subedi.

"It's a very good idea and should be implemented straight away, even though it might be difficult for people to adjust to in the first few weeks," says Mani Prasad, 35, who travelled to Pashupatinath from the east of the country.

As well as being more environmentally friendly, the new electric crematorium will be cheaper - about half the price of a traditional funeral pyre.

It will also be quicker. Normally a body takes three hours to burn, but in the new furnace it will take only one hour.

The Pashupatinath Area Development Trust say that they plan to install the new crematorium by 2011.



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