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Page last updated at 11:29 GMT, Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Pyres and cremation: What happens at a Hindu funeral?

Preparations for a cremation on an an open-air funeral pyre
In India bodies are cremated on open funeral pyres

The Court of Appeal has ruled that Davender Ghai, a devout Hindu from Gosforth, has the right to be cremated on a traditional funeral pyre.

We spoke to Gautam Balkrishan, the Panditjee (priest) at the Hindu Temple in Newcastle, about why fire is such an important part of Hindu rituals.

There are 16 Hindu sacraments, known as "sanskars". The first takes place before birth and the last, the "antrim sanskar", happens at death.

Hindus believe that in order to reach its final destination, a soul must make a journey across a river of blood. How difficult this will be is based on "punya" - our good deeds in life - and "paap" - our sins.


To help the soul on its journey, Hindu death rites are made up of a series of rituals rather than a single ceremony.

An open fire is traditional. It's what we've been doing since ancient times
Gautam Balkrishan, Hindu priest

In India these include "cow daan", where an offering is made to the sacred creature to help the soul cross the river.

Another example is "pind daan", where rice balls are offered to the dead person at particular times so they can build up their strength to complete the journey.

A person's final resting place is dependent on their karma.

Cremation compromise

Gautam explained that fire is always present at Hindu rituals - from weddings and funerals to small home "poojas" (religious rituals).

He said: "Fire is a witness of our rituals. It's an easy way to make a sign to God."

The cremation is the most important part of the funeral rites because Hindus believe the body must be destroyed to force the soul to separate from it.

In India this is done on an open funeral pyre but Gautam said that currently in the UK most Hindus compromise by holding cremations in crematoriums.

He explained: "It simply isn't practical to do things in the same way."

Gautam Balkrishan, the priest at the Bhaktpariwar Devotees Hindu Temple in Newcastle
Hindu priest Gautam Balkrishan says fire is a vital part of Hindu rituals

He added that there is no philosophical difference between having an open pyre and a closed cremation.


But Gautam said he understood why some Hindus prefer an open pyre: "An open fire is traditional. It's what we've been doing since ancient times.

"It's for the attachment between the dead person and their relatives so that they can witness them leaving this life.

"We also know that the ashes are definitely those of the same person."

However, he also said the most important thing is that the body is cremated - not how this is done:

"If it isn't cremated then we believe that the soul can't escape properly."

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