| Opinion | Malaysia/Singapore | 29 Aug 2016 | Asia Samachar |
By Dhan Singh
Every one of us would have attended a few funerals in our live time till now. Some of our relatives and loved one while other would be friends and of people we knew off.
In Sikhi, as per the Sikh Rehat Maryada (SRM), Article XIX – Funeral Ceremonies, it is stated:
“C. However young and deceased may be, the body should be cremated. However, where arrangements for cremation cannot be made, there should be no qualm about the body being immersed in flowing water or disposed of in any other manner.”
“F. When the pyre is burnt out, the whole bulk of the ashes, including the burnt bones should be gathered up and immersed in flowing water or buried at that very place and the ground levelled. Raising a monument to the memory of the deceased at the place where his dead body is cremated is taboo.”
Having attended funerals in both Singapore and Malaysia, I have seen both the old school funeral rituals and modern facilitated funerals. But only recently it had occurred to me that, in the current day and age, we have not really been kind to our, “Pavan Guru, Pani Pita, Mata Dharat Mahat”.
I had attended a funeral in Jalan Loke Yew Crematorium (before the renovation), in Kuala Lumpur, of a relative. Understanding that, some old timers wanted to be cremated, as per tradition, on firewood. Thus relative wanted to make sure that the fire was good and strong enough, that they, kept on pouring ghee and adding firewood. I just went along with the rest and did Simran as I was choking on the fumes. As the fire grew, the smoke engulfed the area and we move to the shed for Kirtan Sohela prayer.
That was when I first realised that every day there is at least 2-5 funerals like this happening in Malaysia alone, imagine the amount of food that could have been cooked with the ghee, the number of trees we could have saved, from just this 2-5 funerals. And the amount of CO2 that was released. And its impact on the environment. It would have been better if we had used the crematoriums which use gas. A lesser evil than burning wood and ghee.
Anyway, after two days we had gone back to collect the ashes. And two big gunny sacks were brought along. Using hands and shovel, we scoop up everything and filled the two sacks. Upon reaching Port Klang and heading out towards Pulau Ketam, we did ardaas and poured the ashes into the sea and dumped the sacks into the sea as well. Again, it didn’t bother me much.
In Singapore, cremations are done by electric. The coffin is placed in an enclosed chamber by a mechanical coffin carrier. This act of the coffin going into the cremation chamber alone is a very much symbolic reminder for all of us where, as Guru Ji had mentioned, when we die, we go alone while everyone is left behind.
The heat is so intense that everything is over within minutes. The next morning when we go for the ash collection, the cement slab still has some heat. Here we collect the ash with our hands and use a mini brush and dustpan to scoop up the final remains and put everything into a red cloth bag and a red plastic pail.
The short drive from Mandai to Changi ferry point, with the pail filled with the remains, on the laps of the loved one, precariously trying to avoid the toppling of it during the journey. Once in Changi, we get onto a boat and head out into the waters between Changi and Pulau Tekong. After the Ardaas, the bag is emptied into the water, a small stone is placed in the bag (so that it does not float away) and it too is dropped into the water along with the plastic pail. Again, pretty much normal for me.
All was fine until the day I saw that famous viral video of some marine specialist who had found something sticking out of a turtle’s nose, which turned out to be a plastic straw. Imagine us, walking around for God knows how long, with a straw in our nose.
And recently I saw another viral video of another turtle entangled in some net and was struggling in the water till someone got it out of the water, and cut the net free of the animal and set it free into the water.
Now let’s take a minute to think how our actions, where we use open fires and dump the gunny sack, pail and cloth, impact the very same “Pavan Guru, Pani Pita, Mata Dharat Mahat” and the health of all the animal and humans in the world.
Can we use some of the technology around us today to protect our environment, without disrupting our maryada for the antim sanskaar (final rites)?
On the air pollution part, I would rate the Mandai Crematorium in Singapore as the best example I’ve seen in which the pollution is controlled. Something which I would urge my Malaysian family to adopt as soon as possible, wherever feasible.
As for the containment and disposal of the ashes, I would like to use an old technology, which we are fast losing. The old earthen pot, Matka. It’s just made of mud, chemical free and bio-friendly.
It’s just that, we will need to put in a little bit of an effort to save the environment, in whatever way possible, even during funerals.
[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE! Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com]
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