Funerals and their Enviromental Impact

I have seen both the old school funeral rituals and modern facilitated funerals. Can we use some of the technology around us today to protect our environment, without disrupting our maryada for the antim sanskaar? asks reader DHAN SINGH

Opinion | Malaysia/Singapore | 29 Aug 2016 Asia Samachar |
Traditional fire wood crematorium in Jalan Loke Yew, Kuala Lumpur. A cremation in progress in early 2016 - PHOTO / ASIA SAMACHAR
Traditional fire wood crematorium in Jalan Loke Yew, Kuala Lumpur. A cremation in progress in early 2016 – PHOTO / 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”.

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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)?

Mandai Crematorium in Singapore - PHOTO /
Mandai Crematorium in Singapore – PHOTO /

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.


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  1. Someone commented on the cremation pricing and the poor will not be able to afford. Singapore the cremation charges are: Cremation Fee is adult – $100, Child Under 10 years old – $50. The above price is from the NEA Gov site.

    The rates in KL-PJ-Shah Alam are between RM350 to RM700 depending on where one goes. Shah Alam crematorium is operated by Nirvana a public listed company and thus the rate is the highest but comparatively the place is also the most efficient and landscaped and one can collect the ashes after just two hours and thus can go to Port Klang the same day while the others are operated by Local Authorities with one by Chinese community in PJ but the ashes are available only the next day.
    Economically Shah Alam may be cheapest for families living in Klang Valley but if one takes the community into account then the nearest may be economical.
    [Personal information]

    However for information a coffin is Not required for Loke Yew Road KL and other open burning methods but crematoriums mandate use of a coffin the cost can be anything from RM400.00 onwards depending how much the family wants to ‘waste’ as it gets burnt with the body.

    Just for information relatives of Malaysian Govt Pensioners can claim RM3000.00 one time payment from JPA for funeral expenses of the deceased pensioners. [JPA website]
    The i-BR1M or Takaful insurance will be replaced with Family Bereavement Scheme. Next of kin will receive RM 1,000 in the unfortunate event. The scheme will be valid from 1st of January 2016 to 31st of December 2016. [BR1M website]


    On the point of the rubber wood which can’t produce rubber anymore, hence economical way of disposing them as cremation wood. Which is a lesser of the two evils, interns of pollution?

    I have recently seen a new technology video, where the body is first frozen to -30 degrees Celsius, then placed on a vibrating bed to make the body breakdown into a pile of flesh and bones ice cubes, a chemical is added and then buried. This could be an option for us one day.

    Most readers of this article have not gone beyond the cremation. ie: ash disposal. The amount of pails, sack and cloth we have dumped in to the sea or flowing rivers. Imagine the damage we have caused to our drinking water sources and to the sea life.

    Someone commented on the cremation pricing and the poor will not be able to afford. Singapore the cremation charges are: Cremation Fee is adult – $100, Child Under 10 years old – $50. The above price is from the NEA Gov site


    Savinder Manjit Randhawa: The best way is to have publicity on modern cremation technology.It is clean,fast,more organised and environment friendly.Give talks to public in places like Gurdwara.If still it does not work well with some die hard people then law enforcement can take place.

  4. Dear Editor, not really. The wood used in most if not all cases is rubber wood, a by product of replanting of rubber trees which do not produce latex economically. Electricity, how is that produced? In most cases, not in an environmentally friendly manner. [Comment received via Facebook)

  5. As I passed the Loke Yew Crematorium on Sunday 28 Aug 2016, I told myself that I wanted to be cremated using wood. After reading Dhan Singh’s article above, I have changed my mind. I want to play my part in preserving the environment. Tq.

  6. ‘we have not really been kind to our “Pavan Guru, Pani Pita, Mata Dharat Mahat’
    I am in total agreement with the views expressed in the above comments by Sardar Dhan Singh Ji.

    I have been objecting for over fifteen years to the cremation method using firewood and other rituals such as pouring of ghee, sending of flowers/wreaths, covering the body with kambals/chaddars to name a few but have been even been scolded by some elderly and those who want the traditional methods of cremation to be followed as a tradition.

    The traditional method followers seem to forget that cremation by gas/electricity is the common method in many countries and even their own family members and friends who have migrated to other countries like Singapore etc have to use the gas/electricity cremation method as it is mandatory in many countries and open burning is banned by law.

    In the case of Loke Yew Road, Kuala Lumpur, there is a place for Sikhs/Hindus and adjacent to it for South Indians. Jointly the land area is not only large but also strategically located and has great commercial value. If the Management Committees of these two areas can be co-operate then the lands can be used to construct a Crematorium with about eight to ten burners with each party managing for four to five burners each. The rest of the land can be used for a hall for prayers, parking-utilities and modern facilities with the whole area being landscaped. The land facing the main road can be developed with commercial building which can provide revenue for proper upkeep of the crematorium and its facilities.

    The above suggestion may be just wishful thinking as it is doubtful if both land owners will be interested to co-operate for common good as even the Sanggat community members may not be able to come to a unanimous decision. This is the first time I am putting this in writing for information of the Sanggat with the hope that may be the leaders may be have a change of mindset.

    Malaysian Gurdwara Council (MGC) and the Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia (SNSM) leaders should consider. People much change with the times and this proposal may also apply to some of our Gurdwaras which are rarely used to poor attendance and I do not need to repeat the name of some of the Gurdwaras,

    As regards the ‘waste’ of ghee Srd Dhan has commented and as regards the practice of putting kambals/chaddars which used to be abandoned the SNSM started collecting them and later donating to victims of natural disasters.

    However, the thousands of RM are still ‘wasted’ on wreaths/flowers as they are abandoned and not of any use except it has been observed that they are collected after people have left the place with the collected wreaths/flowers are then understood to have been sold to wreath/flower sellers who then re-sell them as their buyers are not able to verify whether these are new or re-cycled.

    Later the family of the deceased also ‘offer’ bedding and utensils to Gurdwaras where the Bhog is finalised. This again is an out of date practice as the Gurdwaras do not need them. It would be better if the families were to ‘offer’ equivalent in cash in lieu of the bedding/utensils as the cash can assist the Gurdwaras to finance their activities.



    Guru Nanak Ji traveled the world by walking but to-day our Raagis-Kathakars-Religious leaders use the planes and air-con vehicles for travel. Further some claim to be more religious when they sit on the floor for langgar and forget that Guru Ji emphasised equality and thus if the Sanggat in most Gurdwaras sit on benches/chairs during langgar then why should their be any objection from any one. When I raised this matter with some ‘sant’, his ‘chelaas’ took offense and scolded me.