Hindu wants open-air funeral pyres in the UK

March 24, 2009

A Hindu campaigner is going to the High Court in London in an attempt to establish traditional open-air funeral pyres in the UK.

Outdoor cremations are banned in Britain, where the law dictates that cremations are restricted to designated crematoriums. 

But Davender Ghai, 70, argues it is against his faith and a breach of his human rights to prevent a ritual that has taken place in India over thousands of years.

His lawyers are expected to point out in the test case that instances have gone unpunished in the UK the past, including the 1934 open air cremation of the Nepalese ambassador’s wife in Surrey, southern England.

“I believe a person should live and die according to his own religion,” Ghai, who was the founder of the Anglo Asian Friendship Society, was quoted on the BBC website as saying.

The only legal alternative is for the bodies of relatives to be sent to India for burning, often on the banks of a river regarded as holy.

Ghai brought the case after his request was turned down by Newcastle City Council in northeast England, but as the immigrants of the 1960s and 1970s reach old age, the issue is likely to become more contentious, his lawyer was quoted as saying.

The case will come down to whether the practice is seen as too “un-British”, Ghai was reported on the BBC as saying.

The Hindu Council UK said open-air funeral pyres are sanctioned by Hindu scriptures.

 “Therefore, the individual choice of those Hindus who follow the directives of Hindu scriptures and wish to have open-air funerals should be honoured,” it said in a statement.

It put forward the suggestion that a small fire ceremony in an open coffin should be allowed behind the crematorium chapel.

But Jay Lakhani of the Hindu Academy said that though there was sympathy for Ghai’s human rights argument, there were doubts about his belief that unless his body undergoes an open-air cremation his soul will not be liberated.

“This claim flies in the face of common sense,” he wrote in the Guardian newspaper. “If the soul is still in the body, the body cannot be cremated: it could be classed as murder.”

He quoted Krishna in Bhagavad Gita 2.22 (the scripture of authority for Hindus): “Just as one casts off old garments for new, at death, the soul casts off one body and takes on another.”

Krishna does not teach that this can only happen if the body is cremated, or that this cremation has to be in the open air, Lakhani wrote.

He also describes open-air funerals as “pretty morbid”, requiring relatives of the deceased to stand around for hours, and for a male relative at the end of the burning process to crack the skull of the deceased with a club.

He accused Ghai of harming the integrity of Hinduism.

“First it fails to take into account that Hinduism is a forward-looking, evolving religion” and “second, the idea that the soul requires an open-air cremation in order to be released, demolishes the potency of the soul and thereby undermines the very foundation of Hinduism.”

The Ministry of Justice said it had no plans to change the law.

“There are inevitably competing views on the appropriate arrangements for disposing of bodies stemming from different views about religion, morals and decency,” it said in a statement.

“The current law requires that cremations must take place in a crematorium (ie a building) and open-air funeral pyres are not allowed.

“The government considers that this requirement is justified, taking into account the complex social and political issues raised.”


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Is there any other country in the world that ties itself in knots trying to satisfy the selfish demands of anybody who dumps themselves on its shores?

Of course not. The whole charade is simply a manipulative tactic designed by our own government to create divisions in society and strengthen its appeal to special interest groups.

If Ghai wants to have an open air cremation he can pay to have his body shipped to a country where such practices are tolerated. No-one is stopping him.

The rest of us can exercise our democratic right to throw the Labour government out of office at the next election and get a government that will do its proper job of protecting the interests and traditions of the indigenous people of the UK.

Posted by Jason | Report as abusive

there is a saying in the far east which i heard from a fellow friend, ‘repect the rules of your host, follow the laws of your country’

surely, if you hold a passport of the country you choose to call home, one should be more than grateful for the privilge.

maybe the UK gov should apply my suggestion to make it fair for Ghai, which is to allow Royal Mail to accept corpses to be sent out of this country.

Posted by pete | Report as abusive

Hindu’s should have the right to funeral pyre. Muslims have buriels and Jews have cemetaries. As a Hindu brahmin i would to follow the scriptures and use a funeral pyre to release the soul of my father. As a son it is my duty to cremate – yes morbid but death itself is morbid. The funeral pyre allows the observors to see the flames and one of the five elements of Hinduism to engulf the body. The ashes are then taken – not from undertakers but from the funeral pyre.
the rituals chanting and carrying of the deceased can be performed… this crematoruim method is taking the reality of death from us…. view through glass window while there is music playing….

Orthodox hindu’s must accept that the last rites of their family nust be adhered to….especially if your relatives where religious.

I beleive there is room for funeral pyres on private land in fields it should be managed by Indians and not by western companies as there many rituals that to be done


Posted by ravi | Report as abusive

Thanks for this nice posting!! much appreciated………..
There are many different rites for death in different religions and cultures.Provided health and safety concerns are met and that they are not unreasonably rigorous then it gives me no problem.

Posted by alice | Report as abusive

I am a british pagan woman and i would be hounered to be sent off on a funeral pyre, yes i belive H&S needs to be observed but i also belive this rite of passage should be available to anyone who would value this rite for what it is. if we observe religious tolerance in our daily lives then surely this should extend itself to the death of a person of this land??

paganism pre dates the christian religions that have dogmaticly ruled this country for as long as it has, but as a pagan i am not afforded the the right to be named, married or intured as such.

it saddens me that we are as a whole still so blinkered to the religious and spirtitual rights of others, respect costs us nothing but gives us so much in return.

Posted by Tania | Report as abusive