Author: Mary McEwan

The History Of Cremation And Its Cultural Differences

Cremation is the practice of reducing a body’s remains into ashes and bones. Throughout the years, it has been implemented into religions and cultures of different countries. There has not been any solid information about where it first began, but the society’s perspective about it over the years has been constantly changing.

In the Past

In the archeological world, records of ritually cremated remains are rare. The first of its kind was the Mungo Lady. The Mungo Lady is known as such because this partly cremated body was found in Lake Mungo of New South Wales, Australia. And so, it was also called Lake Mungo 1 or LM1. LM1 is currently stored at Mungo National Park, where it is safely locked in a vault accessed only by few archeologists and personnel.

Cremating bodies was practiced among the early Phoenicians and Persians. The same can be said for Villanovan Culture in Europe. The practice was banned in many places over time and alternative ways to dispose of bodies like mummifying and burying became the common custom. The Egyptians hold their own practices of embalming and mummifying close to their culture and faith, never including the act of burning of corpses. However, there are still religions that allow this act. Some even mandate the practice because of their religious faith.

Different Religions and their Traditional Beliefs

It is a tradition in Hinduism to cremate the bodies of loved ones who passed away. The concept of reincarnation gave them a different perspective about death – a mere transition to the next existence in a different time and body. For Hindus, it is called antim-sanskara, a term that means “last rites”. Other Indian religions such as Jainism and Sikhism also mandate the process of cremating dead bodies.

CremationThe Balinese usually bury the body before cremating it. The buried body will decay until most fluids in it are absorbed, making it easier to cremate. Another reason for delaying the ceremony is to give time for the family to save up enough money for this expensive occasion. The ceremony can be done in a mass funeral prepared by the village or in a private funeral prepared exclusively for a single person.

Some of the spiritual beliefs are not always the same. Islam traditions do not allow cremation of bodies because they have their own ceremonies and rituals on how to bury the dead.

Catholics also do not approve of the practice. However, despite the disapproval, it has been accepted in some parts of the world.

In Judaism tradition, burying the body is a way to prove their faith. Any methods of preserving the body, like mummification or embalming is against their Jewish law.

Zoroastrianism bans both burial and cremation, according to their tradition. The bodies are exposed to the sun and scavenging birds, until only dry bones are left.

The Bahá’i Faith also does not permit such customs because it is believed that one must be buried when their death comes for it is dignified and honorable.

Cremation in the Modern Times

The process of cremating a body has changed in modern times. Instead of using open fire and wood, the process is conducted in closed heat-resistant chambers. It is essential to place the body in a combustible container, preferably out of wood. Then it is placed inside the chamber until all that remain are bones. The bones are shortly grinded and these “ashes” are given to the family.

The world is constantly changing, so are the ways of handling the dead. It goes without saying that despite the many differences in cultural practices, there is still at least one thing in common. The act of respecting and remembering loved ones even when their time has passed.