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A Balinese Hindu Cremation in Bali Public cremation in Kathmandu, Nepal A Hindu Cremation in India Cremation of a dead body (Germany) Cremation is the use of high-temperature burning, vaporization, and oxidation to reduce dead animal bodies, including human ones, to basic chemical compounds, such as gases and mineral fragments retaining the appearance of dry bone.[1] Cremation may serve as a funeral or post-funeral rite that is an alternative to the interment of an intact body in a casket. Cremated remains, which do not constitute a health risk, may be buried or interred in memorial sites or cemeteries, or they may be legally retained by relatives and dispersed in various ways. Cremation is not an alternative to a funeral, but rather an alternative to burial or other forms of disposal.

In many countries, cremation is usually done in a crematorium, but other countries prefer different methods, such as open-air cremation in India and in Nepal.


Modern cremation process

The cremation occurs in a crematory that is housed within a crematorium and comprises one or more furnaces. A cremator is an industrial furnace that is able to generate temperatures of to ensure disintegration of the corpse. A crematorium may be part of a chapel or a funeral home or may be an independent facility or a service offered by a cemetery.

Mississauga]], Ontario, with chimney visible

Modern cremator fuels include oil,[2] natural gas, propane, and, in some areas like Hong Kong, town gas.[3] However, coal and coke were used until the early 1960s.

Modern cremators have adjustable-control systems that monitor the furnace during cremation. These systems automatically monitor the interior to tell when the cremation process is complete, after which the furnace automatically shuts down. The time required for cremation varies from body to body, and, in modern furnaces, the process may be as fast as one hour per of body weight.

A cremator is not designed to cremate more than one human body at a time; cremation of multiple bodies is illegal in the United States and many other countries. Exceptions may be made in special cases, such as with still-born twins or with a still-born baby and a mother who died during childbirth. In such cases, the bodies must be cremated in the same container.

The chamber where the body is placed is called a retort and is lined with heat-resistant refractory bricks. The coffin or container is inserted (charged) into the retort as quickly as possible to avoid heat loss through the top door. The container may be mounted on a charger (motorised trolley) that can quickly insert it, or on a fixed or movable hopper that allows the container to slide into the cremator.

Modern cremators are computer-controlled to ensure legal and safe use. For example, the retort door cannot be opened until the cremator has reached its operating temperature, and United States federal regulations[4] require that newly constructed cremators feature dual electrical and mechanical heat-shutoff switches and door releases that are accessible from inside the retort. Refractory bricks are typically replaced every five years, because thermal fatigue gradually introduces fissures that reduce the insulating strength.

Some crematoria allow relatives to view the charging. This is sometimes done for religious reasons, such as in traditional Hindu and Jain funerals.[5]

The size of most cremators is standardized. Typically, larger cities have access to an oversized cremator that can handle corpse in the + range. Most large crematoria have small cremators installed for the cremation of fetal and infant remains.

Body container

In the United States, a body ready to be cremated must be placed in a container for cremation, which can be a simple corrugated-cardboard box or a wooden casket (coffin). Most casket manufacturers provide lines of caskets that are specially built for cremation. Another option is a cardboard box that fits inside a wooden shell, which is designed to look like a traditional casket. After the funeral service, the box is removed from the shell before cremation, permitting the shell to be re-used. Funeral homes may also offer rental caskets, which are traditional caskets used only during the services, after which the bodies are transferred to other containers for cremation. Rental caskets are sometimes designed with removable beds and liners, which are replaced after each use.

In the United Kingdom, the body is not removed from the coffin and is not placed into a container as described above. The body is cremated with the coffin, which is why all British coffins that are to be used for cremation must be combustible. The Code of Cremation Practice forbids the opening of the coffin once it has arrived at the crematorium, and rules stipulate that it must be cremated within 72 hours of the funeral service.[6] Therefore, in the United Kingdom, bodies are cremated in the same coffin that they are placed in at the undertaker's, although the regulations allow the use of an approved 'cover' during the funeral service.[6] It is recommended that jewellery be removed before the coffin is sealed, for this reason. When cremation is finished, the remains are passed through a magnetic field to remove any metal, which will be interred elsewhere in the crematorium grounds or, increasingly, recycled.[7] The ashes are then given to relatives or loved ones or scattered in the crematorium grounds where facilities exist.[8]

In Germany, the process is mostly similar to that of the United Kingdom. The body is cremated in the coffin. A piece of fireclay with a number on it is used for identifying the remains of the dead body after burning.[9] The remains are then placed in a container called an ash capsule, which generally is put into a cinerary urn.

In Australia, the deceased is cremated in a coffin supplied by the undertaker. Reusable or cardboard coffins are becoming popular, with several manufacturers now supplying them. For low cost, a plain, particle-board coffin (known in the trade as a "chippie") can be used. Handles (if fitted) are plastic and approved for use in a cremator. Coffins vary from natural cardboard and unfinished particle board (covered with a velvet pall if there is a service) to solid timber; most are veneered particle board.

Cremations can be "delivery only", with no preceding chapel service at the crematorium (although a church service may have been held) or preceded by a service in one of the crematorium chapels. Delivery-only allows crematoria to schedule cremations to make best use of the cremators, perhaps by holding the body overnight in a refrigerator, allowing a lower fee to be charged. Delivery-only is sometimes called west chapel service in industry jargon.

Burning and ashes collection

File:Schamottestein.jpg|(Germany) A piece of fireclay used for identifying the ash after burning the dead body File:UrneGeschlossen.jpg|(Germany) A cinerary urn. The laces are used to lower the urn into the ground File:UrneOffenAschenkapsel.jpg|(Germany) An open cinerary urn, showing the ash capsule containing the remains of the dead File:AschenkapselGeschlossen.jpg|(Germany) The ash capsule File:AschenkapselOffen.jpg|(Germany) An open ash capsule showing the remains of the dead File:Feuerbestattung.jpg|(Germany) Ash capsule and cinerary urn after 15 years

The box containing the body is placed in the retort and incinerated at a temperature of 760 to 1150 C (1400 to 2100 F). During the cremation process, the greater portion of the body (especially the organs and other soft tissues) is vaporized and oxidized by the intense heat; gases released are discharged through the exhaust system. The process usually takes 90 minutes to two hours, with larger bodies taking longer time.

Jewellery, such as wrist-watches and rings, are ordinarily removed before cremation, and returned to the family. The only non-natural item required to be removed is a pacemaker, because it could explode and damage the cremator; the mercury contained in a pacemaker's batteries also poses an unacceptable risk of air pollution. In the United Kingdom, and possibly other countries, the undertaker is required to remove pacemakers prior to delivering the body to the crematorium, and sign a declaration stating that any pacemaker has been removed.[10]

Contrary to popular belief, the cremated remains are not ashes in the usual sense. After the incineration is completed, the dry bone fragments are swept out of the retort and pulverised by a machine called a cremulator to process them into "ashes" or "cremated remains",[10] although pulverisation may also be performed by hand. This leaves the bone with a fine sand like texture and color, able to be scattered without need for mixing with any foreign matter,[11] though the size of the grain varies depending on the cremulator used. Their weight is approximately for adult human females and for adult human males. There are various types of cremulators, including rotating devices, grinders, and older models using heavy metal balls.[12] The grinding process typically takes about 20 minutes.

Bone-picking ceremony at a Japanese funeral In a Japanese funeral and in Taiwan, the bones are not pulverised unless requested beforehand. When not pulverised the bones are collected by the family and stored as one might do with ashes.

The appearance of cremated remains after grinding is one of the reasons they are called ashes, although a non-technical term sometimes used is "cremains",[13][14] a portmanteau of "cremated" and "remains". (The Cremation Association of North America prefers that the word "cremains" not be used for referring to "human cremated remains." The reason given is that "cremains" is thought to have less connection with the deceased, whereas a loved one's "cremated remains" has a more identifiable human connection.[15])

After final grinding, the ashes are placed in a container, which can be anything from a simple cardboard box to a decorative urn. The default container used by most crematoriums, when nothing more expensive has been selected, is almost always a hinged snap-locking box of plastic.

An unavoidable consequence of cremation is that a tiny residue of bodily remains is left in the chamber after cremation and mixes with subsequent cremations.

Ash weight and composition

Cremated remains being scattered at sea

Cremated remains are mostly dry calcium phosphates with some minor minerals, such as salts of sodium and potassium. Sulfur and most carbon are driven off as oxidized gases during the process, although a relatively small amount of carbon may remain as carbonate.

The ash remaining represents very roughly 3.5% of the body's original mass (2.5% in children). Because the weight of dry bone fragments is so closely connected to skeletal mass, their weight varies greatly from person to person. Because many changes in body composition (such as fat and muscle loss or gain) do not affect the weight of cremated remains, the weight of cremains can be more closely predicted from the person's height and sex (which predicts skeletal weight), than it can be predicted from the person's simple weight.

Ashes of adults can be said to weigh from to , but the first figure is roughly the figure for women, and the second, for men. The mean weight of adult cremated remains in a Florida, U.S. sample was 5.3 lb (approx. 2.4 kg) for adults (range ). This was found to be distributed bimodally according to sex, with the mean being for men (range ) and for women (range ). In this sample, generally all adult cremated remains over were from males, and those under were from females.[16]

Not all that remains is bone. There may be melted metal lumps from missed jewellery; casket furniture; dental fillings; and surgical implants, such as hip replacements. Large items such as titanium hip replacements (which tarnish but do not melt) or casket hinges are usually removed before processing, as they may damage the processor. (If they are missed at first, they must ultimately be removed before processing is complete, as items such as titanium joint replacements are far too durable to be ground). Implants may be returned to the family, but are more commonly sold as ferrous/non-ferrous scrap metal. After the remains are processed, smaller bits of metal such as tooth fillings, and rings (commonly known as gleanings) are sieved out and may be later interred in common, consecrated ground in a remote area of the cemetery. They may also be sold as precious metal scrap.

Methods of keeping or disposing of the cremated remains

chedi]] shaped vial and displayed inside Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai Cremated remains are returned to the next of kin in a rectangular plastic container, contained within a further cardboard box or velvet sack, or in an urn if the family had already purchased one. An official certificate of cremation prepared under the authority of the crematorium accompanies the remains, and if required by law, the permit for disposition of human remains, which must remain with the cremated remains.

Cremated remains can be kept in an urn, stored in a special memorial building (columbarium), buried in the ground at many locations or sprinkled on a special field, mountain, or in the sea. In addition, there are several services in which the cremated remains will be scattered in a variety of ways and locations. Some examples are via a helium balloon, through fireworks, shot from shotgun shells, or scattered from an airplane. One service sends a lipstick-tube sized sample of the cremated remains into low earth orbit, where they remain for years (but not permanently) before re-entering the atmosphere. Another company claims to turn part of the cremated remains into synthetic diamonds that can then be made into jewelry. Cremated remains may also be incorporated, with urn and cement, into part of an artificial reef, or they can also be mixed into paint and made into a portrait of the deceased. Cremated remains can be scattered in national parks in the U.S. with a special permit. They can also be scattered on private property with the owner's permission. A portion of the cremated remains may be retained in a specially designed locket known as cremation jewelry. The cremated remains may also be entombed. Most cemeteries will grant permission for burial of cremated remains in occupied cemetery plots that have already been purchased or are in use by the families disposing of the cremated remains without any additional charge or oversight.

The final disposition depends on the personal wishes of the deceased as well as their cultural and religious beliefs. Some religions will permit the cremated remains to be sprinkled or kept at home. Some religions, such as Roman Catholicism, insist on either burying or entombing the remains. Hinduism obliges the closest male relative (son, grandson, etc.) of the deceased to immerse the cremated remains in the holy river Ganges, preferably at the holy city of Triveni Sangam, Allahabad, or Varanasi or Haridwar, India. The Sikhs immerse the remains in Sutlej, usually at Sri Harkiratpur. In southern India, the ashes are immersed in the river Kaveri at Paschima vahini in Srirangapattana at a stretch where the river flows from east to west, depicting the life of a human being from sunrise to sunset. In Japan and Taiwan, the remaining bone fragments are given to the family and are used in a burial ritual before final interment.

Reasons for choosing cremation

Cremation allows for very economical use of cemetery space.

Apart from religious reasons (discussed below), some people find they prefer cremation to traditional burial for personal reasons. The thought of a long, slow decomposition process is unappealing to some;[17] many people find that they prefer cremation because it disposes of the body immediately.[18]

Other people view cremation as a way of simplifying their funeral process. These people view a ground burial as an unneeded complication of their funeral process, and thus choose cremation to make their services as simple as possible.

The cost factor tends to make cremation attractive. Generally speaking, cremation is cheaper than traditional burial services,[18] especially if direct cremation is chosen, in which the body is cremated as soon as legally possible without any sort of services.

Cremated remains can be scattered or buried. Cremation plots or columbarium niches are usually cheaper than a traditional burial plot or mausoleum crypt, and require less space. Some religions, such as Roman Catholicism, require the burial or entombment of cremated remains, but burial of cremated remains may often be accomplished in the burial plot of another person, such as a family member, without any additional cost. This option is charged for in England in an Anglican church where the fee is set by the Table of Parochial Fees ( 36 to incumbent and 78 to church council) a total of 114 in 2010 with a marker charged as extra. It is also very common to scatter the remains in a place which was liked by the deceased such as the sea, a river, a beach, a park, or mountains, following their last will. This is generally forbidden in public places but very easy to do. Some persons choose to have a small part of their ashes (usually less than 1 part in 1000, because of cost constraints) scattered in space (known as space burial).

Environmental impact

Cremation might be preferable for environmental reasons. Burial is a known source of certain environmental contaminants, with the coffin itself being the major contaminant,[19] though natural burials are also possible. Another environmental concern is that traditional burial takes up a great deal of space. In a traditional burial, the body is buried in a casket made from a variety of materials. In the United States, the casket is often placed inside a concrete vault or liner before burial in the ground. While individually this may not take much room, combined with other burials, it can over time cause serious space concerns. Many cemeteries, particularly in Japan[20] and Europe as well as those in larger cities, have run out of permanent space. In Tokyo, for example, traditional burial plots are extremely scarce and expensive,[21] and in London, a space crisis led Harriet Harman to propose reopening old graves for "double-decker" burials.[22]

Religious views on cremation


Islam categorically disapproves of cremation. Islam has specific rites[23] for the treatment of the body after death. Usually deceased are wrapped by a single piece of cloth for burial and without a casket.

Indian religions

Burning ghats of Manikarnika, at Varanasi, India Crematorium in Bangkok, Thailand The funeral pyre for Chan Kusalo at Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai, Thailand Burning ghats in Kathmandu, Nepal The Indian religions, such as Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism, mandate cremation. In these religions, the body is seen as an instrument to carry the soul. As an example, the Bhagavad Gita. According to Hindu philosophy the human body is a combination of five basic natural elements; namely agni (fire), jala (water), vayu (air), prithvi (earth) and akasha (space/ether). When one dies, fire (agni tattva) ceases, and that living form is sent to its original state of creation. Fire (in the form of cremation) is used to complete the fifth element.

According to Hindu traditions, the reasons for preferring to destroy the corpse by fire, over burying it into ground, is to induce a feeling of detachment into the freshly disembodied spirit, which will be helpful to encourage it into passing to "the other world" (the ultimate destination of the dead).[24] Hindus have 16 rites of passage (Sa sk ra); i.e. A Hindu undergoes 16 rituals during his lifetime, like Naming ceremony, Thread ceremony: beginning of student life, Marriage, etc., and the last being cremation. Cremation is referred to as antim-sanskara, literally meaning "the last rites." At the time of the cremation or "last rites," a "Puja" (ritual worship) is performed. Hindus believe that the cremation ceremony is not just a disposal of the dead body, but the union of Atma (Soul) with the Paramatma (The universal spirit). The holy text of Rigveda, one of the oldest Hindu scriptures, has many Ruchas (also written and pronounced as Richas) (small poems) related to cremation, which state that Lord Agni (God of Fire) will purify the dead body, also known as the Parthiv. Therefore, the Parthiv is given over to him.

Open air cremations are becoming less frequent in urban areas. There are crematoriums in most major cities, which are in effect indoor electric or gas based furnaces. Most cremations take place in these indoor crematoriums.

In Hinduism, during cremation the eldest son, the adopted son, the younger brother, or in the modern period even daughters put first fire on the dead person's body. This ritual is considered mandatory.

The act of sati is when widowed women throw themselves onto their husband's funeral pyre. This tradition has its origin in a legend in which the goddess Sati self-immolated because she was unable to bear her father Daksha's humiliation of her (living) husband Shiva. By 10th CE, this tradition had gained foothold in Indian subcontinent and was spreading. This practice was made illegal in 1829[25], but it has occasionally continued despite the risk of prosecution.

Bodies of holy men and children, however, are buried not cremated.[26] Certain castes and tribes who get classified as Hindus also perform burials, not cremations.


Balinese Hinduism is widely divergent from the Indian Hindu orthodoxy. As such, most practices of the Indian Hindu "mainstream" are ignored and abandoned, especially regarding the use of butter. Balinese Hindu dead are generally buried for a period of time, which may exceed one month or more, so that the cremation ceremony (Ngaben) can occur on an auspicious day in the Balinese-Javanese Calendar system ("Saka"). Additionally, if the departed was a court servant, member of the court or minor noble, the cremation can be postponed up to several years to coincide with the cremation of their Prince. Balinese funerals are very expensive and the body may be interred until the family can afford it or until there is a group funeral planned by the village or family when costs will be less. The purpose of burying the corpse is for the decay process to consume the fluids of the corpse, which allows for an easier, more rapid and more complete cremation.

File:Ubud Cremation Procession 2.jpg File:Ubud Cremation Procession 4.jpg File:Ubud Cremation 1.jpg File:Ubud Cremation 4.jpg


In Christian countries and cultures, cremation has historically been discouraged, but now in many denominations it is accepted.

Roman Catholicism

The Roman Catholic Church's discouragement of cremation stemmed from several ideas: first, that the body, as the instrument through which the sacraments are received, is itself a sacramental, holy object;[27] second, that as an integral part of the human person,[28] it should be disposed of in a way that honors and reverences it, and many early practices involved with disposal of dead bodies were viewed as pagan in origin or an insult to the body;[29] and third, that it constituted a denial of the resurrection of the body.[30] Cremation was forbidden because it might interfere with God's ability to resurrect the body; however, this was refuted as early as Minucius Felix, in his dialogue Octavius.[31]

Cremation was, in fact, never forbidden in and of itself; even in Medieval Europe, cremation was practiced in situations where there were multitudes of corpses simultaneously present, such as after a battle, after a pestilence or famine, and where there was an imminent fear of diseases spreading from the corpses, since individual burials with digging graves would take too long and body decomposition would begin before all the corpses had been interred.

Beginning in the Middle Ages, and even more so in the 18th century and later, rationalists and classicists began to advocate cremation again as a statement denying the resurrection and/or the afterlife,[32] although the pro-cremation movement more often than not took care to address and refute theological concerns about cremation in their works.[33] Sentiment within the Catholic Church against cremation became hardened in the face of the association of cremation with "professed enemies of God."[33] Rules were made against cremation,[34] which were softened in the 1960s.[30] The Catholic Church still officially prefers the traditional burial or entombment of the deceased,[35] but cremation is now permitted as long as it is not done to express a refusal to believe in the resurrection of the body.[36]

Current[37] Catholic liturgical regulations requires that, if requested by the family of the deceased, the cremation must not take place until after the funeral Mass. This way the body may be present for the Mass so that it, symbolizing the person, may receive blessings, be the subject of prayers in which it is mentioned, and since the body's presence "better expresses the values which the Church affirms in those (funeral) rites (or Mass)."[38] Once the Mass itself is concluded, the body could be cremated and a second service could be held at the crematorium or cemetery where the cremated remains are to be interred just as for a body burial.

Although "The Church clearly prefers and urges that the body of the deceased be present for the funeral rites,...Sometimes, however, it is not possible for the body to be present for the Funeral Mass. When extraordinary circumstances (emphasis added) make the cremation of a body the only feasible choice, pastoral sensitivity must be exercised...."[39] In other words, cremation is discouraged and Funeral Masses with cremated remains present is not permitted in keeping with the truth of the sign in the liturgical action. This is because, ashes are the sign of the corruption of the human body, and thus inadequately represent the character of sleeping awaiting the resurrection. Furthermore, it is the body, not the ashes, that receives liturgical honors, because through baptism it has become temple of the Spirit of God. It is of greatest interest to keep the truth of the sign, so that both the liturgical catechesis and the very celebration may be held truthfully and fruitfully. Therefore, if the body of the deceased cannot be brought to church for the celebration of the funeral mass, it is allowed to celebrate the same mass, whenever it be permitted, even if the body of the deceased is absent, according to the rules to be observed for the celebration in the presence of the body.[40]

In 1997 the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments granted an indult to allow for "...the celebration of the Funeral Liturgy, including Mass, in the presence of the cremated remains[41] being made less rare, although still not preferred, in the Latin Rite dioceses of the United States of America. In order for it to be allowed certain qualifications must be met. These qualifications include: 1) the cremation has not be inspired by motives contrary to Christian teaching such as respect for the body or the resurrection of the body.[36] 2) the local "...bishop (judges) it is pastorally appropriate to celebrate the liturgy for the dead, with or without Mass, with the ashes present, taking into account the concrete circumstances in each individual case, and in harmony with the spirit and precise content of the current canonical and liturgical norms."[42] In other words, in the USA there is no guarantee that in every case of a cremation prior to the Church service taking place will receive a Funeral Mass. This indult does not mention other rites, dioceses, or nations.

When a Funeral Liturgy is to be celebrated with the cremated remains present they must be in worthy vessel and placed on small prepared table or stand located in the space normally occupied by the coffin.[43] The usual funeral prayers and practices are to be adapted suit the occasion, for example prayers which explicitly refer to the body present under normal circumstances would need to be changed.

Regardless of the location and Funeral Liturgy, or lack thereof, the Church still specifies requirements for the reverent disposition of ashes, normally that the ashes are to be buried or entombed in an appropriate container, such as an urn (rather than scattered or preserved in the family home). Catholic cemeteries today regularly receive cremated remains, and many have columbaria.

Protestantism & Church of England

Protestant churches were much more welcoming of the use of cremation and at a much earlier date than the Catholic Church; pro-cremation sentiment was not unanimous among Protestants, however.[44] The first crematoria in the Protestant countries were built in 1870s, and in 1908, the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey one of the most famous Anglican churches required that remains be cremated for burial in the abbey's precincts.[45] Scattering, or "strewing," is an acceptable practice in many Protestant denominations, and some churches have their own "garden of remembrance" on their grounds in which remains can be scattered. Other groups also support cremation. These include the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Eastern Orthodox and others who forbid cremation

On the other hand, some branches of Christianity oppose cremation, including some minority Protestant groups and Orthodox.[46] Most notably, the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches forbid cremation. Exceptions are made for circumstances where it may not be avoided (when civil authority demands it, or epidemics) or if it may be sought for good cause, but when a cremation is willfully chosen for no good cause by the one who is deceased, he or she is not permitted a funeral in the church and may also be permanently excluded from liturgical prayers for the departed. In Orthodoxy, cremation is a rejection of the dogma of the general resurrection, and as such is viewed harshly.[47][48]

Latter Day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in past decades has had certain leaders say that cremation is discouraged, but not expressly forbidden. In the 1950s, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie[49] wrote that "only under the most extraordinary and unusual circumstances" would cremation be consistent with LDS teachings. More recent LDS publications have provided instructions for how to dress the deceased when they have received their temple endowments (and thus wear temple garments) prior to cremation for those wishing to do so, or in countries where the law requires cremation. Except where required by law, the family of the deceased may decide whether the body should be cremated, though the Church "does not normally encourage cremation."[50]

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses publications have stated, "Cremation is not condemned by Jehovah. ...Something that might influence a person s decisions in making these arrangements, however, is the way that the local community views funeral customs. Those who abide by Bible principles would certainly not want to do anything that would cause unnecessary offense to their neighbors."[51]


Judaism traditionally disapproved of cremation in the past (it was the traditional means of disposing the dead in the neighboring Bronze Age cultures). It has also disapproved of preservation of the dead by means of embalming and mummifying,[52][53] a practice of the ancient Egyptians. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, as the Jewish cemeteries in many European towns had become crowded and were running out of space, cremation became an approved means of corpse disposal amongst the Liberal Jews. Current liberal movements like Reform Judaism still support cremation, although burial remains the preferred option.[17][54]

The Orthodox Jews have maintained a stricter line on cremation, and disapprove of it as Halakha (Jewish law) forbids it. This halakhic concern is grounded in the upholding of bodily resurrection as a core belief of traditional Judaism, as opposed to other ancient trends such as the Sadduccees, who denied it. Conservative Jewish groups also oppose cremation.[55][56]

Some secular Jews may reject cremation perhaps in reaction to The Holocaust, in which the Jewish victims of Nazi genocide were disposed of by cremation at the death camps. At many former Nazi death camps, mounds of ashes are present beneath a shallow layer of dirt.

In Israel there were no formal crematories until 2007 when B&L Cremation Systems Inc. became the first crematory manufacturer to sell a retort to Israel. In August 2007, the predominantly orthodox ZAKA members in Israel were accused of burning down a secret crematorium.[57] ZAKA spokespersons denied any involvement, but its founder, Yehuda Meshi Zahav, applauded the act of arson, calling the existence of the crematorium a "desecration of the dead" and that the crematorium was "destined to disappear in flames". Since that incident, cremation takes place in Israel without interruption, by Aley Shalechet, the first modern funeral home in Israel. .[57]


Near East

The Bah ' Faith forbids cremation, except when required by law.

Traditionally, Zoroastrianism disavows cremation or burial to preclude pollution of fire or earth. The traditional method of corpse disposal is through ritual exposure in a "Tower of Silence", but both burial and cremation are increasingly popular alternatives. Some contemporary adhererents of the faith have opted for cremation. Parsi-Zoroastrian singer Freddie Mercury of the group Queen was cremated after his death.


Neo-Confucianism under Zhu Xi strongly discourages cremation of one's parents' corpses as unfilial.

Traditionally, Buddhist monks in China exclusively practiced cremation because other Chinese detest cremation, refusing to do it.[58] But now, the atheist Communist party enforces a strict cremation policy on Han Chinese. However, exceptions are made for Hui who do not cremate their dead due to Islamic beliefs.[59]



Bronze container of ancient cremated human remains, complete with votive offering

Cremation dates to at least 20,000 years ago in the archaeological record with the Mungo Lady, the remains of a partly cremated body found at Mungo Lake, Australia.

Alternative death rituals emphasizing one method of disposal of a body inhumation (burial), cremation, and exposure have gone through periods of preference throughout history.

In the Middle East and Europe, both burial and cremation are evident in the archaeological record in the Neolithic. Cultural groups had their own preference and prohibitions. The ancient Egyptians developed an intricate transmigration of soul theology, which prohibited cremation, and this was adopted widely among other Semitic peoples. The Babylonians, according to Herodotus, embalmed their dead. Early Persians practiced cremation, but this became prohibited during the Zoroastrian Period. Phoenicians practiced both cremation and burial. From the Cycladic civilisation in 3000 BC until the Sub-Mycenaean era in 1200 1100 B.C., Greeks practiced inhumation. Cremation appearing around the 12th century B.C. constitutes a new practice of burial and is probably an influence from Minor Asia. Until the Christian era, when the inhumation becomes again the only burial practice, both combustion and inhumation had been practiced depending on the era, and area.[60] Romans practiced both, with cremation generally associated with military honors.

In Europe, there are traces of cremation dating to the Early Bronze Age (c. 2000 B.C.) in the Pannonian Plain and along the middle Danube. The custom becomes dominant throughout Bronze Age Europe with the Urnfield culture (from ca. 1300 B.C.). In the Iron Age, inhumation becomes again more common, but cremation persisted in the Villanovan culture and elsewhere. Homer's account of Patroclus' burial describes cremation with subsequent burial in a tumulus similar to Urnfield burials, qualifying as the earliest description of cremation rites. This is mostly an anachronism, as during Mycenaean times burial was generally preferred, and Homer may have been reflecting more common use of cremation in the period in which the Iliad was written centuries later.

Criticism of burial rites is a common aspersion in competing religions and cultures, and one is the association of cremation with fire sacrifice or human sacrifice.

Hinduism and Jainism are notable for not only allowing but prescribing cremation. Cremation in India is first attested in the Cemetery H culture (from ca. 1900 B.C.), considered the formative stage of Vedic civilization. The Rigveda contains a reference to the emerging practice, in RV 10.15.14, where the forefathers "both cremated (agnidagdh -) and uncremated ( nagnidagdha-)" are invoked.[61][62]

Cremation remained common, but not universal, in both Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. According to Cicero, in Rome, inhumation was considered the more archaic rite, while the most honoured citizens were most typically cremated especially upper classes and members of imperial families.

Christianity frowned upon cremation, both influenced by the tenets of Judaism, and in an attempt to abolish Graeco-Roman pagan rituals. By the 5th century, the practice of cremation had practically disappeared from Europe.

In early Roman Britain, cremation was usual but diminished by the fourth century. It then reappeared in the fifth and sixth centuries during the migration era, when sacrificed animals were sometimes included with the human bodies on the pyre, and the deceased were dressed in costume and with ornaments for the burning. That custom was also very widespread among the Germanic peoples of the northern continental lands from which the Anglo-Saxon migrants are supposed to have been derived, during the same period. These ashes were usually thereafter deposited in a vessel of clay or bronze in an "urn cemetery." The custom again died out with the Christian conversion among the Anglo-Saxons or Early English during the seventh century, when inhumation of the corpse became general.[63]

In the Middle Ages

Throughout parts of Europe, cremation was forbidden by law, and even punishable by death if combined with Heathen rites.[64] Cremation was sometimes used by authorities as part of punishment for heretics, and this did not only include burning at the stake. For example, the body of John Wycliff was exhumed years after his death and cremated, with the ashes thrown in a river,[65] explicitly as a posthumous punishment for his denial of the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.[66] On the other hand, mass cremations were often performed out of fear[67] of contagious diseases, such as after a battle, pestilence, or famine. Retributory cremation continued into modern times. For example, after World War II, the bodies of the 12 men convicted of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg Trials were not returned to their families, but were instead cremated, then disposed of at a secret location as a specific part of a legal process intended to deny their use as a location for any sort of memorial.[68] In Japan, however, erection of a memorial building for many executed war criminals, who were also cremated, was allowed for their remains.[69]

The modern era

In 1873, Paduan Professor Brunetti presented a cremation chamber at the Vienna Exposition. In Britain, the movement found the support of Queen Victoria's surgeon, Sir Henry Thompson, who together with colleagues founded the Cremation Society of Great Britain in 1874. The first crematoria in Europe were built in 1878 in Woking, England and Gotha, Germany, the first in North America in 1876 by Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne in Washington, Pennsylvania.[70][71] The second cremation in the United States was that of Charles F. Winslow in Salt Lake City, Utah on July 31, 1877. The first cremation in Britain, that of Jeanette Pickersgill, took place on 26 March 1885 at Woking Crematorium.[72]

Cremation was declared as legal in England and Wales when Dr. William Price was unsuccessfully prosecuted for cremating his son;[73] formal legislation followed later with the passing of the Cremation Act of 1902 (this Act did not extend to Ireland), which imposed procedural requirements before a cremation could occur and restricted the practice to authorised places.[74] In 1885 the first official cremation took place at Woking. Ten cremations then took place in 1886. In 1892 a crematorium opened in Manchester, followed by one in Glasgow in 1895 and one in Liverpool in 1896.

Some of the various Protestant churches came to accept cremation, with the rationale being, "God can resurrect a bowl of ashes just as conveniently as he can resurrect a bowl of dust." The 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia was critical about these efforts, referring to them as a "sinister movement" and associating them with Freemasonry, although it said that "there is nothing directly opposed to any dogma of the Church in the practice of cremation."[75] In 1963, Pope Paul VI lifted the ban on cremation,[30] and in 1966 allowed Catholic priests to officiate at cremation ceremonies.

Australia also started to establish modern cremation movements and societies. Australians had their first purpose-built modern crematorium and chapel in the West Terrace Cemetery in the South Australian capital of Adelaide in 1901. This small building, resembling the buildings at Woking, remained largely unchanged from its 19th-century style and was in full operation until the late 1950s. The oldest operating crematorium in Australia is at Rookwood Cemetery, in Sydney. It opened in 1925.

In the Netherlands, the foundation of the Association for Optional Cremation[76] in 1874 ushered in a long debate about the merits and demerits of cremation. Laws against cremation were challenged and invalidated in 1915 (two years after the construction of the first crematorium in the Netherlands), though cremation did not become legally recognised until 1955.[77]

Negative experiences with cremation in recent history

Crematorium at Dachau concentration camp

World War II

In Nazi concentration camps, the remains of dead inmates were disposed of using incineration in special built furnaces supplied by a number of manufacturers, with the most common being Topf and Sons. This method was considered deeply offensive in Orthodox Judaism, because Halakha, the Jewish law, forbids cremation and additionally holds that it is painful to the soul of a cremated person. This is because the soul of a recently dead person is not fully aware that they died, and they experience seeing their body burnt (this is also one of the reasons autopsies are forbidden under normal circumstances). In a normal burial, as the body decays, slowly the soul moves "farther" from it. Since then, cremation has carried an extremely negative connotation for many Jews.

The Tri-State Crematory Incident

In early 2002, 334 corpses that were supposed to have been cremated in the previous few years at the Tri-State Crematory were found intact and decaying on the crematorium's grounds in the U.S. state of Georgia, having been dumped there by the crematorium's proprietor. Many of the corpses were decayed beyond identification. Some families received "ashes" that were made of wood and concrete dust.

Operator Ray Brent Marsh had 787 criminal charges filed against him. On November 19, 2004, Marsh pleaded guilty to all charges. Marsh was sentenced to two 12-year prison sentences, one each from Georgia and Tennessee, to be served concurrently; he was also sentenced to probation for 75 years following his incarceration.

Civil suits were filed against the Marsh family as well as a number of funeral homes who shipped bodies to Tri-State; these suits were ultimately settled. The property of the Marsh family has been sold, but collection of the full $80-million judgment remains doubtful. Families have expressed the desire to return the former Tri-State crematory to a natural, parklike setting.

The Indian Ocean tsunamis

The magnitude 9.0 9.3 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake triggered a series of lethal tsunamis on December 26, 2004 that killed almost 300,000 people, making them the deadliest tsunamis in recorded history. The tsunamis killed people over an area ranging from the immediate vicinity of the quake in Indonesia, Thailand, and the northwestern coast of Malaysia, to thousands of kilometers away in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and even as far as Somalia, Kenya, and Tanzania in eastern Africa.

Authorities had difficulties dealing with the large numbers of bodies, and as a result, thousands of bodies were cremated together out of fear that decaying bodies would cause disease. Many of these bodies were not identified or viewed by relatives prior to cremation. A particular point of objection was that the bodies of Westerners were kept separate from those of Asian descent, who were mostly locals. This meant that the bodies of tourists from other Asian nations, such as Japan and Korea, were mass cremated, rather than being returned to their country of origin for funeral rites.


The cremation rate varies considerably across countries with Japan reporting a 99% cremation rate while Poland reported a rate of 6.7% in 2008.[78]

See also

  • Crematory
  • Burial
  • Burial at sea
  • Burial in space
  • Funeral pyre
  • Death
  • Funeral
  • A holocaust is a religious sacrifice that is completely consumed by fire.
  • Immolation (disambiguation)
  • Resomation
  • Promession
  • Sati (also suttee) was a Hindu funeral custom in which the dead man's widow used to immolate herself on her husband s funeral pyre.
  • Tissue digestion
  • Dr. William Price the eccentric Welsh physician whose prosecution confirmed the legality of cremation in England and Wales.
  • Jeanette Pickersgill the first person officially cremated in the United Kingdom (in 1885)


External links

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