Last month, when the Coronavirus Pandemic originated in the Hubei province of China, the National Health Commission of China ruled that those who perished to the novel Wuhan virus would be cremated immediately, instead of being buried.
NEW: China's National Health Commission says victims of coronavirus should be immediately cremated after death. Burial is not an option.
— BNO Newsroom (@BNODesk) February 2, 2020
The idea was to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus from the dead body is carrying the deadly virus. The procedure that the Dragon has adopted to kill the novel virus in dead bodies, viz. cremating the body of the Coronavirus victim is actually a practice that the Sanatan dharma in India has been practising for not only hundreds, but thousands of years.
In fact, the oldest scripture in the world- the Rigveda, also makes a mention of the practice of cremating dead bodies. The Rigveda unambiguously states that the Fire God will purify the mortal remains- the same principle that the Chinese also recognised because the viruses do not survive at the high temperature at which a dead body is cremated.
Not only this, even the Mahabharata makes several references to Antyesti (last sacrifice), that is, the process of cremation. Similarly, the Garuda Purana makes a vivid description of the practice of cremation. The various parts of the Mahabharata make specific references to the cremation of different characters of the epic- the Adi Parv, the first of the eighteen books of the Mahabharata mentions the cremation of a Pandava, Istri Parv mentions the cremation of Dronacharya, Anushasana Parva mentions the cremation of Bhishma Pitamah and Ashramavasika Parva mentions the cremation of Dhritrashra, Kunti and Gandhari.
Even before the Mahabharata, the Ramayana made a reference to the sandalwood pyre for the cremation of Lord Ram’s father, Emperor Dashratha.
For the Sanatan dharma, Antyesti is no ordinary process. It is one of the sixteen or more Sanskars that are essentially performed in the lifetime of a Sanātanī and it is performed in accordance with the chanting of Vedic mantras as laid down by Manu, Yājñavalkya Smṛti and Jatukarna.
However, the process of cremation in Sanatan Dharma is not purely liturgical, rather there is a scientific basis behind this practice. For instance, a dead body is required to be cremated within 24 hours in accordance with the Vedic rituals. The basic idea behind this practice is to cremate the body before the negative effect of decomposition starts to set in.
Undue delay in the cremation of the dead body gives rise to pathogens and infections that can vitiate the atmosphere around the dead body, something that becomes that much more possible when the deceased had perished to an epidemic. This is why China had also ordered the families of the Coronavirus victims to organise expeditious cremations of the concerned dead bodies. This was again a recognition of the ancient practice in the Sanatan Dharma.
The possibility of the victim’s body having acquired a transmittable infection either before or after his death is also the reason why there is a practice of bathing immediately after attending a cremation as per the Sanatan Dharma. Realising how those attending the cremation could have been infected with a virulent, the process of bathing is supposed to be the process of sanitising oneself against any such disease that might arise out of an infection.
in fact, the Sanatan Dharma prescribes several such practices aimed at maintaining personal hygiene for those who attend a cremation such as tonsuring the head, cutting nails, etc. The underlying object is to get rid of any pathogens that one might have contracted.
Even beyond combating pathogens, there are several other scientific benefits attached to the process of cremation due to which it is gradually replacing the traditional burials even in the Western countries. There are two major factors apart from combating pathogens that make cremations more attractive than burials- more eco-friendly and cost-effective compared to burials.
It is now widely accepted that cremations are more eco-friendly compared to burials. While cremation does create greenhouse gases and also vapourises chemicals such as Mercury that may be present in the body (as dental fillings), the total amount of mercury emitted from cremations at a global level is insignificant.
On the other hand, burials involve embalming- pumping an environmentally obnoxious chemical mixture into the dead body through an artery in order to delay the process of decomposition of the dead body. The widespread use of Formaldehyde– a lethal substance that can turn fatal if a human being is exposed to it in high concentrations, particularly worrying. More than 800,000 gallons of the toxic substance is estimated to be buried in the ground along with the dead bodies annually in the United States alone.
What also makes cremations more popular than burials is the former’s cost-effectiveness, at both Micro and Macro levels. Burials are expensive for the concerned family with a variety of costs involved- cemetery fees, expensive coffins, the plot of land in which the body is to be buried, the embalming process, etc.
At a macro level, it creates a real estate issue because while a cremation extinguishes the physical existence of the dead body, burial is a slow and cumbersome process as the body takes time to decompose and even after the body decomposes, the skeleton survives for long years. As the population increases and so does the number of dead, more and more lands get occupied as graveyards. A graveyard is not a strictly temporary structure thereby escalating land costs involved. And in cities like Delhi, with skyrocketing land prices, this becomes a major real estate issue. With increasing land costs, the costs of burial will also go up and this is not something peculiar to India.
It is due to such reasons that more than three-fourths of Britons now prefer cremations to burials. Apart from the environmental costs and epidemic-related risks involved, burials also mean more exorbitant financial costs for the individual families.
Even as the Coronavirus Pandemic continues to trouble several regions across the globe, we might witness a cultural change at the global level whereby cremations might replace traditional burials in several different parts of the world. The Wuhan virus outbreak has brought to light the scientific benefits attached with preferring cremations to burials.