Funeral Pyres

by MSO

A dead woman is on the funeral pyre ready to be cremated at Pashupatinath near Kathmandu in Nepal.

A funeral pyre is a method of decomposing a body on a pile of wood and burning the body as a form of cremation. The ancient Vikings lit funeral pyres to honor their dead, and it is an accepted practice among Buddhist and Hindu religions. But the practice is largely taboo in the United States. The funeral pyre, in reference to the Christian and Hebrew Bibles, equates raising smoke with the ascent of the soul. It is seen as honoring a natural cycle, reducing the body to ash and the elements of which it is composed. This type of decomposition can be a protest against traditional funerals, which some view as a denial of death.

In Hinduism, there is a widespread agreement that the 4,000 year-old practice of open-air burning is the most spiritually appropriate way to release a soul from the body following death. Many Hindus believe that mechanical cremations lead to a bad death, where the soul is forced to mingle with other souls because it has not been able to escape.

Relatives are sometimes apprehensive when a family member declares a desire to be cremated in a funeral pyre. Funeral industry officials say Crestone, Colorado in the only place in the U.S. where funeral pyres are performed for people regardless of religion.

It can take up to four hours for a body to burn completely, it depends on the intensity of the fire and the amount of wood used. Since there is no way of separating human ashes from those of the wood the family receives about five gallons of ashes.

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