So how many ways do people dispose of their dead?
There is firstly what I would consider the most commonly thought of to me, in my culture and Society. That of a British one,
The Christian burial.
The Christian burial is always performed on sacred ground. A hole is prepared in the Earth. The deceased is placed in a Coffin. A rectangular box made of wood traditionally. But a new fashion of using wicker or bio degradable cardboard has become available. I think most people still go for the traditional wooden casket however. A vicar usually performs the Christian Eucharist. Then family and friends go somewhere to have food and drink and to talk about memories of the deceased.
The Catholic burial
The Catholic ceremony is much more complex than the Christian ceremony. It is broken up in to different parts. The deceased still goes in a coffin. But has more of a journey. Firstly is the conveyance of the body to the church. During this the Parish Priest and clergy go to the house the body is resting in. Before removing the deceased , the house is sprinkled with Holy water. Once in the Church. Fascinatingly the feet of the deceased should point towards the East, and when buried also. The ceremony in the church is praying, then mass and then absolution. Followed by the coffin being accompanied to the graveside. There is a final petition made by the Priest and the funeral is completed.
The Islamic Funeral.
In Islam , the first thing to be done as soon as possible is to wash the corpse. The body is then shrouded. The shroud is usually white cotton, as it is plain and humble, as stated necessary. The whole Muslim community offer up a prayer for forgiveness of the deceased. This is called the Salat al-Janazah. The body is then taken for burial. This is based on region and can differ on the different Muslims in that particular region. The body is placed o nits right side, facing Mecca, without its casket. The lowering of the corpse is done by relatives. The mourning period is three days in Islam. With Widower's having to extend this period to four months and ten days. This is to make sure they are not pregnant with the dead man's child, if it is a man who died. Mourning has to be done in a dignified manner. Now you may or may not know about the funeral rites already mentioned. But a more elaborate and unusual one is that of a small ethnic group called the Torajans.
The Torajans are an Indonesian ethnic minority group. When some one dies in their community , they have a funeral to fit. Some funerals have to take place months or even years later. Quite a contrast to the Muslim burial that has to be done as quick as possible. The body is wrapped and it is believed the spirit of the deceased stays around their own village until the funeral is completed. The richer the deceased , the more elaborate the funeral. With every thing the deceased will need in the afterlife being placed in their coffin. Their grave can be any thing from a coffin hanging from a tree over a cliff for a baby, to a massive cave opening for big families. They dance, sing and chant to celebrate the long journey of the deceased in to the afterlife. Water Buffalo is slaughtered in the Torajan's ritual. The richer the deceased the more Water Buffalo and pigs are killed over the period of the feast as the deceased will get to the after life faster the more they have.
There are many ways , and cremation is becoming widely accepted,but is forbidden by Islam. As the world becomes a smaller place to live, we will all have to consider how the dead are passed on from this life.
Tibetan Sky Burial( more ritual)
The Tibetan funeral ritual is probably what some may see as the most unfeeling way of saying good bye you could think of, dragging a body up a mountain to let the vultures or nature dissect it. Well, although I have no stomach for getting my loved and not so loved ones to the next life in such a way, there is a little more to sky burials than that.
Whilst sky burial is a practical means of disposal seeing as the grounds are too hard to dig graves and the timber too expensive to gain for cremations, nature's way of giving back to the circle of life as it were is the most common sense approach.
Also being Buddhists, the body is merely an empty vessel and is not needed for the rebirth that is about to occur. The ritual is also noted in the Book of the Dead, so is probably the oldest way of getting rid of the dead.
There are varying degrees of this ritual, some actually hack the body up and even make up a tsampa, which is a mash of bones, yak milk and barley. There are some that handed over the whole body over to the vultures.
Sky burials were banned by The Republic of China because China saw this practice as barbaric ( I hear the irony loud in my ears),20 years later they reallowed the practice however.
There is a ceremonial side to the Sky Burials, that being a monk that usually burns incence and offers up chants for the dead.