Changing attitudes see more non-Hindus go for cremation
By Anyango Otieno | April 18th 2021
The sting of death runs deep, and the internment of a loved one is an emotional time for those left behind.
When Standard Digital visited the Hindu Shamshan Bhumi in Kariokor, billowing black smoke signalled the final transition to the hereafter as grief-stricken relatives watched from a distance.
In the sweltering afternoon heat, a foreman in white gumboots sighed, then wiped his brow.
Another body was lined up for the furnace.
Shortly after our arrival, we spoke to one Ramesh who told us that his uncle was scheduled to be cremated at about 10 am.
He had died from Covid-19 the previous night.
Ramesh’s uncle was brought in a body bag and placed on neatly arranged chunks of firewood.
More wood was laid over the body. This was going to be a traditional cremation using firewood and oil.
Harish Patel told us he has been volunteering at the crematorium for over 20 years. He said it used to be a ‘jungle’ so he teamed up with a group of friends and spruced it up.
“It was built by our great grandfathers. It was built using materials for the construction of the railway.
“That is why it has remained the same to date with minimal repairs done,” said Mr Patel.
Shrinking land sizes means the presence of fewer cemeteries in urban centres and Kenyans who only knew about burial ceremonies are increasingly embracing cremation.
But the question many ask is what really happens at a crematorium?
For the Hindus, a body is first laid before the idol of Lord Shiva for prayers. In Hinduism, Shiva is the supreme lord who creates, protects and transforms the universe.
The body is then moved to the cremation chamber where more prayers are said as the fire is lit.
“The amount of weight you are born with is the number of ashes we give you back. The chest and the head take the longest to burn,” said Patel.
Babies, however, are not cremated but buried depending on the family’s wishes.
Cremated remains are commonly referred to as ashes but in reality, they consist primarily of bone fragments. The remains are commingled with other incidental by-products of the incineration.
Cremation produces one to four kilogrammes of remains. The exact amount depends on the size of the body and the process used by the crematorium.
Patel said that more people are opting to be cremated, adding that they cremate three bodies daily. The most recent public personality to be cremated was Lorna Irungu who worked for various media organisations.
Others who were cremated include Safaricom boss Bob Collymore, Kibra MP Ken Okoth, politician Kenneth Matiba, golfer Peter Njiru, sports administrator Joshua Okuthe and Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai.
According to Patel, the cost could be a factor for those considering cremation. “A burial takes days and people fund-raise; the more the body stays (in the morgue) the more expenses it incurs.
“Here you only need to come with a coffin, the body and the documents that are required, which is the death certificate, and we do the needful.”
Non-Hindus pay Sh40,000, while Hindus pay Sh18,000. This is for both the traditional and modern forms of cremation. Patel explained that the prices are different because Hindus regularly donate firewood and other items for cremation.
“For an outsider (non-Hindu) we charge this price because we supply them with the items used for cremation. They do not come with anything, unlike the Hindus who bring their stuff for cremation. That is why they get special treatment.
“But if we see that somebody is not capable, we do it at the cost they can afford.”
Today’s modern crematories use industrial furnaces and the process takes about 2-3 hours to complete. The Kariokor crematorium has one.
Patel said the difference between the traditional and modern crematoriums, according to Hindu culture, is that with the modern furnace, no traditional rituals are required.
After cremation, a special processor grinds the fragments into what are called ‘cremains’ or the ashes which are transferred to a container or an urn provided by the family.
After a traditional cremation, families are normally requested to go for the ashes after 24 hours. For a modern furnace, which is faster, the ashes can be collected after three hours.
Hindus will normally scatter the ashes in a river or large body of water while non-Hindus prefer to bury the ashes and maybe plant a tree on the spot.
Robert Mwania, the foreman who was sweating profusely when we arrived, said he had worked at the crematorium for 22 years. His job, he said, was to prepare a cremation chamber according to a client’s preference.
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