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Sea Burials and Ash Scattering in Asia

June 14, 2019

 

I’m very excited to introduce my guest blogger Nicholas Yap, of Nitro Funeral, Singapore.

Nicholas was born and raised in Singapore, working with his father to keep funeral traditions alive through advocacy and hard work. Nicholas tells us, “Singapore, an ever modernizing country, is slowly losing traditional practices due to neglect by younger generations, thus it is Nituo Funeral’s job to reinforce our cultural belongings and practices so as to not lose our identity as a people”. Nicholas is a freelance marketer seeking to bring about fresh ideas in the Singaporean funeral industry”.

 

 


 

Popularity

 

A melting pot of culture, Asia is rich with interesting traditions and history.

 

Despite the diversity, similarities are abounding when we take a look at these cultures closely - Food, Polytheism, Gods and oddly enough Sea Burials.

 

Originally a Hindu practice, this tradition has latched onto different Asian cultures across the continent in an ever increasing trend.

 

Below we discuss how sea burials are becoming popular in these countries.


A highly symbolic practice, Sea burials are still common practice for many Indians today.

 

India

 

 

Hindus practice sea burial as a way of “returning” they're deceased back to Mother Nature - through the use of air, water, fire, earth and space.

 

This is to release the deceased soul back towards the spiritual realm where reincarnation would happen again, effectively being a part of the continuous cycle of Samsara.

 

The practice, called Antyesti, would vary from sect to sect. But most commonly, bodies would be bond and wrapped in white or red cloth depending on a person’s marital status - then incantations and drawings of deities would be made by a priest/eldest son on the body before commencing cremation.

 

Once ablaze, relatives and the priest/eldest son would traditionally circle the pyre several times before piercing the deceased’s skull to release its soul.

 

Afterwards, all ashes are collected and desecrated into the nearest body of water.

 

In Asia, India is the only major culture to adopt sea burial into their religion - however, as we would see in our later entries, religion is not the only motivator to sea burials!

 

Afterwards, all ashes are collected and desecrated into the nearest body of water.



 

Singapore

 

With a large population of Chinese, Indians, Malays and Eurasians, Singapore is bound to have a diverse practice of funeral rites.

 

Due to heavy land constraints, high prices and modernization - Sea burial is now a popular form of burial across all religions and races.

 

Despite the huge amount of Hindus opting for Sea burials in Singapore, the second most popular group for Sea burials are actually Protestant Chinese. Motivated mainly by sentimental reasons or familial traditions.

 

Interestingly, the Bible does not have a stand against cremation nor sea burial - thus many modern Protestants tend to consider sea burial as an interesting and cheap burial option in Singapore.

 

The largest diaspora - Chinese Buddhists and Taoists, would often opt for their ashes to be placed in temples or columbariums instead, but observations within the industry are also seeing an increasing preference of sea burials within this community.

 

As many Singaporeans could often afford burial placements in columbariums and temples - many are starting to understand the environmental impact of burials, as well as the open freedom to express their desired way of burial due to Singapore’s modern and westernized culture.

Interestingly, the Bible does not have a stand against cremation nor sea burial - thus many modern Protestants tend to consider sea burial as an interesting and cheap burial option in Singapore.

 

The largest diaspora - Chinese Buddhists and Taoists, would often opt for their ashes to be placed in temples or columbariums instead, but observations within the industry are also seeing an increasing preference of sea burials within this community.

 

As many Singaporeans could often afford burial placements in columbariums and temples - many are starting to understand the environmental impact of burials, as well as the open freedom to express their desired way of burial due to Singapore’s modern and westernized culture.

 

Japan

 

A traditional and monogamous culture, Japanese people often follow traditional Buddhist funeral rites with strict burial guidelines.

 

However, the ever rigid Japanese are now craving for innovation in this sector due to high costs for burials and ceremonies.

 

Walking a fine line between taboo and innovation, Japanese funeral planners are now offering the option of  ‘death photo-shoots’ and ‘fake ash desecrations’ in scenic locations as a way to celebrate one’s death before passing.

 

Once a relative has passed, family members can decide to cremate and scatter their loved one’s ashes across scenic mountains, forests or seas depending on their preferences. This is often accompanied by music playing in the background.

 

Although odd and certainly taboo to some - such packages pave a way to new experiences to commemorate the death in a stagnant industry.


 

China

 

Likely a counterbalance to all entries within this article, China is pushing for sea burials due to the ever-increasing restrictions imposed on land burials.

 

Despite the large amounts of land available in China, the Chinese government is actively discouraging traditional burials in all major parts of China - banning it outright in major urban populations.

 

With this, funeral businesses have to increase their prices to overcome the high lot fees from cemeteries.

 

Therefore, as a cheaper alternative, several cities in China are beginning to adopt Sea burials as their main - yet cost-effective alternative to burying their dead.

 

Like many things in China, government intervention is key to a project’s success - thus government permits for Sea burials and ‘interesting’ advertisements are on the rise across major cities in China.

 

However, it is Chinese tradition for ancestors to have a ‘fixed’ resting place - therefore an interesting cultural war is happening between the Chinese and the Chinese government.

 

Sentiments

 

Despite the traditions and cost-effectiveness of Sea burials - we cannot forget the sentimental reasons why people often opt for Sea burials.

 

In a touching interview by Asia One, a Shanghainese said: "Our daughter emigrated to Germany years ago. Before my husband died two years ago, he opted to be buried at sea so that his ashes will go across the ocean to where our daughter lives and she can worship him anytime, anywhere"

 

Although Asia is quickly seeing strong growth with Sea burials - likely much faster than the West - Funeral rites and burials are universal as we choose our final goodbyes to our loved ones in the most meaningful way possible.

 

Let's not forget that Funerals are not “product” or “packages”, but sentimental goodbyes to the people we love and care about throughout our ever-finite lives.

 

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