Releasing ashes into rivers
Releasing ashes into rivers by Kristina Kennedy-Aguero
Releasing ashes into rivers is the usual funeral right for Hindus and Sikhs. Normally, the family travels to India to perform the ashes "puja". However, due to the current restrictions due to the pandemic, the ceremony is now taking place in many rivers around the UK.
What is the ashes Puja?
Ash immersion-or Puja ceremony-is an important ritual to both Hindus and Sikhs. It is also known as Antim Sanskara or Asthi Visarjan. According to the holy scriptures of these religions, immersing the ashes in holy water releases the person's soul from bondage. This allows their spirit to progress towards its final liberation. It is, therefore, the desire of every family to perform this final sacred rite of releasing ashes into rivers for their loved ones.
The sacred river, the Ganges, is the preferred destination for Hindus. Families would normally travel to Varanasi, Haridwar, or Rishikesh to perform the religous ceremony in "Ma Ganga". For Sikhs, the chosen place is normally Kiratpur Sahib in the Punjab.
The immersion of the ashes into rivers should take place, preferably, at noon on the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th or 9th day after the cremation. You can pour the ashes directly into a moving body of water, (including the sea). Alternatively, you can use a water-soluble urn that dissolves in the water preferable within four hours. During the immersion, participants chant the name "Narayana". After the release of the ashes in rivers all those who took part must take a shower.
Releasing ashes into rivers during the pandemic
There are more than 800,000 Hindus and Sikhs in the UK. For most families, if financially possible, making the trip to India to release their loved one's ashes into a sacred river would be an honour. Some families use the services of an agent to take the ashes to India and perform the sacred rites for them.
However, since the travel restrictions of the pandemic, both of these options have become more difficult.
For this reason, many Sikh and Hindu families are choosing the option to release the ashes into rivers in the UK. The preferred rivers are the Thames, the Avon, the Severn, and the Soar. Some families perform the ceremony from the bank of the river while others choose to use a boat service. There are many boat services around the UK offering this service.
Regulation of releasing ashes into rivers in the UK
In the UK, you do not need a permit to scatter ashes either in a river or in the sea. Choosing a special place and at a quiet time will ensure a calm and moving ceremony. A scatter tube is a convenient way to carry and release the ashes, and these are available in a wide range of colours and designs.
After the pandemic will this continue?
Many British Hindus and Sikhs are now considering releasing ashes into rivers in the UK to be the new norm. Probably, post-pandemic, some will return to the tradition of performing the ceremony in India. However, for others it is probable that they will continue choosing this new option.