Saturday, February 12, 2011

Place of salvation

The Jan Kalyan society, comprising North Indians, are proud of their privately-run crematorium at Elamakkara

Photo: K.K. Sharma and L.N. Mittal of the Jan Kalyan Society

By Shevlin Sebastian

Ten years ago, when there would be a death in the North Indian community, the members would take the dead body all the way to a crematorium in Fort Kochi, which was run by the Gujarat Mahajan Sangh. “It was very time-consuming,” says K.K. Sharma, the then chairman of the society. “We had to pass two bridges and a railway crossing.”

So the society decided to set up a crematorium in Ernakulam. But it took 16 months of repeated pleas before the then Mayor K.K. Somasundara Panicker provided them with 10 cents of land, beside a crematorium run by the Cochin Corporation at Elamakkara.

With the help of donations from community members, a total of Rs 10 lakhs was collected. And the Moksha Dham (Place of salvation’) crematorium was set up in 1999.

However, S.S. Agarwal, the chairman of the society says that it took a year for it to be inaugurated. “That was because there were no deaths in our community,” he says. “When the first death occurred, the secretary L.N. Mittal called the other office-bearers and said, ‘There is good news. Finally, somebody has died.’”

On a recent sunny afternoon, the marble-tiled floor has been washed clean after a cremation. There is a 400 sq. ft. hall for the mourners to wait. “Since it rains so often in Kerala, we did not want the people to get drenched,” says Agarwal. The burning room has a 60 ft. high chimney. On the floor are four exhaust openings which pull in cold air from outside and enables the smoke to rise up towards the chimney.

“Two years ago, the chimney was renovated at a cost of Rs 2 lakh,” says Mittal. At the back there is a room where the wood and coconut shells are kept. “We replenish it immediately after a cremation,” he says.

Asked why they did not opt for an electric crematorium, Sharma says, “The people preferred the traditional style, of the body being burnt on logs of wood.”

The society is keen to clear a misconception. “The crematorium is open for the use of the public, and is not restricted to north Indians,” says Agarwal. “For poor people, there is no charge at all.”

Frequently, when a body is being cremated at the Corporation crematorium and if people come along with another body, the formalities are immediately done at the Moksha Dham crematorium.

Says a philosophical Sharma, “When we come to the crematorium, we realise that this is what happens to all of us. We end up as ash and bones.”

“However,” Agarwal says, “The moment we leave, we again behave as if there is no such thing as death.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)


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