In instance after instance, in incident after incident, spirits of the departed have made it clear in unambiguous terms that it makes them most unhappy if their remains or their last resting places are disturbed in any manner. And these instances and incidents are not confined to one single country or region—they are worldwide phenomena. They are not limited to or bound to a particular time period either and have been recorded down the ages. I have witnessed and experienced a variety of such instances across the length and breadth of India—from remote isolated places to teeming cities. If it makes them unhappy to have their remains or last resting places disturbed in any manner, how would they react if their remains were fashioned into pottery or turned into diamonds or something else, and never mind if this was done on the specific request of a loved one on earth?
It’s a different matter obviously if this was done with their approval or if they themselves had made or expressed such a wish when alive as has happened so often. There was the case, for example, of a doctor who wanted every part of his body, particularly the skeletal remains to be donated to a medical college so that students would have a ‘real’ model for practical study. Wikipedia mentions the case of Leiji Matsumoto, born 1938, Japanese creator of numerous celebrated anime and manga series including Galaxy Express 999, Space Battleship Yamato and Space Pirate Captain Harlock who announced his intention to have a symbolic portion of his cremated remains to be launched into space on a future Elysium Space mission.
In fact, companies carrying out space burials have factored in both requests and bookings from the living for future space burials after they die, and requests and bookings from family members and friends of those who die or are dead. Here are excerpts from an online “ad” from Elysium Space to give you an idea. “Book A Space Funeral. Shooting Star Memorial Service…The memorial space funeral at Elysium Space launches some of the ashes into space as a symbol of the deceased. We partner with Space Flight Services, a leading US launch and mission management company…
“We aim to make space funerals affordable for everyone, and as a key part of that we have set our prices low…Our specially prepared satellites orbit the earth for several days to several years. The dedicated free mobile app allows you to see the real-time location of the satellite and the Earth as seen from the magnificent space. This allows the bereaved and friends to follow the trajectory of the satellite running between the stars. The satellite eventually re-enters the Earth›s atmosphere, eventually becoming a shooting star, and watching over the family from the night sky.” But what if, after you’re dead, you don’t want to become a shooting star even if your family wants you as a shooting star in the night sky? That is part of the reason why more and more people are sensibly specifying what exactly they want done with their remains after they die.
Curiously, quite a few of the conventional funeral practices around the world are pretty unusual too, but because they are a time honored part of cultural or regional practices, they are not disturbing for those practicing them. Many Tibetans still practice sky burials in which, according to Wikipedia and other sources, “a human corpse is placed on a mountaintop to decompose while exposed to the elements or to be eaten by scavenging animals, especially carrion birds. It is a specific type of the general practice of excarnation. It is practiced in the Chinese provinces and autonomous regions of Tibet, Qinghai, Sichuan and Inner Mongolia, as well as in Mongolia, Bhutan and parts of India such as Sikkim and Zanskar. The locations of preparation and sky burial are understood in the Vajrayana Buddhist traditions as charnel grounds…”
The Parsi community still continues with its more than 3,000-year-old Zoroastrian tradition of disposing dead bodies by placing them on stone structures called Dakhma or “Towers of Silence” and exposing them to scavenger birds. In Jaunsar Bawar, a polyandrous belt in the western Himalayas, I witnessed “well burials” in at least two villages and heard about their existence in a few other villages. The dead body is anointed with oil and a light herbal paste, and simply slid into a well. Nobody knows how deep it is and whether there is water in it or not but it is known that it is very deep and very ancient. Indeed, in the two well burials that I witnessed, there was no sound or “plop” of the body hitting water or anything else. Neither was there any smell of decaying flesh even after a month and a half. Water burials, of course, are a familiar mode in several parts of India.
But all these are “accepted” ways of dealing with a dead body. In such conventional, accepted ways of disposal, problems of spirit dissatisfaction or anger arise only if the funeral practices have been shoddily or inadequately carried out or if the remains are disturbed at a future point. In the last few decades, newer forms of dealing with the dead, such as the ones already mentioned and “environmentally friendly” green burials, etc have been providing more choices, albeit with some questions attached. Can one infer that spirits of earlier periods are more likely to be distressed if their remains are disturbed, while spirits of those who died when newer forms of body disposal had come into vogue are less likely to be distressed if their remains are disturbed? Amongst the newer choices, you can have your loved ones ashes burst into the sky in colourful fireworks that sprinkle over the ocean or you can wish for such a display when still alive. Does it in the end boil down to a question of preferences? Does all this sound bizarre? Well, the spirit world is no ordinary world. There is so much about it that is and will always remain unknown and will therefore always invite debatable questions.