Atal Asthi Kalash Yatra: Why Dharmshastras forbid displaying of ashes
The pompous Asthi Kalash Yatra of the deceased former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is quite in contrast with the diktats laid down by Hindu scriptures for last rites
In the last few years, especially since Godhra, political parties have taken to organising Asthi Kalash Yatra in a big way with a view to energising their cadres and consolidating their votes. During these richly decorated vans carry ornamental urns containing the ashes of the venerated dead . Sometimes even special train carriages carry them to far off places for a last Darshan at the local Party headquarters after being paraded through the town, before final immersion in a holy river. Thus a drama is spun around death to prolong and spread its impact all so it stirs hearts , and often unstated desires for revenge.
Death traditionally is deemed in India as an unavoidable but fatal interruption of human life. It severes all earthly ties of the soul of the departed as soon as his/her remains have been reduced to ashes . Tradition thereafter pushes for a quick immersion of the ashes in holy waters, preferably the holy Ganga. The ashes such as they are, are deemed to be filled with dark (Tamasik) content that the departing soul has shed. This Tamas element, belief runs, attracts Evil and will contaminate all who handle it. This is why the performer of the rites and the gatherers of the ashes observe a ten day period of isolation. This limits their contact with others during their state of contamination (Ashauch). The primary purpose of immersing the ashes in flowing waters, is to decontaminate the living and make the Tamas or Evil inactive. When that is done, the hitherto earthbound soul of the departed, is able to move on towards a peaceful afterlife.
According to Ashwalayan Grihya Sutras, after cremation family elders in odd numbers must collect the ashes and secure them in a simple clay pot with a tight lid to keep unholy darkness of the Rajas and Tamas elements the departed has shed so he/she can not start his/her journey into afterlife as soon as these last remains are quietly and swiftly immersed.
Death is the biggest fear in the human heart. But all religions agree, it is the irreversible fate of all that are born,(Jaatasya Dhruvo Mrityuh), and that ultimately we shall all be reduced to dust or Mitti. And the sooner dust returns to the elements the better. The Shastras firmly uphold that death and old age (Jara Maran) can not be conquered. And the best one can aspire to after death, is to ascend to the heavens as a pure spirit free of all negativity (Tamas) . The Shukla Yajurveda puts it down with a harsh clarity : “Vayuranilammritamathmedam, Bhasmantam Shareeram/Om krito smar, kritam smar, krito smar, kritam smar, kritam smar.”
(The body made of five elements :air, fire,water and earth, is finally reduced to ashes after cremation. Finally there are just memories of the deeds and the sacrifices.)
According to Ashwalayan Grihya Sutras, after cremation family elders in odd numbers must collect the ashes and secure them in a simple clay pot with a tight lid to keep unholy darkness of the Rajas and Tamas elements the departed has shed so he/she can not start his/her journey into afterlife as soon as these last remains are quietly and swiftly immersed. After this all who have handled them are asked to bathe and scrub their own bodies of all impurity (Ashauch), before continuing with daily activities. Nirnay Sindhu(p586), Anushasan Parva (26/32) and Vishnu Dharma Sutra (19/11-12) also support the view that as soon as they are gathered, the remains of the cremated body must be put in an urn and the mouth of the urn must be sealed and all the ashes and the pot must be immersed in the Ganges or another body of water at one go. Only those formally and officially rate as kin of the departed say the Puranas, shall immerse the ashes.
As for building a Samadhi over an urn at the cremation spot, Shatpath Brahman(13/8/2-4) says that this is practiced by the Asuras but is permitted in case the family wishes. However, the pot containing the ashes must not be brought inside the house or put on display. It has to be buried under a tree until the outline of the Samadhi is ready. A prayer must then be sent to Yama, the god of death seeking his permission for the burying the ashes at the Samadhi Sthal. After burial of the pot, the Samadhi must be covered with plain earth . On which the maker should plant barley seeds and Yavaka bushes to ensure the earth stays moist and the urn invisible.
Most politicians and merchants ignore the long experience of those who crafted these dictats. Harsh as they seem, actually the rules for cremation or burial in all these ancient books, actually contain a far deeper understanding of, and a great compassion and tenderness for the human life than any public position seeker in any century ever has or will.