With the rising number of COVID-19 fatalities, Christians are abandoning the customary method of burying the deceased in coffins in favor of cremating the body and transporting the ashes in urns to the graveyard for entombment in order to save burial space.
According to the National Herald, at least six bodies were cremated and their ashes were taken for burial in Varanasi's Chaukaghat Christian cemetery.
"The Christian population in Varanasi is over 3,000. Normally, one or two deaths are reported in the community per month, but more than 30 have died in the last 45 days when COVID cases started surging,” said Father Vijay Shantiraj, secretary of Banaras Christian Cemetery Board.
“When someone dies in Christian community, prayers are held at home and later at church by keeping the body in a coffin before burial. However, nowadays, as precautionary measures we are ensuring that minimum persons come in contact with the body for safety and to prevent any likely spread of infection," Father Shantiraj added.
He went on to explain, “Some people got infected and died of COVID, and their families consulted us since they were not in favour of burying the body. We suggested that the bodies be cremated and ashes can then be buried.”
Father Shantiraj does not recall any instances in his life, when Christians cremated the dead and buried the ashes.
Amardeep Solomon, who recently creamed his COVID-19-dead brother, remarked, "With the increasing number of deaths taking place in the second wave of the pandemic, land is falling short for traditional burials in the graveyards. More and more people in the community are cremating the bodies and then burying the urns containing the ashes. This requires less space and also ensures that the COVID infection does not spread.”
Not only those who died of COVID-19, but also those who died of natural causes, are cremated to avoid overcrowding in cemeteries.
"The burial of urns containing ashes will ensure smaller graves that will be there for all times to come. People are doing this on their own and there is no compulsion from the church," said Piku Andrews, a school teacher.