5 Burial at Sea
In order to qualify for a Burial at Sea (or BAS—yes, the USN has an acronym for it) by the United States Navy, an individual must be an active or honorably discharged service member, a dependent family member of an active duty serviceperson or veteran or be a “U.S. civilian marine personnel of the Military Sealift Command.” In a Burial at Sea, the body or the cremated remains of the deceased are committed to the sea, just as millions of people from scores of cultures have been for thousands of years (albeit with less drama than during a Viking fire ship burial).
4 Space Burial
For the well-heeled dead person who wants a truly remarkable final resting place, why not consider an alternative to planet earth? Being buried here on earth has been done by so many billions of people it’s almost blasé at this point. Fortunately, thanks to companies like Elysium and Celestis, you can commit mortal remains to the cosmos, “launching a symbolic portion of cremated remains into Earth orbit, onto the lunar surface or into deep space.”
3 Antyesti—Hindu Burial Rites
The sacrament of Antyesti, the Hindu burial, offers as close a link to the ancient past as can be found in any religion or society. While the exact rites differ slightly among Hindus of various regions and social strata, overall little has changed about the Antyesti sacrament in hundreds of years. As quickly as possible after death, the body of the deceased is prepared in a methodical manner, with eyes and mouth closed, laid flat on the floor with the head pointing due north. The body is bathed and then dressed in white, unless the dead person is a young girl or married woman, in which case colored garments are used. After three days, the body is brought to a pyre for cremation. A small ceremonial fire is often lit in the mouth of the deceased, after which their pyre is set ablaze. Ashes are scattered in a body of water, with the sacred Ganges River being the most holy and highly desired location for interment.
2 Famadihana: A Family Affair
In Madagascar, death is hardly the final goodbye for your loved ones. No, you’ll see them again almost every time someone else kicks the bucket. The tradition of Famadihana sees familial crypts opened up every time a family member dies, but not merely to inter the new body; first, all those corpses at rest within the crypt are brought out and wrapped in linens, then paraded about during a jubilant dance conducted to live music. What might seem bizarre and even disrespectful to some cultures is the way the Malagasy people of Madagascar show their respect and devotion.
1 Tibetan Sky Burial
Also called a Celestial Burial, the Sky Burial of Buddhist tradition is both visceral and beautiful in its own way. As the spirit and the flesh are separate entities in the Buddhist tradition, there is no reason to preserve the corpse. Thus the body of the deceased is left to nature, where it can contribute to the natural cycle of life. The corpse is usually brought to a mountaintop or other elevated location, where it is often sliced open in various places both to encourage decomposition and to attract animals, usually vultures. The parts of the body not eaten by animals or rotted away will later be pulverized into powder.
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