DailyMail tells us:

More than 100 corpses, many of them children, have been found washed up in a shallow tributary of the River Ganges.

Officials do not suspect a crime, and instead believe the dead were given water burials. It is Indian custom not to cremate unwed girls, and many poor people cannot afford cremation.

But their discovery has sparked renewed concerns about the health of the Ganges, a sacred river where millions of Hindus cremate their dead.

A similar post can be found on nationalpost. Both of the sites are known for making things up which makes me doubt the claim. Is it true that millions of Hindus cremate their dead in rivers?

  • 3
    Note that it is pretty difficult to cremate anything in a river. – jamesqf Feb 26 '17 at 19:03
  • @jamesqf, they do it on the banks of the river, also, Vikings. – SIMEL Feb 26 '17 at 19:16
  • @jamesqf One of the reasons I doubted the claim. – Sakib Arifin Feb 26 '17 at 19:52
  • @SIMEL: Of course cremations are done on the BANKS of the Ganges. That's a longstanding religious/cultural tradition. What I'm saying is that (absent use of exotic chemicals) you can't cremate a body IN a river, because a river is full of water. You could also put an uncremated body in a river (like burial at sea), which is what these poorer people are apparently doing. – jamesqf Feb 27 '17 at 17:48
  • @jamesqf, I have two words for you, Viking Burial. – SIMEL Feb 27 '17 at 18:53

Yes they do.

A video by the National Geographic documenting the rituals, including the open air cramtion of the bodies on the banks of the river, as well as dumping the ashes into the water. According to them they cremate:

I don’t feel sheltered from the bony hand of death. But when I stepped on Varanasi’s famous cremation ghat, which runs 24/7, burning hundreds of bodies a day in plain sight, it dawned on me how physically distant most of us are from the departed

According to wikipedia:

Annually, less than 2 in 1000 people who die in India, or 25,000 to 30,000 bodies are cremated on various Varanasi Ghats; about an average of 80 per day.

But they don't give a source for the number.

vocativ.com also have an article about the ritual, with pictures documenting it, and acording to them:

Bodies are burned daily in cremation ceremonies near the banks of the river—sometimes, up to 200 cremations a day are performed.

voactiv.com also state that:

But, Varanasi is also a place to die. Hindus believe that dying along the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi will release you from the cycle of rebirth. If you have money, you can be ceremoniously cremated and released into the water. For the vast majority of the poor, however, their bodies are floated into the Ganges, exposed to the elements.

Which seem to corroborate the water barial part of the claim.

I don't feel that the videos and pictures show anything too shocking, but since this is dealing with death, and does show fires where you know bodies are burning, it may disturb some viewers.

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Cremation in Hindu religion is two part process, 1. Burning the dead and 2. Scattering the ashes. Hindus as a part of the ritual called Antim Sanskar burn the dead bodies near a water source, mostly river banks or lakes. They burn the body first and then take the ashes to scatter to nearby holy places. Ganga river is regarded as holiest place where soul of the dead can get Moksha or escape from cycle of birth and death. While people living nearby Ganga river do the cremation (burning + scattering of ashes) on Ganga riverbanks itself, people who live far away from Ganga simply burn the body on the nearest riverbank. Some who have means to take the ashes to Ganga do it, but rest of the majority scatter the ashes to holy river in their region. Cauvery, Brahmaputra, Godavari are also holy rivers and scattering of ashes is done on these rivers as well.

Regarding the DailyMail article which states more than 100 bodies are found in water, this is unexpected. Hindus, be it wealthy or poor, follow the same two-step ritual. Antim Sanskar in poor families is organised on small scale with minimal costs involved. Hindus do not dump the dead body directly into the water. There have been some cases of tribes in northern areas like Bihar dumping their dead directly in river but that is outdated now.

With reference to water burial, article on voactiv which says

For the vast majority of the poor, however, their bodies are floated into the Ganges

The National Geographic article has given the estimate

Estimates say 100,000 bodies of various cremation levels are tossed into the Ganges each year.

claims made by both the articles are skeptical to major extent, at least the term 'vast majority'. Both the articles do not provide any source to verify the claim. I am highly doubtful about claim made by National Geographic as news reports of bodies being found in Ganga river are very rare (except the incident reported by DailyMail). Water burial is illegal in India. I haven't read any article in my past which claimed that bodies are dumped in river due to no money for burial, not at least in Maharashtra where I live. I assume same conditions will follow for Ganga river areas as well. People in extreme poverty might dump their dead bodies directly in Ganga but that would be due to poverty and not because of any water burial ritual.

So answering whether millions cremate their dead relatives in Ganga river, yes few million scatter ashes in Ganga, but water burial in Ganga river, not many.

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