Leicester, Oct 12 (IANS) — After requests from the local Asian community of over 250,000, the Environment Agency has approved ceremonies in which the ashes are scattered across the water.
A boat hire company has been authorised to provide a customised service for the funerals, which are increasing in demand.
Shastriji Prakashbhai Pandya, a Hindu priest who officiates at the ceremonies, claimed that the Soar was an acceptable alternative.
“When I close my eyes, this could be the Ganges,” he told the media.
Flanked by fields, trees and a caravan park near the village of Barrow upon Soar, the river is a beauty spot where the only noise is made by the ducks. It is a sharp contrast from the scene at the ghats of Varanasi or Hardwar.
Pandya, who officiated at Ganges ceremonies before coming to Leicestershire, said that ceremonies on the Soar were becoming popular.
“Often it is difficult for people to go to India to scatter the ashes,” he said. “It is expensive, and older family members may not be able to travel. That is one reason why people are coming here.
“The second reason is the Soar is greener than the Ganges, and the scenery is better. Unlike the Ganges it is quiet here, and the water is clean and clear. Instead of people living along on the riverbanks, there are ducks.”
Ceremonies take place on a secluded river bend between the villages of Barrow upon Soar and Mountsorrel, where the Soar meets the river Wreake.
Narrow boats are hired for 55 pounds a time and boarded by close family. The ashes are scattered, along with flowers, powder, tulsi grass and holy leaves.
Frank Reeves, the owner of Barrow Boating, which provides the boats, said that he had taken two bookings a week since May and that the number was rising.
“It can be quite a spectacle,” he said. “We’ve had bells and chanting. The British weather isn’t a problem. Apparently, if it starts raining immediately after the ceremony, that means good luck.”
In keeping with tradition, the Soar has been anointed with water from the Ganges to make it a credible substitute for the holy river.
A spokesman for the Environment Agency said that ceremonies in the Soar had been authorised.
“We have designated a secluded place on the river, so that ashes are disposed of with due consideration for other river users. We have forbidden offerings such as photographs and metal and plastic items, which could litter the riverbank.
“Our officers analyse the water from the Soar on a monthly basis, but have never found anything amiss.”
Last weekend, Harish Raithatha, 44, from Leicester, went on the Soar with 12 family members to scatter the ashes of his late father.
“Because of the place, and because we were doing something holy, we felt very peaceful and relaxed. It was more like a nice day out, than a sad time.”
The Soar is not the only British destination for Hindu and Sikh ashes. The Environment Agency has also authorised ceremonies on other rivers, including the Thames and the Wye.
© 2004 IANS India Private Limited, New Delhi. Posted on Religioscope with permission.