The History of Cemeteries and Astonishing Burial Rituals

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Cemeteries

What do you understand by paranormal? Is it a ghost, energies, or just another technology glitch? Whatever it may be, it’s hard to define paranormal and harder to unveil it. And when talking about the paranormal, the conversation around cemeteries cannot be silenced. The cemetery is a fascinating subject whenever people engage in ghost sighting stories; it’s creepy, weird, horrific but mostly dreadful. In essence, a place where ghosts hang out, right? But what if we were to tell you that these cemeteries once used to be public parks? Amusing, isn’t it?

The history of cemeteries is long forgotten and tiered. The concept of cemeteries today totally differs from the idea of the cemetery in yesteryear. To understand this, let’s dig into the long-buried antiquity of cemeteries- their journey from tiny wide open areas to modern memorial grounds.

The Evolving Design of Cities of the Dead- Cemeteries

The burial system has seen some subtle changes since humans first originated. If we trace back to the Prehistoric Period, the practice of burial didn’t exist. People were either put inside a cave, above a tree, or a mountain so that the animals could feed on them. Sometimes, the bodies were thrown inside a lake or from the mountain top to avoid the decaying smell. The system of a funeral wasn’t really a trend back in those times which is understood by the fact that it was a typical ‘survival age’. In fact, humans began burying their dead shortly after the origin of the species. Skipping few centuries forward some 120,000 years ago, people started covering the dead with grasses or muds in order to protect them from scavengers and animals and also to discard the sight of decomposition. According to the studies, the Neanderthals were the first human species to practice burial behavior and intentionally bury their dead in shallow graves. But this doesn’t promise a proper cemetery.

To tell the truth, it was some 10 to 15 thousand years ago that the practice of burial was seen as indicating respect for the dead. As the colonies matured, people finally started burying their loved ones properly. The majority of the graves were plain and included mostly ornaments of daily life known as burial goods. This system was triggered when people started believing in the afterlife and thought that the dead might need them in their after journey. In some ways, several were similar to Neanderthal graves. The Neanderthals put bodies into pits sometimes in a proper burial ground to commemorate the dead. Later people started creating a kind of a tumulus above the graves known as a ‘kurgun’ or building a tomb known as ‘Necropoles’. Methods of burial became heavily ritualized and dead were buried inside shrouds, coffins, grave liners, and burial vaults, all of which can retard the decomposition of the body. For many centuries cemeteries were put next to churches or inside but behind the walls (one such cemetery is located in Père Lachaise of Paris). Later they were shifted to open grounds.

But these places of burial weren’t much stigmatized back in those days, in fact, it was commonplace inside the cities. The word Cemetery was first used by the Greeks who build Charnel above the graves. People were buried inside the cities and the living chatter all around, it was like a public park where everyone gathers for evening teas or even to buy and sell products. The more intriguing fact is that the farmers often lead their cattle to eat graveyard grasses as they are more nutritious. A lively area that nobody feared! It was only during the industrial revolutions that cemeteries were made in the outskirts of the city to avoid health issues. Away from the city, these ground were not abandoned but cherished, it was decorated with beautiful flowers, skeptic statues, churches, and benches. Do you know that Wadi-al-Salaam is an Islamic cemetery, located in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq, which is the largest cemetery in the world? It covers 1,485.5 acres and contains tens of millions of bodies.

But when do these delightful graveyards turned into jinxed frightful cemeteries? This happened with the emergence of new public parks and gardens inside the cities and cemeteries started losing their importance. People only visited them during funerals or individually to pay respect to their loved ones. They were set aside, neglected and cemeteries soon become dirty and deserted, thus, transformed into today’s creepy graveyards.

The Modern Burial Practices

Cemeteries

Modern burial practices are highly influenced by the advent of different religions and traditions. It is not at all forced by the medieval practices but by the communities and families. In Christians, there are cemeteries in churchyards where people are buried inside coffins whereas, in Islam, people are buried in open grounds known as ‘Qabristaan’. These traditions start to vary more as we cross borders even further. Now, the burial practices range from totally simple to completely bizarre. For instance, in Sky Burial, practiced in Tibet among Buddhists, the dead are cut open and left beneath the open sky for animals to feed on them. Whereas in India’s Varanasi, dead are paraded throughout the city adorned by colorful clothes, defining the life of the deceased. In order to reach salvation, the bodies are then sprinkled with the holy water before reaching cremation grounds. In Zoroastrian tradition, the dead are left for vultures above the ‘Tower of Silence’, and so on.

The Burial System in Hinduism

The funeral practices in Hinduism totally differ from the rest of the world. The deceased is not buried or fed to scavengers but is properly burned followed by several rituals. The death of a person in Hinduism commemorates several rituals starting the beginning of the day till the end. The married woman is wrapped in a red dress whereas the rest of the deceased in white. The body is first placed on the platform then the relatives decorate it with flowers, their mouth is filled with rice so that the soul could leave nourished whereas there in both hands pure coins are placed. After all these steps the body is taken to be cremated.

In Hinduism, burial is only accepted in the death of young children, saints, members of a Hindu religious order that are not permitted to own property. These people are not maligned by greed, lust and otherworldly desires thus can easily leave their bodies. The teaching says that burying the body allows the deceased to abandon the body to the attachments of previous life and move ahead to the next life.

The Bottom Line

Cemeteries

While there is numerous weird ritual of cremation, South Koreans have one of the most beautiful. Their ritual includes turning the ashes of the dead into beads! These beads are placed inside the glass vases, which are kept at home as a decorative object. Among countless rituals, keeping the deceased close to your heart is a realistic choice by making something beautiful out of it, a tradition to embrace and treasure loved ones.

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