When one man dies, he takes a tree with him. We don’t have that many trees left. Think about the future,” says Rtn Indrajit Barot, RC Mehsana, D-3051. Passionate about people switching over from traditional methods of cremating bodies to the much more eco-friendly gas based crematorium, he and his other club members have been instrumental in 85–90 percent of villagers in and around Mehsana, Gujarat, switching to this mode of cremation.
These Rotarians have been urging the villagers to understand the “environmental impact locally and globally,” of a wood-based funeral. “They learnt to use toilets and now have better hygiene and also drinking water. But nobody wanted to use the gas crematorium. The traditional method was like a shibboleth, and they were not letting it go,” says Rtn Sandip Sheth, when asked how difficult it was to get the villagers to accept the gas crematorium.
Spread on 40,000 sq ft, Shri Manubhai Mafatlal Patel Nij Dham, is the only cremation facility in Mehsana. “We did not have to look for funds outside the club; Sandip placed the request at the club meeting and by the next evening we had Rs 50 lakh in our kitty, the other Rs 40 lakh was raised through a corpus,” says Rtn Maullin Patel, another club member. The crematorium is named after his father, who was a major donor for the project. The club signed an MoU with the Municipality of Mehsana.
Thoughtfully placed throughout the green campus are many special features that provide detailed information on death registration, organ donation, use of the hearse van, mortuary body refrigerator and options for using either a traditional or gas-based cremation. The crematorium can accommodate 2,000 people attending a funeral.
The prarthana hall (prayer room) can seat up to 500 people and Sindhi, Gujarati or Punjabi bhajans are played depending on the community of the deceased. The ashes are stored in niches in a store room. Barot remembers the case of a young boy who was studying in the US and “couldn’t attend his father’s funeral. Using the live telecast option on our website, the boy was virtually able to attend his father’s antim vidhi (final rites).”
The Panch Mahabhoot-themed cubicles describe each element of life with verses taken from the Bhagwad Gita. On request the asthi visarjan seva is also provided for the bereaving family and the ashes are immersed in the Ganga.
A team of 10 full-time staff maintain and provide service at Nij Dham. But without the services of Barot who retired as the Sub Registrar for Births and Deaths at the Mehsana Municipality and an honorary Rotarian of the club, “it would have been impossible for us to come this far,” says Rtn Shoba.
The Rotarians took special efforts to break the taboo that visiting a crematorium could bring bad luck and death. “The night before Diwali — Kali Chaudas — was considered a dark night limited to tantric vidhi. We broke this ritual. We lit up the crematorium and invited people to light crackers,” says Patel. Now this ritual has become an annual affair at the crematorium.
Rotarians of RC Mehsana are a happy lot. They estimate that over 3.53 lakh kg of precious wood has been saved by this project. What is more, the larger area of this complex has been developed with greenery and maintained so well that it has become a popular city centre, also used by locals to walk or relax.