For Hindus across the world, the River Ganges is sacred. For the majority, it’s their final wish that their ashes should be scattered in it. The practice is central to the Hindu belief in reincarnation, with the soul being released once the ashes of the deceased have been immersed in the Ganges.
For British Hindus, the pilgrimage to the holy river can be very expensive. Nevertheless, for the majority the experience is spiritually rewarding and entirely positive - but for some, it isn’t.
Sushma Puri travels to the town of Haridwar on the Ganges to see the final rites taking place and visits, for the first time, the resting place for generations of her own family, including her parents.
Back in Britain, she talks to priests who explain the significance of scattering ashes in the Ganges and meets funeral directors who are linking up with companies in India to try and make the experience easier for busy, Indian professionals who have little time to make this important pilgrimage. Sushma also meets the people who set up a facility for Hindus to have their loved ones’ ashes scattered in the flowing river at Barrow upon Soar in Leicestershire.
In Leicester, she speaks to elderly British Indians who, despite having lived in England for decades, went to India to scatter family ashes in the Ganges and others who wouldn’t dream of doing so. Some believe Mother Ganga has a powerful, spiritual potency because it’s descended from the heavens and has washed the body of Lord Shiva - while others claim the river is badly polluted and priests’ prey on the vulnerable.
Finally, Sushma asks if this tradition of taking ashes to the Ganges is likely to continue or if it will die out with the next generation of British Hindus who might prefer to scatter them nearer to home.
A Tigereye production for BBC Radio 4
Sushma Puri reveals why many British Hindus want their ashes scattered in the Ganges.