Happy hunting grounds of vultures and other scavenging animals, strewn with pieces of bones, skulls and remnants of half-lit pyres, the description of Nimtala Mahasashan at the end of nineteenth century given by Mahendranath Dutta, brother of Swami Vivekananda, is bound to leave a cold shiver down your spine. Thankfully, the crematoriums in Kolkata have undergone a facelift over the years and no longer appears terrifying. Recently, majority of the crematoriums across the city have been refurbished, fitted with various amenities and pollution control devices. In fact, together with well maintained parks and clean water bodies these are picturesque spots, perfectly suited for the sombre mood of the surroundings
Nimtala Crematorium Complex
Located on Strand Bank Road and just minutes away from Ahiritola Ferry Ghat, Nimtala Crematorium Complex is steeped in history. According to Calcutta Gazette, the crematorium was set up in 1827 and the last rites of many renowned personalities including Rabindranath Tagore, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy, Manik Bandopadhyay to name a few, were performed here.
Renovation work at the Nimtala Crematorium Complex has ensured overall improvement in cleanliness of the complex. The main entrance is beside the temple of Baba Bhutnath. The two-storey-building houses electric furnaces on the ground floor. The first floor of the building has been converted into an air conditioned waiting area for mourners. The ground floor has an air conditioned waiting room as well but it is reserved for VIPs.
The Madhab Banerjee Ghat in front of the crematorium has been given a makeover and is a perfect spot for the mourners waiting to conduct last rites in a serene atmosphere. The ever-flowing Ganga and Howrah Bridge at a distance remind one of the never ending cycle of life and death. At the west of the complex lies the refurbished memorial to Rabindranath Thakur whose last rites were performed at the very spot. Every year, on the occasion of Tagore’s birth anniversary, the day is celebrated inside the freshly relaid garden within the complex, along with visitors from Visva Bharati who too participate in the programme. At the rear end of the complex pollution control devices have been installed for both electrical furnaces, as well as wooden pyres. This has helped in reducing the stench and emission levels in the air that had once been quite stale and polluted- thereby improving the surroundings of the crematorium, “The strong pungent smell that filled the place while a body burnt on a wooden pyre has been greatly reduced. Thankfully, we do not have to withstand the discomfort anymore,” said a local shop owner near the crematorium complex.
KMC has also built pay and use toilets and clean drinking water taps and other such amenities for the kin of the dead who have to wait for long hours. The civic body has ensured that cleanliness and hygiene continue to be maintained inside crematorium complex.
Keoratala Burning Ghat built during the British rule, has gained a permanent place in the vocabulary of Bengali people- thanks to the infamous dialogue delivered by a character enacted by Mithun Chakraborty in a Bengali film. Last rites of the legends of Bengali cinema such as Uttam Kumar, Satyajit Ray and Suchitra Sen have all been performed at this crematorium.
Thanks to the efforts of the sitting councillor, Keoratala Mahasashan has been maintained in a much better way compared to Nimtala. There is a well maintained park inside the complex. The newly constructed air conditioned waiting room for the VIPs is visible from the main gate, and there is a general waiting room as well beside a giant digital clock. The uncomfortable and humid weather of Kolkata offers no respite during the summer for those accompanying the bier on the last journey of the departed soul and so the AC waiting rooms have been a true blessing.
Air pollution control devices have improved the air quality in and around the crematorium complex. Air pollution control hoods are now installed over the wooden pyres which restricts the smoke from spreading to the nearby areas. The ashes that are no longer released in the air because of the device go through a filtration process that drastically reduces the particle contaminants. The smoke that is finally emitted from the chimney is free from the harmful carbon and sulphur contents.
Apart from the waiting rooms and air pollution control devices, the entire complex has been given a facelift with the installation of new lights and regular maintenance of the premises. Amenities such as pay and use toilet and filtered clean drinking water supply are being provided as well.
Garia Adi Mahasashan
The first thing that we noticed during our visit to Garia Adi Mahasashan was the fact that this crematorium was located in a serene environment. Perhaps this is because unlike Nimtala and Keoratala, Garia Adi Mahasashan is not located on a busy street and the buzz does not often spill over to disturb the peace of the dead. After the recent face lift the crematorium has lost its drab and gloomy look. The pond inside the Garia Adia Mahasashan has recently been re-excavated and the beautification drive is evident from the wall art and the figurines of Behula Lakhindar and the four thieves recreated from Bengali folklore which have indeed contributed in making the setting far more interesting. The Shiv- Kali temple inside the complex has been renovated. New lights and street furniture have been installed and the benches beside the pond are perfect for those grieving for their lost ones, looking for some introspection.
There is a parking area near the main entry gate and a little farther away there is an air-conditioned waiting room. Adjoining the waiting room there are taps for filtered drinking water and the pay and use toilet which, the locals complained, is not being properly cleaned by the private agency looking after maintenance. They still laud the step taken by the government in installing them as an official pointed out, “The people coming to crematoriums are already under a lot of emotional stress and we do not want to further add to their woes. The installation of pay and use toilets is a great step towards public convenience and the agency should respect it and keep the toilets clean.” Electric furnaces with air pollution control devices have also been installed opposite the pond.
It is a welcome change to see the crematoriums of the city going through a make over. Apart from these three, the Cossipore Mahasashan has also greatly benefitted from the installation of pollution control devices for wooden pyres. Work for overall beautification of the crematorium has also been taken up. However, the burning ghat at Siriti is still lagging behind.
Death inevitably brings grief and sorrow and it becomes further painful if the last journey is fraught with harassment for the kin of the departed soul. The efforts made by the civic body to give the crematoriums a facelift would go a long way in assuaging the pain and distress felt by the near and dear ones performing the last rites.
List of Crematoriums under KMC
Kashi Mitra Burning Ghat
Nimtala Crematorium Complex
Birjunala Burning Ghat
Siriti Burning Ghat
Garia Adi Mahasashan
Dhapa Electric Crematorium