hindu božica.jpg
Photograph: Photo by Natesh Ramasamy, used under CC BY

Nepal's first electric crematorium came into operation in Kathmandu on Sunday, promising a positive environmental impact and lower costs for the majority of the Hindu and Buddhist populations who cremate their dead.

"The launching of the crematorium comes at the right time, as we have been using lots of firewood to cremate our dead, which takes a toll on the forest as well as adds to the pollution in the city," Govinda Tondon, member secretary of the Pashupati Area Development Fund, told dpa.

The electric crematorium will save Nepali families money, Tondon said, with the new modern funeral for Nepalis expected to cost three thousand rupees (30 dollars) per body. A traditional cremation with firewood costs families around 8,000 rupees in comparison.

The cremation process will also be shorter, taking 45 minutes instead of the four hours sometimes needed for burning by firewood, according to Tondon.

Three bodies were to be incinerated on the first day of operation.

The crematorium is located on the banks of Bagmati River in Kathmandu's Pashupatinath temple area, where people have been cremating the dead using firewood for decades.

The temple is listed among the UNESCO World Heritage sites, which had raised concerns about its upkeep with the rising levels of pollution.

The crematorium is not meant to replace the traditional form of funeral.

"There will be many religious people who would rather be cremated by firewood than inside an incinerator," said Govinda Chalise, a resident of the Pashupati area and a Hindu priest by profession.

"In the scriptures, it says that being cremated is a ritual that helps one attain an afterlife in Heaven. It will take time for people to be weaned from this belief, even though this seems like an easier way."

The crematorium is backed by generators to make up for power outage hours. Nepal suffers from at least 14 hours of daily power cuts and faces a severe fuel crunch owing to anti-constitution protests in the south, which has led to a blockade of the border with India.

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