Saskatoon Sikh and Hindu leaders ask for designated area to spread ashes

Faith leaders of the Hindu and Sikh communities in Saskatoon have requested an area along the South Saskatchewan River be designated for the spreading of the cremated ashes of their loved ones.

Neither group has asked for exclusive rights to an area

City council has passed motions resolving to consult with members of Saskatoon's Sikh and Hindu communities about possible designation of specific areas along the riverbank for the spreading of ashes. (Zachari Logan)

Sikh and Hindu faith communities have asked the city of Saskatoon to designate a special site along the South Saskatchewan River to spread the cremated ashes of their loved ones. 

The spreading of ashes is a very important ritual in both faiths.

"Floating the ashes is more like a gravesite in our faith," said Jaswant Singh, former board member of the Sikh Society of Saskatchewan. 

"We don't have a grave for the person, and so for us the last ritual is to put the ashes back into the earth and merge them with the water and all the elements of the world." 

Although there are currently no bylaws restricting the spreading of ashes, having a designated spot would give some members of the Sikh and Hindu communities a sense of relief, he said. 

Neither group has asked for exclusive rights to an area.

"It should be for everybody," Singh said. "I think we are really happy to share with all other religions."

Ward 5 Coun. Randy Donauer put forth motions calling for the city to consult with the Hindu and Sikh communities on this issue. Both motions passed.

Leisha Grebinski, host of CBC's Saskatoon Morning, spoke with Singh and Leela Sharma, former president of the Hindu Society of Saskatchewan. 

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

Grebinski: Why is it important to the Sikh community to have a designated space in Saskatoon?

Singh: In Sikh faith, at the end of the worldly journey, we cremate the body and we don't have a grave. 

Our beliefs are that the soul has departed and the soul merges back with the almighty, but the bodily remains need also to go back to Mother Earth.

Why is it important to have a designated space in this city for that?

Singh: It's a sense of place. Where do you take the ashes? I'm a first-generation immigrant to Canada, but I have lived the longest part of my life here in Saskatoon. So for me and the generations that will come, Saskatoon is our home. 

To have a spot where we can say, "this is the spot where ashes will float," is very important to us. 

What will it mean to the Hindu community to have a designated space?

Sharma :Getting the designated place will sort of give us a little bit of privacy. 

It's nice to have a private palace where we can show our feelings, chant our mantras and have those kinds of emotional feelings. 

It would be really nice to have a designated place where we can go and do this ritual. 

How important is this ritual in the Hindu community?

Sharma: It's very important. We usually do it in the Ganges River in India. 

Canada is our home and now because of the pandemic it gets even more difficult to go over there [to India]. Our children will be doing the same thing for their parents and their loved ones.

So I think it's nice to have someplace where we can scatter the remains as well. 

What have people been doing up until this point? Have some been holding off on having a ceremony? 

Sharma: We got a letter from the City of Saskatoon a couple of years ago saying that there is no restriction to spread the ashes, but there are still members who are a little bit worried about what might happen. 

Many were going to India to go spread their loved one's ashes in the Ganges River. 

One of our lifetime members, she passed away at the end of February, she was part of the initiative two years ago to request the city to grant us a designated spot, and her daughter is still holding her ashes. 

She said "my mom worked so hard," and she wants to spread her ashes in a designated area. 

What would you like to see included in this site?

Singh: It's not a big gathering. Only a few family members go to do the ceremony. 

It doesn't have to be big, just a modest place where we can identify the spot we're going to go. 

Within the Sikh community we have somewhere around 10 to 15 cremations a year and many people want to take those ashes back to India, so we would not have a big number of people doing the ceremony at this spot. 

Is there anything you would want to see there? Is it a place that people return to? 

Sharma: I think it would be such a good idea to have some little private place where we can also teach our children our tradition and if for some reason they can't go [to India] after the pandemic, it would be nice to have a place permanently where families can go and do this very special and auspicious ceremony. 

With files from CBC's Saskatoon Morning

With files from CBC's Saskatoon Morning