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In classical antiquity, cremation was a military procedure and thus was associated with battlefield honors. The seventeenth-century French painter Nicolas Poussin echoed another classical story in his masterpiece The Ashes of Phocion, perhaps the most famous of all cremation-linked paintings, in which a faithful wife gathers the ashes of her husband, an improperly shamed leader who was cremated without the proper rites.
Both cremation and the interment of cremated remains are described in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, both dating from the eighth century B. The ritual cremation of Roman emperors involved the release of an eagle above the cremation pyre to symbolize his deification and the passing of the emperor-god's spirit.
The anthropologist Robert Hertz has described this as a double burial, with a "wet" first phase coping with the corpse and its decay, and a "dry" second phase treating the skeletal remains and ash.
The chief difference between cremation and burial is the speed of transformation: Corpses burn in two hours or less, but bodies take months or years to decay, depending upon methods used and local soil conditions.
These remains were divided into eight parts and built into eight stupas in different territories.
This is a good example of how cremation makes possible a greater variety of memorializing the dead than does burial.
Tradition tells how his funeral pyre self-ignited, but only after many followers had come to pay respects to his body.
The skeletal remains and ash residue (cremains) often become the object of religious rites, one for the body and one for the bones.
Basic to Hinduism is the belief that the life force underlying human existence is not restricted to one life but undergoes numerous transmigrations that may involve nonhuman forms.
Hence the "self" and the identity of an individual are not simply and inevitably linked to any one body.
The reasons for shifts between cremation and burial in classical times are not always apparent; fashion or even the availability of wood may have been involved.
It was in India and in the Indian-influenced cultures of Buddhism and Sikhism that cremation developed into a central and enduring social institution.