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The major social elements related to massive increases in the population of industrial towns and major cities, whose cemeteries were increasingly hard-pressed to cope with the volume of the dead in an era of heightened concern with public hygiene—corpses buried near the surface of the ground were seen as a potential health risk.
This was also a period of considerable interest in freedom of thought and creative engagement with ideas of progress.
Contemporary Buddhists practice both cremation and burial.
Cremation is not only an established social custom but has also been used on battlefields to save the dead from the ravages of the enemy and as an emergency measure during plagues, as in the Black Death of the seventeenth century.
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.
Societies were established to promote cremation in many influential cities, including London and The Hague in 1874, Washington, D. Central to these interest groups lay influential people as with Sir Henry Thompson (surgeon to Queen Victoria), whose highly influential book on cremation, The Treatment of the Body after Death, was published in 1874, followed shortly by William Eassie's Cremation of the Dead in 1875.
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.
These groups often existed for years before they achieved the goal of cremation as a legal and established practice.
In Holland, for example, the 1874 group did not actually open a crematorium until 1914.