February 10, 2010 / 1:16 PM / in 8 years

Hindu wins battle for funeral pyre in Britain

<p>Davender Ghai gestures outside of Britain's High Court, January 18, 2010.Toby Melville</p>

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A devout Hindu declared himself "overjoyed" Wednesday after winning a court fight to be allowed to be cremated in Britain on an open-air funeral pyre.

Spiritual healer Davender Ghai, 71, was granted his last wish by the Court of Appeal which ruled the controversial ceremony could be carried out without a change in the law.

But the judges ruled in his favor only after Ghai agreed that the pyre would be surrounded by walls and a roof with an opening, the Press Association domestic news agency reported.

Ghai believes that a pyre is essential to "a good death" and for the release of his spirit into the afterlife.

He wants a permit for an open-air cremation site in a remote part of Northumberland in northern England.

Ghai was originally refused permission by the local authority in Newcastle and lost a legal challenge to that decision at the High Court last May.

British law prohibits the burning of human remains anywhere outside a crematorium and Newcastle council had further blocked his wish on the grounds that it was impractical.

Jonathan Swift, representing the Ministry of Justice which opposed Ghai, said the law stipulated that cremations must be within a building which in this case meant a structure bounded by walls with a roof.

He said what Ghai was proposing did not comply with the law which was there to protect "decorum and decency."

But the appeal judges disagreed, saying the Cremation Act was in place to ensure burnings were subject to uniform rules throughout the country and executed in buildings which were appropriately equipped and away from homes or roads.

The judges accepted Ghai was willing to be cremated within existing rules with his funeral pyre "enclosed in a structure." They ruled the government's definition of a building was too narrow.

The decision could now set a precedent for the 560,000 Hindus living in Britain. Hindu national organizations, representing some 90 percent of Hindus in the UK, had backed the Ghai's original High Court appeal.

Ghai said in a statement he was "overjoyed" by the ruling.

He added: "This case was truly a matter of life and death for me and today's verdict has breathed new life into an old man's dreams."

Reporting by Stefano Ambrogi; Editing by Steve Addison

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