The Funeral Pile (Maupassant)

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The Funeral Pile
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: A group of Indians in a French town cremated their deceased relative on a beach, following their customs and rituals, while the locals reacted with curiosity and confusion.

An Indian prince, Bapu Sahib Khanderao Ghatgay, passed away in Étretat, a small town in France. He was part of a group of young Indian men who had come to Europe to study military institutions. The prince had been suffering from an infection in his gums that spread to his throat, eventually leading to gangrene.

Bapu Sahib Khanderao Ghatgay — deceased Indian prince; father-in-law of Sampatrao Kashivao Gaikwar.

As per the customs of their religion, the prince's friends requested permission from the Mayor to cremate his body on the shore beneath the cliffs. The Mayor granted permission, and the prince's body was prepared for cremation. His relatives and servants built a funeral pile on the shore, and the body was placed on it, with the prince's feet pointing towards his native land. Petroleum was poured over the body, and the pile was set alight. The funeral pyre burned throughout the night, with the relatives and servants watching solemnly.

The purifying fire scatters in a few hours what was a human being, casting it to the winds, turning to air and ashes, instead of unspeakable putrefaction.

As dawn approached, the ashes were collected and some were thrown into the air and the sea, while a small portion was kept in a brass jar to be taken back to India. The following day, there was much excitement and confusion in Étretat, with rumors spreading about the cremation.

The following day there was great excitement in Étretat. Some pretended that a man had been burnt alive, others that it was an attempt to conceal a crime.

A representative of the government arrived to hold an inquiry, but seemed to view the case with reason and intelligence. The cremation on the funeral pile was seen as a clean and healthy method of disposing of the body, as opposed to the slow decomposition that occurs in a coffin. The funeral pyre, with its flames reaching towards the sky, was considered to have an element of greatness, beauty, and solemnity.