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History Of Cemeteries

Many many years ago, there were no cemeteries or graveyards. Instead people had a very anomalous way of disposing the dead bodies that we might today, find whacky and freakish. They would toss the body off a cliff, leave the body on a mountain, sink it in a lake, tie it with a wooden pile and set it for sail in the sea, abandon it in between a jungle filled with wild animals, leave it in a cave or even cannibalize it that would be a treat for all the loved ones. Peculiar, isn’t it? But what we might consider as bizarre and unorthodox was strangely the most orthodox way of parting with the dead according to our age old ancestors. It was their way of returning the body to where it belonged: Mother Earth.

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What we now call cemeteries is actually derived from a Greek word, “Koimeterion”, which means “Sleeping Place”. Cemeteries, as we know, are grounds that are laid aside for burying the dead. Wadi Al Salaam, translated as “Valley Of Peace” is the world’s largest known cemetery located in the Shia Holy City of Najaf Iraq. Although Graveyard and cemetery are used interchangeably, Graveyards basically refer to the burial grounds set aside in a churchyard. In the 7th century, Graveyards were solely under the control of the churches but as time passed, these graveyards were not enough. There arose a need for a larger area for burying the dead and hence cemeteries came into existence. In far off lands, mostly in the outskirts of town and cities, lands began to be marked as cemeteries. On the contrary to the graveyards, cemeteries were not controlled by the churches or priests, but were looked after by commoners. 

Another strange fact of the cemetery was, it had never been known as lonely places with rusted gates, haunted by spirits and demons. Instead, these cemeteries and graveyards were, in fact, a jolly place, a place for people to gather and celebrate. These so called haunted grounds hosted fares, anniversaries and events. These cemeteries and graveyards were considered as good grazing grounds for cattles as farmers believed cattles grazed in burial grounds gave sweeter milk. 

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Wondering how all of a sudden the image of cemeteries changed? Well, it happened over a span of time. With time, these lushly decorated gardens with tombs were soon replaced by parks and gardens. People preferred parks over cemeteries to spend an evening together. And that is how cemeteries and graveyards were slowly abandoned. Slowly and gradually, myths and rumours started spreading and the celebrated cemeteries turned to what we know today as haunted grounds. 

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