It may have come out of the wrong end of a cow, but it’s easy to use, highly efficient, economical and environmentally friendly.

The practice of using cow dung instead of wood as fuel for funeral fires is catching on fast in India as people seek alternatives to increasingly rare mango trees. Floods in the state of Bihar have reduced supply of the traditional wood, and dung is not only widely available but also acceptable in sacred terms.

Access to the few mango trees that remain has been limited to protect them, so people had to find another way to respectfully dispose of the dead. The “goraha” way of cremation, in which cow dung is fashioned into a long rod-shaped cake and placed in a deep pit, has been adapted from a common practice in the south of India.

This method disposes of the body within an hour and a half, compared to the three to four hours that mourners once had to remain at the funeral site. It also costs only 400-500 rupees ($6-$8) instead of the 3,000-4,000 rupees ($62-$83) cost of traditional mango wood cremation.

"It's easy, cheap and takes less time for us who are waterlogged in flood waters for three to four months every year in monsoon season," says Shambhu Ram, who used the goraha method about a year ago to cremate a relative.

And when flooding is at its worst and no dry ground is available, the cremation process gets even more creative.

"We put a kothi [earthen container] on the front portion of a country boat and then take the corpse inside it and follow the same process as in goraha,” Ram explains. “When the body gets burnt we push the kothi into the flood water.”

Indians cremate dead with dung to save trees
As access to traditional wood for cremation is restricted, residents of Bihar in India turned to cow dung and found many benefits.