Although there is no archetypal form for a crematorium, the cremation place is marked by a pavilion-like structure standing in open ground outside the city limits. However, in most cities today, these sites have been engulfed by urban growth, making the pavilion lose its symbolic significance.
The Ashwinikumar Ghat (crematorium) is located on the banks of the river Tapi in Surat a large city towards the West of India Situated in the Western state Gujarat, Surat is a busy business centre trading for the diamond and textile industries. In a span of four years between 1992 and 1996, Surat was ravaged repeatedly by terrible natural and man-made calamities: A violent spate of communal riots in 1993. A severe flood in the river Tapi, resulting in a catastrophic epidemic in 1994, which may be identified as the dreaded plague. Severely criticized for its filth and squalor, the city finally woke up to its conditions; a competent administration succeeded in mobilizing the citizens to the extent that within a span of two years, the city was transformed. During this period, the competition for a new crematorium was launched, resulting in this entry being selected from among 28 other entries.
The first gesture of the design was to re-articulate the essential identity of the crematorium in the context of its urban setting. This was done by creating a large clearing. This plane was isolated from the surrounding building and road by structures incorporating all auxiliary functions. The site thus became introvert, looking only in the direction of the river. On this plane were then arranged the functions that would fulfill the essential rites of cremation the basic lines that structured the building being drawn from the skewed angles of the site.
While respecting the strong traditional beliefs and values connected to cremation, the project not only attempts to find a valid architectural expression for a crematorium in an urban context, but also attempts to eloquently navigate the changing role of religion in modern society. Although connected ritually to Hinduism, the building is secular in nature, open to all, irrespective of religious beliefs.
On one side, the chambers open into a landscaped courtyard where the gathering can spill over. The landscaping is sparse and maintenance free, lawns defined by brick paving, and gathering areas interspersed with large trees that blossom in during the passing season.
On completion of a ceremony, the relatives and friends leave the grounds not by returning along the entrance, but by climbing down the ramp on the riverside, sometimes taking a dip in the river, and climbing back on to the road from the bank before returning homewards, thereby traversing the cycle symbolic of life. This is also the place where one sees the building for the first time so far the building has always formed the backdrop of the events it holds and can therefore only be experienced, never seen.
Built in 1999, it has already been used for over 80,000 funerals; in that time it has been submerged in a meter of flood water` uring which ceremonies were not stopped.