Attitudes to death rites are bound to evolve as societies and the environment change. In Japan, for instance, funerals that were once village events are now handled largely by the funeral industry. And America has seen a shift from the traditional burial to cremation - the practice adopted in 55 per cent of deaths last year, compared with 5 per cent in 1970. Similarly, the last rites practised here bear a mixture of respect for tradition and pragmatism. The care with which certain funeral customs are generally observed is a feature of all cultures. Yet, all must adjust to spatial constraints and veer towards less elaborate forms necessitated by the tempo and costs of urban life.
An example of this flexibility would be the mature response to the exhumations required at Bidadari Cemetery, once the largest grave site in Singapore, for the sake of vital transport infrastructure and housing. Family members of those once interred there understood why none can make claims to perpetuity when land is limited. Even some religious organisations maintaining columbaria are aware of the reality of impermanence. Several years ago, one group restricted the booking of new columbarium niches to a term of 30 years to take account of possibilities like rebuilding or relocation in the future, the expiry of a land lease, or compulsory land acquisition.