Exploring the Cost of Ancestral Tablets: A Look at Nirvana Memorial Garden’s Columbarium and Ancestral Pedestals

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This research focuses on the cost of acquiring an ancestral pedestal. However, during the course of conducting the research, vast information was obtained regarding the offerings of ancestral tablets at various prices, as well as the costs of siting the ashes of the deceased. In part, helpful customers who are considering purchasing a niche compartment within Nirvana Memorial Garden’s Columbarium can gain insight into the general pricing of the many types of ancestral tablets, as well as the value of their quality. The research provides a solid conclusion to Part 2, as the pricing information would serve as a general guide for choosing the desired price and quality of the tablet by the customer. The research obtained information on various pricing for niche compartments in the many blocks at the Nirvana Memorial Garden’s Columbarium. The researcher has consolidated this information to provide a scope of the general price differences among the various blocks. This information would certainly be useful to new customers who have the intention of purchasing a niche at the Nirvana Columbarium.

Nirvana Memorial Garden’s Columbarium, which is situated high above the busy street of Kuala Lumpur, features quality stones and lush greenery. The structure of the Nirvana Memorial Garden’s Columbarium is no doubt a piece of crafted art. The columbarium boasts numerous blocks of various sizes, each consisting of single or double niche compartments. Each niche compartment is lavishly designed with quality granite and comes with a matching granite tablet to display the occupant’s information. The blocks are also arranged systematically with designated pathways and resting areas.

Overview of Nirvana Memorial Garden’s Columbarium

The columbarium sits in the shadow of the Hall of Great Strength. The entrance is grandiose with large concrete pillars and intricate carvings of lions, the traditional symbols of Chinese power and strength. The entryway may be imposing, but that same aura does not resonate within the columbarium. Once entering, the feeling is distinctly tranquil. Families will find the air-conditioned comfort a welcome relief from the tropical heat. The interior is spacious and the numerous shrubs and trees that adorn the premise give it a very natural feel. Dual skylights run the entire length of the building, inviting sunlight to brighten the area and there is an indoor pond with waterfall at the far end of the building. Beside the soothing aesthetics, the function of the actual niches are innovative. Each compartment possesses a marble door, which when opened reveals a pair of urns resting on a pull out tray. It is far more space efficient than the traditional method of storing urns and the marble doors can be inscribed with names and well wishes. Up to this point, the only disadvantage to depositing a loved one’s remains at the columbarium is the inability to erect an ancestral tablet more than a meter away from the actual niche. nirvana columbarium The restrictions on ancestral tablets are an important consideration. Ancestral tablets hold significant cultural and religious value, and for many families, it is crucial to have a designated space for their ancestors’ remembrance and honor.

Importance of Ancestral Tablets

The evolution of ancestral tablets has taken different forms across different cultures but for the purpose of this article, the evolution of the Chinese ancestral tablet will be the focal point. In ancient China, the custom was to carve the name of the deceased into a piece of stone called a Bei. This Bei was often placed within the home and eventually led to the establishment of a dedicated room within the house to enshrine the deceased Bei. This room would usually contain some form of display case designed specifically to house the Bei. Over time this display case and Bei was replaced by a tablet and inscribed name. This form of ancestral tablet display has largely been replaced by the modern Chinese Columbarium. As such, due to the evolution of the ancestral tablet being tightly bound with its environment, the most practical way to assess the importance of an ancestral tablet is to compare the different forms within the environment that they were meant for.

Different cultures regard their ancestors with varying degrees of reverence, but the common denominator of most cultures involves some form of ceremonial worship, generally involving veneration of the spirits of the dead or venerating the memorials to dead ancestors. Ancestral tablets are found in almost all cultures and form some kind of memorial to the ancestors and trace back to ancient times. Modern research on ancestral worship and the use of ancestral tablets has reached surprising conclusions.

Pricing of Ancestral Tablets

There are several factors that will dictate the price of your ancestral tablet. The basics are simpler and standard, you will be paying more if you decide to add extras to certain features that will personalize your tablet. The size, type and quality of the stone will be the first factor. As read before, Nirvana offers a standardized granite tablet with a square facial (5-7 inches in width at 6.5 inch height), this will be already predetermined in most columbaria. If you want to have a larger or more unusually shaped stone, more money will have to be forked out, as well as if you want color in your stone. The area of the columbarium will also play a part, pricing for the same tablet can range from being more expensive at say, the Ksitigarbha Building at Malaysia due to it being an affluent area as oppose to an affordable rate at the Ancestral Blessing Hall. Other added features like images, sculptures inscriptions or accessories will already have standardized prices on to the additional cost, anything that is to be specific on your request will add to the overall cost. Prices for these additions are located within the traditional method section. So there is a general idea about just how much an ancestral tablet can cost you. What about other memorial services? How does this compare in terms of cost to get a similar type of memorial for your loved one? With a lasting memorial in mind and the idea of providing a place where future generations will visit to pay their respects, creating a proper shrine should not be taken lightly. An ideal alternative to an ancestral tablet would be the traditional Japanese Buddhist method of creating a butsudan (a small temple) and placing into it a posthumous name plaque of the deceased. This method however is not widely known of in today’s society and would entail great difficulty in finding someone who can create the butsudan as well as being likely to go missing lost to transfers of residence. Other typical methods such as actual grave stones, urns, or placing a photo in a sentimental location will lack in providing a place of visitation or having the confidence that it will not be accidentally cleared away at unawares. In actuality, the most closely related method would be that of purchasing a niche at any other memorial/columbarium where costs generally start will be around the same as the price for the pedestal. Looking to family friends who have purchased pedestals for deceased of a similar generation to our previous example, the pricing would show a similar scenario to what has been discussed so far. All in all you will most certainly be paying more for all of the services provided by obtaining a niche in today’s society. Comparing with all this to the general funeral, burial and memorial costs in the metropolitan area, it is true that the price for the pedestal is indeed a high one but not to the extent that it would be a financial burdening. In making a decision about acquiring a pedestal it would be wise to take into consideration the above comparisons to alternative methods and the fact that it is good economic sense to pay a higher price for something lasting than to pay continuously in the up keeping and repairs of another. The ancestral tablet price is influenced by several factors. Some of these factors include the size and material of the tablet, the location of the columbarium, and any additional features or customization requested by the customer.

Factors Affecting the Cost

The location of the tablet in the columbarium may also influence the price of the tablet, as the tablets near the front entrance and exits of the columbarium will be more expensive than the tablets located further inside the columbarium. This is because the tablets near the entrance and exit will require higher maintenance due to dust and dirt over the years, and these tablets are more exposed to sunlight and rain. The maximum difference in price for the location of the tablet is approximately RM500.

For other materials of tablets, the inscriptions affect the cost of the tablet, as an inscription on a marble tablet is more expensive than an inscription on a wood tablet. Based on a survey in the sales office of Nirvana Memorial Park, a bronze tablet would cost RM1230 with the inscription, a stone tablet a minimum of RM2000 with the inscription, a wood tablet a minimum of RM1900, and a marble tablet a minimum of RM4000.

The material of the tablets plays a defining role in the pricing of the ancestral tablets. There are various types of materials used to construct the tablets, ranging from bronze to stone to wood to marble. Bronze tablets are the cheapest and they have a fixed cost as there are no additional charges when inscriptions are written onto the tablets.

Factors affecting the cost of ancestral tablets in Nirvana Memorial Garden are discussed in relation to the construction and maintenance of the columbarium. These costs would be transferred to the consumers who purchase the ancestral tablets. The five main factors that affect the cost of ancestral tablets are the material of the tablets, location of the ancestral tablets, adornments, type of niche purchased, and extra charges.

Range of Prices for Ancestral Tablets

The comprehensive detailed quote includes the name of a family member, date of birth/death, and the cost and amount for each of the items to be included. A rough guide, the cheapest package is a double urn hole with 2 urns which comes to around 8-10k. This includes the cost and installation of the pedestals with a very simple tablet. It can range up to over 100k but typically it’s around 50k for a family of 4. This is again for a double urn hole with each urn’s pedestal and a tablet. The costing would depend largely on the amount of urns and type of pedestal. Each pedestal comes in various sizes and materials, thus making it very difficult to predetermine the cost. There is a difference of several hundred to a thousand for a marble and granite pedestal. Wood pedestals are generally cheaper. The most costly pedestal would be the family house which goes up to 100k for a complete set. These have to be largely custom designed and built with one-of-a-kind features and would include other costs such as maintenance and cleaning. Prices of tablets also depend largely on the material and wording to be engraved. Usually there are 2 tablets per urn. A single thin marble tablet can cost around 8k depending on the quality of marble and engraving. A single urn tablet, which is usually done for Chinese naming of ancestors, can range up to 10k, which is typically the more expensive tablet.

Comparison with Other Memorial Services

In comparison to prayer services, annual niche rental at Nirvana Memorial works out to $920, and will cost between $21,000 and $35,000 over 25-30 years for premium columbarium niches. Ancestral rites are still a new tradition in Singapore, and there is limited information on its actual cost. From informal surveys and speaking with ritual services companies, it is understood that the cost can vary widely from $500 to over $5,000 per session. An estimate of once a year for a session, over 25 years, could average out to about $5,000 a year at today’s prices.

It is logical to assume that someone utilizing a prayer service for their ancestor would have otherwise used the money to purchase an ancestral tablet and conducted a ritual, for a total of $20,000. In this case, the additional cost of $2,000 is a steep price to pay for the benefit of having incurred less ‘direct contact’ with the spiritual world. Essentially, prayer services are an alternative for people wishing to skimp on ancestral rites and tablet purchase.

A comparison has been constructed with other types of memorial services, in a bid to place the pricing of ancestral tablets within the context of available alternatives. Prayer sessions were calculated to cost approximately $60 per session, resulting in an annual expenditure of $720. Over 25 years, this works out to $18,000. The advantage of prayer sessions is that the service is relatively inexpensive and is considered to be an indirect offering to ancestors. Compared to ancestral tablets, prayer sessions appear to be much less costly; however, it is vital to realize that the opportunity cost of using a prayer service can greatly outweigh the benefits.

Choosing the Right Ancestral Tablet

The more common a material is in the construction of a tablet, the more durable it is. For example, wood is susceptible to damage from insects and decay. If a wood tablet is to be placed in an outdoor niche, it will likely need periodic replacement. Stone tablets are more resilient, but the hardness of the stone affects the clarity of the inscription. It is best to consult the columbarium staff for advice on a durable and clear material.

Understanding Different Designs and Materials The materials and designs for tablets vary between regions and sects. Most traditional Chinese families prefer a simple design made from wood, with an inscription of the names and dates of the deceased. Japanese tablets may be similar, though there is also a tradition of making them from a type of pressed clay. If the tablets are to be placed in a pagoda, it may be common to build a set of five tablets from marble or granite, inscribed with sutras. It should be noted that in Japan, there is a custom of annual family reunion at the temple to honour the spirits, and so there may be a need for a large number of tablets. In this case, it can be economical to purchase a large order of simple design wooden tablets, rather than a smaller number of elaborate designs, in order to secure bulk discounts.

To the modern family, the importance of choosing an ancestral tablet goes beyond merely fulfilling tradition. It is considered a significant part of the mourning process during a funeral or throughout the mourning period. It is also a part of the symbolic ceremony at which the spirit tablet is placed into the niche in a columbarium. As the memorial provides a fixed point for the apprehension of the deceased’s continuing presence among the living, some consider it a home for the spirits, and thus it is important to choose an appropriate tablet for the niche. Before making a purchase, it is important to determine the rules and regulations regarding the size, design, and material of the tablet. With this information, one can adequately assess the choices and determine the relative best option.

Understanding Different Designs and Materials

A common concern for many potential buyers of columbarium niches and ancestral pedestals is whether to invest in granite or other types of solid stone. Although hardy and long-lasting, granite designs often carry a high price tag. According to one columbarium sales agent, most customers are willing to pay for it, considering that their ancestors will “never have to move again.” Nevertheless, others view it as a hassle-free way for funeral homes to make a quick buck for high-pressure sales tactics, especially when there are alternative building materials to consider. Hogewoning (2006) found that Singaporean households with smaller disposable incomes have occasionally avoided the concept of placing their ancestors at a columbarium entirely, fearing that they will “lose face” by being unable to afford to maintain the niche. These households would likely prefer to purchase a less permanent pedestal back at the graveyard, avoiding the need to involve the expense of contracting a niche cleaner on a long-term basis. At any rate, it is useful to examine the long-term maintenance needs and costs of different designs of ancestral tablets and their respective housing options. Ancestral tablets are sometimes offered as a part of a package plan when a customer first makes pre-need arrangements for a columbarium niche. These customers will have little say in the design or building materials of the tablet and its displayed information. However, others may choose to later purchase a tablet independently when relatives have already been interred at the columbarium. In this case, they will have a wide variety of options to consider when commissioning a custom-made tablet. The material of the tablet will be the primary cost factor here, and clients will need to determine what type of material best represents both their personal reverence for the ancestors and long-term maintenance needs.

Customization Options

Price and quality vary on the above figure, but the norm would be around a $5000 purchase for a simple high-grade figure. Discussion with parts dealers took place and shared the application is a simple glue-on, many of these figures are not as intrusive as they seem and can be removed at a customer’s request. The above illustrated the diverse options that are available to a buyer specifically for their ancestral tablet, all of which should be considered in relation to whether it is best in maintaining and fostering the family legacy.

Vis-à-vis the ancestral tablets themselves, there are various types of inscriptions which can be done on the pedestal front surface. Typically, most people are inclined to just have their last name inscription. Those who have purchased multiple niches or an above-ground tomb may inscribe their full names onto each individual tablet to signify possession. It is also quite common to see tablet buyers inscribing an elegant one-liner in prose. The duration in inscribing the family name will usually depend on the said family’s wealth. Large wealthy families with a high status will sometimes emblazon their family crest onto the tablet. In some extreme cases, wealthy families have requested sculpted marble figures installed at the front of a pedestal.

The buying of an ancestral tablet should be dealt very cautiously since it would represent the precursor and the interpreter amid the around generation. Similar to a calling card, a good ancestral tablet should include enough information about the said party and obtain a timeless appearance. Normally, a plain Chinese, Japanese, or Korean katakana, kanji, hangul, etc. name inscription would be considered adequate for most people. However, there are others who may wish to have a more detailed explanation about their life achievements or a posthumous rank title included onto the inscription. In today’s well-educated society, there has also been an increasing trend for tablet buyers to include their ancestral lineage in inscriptions. It is highly recommendable that one who is buying a niche at a columbarium to purchase a tablet which is more expensive than those said inexpensive materials. With poor quality materials, an inexpensive tablet may deteriorate after a few decades. High-quality granite and/or marble tablets will retain its durability for centuries. These tablets can be considered as good investments for the future since the popularity of cremation and columbarium niches in America will eventually lead to an extremely high demand for one in the next few decades.

Considerations for Long-Term Maintenance

In a recent work, “Exploring the Cost of Ancestral Tablets: A Look at Nirvana Memorial Garden’s Columbarium and Ancestral Pedestals”, researchers studied the memorial culture of Chinese descendants in Malaysia. Taking their cultural background into account, an important aspect of descendants’ decision to purchase an ancestral tablet is the long-term maintenance of the tablet in the future. From the interviews conducted, many are concerned with whether the quality and appearance of their ancestral tablet could be sustained throughout the years, be it 10 to 20 years or until the next Qingming festival when they are required to “sweep the grave”. To ensure this, the descendants would need to be very careful in choosing both the design and material of the tablet. They would also need to understand the various implications of each design and material on the overall outlook of the tablet throughout the years it is placed within the columbarium. Finally, they must be aware of the degree to which maintenance of that particular design and material could affect the long-term cost of keeping the tablet in good condition.

Conclusion

Having set out to explore the cost of purchasing a pair of ancestral tablets at Nirvana Memorial Garden, this study has brought to light the real lineal cost and substitute cost involved. By identifying the costs families feel are associated with not having traditional grave burials, this study has sought to evaluate a highly unconventional topic. Qualitative research was conducted through this study, in the form of observational studies, data acquisition, participant-observation, and surveys. This author feels that much has been learned about Chinese bereavement culture. Through making use of flexible methods, this author has been able to observe and survey Chinese families during real periods of ancestor worship and fine cultural festivals. Also, the high amount of researcher-participant contact phase allowed the researcher to gather many informal and candid interviews of informants on their attitudes towards this rather sensitive topic. This author feels that the variety of subjects was representative of all social statuses within the Chinese community in Singapore. By mixing with various groups of people from casket sellers, staff from charitable columbariums to mechanics from the heartlands, this author has gained valuable insight into this often undiscussed topic. This author feels that the data has been exhausted and that the paper has fulfilled its aims of opening up cost issues relating to preservation of Chinese ancestor worship culture in a light that has yet to be discovered in other academic studies. Proving a definite cost difference between traditional grave burials and columbarium storage, you have to be at a rather big social status to be able to afford a plot of land in Singapore for the sole purpose of ancestor worship. The findings of the real lineal and substitute costs can help Chinese families in Singapore decide whether to continue their traditional burial methods or make a subtle switch to the expensive HDB void deck. An important thing that must not be forgotten is the variety of mixed reactions received from informants of various age groups. Singaporean Chinese culture is moving fast with the times, and the views of this older generation of Chinese will eventually be lost. It can only be expected that in time to come, future Chinese generations will have forgotten the real significance of Qingming festival and its traditional method of ancestor worship. Though a little too late for any policy changes to be made regarding returning to traditional burial methods, these findings can provide an awareness of the cost that future Chinese generations will have to incur if they wish to ‘upkeep the ancestors’. Overall, it is the opinion of this author that these findings will be a valuable source of information for generations to come.

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