The Mumbai Parsi community is hoping to return vultures to their traditional and religious role
of eating the dead by building aviaries near the Towers of Silence
where the Zoroastrian dead are laid out to be stripped clean by vultures. For the past fifteen years
, there have been barely a dozen vultures in Mumbai, and members of the community have increasingly turned to cremation (especially during the rainy season), which the religion considers unclean. The community hopes to have vultures return to eating the dead by February 2014.
Vultures have died off in massive numbers in India due to the use of diclofenac in animals, which causes kidney failure in vultures who feed on the animal corpses. The Parsi community is one of two Zoroastrian
communities in India, the last remaining stronghold of what was once the largest religion in the world, whose origins date to at least the 6th century BCE. Dead bodies are considered unclean in Zoroastrianism; to prevent the pollution of the sacred elements of earth (burial) or fire (cremation), Parsis prefer to have their corpses consumed by vultures, which can be done in as little as two hours with a large flock.
A link (from the NYTimes article) to some drawings and photographs
of Towers of Silence. (Some of these images are graphic images
of large numbers of dead bodies in various states of decomposition. The graphic images are at the end of the page and there is a text warning that you're about to view graphic images.)
A 1928 description
of the funerary customs of the Parsi community.
Towers of Silence
in Yazd, Iran. These are not currently in use as the practice is not currently legal in Iran.
Very brief clip
of vultures circling the Tower of Silence in Mumbai.
Instructions for having a Parsi body returned to India
for disposal rites, including some of the theology of the body and of the practice of exposure.
Previously on Metafilter
Bonus link: Cute baby vulture