Tower of Silence
October 24, 2014 11:46 AM   Subscribe

A dakhma, or "tower of silence" is an ancient structure created by Zoroastrians for the disposal of the dead. Within an elevated courtyard, surrounded by high walls the bodies of the deceased are laid out in a circle. Vultures descend into the structure and consume the bodies. Like the Tibetan sky burial the gift of one's flesh to the birds is seen as a final act of charity by the deceased. After the bones bleach in the sun they are put into a ossuary or placed into a central pit to crumble to dust. While Iranian Zoroastrians ended their use 40 years ago the tradition continues in India. A pesticide related decline in vulture population is endangering the practice.
posted by humanfont (18 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
When I was in Bombay, my friend and I were visiting Malabar Hills and tried to get close to the Towers of Silence.. of course it's STRICTLY forbidden for any non-Parsis to approach the area.. even Parsis aren't allowed. You best believe that as soon as we poked our heads inside the gates of the area near the towers, a woman RAN out to make sure we didn't enter. We played the "dumb tourist" card of course. Very interesting tradition; in order to speed the decomposition process, I believe they have explored the use of enormous mirrors to focus and magnify the suns energy to rapidly decompose the corpses.
posted by ReeMonster at 11:58 AM on October 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I thought it was due to widespread use of diclofenac in cattle, not pesticides?
posted by aramaic at 12:00 PM on October 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


I thought it was due to widespread use of diclofenac in cattle, not pesticides?

Yes, the meat is eaten and supposedly has poisoned the birds. I heard about how certain drugs which are given to the elderly have not been good for the birds as well.
posted by ReeMonster at 12:02 PM on October 24, 2014


Regarding the vultures: [Previously]

These sorts of posts are endlessly fascinating and informative, I'm always strangely excited to see one pop up.
posted by angeline at 12:11 PM on October 24, 2014


My wife and I visited Iran last year and saw some Zoroastrian sites in Yazd, including the towers of silence at the edge of the city. I laid down and closed my eyes, trying to imagine being a dead body. It was truly silent at the top, just the wind. I could understand how a culture could develop this practice and find it emotionally powerful.
posted by Falconetti at 12:19 PM on October 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


Great post, thank you humanfront. Also somewhat eponhysterical.


(ReeMonster that's not a story that reflects well upon you in any way whatsoever . I'd suggest you examine how other people might interpret it before repeating it again.)
posted by taff at 12:20 PM on October 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


Vanishing Vultures A Grave Matter For India's Parsis

The dying profession of disposing of the dead

Putrefaction plateaus in Iran


Oh editors, we've seen what you did there.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:27 PM on October 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


We're always mucking stuff up.
posted by harrietthespy at 12:47 PM on October 24, 2014


I could go for this kind of "disposal" since I don't want to be buried in casket. I'd like to be consumed and become part of nature again. I've always thought about being planted under a small tree and being its fertilizer. But being carrion works too.
posted by shoesietart at 12:59 PM on October 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yes, me too. We had a previously about "body farms" in the US, where they put out corpses to study decay. Why not a plot of land where you put bodies for disposal. I'm certainly not going to care if I'm eaten by bugs/vultures and pooped out over a small town somewhere. Towers optional, but aesthetically desireable. Where's my entrepreneurs?
posted by sneebler at 1:11 PM on October 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


ReeMonster that's not a story that reflects well upon you in any way whatsoever

Whatever, the Parsis have a real chip on their shoulder about how amazing and superior they are, especially with how they wield corruption in and around Mumbai, which we saw and experienced firsthand as visiting musicians on a cultural exchange program supported by the US State Department. We did not even step across the threshold of the gates as we passed by (they are on a paved road leading out of the Hills), but were standing just outside looking in when we were hastily confronted. I never said the woman who came out yelled or that she was mean.. simply came out very quickly to tell us the area was off limits. When I said we played the dumb tourist card, we just told her "Oh we're sorry, we weren't sure if this gate was off limits." Heh. I don't see how that reflects poorly on me. We were curious individuals in a far off land. Once in a lifetime.
posted by ReeMonster at 1:44 PM on October 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


This is really interesting, thanks for posting it.
posted by quaking fajita at 1:50 PM on October 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


You best believe that as soon as we poked our heads inside the gates of the area near the towers, a woman RAN out to make sure we didn't enter. We played the "dumb tourist" card of course.

When I said we played the dumb tourist card, we just told her "Oh we're sorry, we weren't sure if this gate was off limits." Heh. I don't see how that reflects poorly on me.


Never underestimate the entitled boorishness of a lot of tourists.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:55 PM on October 24, 2014 [6 favorites]


It is not only the Parsis that allow birds to consume the body, take a look at sky burials in Tibetan Buddhism and sky offerings in Aboriginal and First Nations. An article on a body farm and how sky burial is done for science. If you query youtube for, "sky burial", you can find videos and a regular image search will provide you plenty. Sky burials offer a chance to contemplate deeply, those things that only your deepest heart can know.
posted by jadepearl at 4:17 PM on October 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


Thank you for the Oxford American article, jadepearl, that's powerful stuff.
posted by cromagnon at 4:38 PM on October 24, 2014


shoesietart: "But being carrion works too."

I don't know, the FAA rules for size and contents are making it increasingly difficult.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:04 PM on October 24, 2014 [7 favorites]


There was on of these in my friends neighborhood when I lived in Pakistan in the 70's. Once in awhile they would find something like a finger in the yard that a bird dropped.
posted by boilermonster at 10:51 PM on October 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I reckon the Zoroastians should replace the vultures with sea lice, these gruesome little creatures live on the bottom of the sea and eat any dieing animal that enters their area. Nature sure is good at cleaning up junk.
posted by Narrative_Historian at 1:26 AM on October 25, 2014


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