Tower of Silence and Parsi Sky Burial

Tower of Silence and Parsi Sky Burial

You may remember photos of the Tibetan Sky Burial we had featured on Best Gore earlier. While the idea behind the Tower of Silence is very similar, it is not the same. People who live on the rocky slopes of the Himalayas don’t have an option of digging up graves and the philosophy by which they live favors the recycling of life – one life ends so another can be sustained. The Tower of Silence and the Parsi Sky Burial ritual on the other hand are based on the Zoroastrianism principle that the elements of earth, fire and water must remain pure, not defiled by decomposing human corpses.

Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the world. Prophet Zoroaster was the first to introduce the concepts of heaven and hell, resurrection, final judgment, and God vs Satan. For the Zoroastrians, more commonly known as the Parsi people or Parsis, the principles of purification, segregation and sanitation in burial rituals are paramount.

The Parsis consider human bodies unclean. To them, contamination of the earth with any part of it, including nail clippings or cut hair is blasphemous.

In ancient Iran (Persia), birthplace of Zoroastrianism, mountaintop structures were built in order to accommodate proper disposal of corpses. Within these structures, named Dakhmas (دخمه‎ in Persian), the living would deposit the dead so vultures or other large voracious birds can eat their flesh and sinews. Bare skeletons would be left exposed to the sun until thoroughly bleached and the bones then stored in central ossuary of the Tower of Silence.

The English name of the structure – Tower of Silence is not a literal translation of the word Dakhma, but a neologism coined by early 19th century British translator to India Robert Murphy.

Due to the wide spread encroachment of Islam, Zoroastrianism is no longer practised in Iran (only by a handful of remaining Parsis). As a result, the Iranian Towers of Silence fell into ruin. There is however a healthy population of Parsis in India who erected their own Towers of Silence (Dakhmas) and honor the ancient burial rituals the way it is taught by their religion.

A Tower of Silence consists of three separate concentric circles – one for men, one for women and one for children. Corpses of the deceased are left exposed in the correct circle for a year. That is usually enough time for vultures to eat all the soft parts and the sun to bleach the bones. A system of multiple coal and sand filters ensures that run-off rainwater doesn’t contaminate the Earth with residual biological matter.

An avid traveler could still come across the Towers of Silence today, however access is limited strictly to the practitioners of Zoroastrianism only. There are three Dakhmas within a 55 acre forested area of Malabar Hill in South Mumbai, India (3 gray dots on the Google Maps screenshot in the photo gallery).

Unfortunately, due to aggressive urbanization (India is soon to be the most populous country in the world), the vulture population has severely decreased in India over the past few decades. As a result, an important part of the Parsi sky burial ritual is missing, prompting new generation of Parsis to opt for cremation instead.

Props to Best Gore member Evo for the pics:

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46 thoughts on “Tower of Silence and Parsi Sky Burial

    • Indian officials ventured into a deep jungle, investigating several missing persons reports from a nearby city. What they found was a “Tower of Silence,” or dakhma. Zoroastrians use these sites to dispose of bodies in the open air.

      While sites like these are not uncommon in certain parts of india, several peculiarities hint at something more unusual…

      None of the bodies depicted in the photograph were identified. Villagers from nearby, though initially surprised at the sheer number of corpses in the dakhma, proved unable to recognize the bodies. The corpses also do not match the descriptions of the missing people.
      There were no animals around except for maggots and flies. Zoroastrians rely on birds (i.e. buzzards) to dispose of the bodies, in the belief they are contributing back to the Earth. Officials found the corpses relatively untouched by any sort of animal.
      There is no official count of the bodies. In fact, little work was actually accomplished at the site and, perhaps, this is why only one photograph has emerged. Officials avoided the spot – not only because they felt uneasy looking at it, but for the following, as well:
      The deep pit in the center of the photograph was filled with several feet of festering blood – far more than the bodies on the outside could ever supply. The stench was so unbearable that many of the officials began to get nauseous when they first approached the dakhma.
      The expedition was ended when a villager accidentally kicked a small bone into the pit, penetrating the coagulated surface of the pool. A massive burst of gas from the decomposing blood erupted from the pit, splashing those looking into it, along with the photographer.

      Those caught in the explosion were immediately sent to the hospital, where they were quarrantined for possible infection. They became delirious with fever, shouting about “being tainted with the blood of Ahriman” (the personification of evil in Zoroastrianism), despite never having admitted having any familiarity with the religion.

      In fact, many of them had no idea what the dakhma was when they had found it. Delirium turned to insanity as many began to attack hospital staff until they were sedated. The fever eventually killed all of them.

      When officials returned with HAZMAT gear the following day, the site was empty. All the bodies had been removed and, astonishingly, the pool of blood inthe pit had been drained. All that remained of the incident was this photograph.

      • Where does this information come from?
        In India a lot of things are happening which don’t make sense. The story above may be bullshit, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true.

        • did some further googling, apparently the story is bullshit but the part about absence of birds is true, 99% of birds of prey have been killed off in India in recent decades due to diclofenac use in agriculture.
          That is even scarier than this tower is…

  1. I’m very facinated by this. I like the idea of having one place for bodies to not contaminate the earth. i see the newer pics are empty, wonder what they did with all those bones. Can you imagine the smell as you got closer. there would have to be triple the population of vultures in america, cause of all the fat fucks here.

    • I don’t know about tripling the vulture population, they would probably die sooner from diabetes and heart disease from eating our foul bits.

  2. The problem is that bodies left to rot out in the open would spread disease, contaminated wildlife would contaminate other wildlife, rats, dogs and the like would go around biting people which would cause massive amounts of death, think about the black death but without the mass burials, the worlds population would soon disappear which in itself would not be a bad thing I suppose.

    The sights and the smell would be much like living inside a bucket of shit or Pakistan.

    • I would do it… Never have I feared ghosts or spirits.

      Like those reality shows where if you sleep in a ghost haunted dwelling through the night you win thousands of dollars,, Fuck put me in there and I would walk away with fat pockets. In order to scare me you must be capable of initiating some type of bodily harm directly… And I’ve tried to get a ghost to fuck with me,, they just don’t… So for me I don’t for one second fear a ghost or spirit or any of that bullshit.

      EndDrunkRant/

  3. Wow that was interesting. i’m wondering why the walls around the pit are so tall, it’s not like anyone is going to try to climb them to get out!

  4. Pretty unique customs and rituals they got going on over there. Too bad about the vultures disappearing, maybe they got tired of eating the same meat all the time or migrated somewhere else. Seeing a hill of skeletons up close sounds very appealing and ominous.

  5. Thank you, Mark. I’ve never heard of sky burial being done on such a massive scale!

    I learned something new already this morning. That ROCKS! :D

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