Friday, October 26, 2018

Sky Burial in the Towers of Silence

The Zoroastrians practiced sky burials. I have visited other sky burial sites, like in Tibet, where the extreme altitude makes decomposition impossible, and because of the scarcity of fuel, burning isn’t an option, too. In Iran or India, where the Zoroastrians thrived, the reason for sky burial had been avoiding contact of the corpse with the sacred elements earth or fire. The dakhma (دخمه) or towers of silence were built in remote areas, far outside the settlements, where only a guard, called nasasalar, held the right of entrance. The corpse would be laid out and fastened in order that the vultures would take away pieces and then contaminate the earth. Also the nasasalar lived outside society in order not to spread disease.

We might think it alien to have corpses eaten by vultures, but in principle eaten by worms doesn’t make a big difference. The bones were collected an sometimes put into an ossuarium, and sometimes put into a collective pit in the middle of the tower of silence.

A law had been passed during the 1970ies, which forbid sky burial. Since then the corpses are buried next to the towers of silence, but in order not to pollute the earth they are put into graves of rock and concrete.
15 years ago the towers of silence of Yazd were not protected as a historical site, so that male youths were using the hills for motocross biking. Luckily this practice has been abandoned.

Another tower of silence in Yazd 

 Entrance to the lower tower of silence

The stone round with the bone pit in the middle 

2004 - towers of silence (?) 
surrounded by motocross paths 

2004 - motocross in action 
in front of historical buildings

Links and References:
Stausberg, M.: Zarathustra und seine Religion. Beck, München 2005, ISBN 3-406-50870-7.


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