With no vultures, a Parsis ritual on the brink

Due to the disappearance of vultures, members of the Parsi community have installed solar concentrators as an alternative. The machines desiccate the bodies.

September 07, 2015 01:11 am | Updated 01:57 pm IST

Unlike in other religions where a deceased person’s body is cremated or buried, when a Parsi dies, his or her body is left in the ‘Tower of Silence’ for vultures. Though there are two such ‘towers’ in Hyderabad, it has been more than 20 years since a vulture swooped down on a dead body, as the scavenging birds have almost become extinct in the city and its surrounding areas.

Due to the disappearance of vultures, members of the Parsi community have installed solar concentrators as an alternative. The machines desiccate the bodies, though perhaps not as quickly as the scavenging birds. “The panels rotate in accordance with the Sun,” said Jahangir Bisney, a chartered accountant and trustee of the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjuman of Secunderabad and Hyderabad.

The solar panels, which run on small motors, work in accordance with Zoroastrian teachings, which consider dead bodies impure. Burning a corpse is also not allowed, as it would contaminate fire, which Parsis worship. “In Hyderabad, except during the monsoon season, there is good heat. It is basically like a sky burial,” mentioned Mr. Bisney, whose Trust manages the ‘Tower of Silence’ at Zamistanpur.

However, over the last few years, some Parsis have also been cremating their dead family members, instead of keeping their bodies at the ‘Tower of Silence’. “Some cremate bodies in the Hindu burial grounds, or opt for the new electrical or bio-gas crematoriums,” mentioned Ahmad (name changed). He, however, added that not following the ‘tradition’ is not seen kindly by some members.

“We offer prayers called ‘Arangah’, meaning rest in peace, for the deceased for four continuous days. When a person is cremated or buried in a city where there is a Tower of Silence, prayers are not offered for him, as it is considered taboo,” explained Mr. Bisney.

The Tower of Silence is situated in a complex called ‘Doongerwadi’, which is derived from the word Doonger, meaning mountain. “In Iran, centuries ago, the structure was built at an elevated place, and not near any habitation,” said Mr. Bisney.

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