- Religion and Philosophy
Parsi Disposal of Their Dead: Tower of Silence in Mumbai
Parsi's and Death Rituals.
The Parsi temple and place of disposal of the dead is often referred to as the Tower of Silence. One of the most significant Tower of Silence is in Mumbai. It is situated on prime land at Malabar hill. The man responsible for coining the word ‘Tower of Silence’ goes to a Britishers named Robert Murphy. He coined the word in 1832. It is a translation of a similar meaning word Dakhma from the language of the Parsis Avesta.
Zoroaster (Parsi) tradition has a unique system of disposal of the human body after death. To keep the body pure after death Zoarsterism enjoins its believers to leave the body in the open exposed to nature. In real fact most of these towers of silence are vast open spaces with a temple at the entrance. The vast open spaces are home to vultures which eat the flesh of the dead.
The tower of silence will have a perimeter wall which encloses the place where the bodies are kept. Inside there are 3 concentric circles. The bodies of the men are arranged on the outer circle and the women in the middle circle and children are placed in the innermost circle. Nobody is allowed to enter the sacred burial place and only special pall bearers are allowed inside.
The Parsi tower of silence in Mumbai is a landmark of the city. It is almost hidden in a maze of dense trees and bushes. The Mumbai tower of silence has a bleak look and one can easily recognize it with the vultures hovering over it.
The Parsi towers of silence date from the earliest times. It was brought with them to India by the Parsis who escaped from Iran to save themselves from conversion and persecution. But in the Tower of silence in Mumbai there is now a dearth of vultures and many Parsis would like their bodies to be buried instead of being left in the open to elements of nature.
The principle behind this leaving of the dead body to nature and birds is supposed to be the last act of charity of a Parsi, where in he donates his body to birds for food. The body of the dead Parsi is brought in a coffin to the Tower of silence and after a ceremony is taken inside by the special pall bearers. The body is then left in the open. Nobody can visit the body again once it is committed to the Parsi Tower of silence.
Most of the Towers of silence are only in India. Thus Parsis abroad have perforce to opt for a burial. In India the Parsi towers of silence have gained an iconic image and die hard Parsis will only follow this method of disposal of the body after death.