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Why Parsis don’t bury or burn their dead?


Usually, we know that when people die, they are either burned or buried according to various traditions and rituals. Unlike many religions and beliefs of the world, Parsi people don’t burn or bury their dead. They have a very discrete ceremony and process as the final rite for the dead person.

They don’t burn or bury
Usually, we know that when people die, they are either burned or buried according to various traditions and rituals. Unlike many religions and beliefs of the world, Parsi people don’t burn or bury their dead. They have a very discrete ceremony and process as the final rite for the dead person.

Tower of Silence
Parsi people or Zoroastrians as they are called, use the Tower of Silence as the excarnation purpose–it’s a circular raised platform. The body is exposed to scavenging birds.

When the tower was first used
Though the Zoroastrian exposure of the dead is first attested in the mid-5th-century BCE, but the use of towers is first documented in early 9th century. The main reason behind this ritual was to avoid contact with earth or fire, both of which are considered sacred.

It’s different and often confusing
To lot of people around the world, this ritual comes as a shock–it was for me too. But I quickly learned the good reasons behind it, and was able to assimilate the significance. In this article, I will try to provide some rationale as to why they do it.

Dead body is ‘nasu’
In their tradition, a dead body is considered as ‘nasu’, which means unclean. Even cut hair and nail parings are also put in the same category. To avoid the pollution of natural elements through this ‘nasu’, this tradition was proposed.

The corpse demon may enter
It is also believed that the corpse demon rushes to enter the dead body and further contaminates everything that comes in contact with it. So, through the ecclesiastical code named as Vendidad, which means “given against the demons”, the rules for disposing the dead body were suggested.

To avoid putrefaction
If a body is buried or burned, it comes in contact with either earth or fire. But both these elements are considered extremely revered in Zoroastrianism. Putrefaction can be avoided if the touch with earth is avoided, and thus, the ritual of exposing the body to scavenging birds and sun was devised.

The guiding principle behind the ritual
The guiding principle behind this ritual is: sanitation, segregation, and purification. However, the present process also involves the features of economy, hygiene and speed.

Practice of ancient Iran
Before the development of Tower of Silence or building a common place, mountaintops were utilized for the disposal of dead bodies in ancient Iran. Large birds like vultures would eat the flesh and sinews, leaving only the skeleton.

Bones were further used in fields
The remaining bones of the body were further used as ‘bone mean manure’ in fields after they were kept exposed to sun for a year until they became dry. Interestingly, no tombs were permitted on the spot.

The distinguishing features of the system
It’s interesting to know that the whole ritual got some special features including speedy disposal of the fleshy parts. On an average, it takes about 25 minutes for the birds to finish the corpse. There is no fuel, wood or any other material used and therefore the process is economical. The poor don’t have to worry how they will perform the last rites. Equality of the society is maintained as the remains of the rich and the poor lie side by side in niches on a common platform.

Feeding the birds
It may sound totally irrelevant but the birds are fed profusely through this process. It is like earning good Karma even after a person has died. Interestingly enough, birds never attack the people who have gathered to perform the last rites.

The design of Tower of Silence
Taking care of every element that may come in contact with the Tower of Silence, the Parsi people don’t even allow the rain water to come out of the premises and reach the outlying fields. It enters underground wells through special filters.

The greenest way of disposal
Contrary to many beliefs, fears and apprehensions, this system of disposing off the body is termed as the greenest way–burying and burning both consists of utilizing important elements and material. However, this process has no such requirements.

What’s your reaction?
I know some of my friends did not like the idea of throwing a body for birds to eat, but after the person has left, there is nothing that you can do–the best thing is to preserve whatever has remained. I feel this Parsi tradition holds its significance and value and should be respected like any other ritual of any other religious belief around the world. What are your views?

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