Towers of Silence

Recent years have witnessed the growing popularity of “green burials” that incorporate a biodegradable casket (or none at all), erect no headstone or tomb, and leave no negative impact on the environment. The Zoroastrian tradition (predominant in parts of Iran and India) takes this idea one step further with the use of Dakhmas (loosely translated to “Towers of Silence”) where the dead are ritually exposed to the elements and offered up to vultures and other scavengers. Tibetan Buddhists have a similar practice known as jhator or “Sky Burials.”  Whereas Zoroastrians believe a corpse to be unclean and use Dakhmas to hasten decomposition and avoid the pollution of the body by evil spirits, Buddhists simply view the body as a vessel, emptied at death, which might as well be put to good use, in a final act of charity, by “giving alms to the birds.” Photo by Szabolcs Szilagyi.