I live not far from one of the more eerie landmarks in Mumbai. Unfortunately, because I am not a Parsi, I will never get to visit the Towers of Silence.
The Parsi (aka, Zoroastrian) community fled religious persecution in Iran in the 9th century and came to India. Only now am I beginning to learn more about their faith, but I do know how they bury their dead: in the Towers of Silence.
When a Parsi dies, his or her body is sent to be “buried” in the ToS, where, over several weeks/months, the body is picked apart by vultures. To think of it is absolutely fascinating! I’m sure that’s why the Parsis forbid anyone but other Parsis to enter into the community where the ToS are located.
Apparently, after the body has been picked apart, it eventually travels down the chute, or tower. Not sure what happens after that – it’s a bit of a touchy subject, and not one that I’d want to bring up during cocktail hour.
I’m not sure where the Muslims and Christians in Mumbai bury their dead, as I haven’t seen any cemeteries anywhere. Of course, Hindu tradition states that bodies are burned in a funeral pyre. And, you know, thank god for that. I can’t imagine where in this overcrowded country you would put a cemetery (especially as the population has surpassed 1 billion), and the monsoon rains wouldn’t help the situation.
You can’t even see the Towers of Silence from the road in Mumbai, only the road up to the hill where they are. I like to imagine that this one sort-of decrepit building is a wing of the towers, especially when I see birds hovering over it. It’s a morbid thought, I know.
Another thing, though, that is touchy about the ToS is the fact that the vulture population is on the decline because of pollution. Apparently, the vultures aren’t “doing their job” like they used to, so those who tend to the ToS are having to move things along, as it were.