Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Bury funeral ritual: Parsi woman

A centuries old custom has triggered off a bitter debate within Mumbai’s influential Parsi community.

The Parsi community is now divided over how to dispose off their dead. The bodies are kept in a well for vultures to feed on in a tradition called Dokhmenishin dating back to the 16th century. Under community law, the Towers of Silence are forbidden tOnly Khandiyas, the men who carry the bier, are allowed to enter the Towers – a practice that Baria decided to break after her mother died in November last year. “The pall bearers told me that my mother’s body was still inside, nothing had changed. But that if they spoke about it they would lose their jobs,” says she. Baria’s pictures from inside the towers of silence reveal a shocking story of hundreds of dead bodies lying in a heap decomposing inside the well. “The bodies are lying in a heap, decomposing. These were our people, our loved ones. They ate, drank and laughed with us. How can we tolerate them being robbed of their dignity after their death,” says Baria in her defence. In 1998 the Bombay Parsi panchayat asked the experts from BNHS to find out why the vultures had disappeared, but the experts could not enter the premises as many in the community opposed this.o members of the Parsi community. However, many Parsis are now alleging that the Towers are becoming unhygenic and succumbing to decay.

The vultures, who are supposed to eat the bodies, are in fact disappearing and as a result, dead bodies are rotting for years. Recently, photographs that show the inside of the Towers of Silence have surfaced. These photgraphs – though forbidden – are creating ripples in the small community. The woman who took the pictures, Dhan Baria, a resident of Marzban Parsi colony, says that she is not going to keep quiet about the state of the bodies in the Towers

Where have I sent my mother,” moans sixty-five-year old Dhan Baria, who had consigned her mother to the Towers almost a year ago and was shocked to hear from people working in the Towers that her mother’s body was still rotting there.

“When I asked the workers there if my mother had gone, they said, ‘She’s going to be here for years.’ I was in complete shock,” says she.

Vultures, which traditionally prey on the bodies, are fast vanishing due to disease. The problem that this is creating for the Parsi community has resulted in many of them asking their leaders to allow them to cremate or bury their loved ones at the Towers’ premises.

“If your wife, who you sleep with, or your son who you have lived with, were to die tomorrow, would you be able to bear it if they were in that state?” questions Dhan Baria.

However, the Bombay Parsi Punchayet maintains that they cannot go against the wishes of the community’s religious leaders.

Only Khandiyas, the men who carry the bier, are allowed to enter the Towers – a practice that Baria decided to break after her mother died in November last year. “The pall bearers told me that my mother’s body was still inside, nothing had changed. But that if they spoke about it they would lose their jobs,” says she. Baria’s pictures from inside the towers of silence reveal a shocking story of hundreds of dead bodies lying in a heap decomposing inside the well.

“The bodies are lying in a heap, decomposing. These were our people, our loved ones. They ate, drank and laughed with us. How can we tolerate them being robbed of their dignity after their death,” says Baria in her defence. In 1998 the Bombay Parsi panchayat asked the experts from BNHS to find out why the vultures had disappeared, but the experts could not enter the premises as many in the community opposed this.

– Baria says that she was sent the pictures anonymously and received threatening telephone calls over her campaign to persuade senior figures to allow cremation or burial. Her actions have horrified the orthodox wing of the community which condemned her for making public a sacred place for the Parsis, part of the 3,500-year-old Zoroastrian religion.

– Says member, World Alliance of Parsi and Irani Zarthoshtis, Anahita Desai, “For her to do something like is this is hurting the religious sentiments of the community. We are appalled she has done this. You don’t take pictures of dead bodies and distribute them to the media, and in the community like this.”

– According to advocate Berjis Desai, “Traditionalists are more vocal about their views. The middle-of-the-roaders and liberals are not very vocal. Only because Dhan Baria has launched this crusade the expose has resulted in action being contemplated.”

– Another advocate, H P Ranina, adds, “The land is only meant for those who follow this disposal method. It is not meant for any other disposal method, because our forefathers donated this land only for this reason.”

– Adds editor, Parsiana Jehangir Patel, “It’s a hygienic issue, not a religious one. As long as you’re following the Parsi prayers, the method of disposal should not be the subject of controversy.”

Original article