… To dispose of the dead a group of Parsis, the ethnic group that practices Zoroastrianism, are using solar panels and lenses like a magnifying glass to …
It is one of the most poignant images in India – mourners wrapped in muslin carrying the dead up a leafy hill to a temple, conducting an ancient ceremony in modern Mumbai.
They reach the Towers of Silence and the bodies are laid on slabs of marble to be devoured by vultures and bleached by the heat of the sun. For Zoroastrianism, one of the oldest mass religions in the world, bodies left in this manner will see their soul join the spiritual world.
The trouble is Mumbai’s vultures are dying out. Their numbers have been decimated by cattle carcasses contaminated with an anti-inflammatory drug widely used in southern Asia.
To dispose of the dead a group of Parsis, the ethnic group that practices Zoroastrianism, are using solar panels and lenses like a magnifying glass to penetrate bodies and aid decomposition. Burial, burning or disposal at sea are not permitted because the bodies would contaminate the sacred elements of earth, fire and water.
Many say the solar panels have failed before. “They are built to be used in the Sahara. We don’t have the temperatures in Mumbai, so the bodies just start to rot,” said Vispy Wadia of the Association for the Revival of Zoroastrianism.
Founded by the Bronze Age Persian prophet Zarathustra, Zoroastrianism flourished for 2000 years until Arabs invaded Persia in 651.
There are only 60,000 Parsis in India, but they are remarkably successful. The religion has produced some of India’s top businessmen, among them the billionaire Tata family. The Indian Parsi diaspora includes the conductor Zubin Mehta, the writer Rohinton Mistry and the late Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen.