Zoroastrian funeral rituals are…very different

November 15, 2013
The tower is behind these trees.

The tower is behind these trees.

We visited the hanging gardens in Mumbai, expecting something like a “wonder of the world.” Naah. Not much to see. Then, our special Mumbai guide, a beautiful woman of a certain age, began to tell us about her religion, Zoroastrianism, and of the tower that stood beyond the trees. She said there are only about 110,000 adherents to the religion and half are in Mumbai, in a sect called Parsi.

Zoroastrians worship the elements, especially fire, and they commend their dead back to nature by placing the bodies atop this Tower of Silence, where the birds consume the flesh and the bones are reduced to dust by the elements. I was glad to learn about this, because we passed a Fire Temple and I knew exactly what it was. No funeral. Just the body sent back to nature.

Tree in the garden

Tree in the garden

The next day, several of us women on the trip confessed we’d gone online to research the religion, we’d each seen some of the same material, and one said she’d heard that some of the neighbors had been distressed once when a bird dropped a small body part near them.

Stories like these make clear how different our Western world is and how important it is to keep an open mind about the way others live. And worship.

3 comments on “Zoroastrian funeral rituals are…very different
  1. Ryder Ziebarth says:

    Hinduism is one of the richest, story laden religions on earth. I tried, in my conceptual Western mind, to make Krisha’s story a linear one, but it is not possible, and I learned to understand Vishnu and his offspring, one must flow like a river and spill down waterways deep with symbolism, letting it take you where it will.The breadth of deities and stories could not possibly be absorbed in a months time, or maybe even my lifetime. Some of my best memories of my trip took place on a mountain top, where we made a pre-dawn pilgrimage ascending 6000 marble steps( it was harder descending!) to a sprawling temple, intricately carved and containing hundreds of what westerners would call “saints”. People came from all over the country to pray for favors, leaving behind offering of marigolds, rose petals, mosaics of rice, tangerines and coins. Although monetarily poor ( the deities are bejewels with rubies, emeralds, diamonds, sapphires and never desecrated), a Hindi life brims over with riches beyond compare.

  2. Lisa Brock says:

    We saw saw some very primitive, by our standards, burials when we were there. BOdies set to fire with remains, ashes mostly returned to a river head. Family then goes in – yes – into the river and recovers rings, gold from teeth or other valuable effects. There were wild monkeys everywhere and we watched as one terrorized a young girls while what appeared to be her father and maybe an uncle foraged for ‘remind.’ It was beyond fascinating. There were the equivalent of shaman everywhere performing rites and rituals.

  3. Fascinating!

    I remember studying that pre-dating Christianity, there are Zoroastrian stories about the virgin birth, the son of God, and resurrection. I think there are theories that Zoroastrianism kind of ties together the pantheistic Hindusim with the monotheistic Judaism and Christianity.

    And I also think I remember that Freddie Mercury of Queen was Zoroastrian and that you can hear its influence in Bohemian Rhapsody (I believe “bismillah” is an Arabic phrase, though).

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