Friday, September 08, 2006

Parsi woman sparks furore over funeral rites

Amazing customs and rituals of India! Sometimes.. quite disgusting too!!

DC story..
Sept 8, 2006

Pictures of rotting corpses piled at a centuries-old Zoroastrian funeral ground, secretly snapped by a Parsi woman, have sparked a furore over ancient rituals.
For centuries, the Zoroastrian dead have been wrapped in white muslin and left at a leafy, funeral ground in Mumbai’s Malabar Hill, where they are devoured by vultures. But with only a handful of the critically-endangered birds remaining in the city, authorities installed solar panels three years ago to dry out the bodies and speed up decomposition.
The sun’s rays are bleary, though, during the threemonth monsoon season. When Ms Dhun Baria, 65, learned her mother’s corpse would take at least a year to decompose, she slipped into the funeral ground to take her shocking photographs of a place that few people are even allowed to enter.
Orthodox Parsi elders said that the funeral system is working fine.
But Ms Baria is challenging that contention with her stack of pictures, a 15minute video clip and thousands of handbills she has been distributing in the community showing rotting corpses and body parts.
“Would you like to have the bodies of your mother, father, daughter piled up in a horrible state?” asked Ms Baria, whose mother died nine months ago.
“It is a terrible sight, the stench is horrible. It’s as if the bodies have been tortured. The dead have no dignity,” she said.
Parsis have placed their dead in a dhokma, or Tower of Silence, to await the vultures at Malabar Hill since 1673.
Followers of the Bronze Age Persian prophet Zarathustra, Parsis worship fire, so cremating the dead is a mortal sin, while burial is seen as a contamination of the earth. But the vulture is precious to Parsis who believe it releases the spirits of the dead. Over the past 15 years, millions of South Asian vultures have died from eating cattle carcasses tainted by a painkiller given to sick cows.
Conservationists estimate that more than 90 per cent of Indias vultures have died, creating havoc for Parsis’ funeral rites. The IUCN lists India’s three species of vulture — the oriental white-backed, long-billed and slender-billed vultures — as critically endangered, the category for animals closest to extinction. It could not provide exact population figures. And with 3-4 Parsis dying daily in Mumbai, it is clear that there are not enough vultures to consume the corpses. While bodies are coated with lime, scattered complaints are now heard about the smell wafting through the neighbourhood.
Ms Baria and other reformists are demanding that the Parsi Panchayat, or council governing the community’s affairs, permit burial or cremation within the funeral grounds.
She said that to allow bodies to decompose for months is a violation of the tenets of the religion, which says souls join the spirit world four days after death.
“After four days, the bodies of your loved ones should mix with the earth or how will their soul be released?” asked Ms Baria.
But Burjor Antia, a panchayat trustee, said Ms Baria has committed a religious offence. “Naturally you will find dead bodies there, and not a valley of flowers,” he said.
“If you open a grave, will you not find worms and a half-eaten body?” Mr Antia insisted, “We cannot cremate or bury, that is breaching our sacred religious injunction” he added.
Orthodox members are upset that Ms Baria entered the Towers of Silence, amphitheatre-like-structures set on pillars amid the 55-acre lush garden ceme tery atop Malabar Hill.


Blogger Arattai Ambujammal said...

Thanks to the dead, this throws light on how endangered non-human lives have become due to urbanization and "growth" in India. Anyone remembers "chittukkuruvis" sitting on Chennai telephone poles, chirp-chirping away? Not one can be seen now-a-days.
When times change, religions have to find a way to keep customs and traditions alive by tuning them. Time for the Parsi community to get together and think it out.

9:31 PM  
Blogger Arattai Ambujammal said...

Couldn't help notice Ms. Baria's walls and the Ganpati. This is sufficient to say secularism in India rings in the heart of the common man and not in political parties.

11:23 PM  

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