Parsis turn to cremations as vultures disappear from skies


Mumbai:  Kaikobad Rustomfram always thought that when he died vultures would feast on his body, as is Zoroastrian tradition. But then the scavenging birds disappeared from India’s skies.

The 90-year-old was cremated last month instead of receiving a sky burial, one of a growing number of Parsis opting to use a new prayer hall in Mumbai that is changing the ancient community’s funeral customs.

Rustomfram’s wife, Khorshed, who died in January aged 82, also chose cremation at the ten-month-old facility, which conservative Zoroastrians oppose, in the centre of Mumbai.

“They wanted to be cremated ever since they learnt that the traditional way of disposing of the dead wasn’t working because there were no vultures,” their daughter, Hutokshi Rustomfram, told AFP.

Zoroastrians believe in the god Ahura Mazda and follow the teachings of the ancient Prophet Zoroaster. They worship in ‘fire temples’, believing fire to be a symbol of god’s purity.

Known as Parsis, Zoroastrians first arrived in India more than 1,000 years ago after fleeing persecution in Persia.

They became one of India’s wealthiest communities, boasting a number of famed industrialists including the Tata family synonymous with the financial rise of Mumbai.

For centuries the community, which is dwindling at such a rapid rate that its future existence is now under threat, have laid their dead out at the city’s Towers of Silence.

Ravenous vultures would devour the flesh of the body within an hour, leaving the bones to dry in the sun before being placed in a well, an efficient disposal system believed to purify the deceased.

But India’s vulture population began to drastically decline in the early 1990s and was virtually wiped out by the mid-nineties owing to Diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug used to treat cattle.

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