Category Archives: Doongerwadi Process

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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Prayers for the dear departed

Many times, in remote places, Mobeds are not available for prayers for the dear departed. In such cases, the family members should not be deprived of having obsequies performed for the deceased. Prayer Hall, Worli, has come out with audio files, which have the prayers for all the ceremonies, with a 10 second gap, for putting in the name of the deceased, wherever required.

Click on each of the links for the full prayers.

 

Click Here for MP3

Geh Sarnu

Click Here for MP3

Sarosh-nu-patru

Click Here for MP3

Afternoon Uthamna

Click Here for MP3

Mid-Night (Pachhli Raat-nu) Uthamna

Click Here for MP3

Cherum (Charam / Chahram) nu Jashan

 

Courtesy: Dinshaw Tamboly

 

 

 

Khandias : The Keepers of Doongerwadi

Khandias: The Keepers of Doongerwadi

Khandias are the people who tend to the Parsi community’s deceased. Open listens to their stories

Khandias in their quarters in Doongerwadi, Mumbai (Photo: RITESH UTTAMCHANDANI)

Khandias in their quarters in Doongerwadi, Mumbai (Photo: RITESH UTTAMCHANDANI)

Among Parsis, Khandias are a group of people spoken about only in hushed tones. It is their job to bathe and carry the deceased of the community to the Towers of Silence for vultures, and then tend to the mortal remains, pushing them ritually into a deep pit at the centre of the circular ‘tower’ (for retrieval and burial elsewhere later). Zoroastrian corpse bearers have been at work for millennia. But in Mumbai, home to most of India’s Parsis, no vultures have been sighted for years around the city’s Towers in Doongerwadi near Malabar Hill. This exposes the corpses to the ravages of nature that make the job increasingly nerve wracking. It is rumoured that what Khandias do can be so gruesome that it cannot be undertaken without the aid of alcohol as a calming agent.

Outdated as it sounds, dokhmenashini, the 3,000-year-old tradition of disposing of the dead by exposing them to scavenger birds, remains an important tenet of the Zoroastrian faith— for it is this that’s said to assure safe passage to the after-life. In the process, however, Khandias have become the ‘untouchables’ of an otherwise casteless community. Many of them live in Doongerwadi, where the ancient tradition is practised, in close-knit quarters of their own. For centuries, they have lived under a cloak of secrecy and in near isolation of the outside world, carrying out an ancient custom hidden away in a patch of woods in the city.

On a recent weekday, I find myself sitting beside a Khandia. He’s far from a man of frazzled nerves that I had imagined. He is old and wears a pair of large dark soda glasses. I also begin to realise that he is half-deaf.
“You can’t become a Khandia,” Kersi Kohla tells me, “you are not Parsi.”

“No sir, I’m asking why you became a Khandia.”

“Why didn’t you say that?” he responds, “Well, I had a love marriage. And then I had a court marriage.”

The towers of silence are located in a verdant sprawl of 54 acres at the eastern edge of Malabar Hill. When the first dakhma, a well-like structure where bodies are laid out for vultures to consume, was built here in 1670, this area was still nowhere close to the city, and it is said tigers and hyenas were frequently spotted. More wells were built over the years, and the land itself was purchased and called Doongerwadi, a Gujarati word for ‘orchard on the hill’. The name ‘Towers of Silence’ was coined later by a 19th century British translator.

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Towers of Silence (official trailer)

or
Published on Oct 19, 2014

‘The Towers of Silence’ explores the fundamental question faced by every small community, namely how to preserve one’s traditions in a rapidly changing and modernizing world. The film focuses on the story of the ten-year-old Dinshah Magol and the decision he has to take between following his fate in becoming the priest of his Zoroastrian community, thus preserving them from extinction, or pursuing his dream of one day becoming an engineer. The expectations of the whole community rest on his small shoulders as he contemplates this decision while waiting to grow tall enough to perform the key rituals to potentially become the world’s youngest Zoroastrian priest in living memory.Produced by Schadenfreude Films

Producer/Co -Director: Magnus Briem
Director : Fani Behraki
Camera: Pavlos Roufos, Eleni Zervopoulou
Editing: Pavlos Roufos
Sound Engineer: Fondas Kontopoulos

Read more about this religion from here:
A GUIDE TO THE ZOROASTRIAN RELIGION, Scholar’s Press, 1982. A Nineteenth Century Catechism by Erachji S. Meherjirana, with translation and commentary by a modern Dastur (High Priest):
http://bit.ly/1hiI1Lh
http://bit.ly/1garTeX

Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices:
http://amzn.to/1giI2O9
http://bit.ly/1hEEQBn

Frequently asked questions on Zoroastrianism and the Avesta:
http://www.avesta.org/zfaq….

” Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees” by J.J. Modi’s
http://www.avesta.org/ritual/rcc1937.pdf

Courtesy : Tehemton B Adenwalla

Requiem for a Bird

This short documentary will be a synthesis of traditional documentary interviews with animation and choreographed dance. It will illuminate the  private  and public  lives of  the  Parsi through their spiritual relationship to the vultures. We will journey through Mumbai and its outer regions, meeting members of the Parsi community, listening to their hopes and fears for the future. and learning of the efforts to save the vulture population.

Cristin Hughes, the film maker writes:
My name is Cristin Hughes and I am freelance producer working on a film entitled Requiem for a Bird, with German filmmaker cylixe. It is a short documentary that explores the once vibrant partnership of the Parsi people and vultures in Mumbai.

This documentary will be a synthesis of traditional documentary interviews with 3D animation and choreographed dance. It will illuminate the public and private lives of the Parsi through their relationship to the vultures. Cylixe and I see Requiem for a Bird as an opportunity for the Parsi voice and Zoroastrian traditions to find a worldwide audience as it connects the spiritual and natural worlds.

We are in pre-production now with filming in Mumbai schedule to begin January 2015. If anyone within your organization is interested in learning more about the project or the ways they can support, please contact me at cristinannehughes@gmal.com or +1 845.216.7664

Many thanks,Cristin Hughes

Courtesy : Parsi Khabar

British Designer to design an aviary for the Doongerwadi

Out of the Box

Shiny Varghese : New Delhi, Sun May 12 2013, 02:08 hrs

 

British designer Thomas Heatherwick on his new project in India and why design is not about toeing the brief.

 

………..  His new project is in India — Heatherwick has been invited to design an aviary for the Doongerwadi Tower of Silence in Malabar Hills, Mumbai. In keeping with the Parsi tradition of leaving the dead to be devoured by vultures, the 350-year-old site needs to nurture the vanishing vulture population. Since towering residential complexes have mushroomed in the area, Heatherwick has to ensure that the aviary and the stone towers or dakhmas, where the bodies are disposed, enjoy seclusion and privacy, creating a balance between tradition and modernity. …………

 

Click here to read the entire article

 

Courtesy : K F Keravla

Exhibition on Vultures and their Conservation

We all know that vultures are no longer seen at Doongerwadis across India. Many of us are aware that the vultures in the sub continent are facing extinction due to Diclofenac.

Will the vultures make a comeback? Will they survive the threat to their existence?

Do come and read more on vultures in an exhibition at the
SETH NASSERWANJI RATANJI TATA AGIARY
25 HILL ROAD BANDRA WEST
MUMBAI 400050

DATES: 3RD AND 4TH MAY 2013
TIME: 10AM TO 1PM AND 4PM TO 6PM

The exhibition is made by three Zoroastrian wildlife enthusiasts with the help of a generous donation from Erach and Roshan Sadri Foundation.

 

Courtesy : Kazveen

Zoroastrian Death Ceremonies

North American Zoroastrian Religious Tele – Class  – Sunday April 21st 2013 11 AM EDST

Zoroastrian Death Ceremonies in Indian Sub-Continent and North America!

Ervad Soli P. Dastur

            A Zoroastrian Religion Class was held by Telephone on April 21st 2013 by Jo Ann Dastur & Ervad Soli P. Dastur from their home, Hira Villa, in Sarasota, Florida.

There were about 34 callers with multiple people listening together in some homes by calling a Tele-meeting phone number. The people were from both Canada and USA, from NY to Chicago and Los Angeles, Montreal to Miami. The class material was a PowerPoint Presentation sent ahead of time to all participants in PDF format. 

After I sent out all the materials for this Tele Class, my very good friend and Past Chief Editor of FEZANA Journal, Roshan Rivetna, was very appreciative of the Tele Class materials and informed me that when she was the Chief Editor, they published the FEZANA 2005 Winter issue on the specific subject: Death and Beyond – Doctrine and Practice – on pages 31 thru 118 with a wonderful series of articles on all subjects of Zoroastrian Death Ceremonies. Click Here to view this issue online. Thank you Roshan and your wonderful associates for a wonderful issue on Zoroastrian Death Ceremonies.

 


Topic:

In this class, many of you have requested detailed information about the Zoroastrian Death ceremonies, especially as it relates to us in NA.
To follow up on this request, we have created this Tele Class giving details about:
1. Zoroastrian (Z) Death Ceremonies – Scripture References
2. Z Death Ceremonies performed in Indian Sub-Continent
3. Z Death Ceremonies performed in North America (NA)
We have collected pertinent information from many resources and are grateful to their authors.
We have also given a detailed list for NA of “What to do” in case of a death in the family.
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