Zoroastrians are famous for their tradition of exposure or 'laying out the dead'. In Mumbai the Zoroastrian 'Towers of Silence' have been a focus of interest because it is one of the few places in the world where this tradition can still be upheld.
The Towers of Silence, Mumbai, India
Zoroastrians believe that as soon as the breath has left it, the body becomes impure. Death is considered to be the work of Angra Mainyu, the embodiment of all that is evil, whereas the earth and all that is beautiful is considered to be the pure work of God. Contaminating the elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water) with decaying matter such as a corpse is considered sacrilege.
Instead of burying the corpse, Zoroastrians traditionally laid it out on a purpose built tower (dokhma or 'Tower of Silence') to be exposed to the sun and eaten by birds of prey such as vultures.
In Mumbai, where more than half of India's seventy thousand Parsis live, huge towers have been built and set within fifty-seven acres of forest gardens.
In western countries where exposure is either impractical or illegal, Zoroastrians usually opt for cremation.
Now, unfortunately, this practice may have to end. With a rapid decline in the population of vultures and the changing times of India, modern Zoroastrians are having to rethink how they are to keep this ancient tradition alive.