The Parsis, the remnants of one of the world’s greatest creeds, descendants of the disciples of Zoroaster, and the Persian fire worshipers, who sought refuge in India from the persecution of the all-conquering Mohammedans around the seventh century, are the most interesting of all the various religious sects that can be found in India. They are the most interesting of all the religious sects in India. The fact that the Parsis, who were historically the most well educated and commercially the most industrious people in India, have never made an effort to disseminate or even make their religion known to the rest of the world is an intriguing and somewhat puzzling aspect of their history. There is no question that the Parsis, in comparison to the size of their number, had caused a greater uproar throughout the globe than any other ethnicity. They were a rather tiny group, with a total population of about 94,000 in the year 1900, of which 76,000 were based in Bombay. They were, almost without exception, hardworking and affluent. The vast majority of them were involved in commerce and industry, and the city of Bombay owed the majority of its riches and economic prominence to them.
Although the Parsis are known for their high standards of morality and are revered for their honesty, generosity, good thoughts, good acts, and good actions, the manner in which they dispose of their deceased is repugnant despite the fact that they preach a morality that is pristine and sublime. Because, after being stripped of every last scrap of clothes, the corpses of their closest and dearest are laid bare before hundreds of ravenous vultures, who swiftly take the flesh from the bones of the victims.
These repulsive birds can always be seen perched atop the so-called Towers of Silence, which are located in a lovely grove on the summit of a hill with a view of both the city of Bombay and the ocean. These towers are encircled by a tall, unsightly wall and stare out over Bombay and the sea. They perch on palm trees in the area, and as they fly, they often drop chunks of human flesh from their beaks or talons, which then decay on the fields below them. These bits of human flesh may be found in the area.
Funeral services are often performed in the home of the deceased, when prayers and eulogies are also spoken throughout the ceremony. After then, a procession is established, with the priests leading the way, followed by the male members of the family and then the friends of the deceased person’s family. Rich shawls and vestments are used in lieu of a casket when the deceased’s corpse is prepared for burial. When the procession reaches the gateway of the outer temple, priests who are permanently attached to the Towers of Silence and reside within the enclosure meet it and take charge of the body. The body is then carried to a temple, where prayers are offered, and a sacred fire that is kept burning there continuously is replenished. Attendants are known as Nasr Salars, and they are responsible for transporting the casket to the anteroom of one of the towers while the friends and mourners are engaged in the act of prayer. There are five of them, and each one has a circular layout, walls that are forty feet high, are completely simple, and are whitewashed. The longest one is 276 feet in length. A set of stairs leads up to the entryway, which is perched at a height of around fifteen to twenty feet above the ground. The floor plan of the inside of the structure is shaped like a circular gridiron that tapers down progressively toward the building’s centre, where there is a hole that is five feet in diameter. From this pit, cement walkways spread forth like the spokes of a wheel, and between these walkways are three sets of chambers that run all the way around the tower. Those that are closest to the centre have dimensions of around four feet in length, two feet in width, and six inches in depth. The next series are a little bit bigger, and the third series is much larger; these three series are designed specifically for men, women, and children, respectively.
After the bearers have taken the corpse into the anteroom of the tower, the next step is to remove all of the deceased person’s clothes. Valuable coverings are carefully stored away before being sent to the chamber of purification. Once there, they are subjected to extensive fumigant treatment before being distributed back to the friends. Burning the cotton wrappings completes the process. The naked body is then placed in one of the compartments, and within half an hour, the flesh is completely pecked off the bones by ravenous birds that have been eagerly watching the proceedings from the tops of the tall palm trees that overlook the cemetery. The body is then moved to another compartment, and the process is repeated. There are over two hundred vultures in the area, the most of which are very ancient birds and have an extensive amount of knowledge. They are completely prepared for anything that may occur and conduct themselves with the utmost respect. They never enter the tower until the carriers have left it, and their gestures are typically as methodical and serious as those of the majority of undertakers. But every once in a while, when they are extremely hungry, their avarice overcomes their sense of dignity, and they begin to argue and fight with one another over their prey.
When the space that the bones are occupying is required for another corpse, the Nasr Salars enter with gloves and tongs and cast the bones into the central pit, where they eventually crumble into dust. After the bones have been stripped, they are allowed to lie in the sun and bleach and decay until the space is required for another corpse. Because the floor of the tower is built in such a way, all of the precipitation that falls on it is directed into the pit, where the moisture helps the decaying process along. The bottom of the pit is punctured, and the water that is contaminated with the dust from the bones is filtered through charcoal before it is permitted to travel down a sewer and into the bay. This ensures that the water is completely cleaned. The pits are the storage areas for the dust that has accumulated over the course of many generations, but I’ve been informed that the rain washes away such a significant portion of it that the pits have never been able to get full. It is very forbidden for the carriers to leave the premises, and if a man chooses to work in that capacity, he is required to seclude himself completely from the outside world, much as a Trappist monk would do. In addition, he is unable to speak with anybody other than the priests who oversee the temple’s operations.
The grounds have been meticulously designed and landscaped. After the conclusion of the rituals, family and friends are welcome to take use of the comfortable benches that have been strategically placed along the paths in order to reflect or engage in conversation after no expense has been spared in terms of either money or effort. The Parsis have a profound faith in the hereafter, and they anticipate that even after their bodies have been disfigured, they will rise anew exalted and incorruptible. The observance of this uncommon habit is said to be an act of reverence for the component parts of the universe. They cannot allow fire, which is the primary object of their devotion, to become tainted by burning the dead since water is nearly as important to them, and the dirt of the land is where they get their food, their strength, and practically everything that is lovely in their culture. In addition, they have a strong belief in the equality of all creatures in the eyes of God; for this reason, the ash from both wealthy and impoverished people is mixed together in the same pit.
The worship practised in Parsi temples is relatively straightforward, as are the buildings themselves. No one other than adherents to the religion is allowed inside. The inside of the temple is nearly completely devoid of people, but for a single priest who is seated at a reading desk. The walls have not been painted or otherwise decorated in any way, and instead have been bleached. The holy fire, which is the symbol of a spiritual life that is never extinguished, is maintained in a little recess in a golden container and is ministered to by priests without interruption. The sacred fire is considered to be the most important part of the temple. They take turns every two hours, but the fire is never left unattended for more than an hour at a time.