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A Tower of Silence, in Bombay, India more
The circular wall here encloses a place of the dead, where bodies are left to be picked apart by the vultures that we see sitting on the wall and in the tall palm trees in this photograph.
The construction was photogaphed in Mumbai, then called Bombay.
Their strange treatment of the dead shows what a strong hold custom and faith can have over a people; believing that fire is a symbol of Deity, and also revering the earth, neither cremation nor burial of the dead is permitted. The Towers of Silence, five of them occupying the most beautiful site on Malabar Hill, and surrounded by spacious grounds with trees, shrubbery, and flowers, hold the Parsee dead.
These towers are of whitewashed stone, two hundred and seventy-five feet in circumference, and twenty-five feet in height; the upper floors are of iron grating, with three circles, whereon the corpses are placed; the inner circle is for children, the next for women, and the outer one for men. Thus placed, the vultures, which have been hovering about awaiting their prey, complete the work, and soon only the skeletons remain; these are thrown into a circular well in the centre of the enclosure, where they quickly turn to dust. This well has perforated holes in the bottom, so that the action of the rain can carry away the dust to still another receptacle, which in time reaches the sea. Previous to the cere- mony, one hundred or more mourners, robed in white, may be seen walking up the hill, preceded by four men, carrying the bier on their shoulders. They pass into the house of prayer for a time, and then proceed to the Towers, where they are met by the only two men (of the outcast class) who are ever permitted to enter, to whom the body is consigned for the final rite.
And yet. in spite of all this gruesomeness, the Parsees are a happy, social people [...] (p. 41)