Tower of silence | Where antiquity meets modernity
“O Maker of the material world, thou Holy One! Whither shall we bring, where shall we lay the bodies of the dead, O Ahura Mazda?” –
Ahura Mazda answered: “On the highest summits (on the top of a mountain), where they know there are always corpse-eating dogs and birds”
According to the tenets of the Zoroastrian faith, described in the nineteenth book of the Avesta, entitled Videvdat (Vendidad) or the “Law Against Devas (Demons)”, a body after death is possessed by the demon nasu (or dead matter which is considered to be the most polluting element that must be kept away from clean substances) that defiles it. Thus, any contact between the dead matter and other substances like earth, water and, especially, fire, is prohibited. After undergoing special cleaning ceremonies, the body is taken to the dakhma, also known as the “Tower of Silence”. A dakhma is erected usually in the shape of a round stone platform where dead bodies are placed and then consumed by corpse-eating scavengers, usually vultures (called Lashkhore in Persian).
This mode of disposal was in use in Iran till the 1960s.Zoroastrian purity laws also put a strict ban on any contact between the dead and living beings. Even relatives of the deceased are not allowed to touch the dead. After death, a body is carried to the dakhma by corpse-bearers or nasusalars (“the ones who control the demon nasu”). They are thus contaminated by nasu until undergoing a purifying bath (i.e. special ceremony of washing the body with taro or bull’s urine), which is called upon to clean them from the contact with the demon. In Iran, where burial in cemeteries or aramgahs has replaced dakhmas, no nasusalars can be found at present.
Dakhmas were built in 2 different ways: man made or natural. The location should be available to some kinds of wild animals like dogs and vultures to accelerate the corpse eating. Because of that, most of the Dakhmas were built out of the city and also they were made by stones to avoid the soil contamination. These structures didn’t have roof and also the door and people couldn’t see the inside.
At present, it is not entirely clear when the earliest of these structures were built. Nevertheless, the towers of silence that are in existence today may have the same or a similar construction to the ones used in the past. These towers were essentially raised platforms with three concentric circles within them. The bodies of men were arranged on the outer circle, those of women in the middle circle, and those of children in the inner circle. After the purification process, the bones were placed in ossuaries near or inside of the towers. In many cases lime or acid was used to turn bones to ashes.
Towers of silence in Yazd
The most famous Dakhma in Iran is located near Yazd where they are stayed in the religious central city of Zoroastrians. In 1998, it was registered in the list of national monuments of Iran under the number of 2096. In this place 2 towers can be seen while one of them is older than the other and was setting up by Maneckji limji hataria, an Indian Zoroastrian who came to Iran to complain about Zoroastrians problems to Nasser al din shah ghajar. He also built a school and paid many students expenses. He passed away in 1890 and calmed down in the Dakhma which was built by him.
By the time of Ghajar some problem occurred for nasusalars to carry up the dead body because of the road to Dakhma. So the second Dakhma, Golestan was built.
Buildings for religious ceremonies
At a distance of 150-200 meters from Dakhmas, there are some mud and mud brick buildings in one or two stories. This buildings where used by Relatives of the deceased to rest or funeral ceremonies. The oldest ones are Kheilehs which were built in Safavid period.
In the past years most of death was because of contagious diseases. Nasusalar was the people (in groups of 2 or 4) who was in direct connection with the dead body (washing the dead body and carrying them to the Dakhma) so they were not allowed to left the area. They left in buildings near Dakhma. We can see the Nasusalar’s home near Dakhma in Yazd.
Since the Zoroastrians believe that the ghost of the deceased will be around the dead body for three days so they used to burn a fire near Dakhma and didn’t let it to shut down. By this action they didn’t let the ghost to afraid of being alone. We can see a fire place near Dakhma.
* Written by Haleh Givari .
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