Exposure - Zoroastrians

Zoroastrians are from pre-Islamic Iran and are followers of the prophet Zarathushtra (known to the Greeks as Zoroaster), who lived and preached around 3500 years ago. The preferred body disposal method for Zoroastrians is by exposure to sunlight and birds of prey.

Plan of Dokhma

 © Australian Museum

 

Once a person has died, the body is of no value or importance. It is a shell to be disposed of as soon as possible, preferably to be returned to nature from whence we came. Purviz Kolsawalla, Sydney.

Zoroastrians are from pre-Islamic Iran and are followers of the prophet Zarathushtra (known to the Greeks as Zoroaster), who lived and preached around 3500 years ago. Zoroastrianism was the official religion of Iran for over 1000 years, until the arrival of Islam in the 7th century. In the 10th century, some Zoroastrians settled in India, becoming known as the Parsis ('Persians').

Zoroastrians believe in a cosmic dualism: that life is a battle between good and evil. It is their duty to preserve the 'seven creations' - the sky, waters, earth, plants, cattle, man and fire. Fire is particularly powerful, being the source of light, warmth and life, as well as the intermediary between themselves and God.

The body of a deceased person, believed to be contaminated by nasu (decomposition), must only be prepared and transported by special people called nassesalars. The corpse must be disposed of as quickly and efficiently as possible, and preferably without coming into contact with fire, water or the earth.

The preferred disposal method for Zoroastrians is by exposure to sunlight and birds of prey, but this method is only permitted in India, through the use of the dokhma. In Iran, where the dokhmas were banned in the early 20th century, people are sometimes buried in concrete-lined tombs, and in Australia, most Zoroastrians are cremated. In India, severe reductions in the vulture population in recent years, has prompted debates over alternative methods of disposal.

The dokhma is a circular stone tower which is open to the sky to allow sunlight and birds of prey to enter. The design allows for the drainage of body fluids and rain through the central well, which only the corpse-bearers are permitted to enter. Large bones are disposed of in the central pit, and covered by a layer of lime to aid their decomposition. The funeral ceremony of the Guebres', from Dr William Hurd, [1788] A new universal history of the religious rites, ceremonies and customs of the whole world. Printed for Alexander Hogg, London.

During a Zoroastrian funeral ceremony in India today, a dog is brought in to view the deceased. The purpose is not to receive the deceased's soul, but to confirm that the person really is dead.

 


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