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Zoroastrianism Parsis Pray For Return Of The Scavenger Bird


May 10, 2010
Ancient Greece
Bushra Baseerat, TNN Feb 17, 2013, 01.03AM IST

HYDERABAD: The dwindling number of vultures is adding to the woes of the dwindling Parsi community in the city.

Depending on the scavenging birds to dispose of their dead in the 'Tower of Silence', the 1,200-member Parsi community in Hyderabad has been forced to resort to solar concentrators to carry out the last rites of their departed. "If the vulture population grows, we will do away with the solar concentrators. Vultures eat away the flesh in a matter of an hour or two but with the solar concentrators, it takes a few days. While in summer it is much faster, the duration gets prolonged in winter," said Omin Debara, a Zoroastrian and a civil society activist.

The two 'Towers of Silence' in Hyderabad are located at Bhoiguda and Parsigutta. Zoroastrian scripture and tradition say that a corpse is a host for decay. Consequently, scripture enjoins the safe disposal of the dead in a manner such that a corpse does not pollute the air, water and earth, said Ervad H Bharucha, head priest of Chenoy Fire Temple. "Although the 8,000-year-old system of disposing of our dead has not collapsed in the absence of vultures, if they resurface, we will be very happy," Bharucha added.

Farida Tampal, a Parsi, added that the Bombay Parsi Panchayat, has tied up with the Bombay Natural History Society to start vulture breeding centres in the 'Tower of Silence' area in Mumbai. She said that within the community people are divided as some conservative Parsis feel that this is the only right way to dispose the dead but the liberal minded say that the community should move ahead due to extinction of vultures. Some are also proposing electric crematoria, she added.

Adding to the woes of the Parsi community, the vulture breeding centre located in the Nehru Zoological Park has not taken off at all. Conceived on the lines of the vulture breeding centre at Pinjore in Haryana, the Rs 41-lakh project funded by the Central Zoo Authority took off in 2010, four years after it was conceived. Vultures have been almost wiped out in India during the last 15 years and have not been sighted in Andhra Pradesh at least for three years now. The vultures got eliminated by consuming cattle carcass which had been fed the drug dyclofenac by farmers to relieve them of pain. The presence of the drug in the carcass proved fatal for the vultures.

Earlier this week, a chick that was born in captivity died due to a congenital birth defect at the vulture breeding centre in the zoo. And last year, the first egg laid in the breeding centre fell from the nest and got smashed on the ground. Officials said it was crucial for the chick to survive as that would have initiated captive breeding of the endangered birds. Zoo authorities said that the post-mortem revealed that the chick's elementary canal was missing.

"Despite taking all the precautions this time, the chick died. We need to add more pairs," said A Shankaran, curator, zoo park. Currently, there are only five vultures at the zoo. While two pairs are mating, only one female has been laying the egg for the last two years. In the second pair, either of the two birds is infertile, officials presume. Zoo authorities are hoping that they would succeed next year as even the Pinjore breeding centre succeeded only in the third year of the actual breeding.
(Source: http://articles.timesofindia.indiat...ure-population-bombay-parsi-panchayat-pinjore)


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May 10, 2010
Ancient Greece
Photographs of naked, rotting bodies piling up
and a recently-shot 15-minute video of the same at
the Towers of Silence have a created a huge furore in
the Parsi community.

At the heart of the anger and anguish generated by
these pictures put together by 65-year-old Dhun Baria,
are two issues:

¤ Traditionalists say religious tenets dictate that the
Towers of Silence be a strictly out-of-bounds zone
where even the relatives of deceased Parsis are not
allowed so how could someone go and shoot pictures
and record a video clip?

¤ Pro-reformists backing Dhun Baria say that these
pictures are proof that the community needs to
reconsider how they dispose of the dead.

Sitting in her Marzban Colony home, Baria won’t reveal
how she and the photographer managed to sneak into
the Towers of Silence, called Dokhmas, to click the
pictures and the video. (This newspaper has a copy of
the pictures but has refrained from publishing them,
given the sensitive nature of the issue). But Baria has
so far distributed around 10,000 handbills with
graphic, gory photographs.

Baria says that she is doing so to spread awareness
that the old practice of disposing of the dead called
Dokhmenishin (wherein the deceased are left in the
wells for the vultures to pick on) has failed and that
the community needs to also adopt other ways to give
their dead a dignified burial.She wants the BPP which
manages to provide a burial ground and a cemetery in
the premises for community members who do not want
to go with the old system of funerals.

Orthodox Parsis however are aghast that someone
could shoot a video in an area that is out of bounds.
One group called the World Alliance of Parsi Irani
Zarthosthis (WAPIZ) has asked the Bombay Parsi
Punchayet (BPP) which manages the 45-acre funeral
park called Doongerwadi to conduct an inquiry into
what they call a serious breach of security.


Eight months ago Baria’s mother Nargis passed away.
Baria who has no other family began going to the
towers of silence to offer prayers and during one such
visit she asked the khandiyas (traditional bier bearers
who carry bodies to the towers and the only men who
are allowed entry into the wells) whether her mother’s
body had gone. “I asked, ‘Mummy to gayi na,’(Is Mom's corpse gone?) and they laughed at me and said ‘tumhari mummy abhi do saal tak yahi rahengi’,(Your Mom's corpse will remain here two more years)" says a horrified Baria. “I could not imagine my mother’s body rotting there. I have
only one thing to says ‘Do not put the dead to such

“I was so upset that I decided to take up the matter
with religious higher ups. They told me that everything
was fine and that solar panels had been installed to
speed up in disposal of bodies. But when I insisted
otherwise they asked me whether I had any
proof...and that’s when I decided to investigate.”

Her work has caused a fierce debate in the community
newspapers. The Jam e Jamshed, founded in A D
1832 said in an article ‘Ms Dhun awakens a sleeping
community’. But others have criticised her. Rustom
Baug, Byculla resident and WAPIZ member Anahita
Desai said, “The incident has upset many community
members. The reformist press is making it out to be a
ghastly sight. I do not know what else do you expect
to see in a crematorium or burial ground. It is definitely
not going to be a pleasant sight. The reformist press is
just whipping up sentiment against the old system and
there are people who have been taken in by the
propaganda,” she said.

Baria says that she is alone in her mission. But the
Association for Revival of Zoroastrianism (ARZ), a
reformist group recently set by community members
said that they supported her. “We have to admit that
the old system is not working anymore. No religion
approves a system where dead bodies just rot,” said
chartered accountant Kerssie Wadia of ARZ.
Desai criticised the BPP management for failing to
prevent what she said was a serious breach of
security. “The Doongerwadi is even a no-flying zone.
How could someone enter the towers and take a 15-
minute video in broad daylight?After the incident, the
BPP issued a statement saying that they are for the
preserving the present system (Dokhmenishin) and for
strengthening it further. But nobody could explain how
somebody could breach the security there,” she said.

(Source: mumbaimirror.com/index.aspx?Page=article&sectname=News%20-%20Cover%20Story&sectid=15&contentid=20060830042948562738d49c0)


May 10, 2010
Ancient Greece
I saw a documentary about this and the loss of the vultures is actually very devastating for the whole ecosystem.

No safe habitat for the wild land animals; less wild animals means lesser vultures which can feed on them. Moreover, the diclofenac injections(Yes, despite the ban they are freely available over the counter!) used on the cattle poison the vultures feeding on their carcasses, if any are still left somewhere. Vultures may be insignificant to the common folk, but I guess we will wake up only when more devastating effects of this habitat destruction start appear. 'Rivet popper hypothesis' is fast coming into play. :(


May 10, 2010
Ancient Greece

In 1981 , pioneers in biodiversity studies , P. R. and A .H . Ehrlich , wrote about the importance of different species to ecosystems. They likened species to.rivets in an aeroplane and pointed out that, like aeroplanes , ecosystems tend to have redundant subsystems and other design features that allow functioning to continue uptil a limit even after a certain amount of abuse. This idea became known as the ‘rivet popper’ hypothesis .

Suppose in a plane flight, one of the passangers takes out a rivet from the plane, little possible damage will have said to be done to the plane. But if every passanger on every flight of that plane takes out a rivet each, the plane will over time become extremely unsafe, so much so that it may even crash! Moreover, the place from where the rivet is removed is also crucial, a rivet removed from the {censored}pit may be more damaging than one removed from one of the passanfer seats.

Similarly, extinction of a species often produces no or little damage to our ecosystem. But over time, as more and more species become absent or extinct, more dangerous effects will start appearing, some probably we still haven't thought of.

Tejwant Singh

Jun 30, 2004
Henderson, NV.
If I am not mistaken, we had a thread like this on SPN that discussed about the shortage of vultures affecting the Parisis for their dead in Mumbai some years ago. I can not find the thread.

Here is something interesting as well:

Vanishing Vultures A Grave Matter For India's Parsis​


Kainaz Amaria/NPR

For any religion, keeping up traditions in the modern world can be a challenge. The Parsi community in India, however, faces a unique obstacle.

Parsis, who came to India from Persia (Iran) a thousand years ago with their Zoroastrian faith, have gone to great lengths to maintain their unique funeral rituals. But they've had to make a few adjustments to keep up with the times and to not upset the neighbors.

Parsi funerals begin in a way familiar to many faiths: prayers are chanted and mourners pay last respects.

But that's where the similarities end, says Khojeste Mistree, head of the Zoroastrian Studies Institute in Mumbai.

"We have an unusual method of disposal of the dead. The Parsi corpse is exposed to the rays of the sun, and the corpse is consumed or devoured by birds of prey — vultures, kites and crows," Mistree says.

For Zoroastrians, burying or cremating the dead is seen as polluting nature. So for centuries, the Parsis in Mumbai have relied on vultures to do the work — that is, until the entire population of vultures in the city vanished.

Man-Made Alternative Poses Problems

Without the vultures, the Parsis have had to rely on man-made ingenuity.

"To dehydrate the body faster, the trustees introduced solar concentrators to focus heat," Mistree says. "But during the monsoon season, the solar concentrators don't work because of the clouds."

The solution isn't perfect — the solar concentrators can only work on several bodies at a time — but it has helped keep the tradition alive.

At the top of a wooded hill in Mumbai's Doongerwadi forest, Parsi bodies are laid outside on a platform in what's called the Tower of Silence.

Mistree says the tower is similar to a tiered amphitheater that can hold more than 250 bodies at a time.

There are still smaller birds like crows, which also will consume the bodies. But the solar concentrators often keep them away during the day because it's too hot. They're also less efficient than vultures.

And that, too, has created problems for the Parsis, says Zoroastrian priest Ramiyar Karanjia.

"Vultures are very quick in eating away the flesh. Now it's working a bit slowly. From an emotional point of view, it is disturbing to some people," Karanjia says.

So a job that would take hours for a flock of vultures now can take weeks. And as Mumbai has grown into a megacity, slowly decomposing bodies have made some neighbors squeamish.

One of the towers was closed because it was visible from new high-rises that peer into the forest. And air purifiers had to be installed to minimize the smell.

Push To Revive Vulture Population

These man-made fixes have helped but haven't solved the problem that started in the 1980s, when the vulture population across India began to mysteriously disappear.

By 2007, the number of vultures had fallen by 99 percent. The disappearing vultures confounded scientists, until studies found that a drug administered to cattle in India killed the vultures when they fed on the carcasses.

The Indian government banned the drug and set up reserves for the birds. The success of the program has led to a new proposal to start a vulture sanctuary in Doongerwadi. And that could make life easier for the Parsis and their neighbors, says Homi Khusrokhan, president of the Bombay Natural History Society.

"For years, Parsis have been trying to manage without vultures," Khusrokhan says. "But obviously, if the vultures could be brought back, [the Parsis] would be delighted. And it's always been an impossible task, so this is the first time it's really become feasible to do."

Even if a sanctuary is approved, it would take time before the vultures could be released into the wild. And when that happens, Parsis are hoping nature will once again take its course.

You can listen to the story and read the remarks below.

All Things Considered

4 min 0 sec



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Tejwant Singh

Jun 30, 2004
Henderson, NV.
Eventually cremation will be the only way. The cemetery land can be put to better use as it has been all over the world where buildings are being constructed over older burial grounds.

This tradition in the Parsis must be a noble cause but why vultures are the chosen ones to feed their dead, one should ask.

How did the origin of this take place and who started it based on what kind of thought process?

The scavenger birds like vultures can be found in large numbers where the predator animals live, which is not in the big cities although the cities have some of them. They are normally found in the rain forests.

They only lay one egg a year which makes their population scarce and it is dwindling at very quick pace.

This is the reason I am more curious to find out about this Parsi tradition and its background. If anyone has any idea, please share.

The vultures are found everywhere except in Australia and Antarctica. So, one can presume, it is tough for the Parsis to emigrate to Australia but if they do, then they must transfer their dead to the vulture haven.

Tejwant Singh


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May 10, 2010
Ancient Greece
Parsis are a relatively orthodox community. Majority of the community decisions are taken by central prganisations like the Bombay Parsi Punchayat(BPP) and there is most often the risk of being boycotted by the community if one tries to overstep the line. Even recently, the BPP has been adamant on certain issues like prohibition on performing navjyote on children of mixed religious background, the issue of disposal of the dead, and intermarriage. How the Parsis react to newer challenges they face, remains to be seen. Needless to say, Parsis in the diaspora have a comparatively liberal approach than their Indian and Pakistani counterparts.


May 10, 2010
Ancient Greece
My wife's cousin was married to a Parsi. She had a very hard life with his family. They had one kid and eventually divorced him moved to the US.
Sorry to hear about that Tejwant Ji.
The non-parsi spouses are often known to have had a hard time in the Parsi community, to the tune they may even be considered as outcasts. They are not permitted to enter the fire temples, or be in an Avestan ceremony and their offsprings aren't included in the Parsi community. Zoroastrianism discourages change of faith, so even the avenue of converting to the faith is not an option.


Aug 17, 2010
World citizen!
International call to learn to love vultures - or lose them

BirdLife Partners in Africa and elsewhere have joined with raptor conservation and research organisations around the world to call for an “image makeover” for vultures. They will be celebrating International Vulture Awareness Day on 5 September 2009.

This comes against a backdrop of recent reports of problems facing vultures in Africa and the ongoing ones in Asia. Across the Indian subcontinent, populations of three formerly very common species of vulture have declined by more than 97% as a result of consuming cattle carcasses contaminated with the veterinary drug diclofenac.

There have been mass vulture deaths in East Africa associated with misuse of chemicals, huge population declines in West Africa due to habitat loss, and the disappearance of vultures from large areas of their formers ranges in South Africa because of the continued use of vulture parts in traditional medicine and sorcery.

Other threats include power line collisions and electrocutions, disturbance at breeding sites, drowning in farm reservoirs, direct persecution and declining food availability.

Vultures fulfill an extremely important ecological role. They keep the environment free of carcasses and waste, restrict the spread of diseases such as anthrax and botulism, and help control numbers of pests such as rats and feral dogs by reducing the food available to them. They are of cultural value to communities in Africa and Asia, and have important eco-tourism value.

"Indeed vultures provide a perfect example of the link between birds and people. Loss of vultures would mean loss of important natural services to people, for example the cleaning of the environment of animal carcasses and waste at no charge”, said Dr Hazell Shokellu Thompson, BirdLife's Regional Director for Africa.

"One major challenge to detecting and countering these threats is that there are very few people out there watching vultures, let alone counting them. Thus it is difficult to determine population trends and to detect declining populations", said Paul Kariuki Ndang'ang'a, BirdLife's Species Programme Manager for Africa. "The Asian Vulture Crisis has shown that without proper monitoring, a population crash can take place virtually undetected."

The BirdLife Africa Partnership is therefore urging people to notice the important roles that vultures play, and the crisis they are currently facing. Organisations and individuals that have the capacity are encouraged to take action for vultures where feasible.

Some of the main conservation actions that have been identified for vultures in Africa include: (1) establishing a monitoring network for African vultures, (2) establishing legal protection for the species in range states, (3) eliminating the veterinary use of diclofenac and other toxic drugs in Africa, and (4) carrying out education and awareness programmes, particularly targeted at farmers, to reduce persecution, unintentional poisoning and hunting for cultural reasons.

Elsewhere in the world, Birdlife Partner Bird Conservation Nepal has a full programme of events including art and photo competitions, the launch of a vulture action plan, a half day workshop for conservation groups, a campaign to collect signatures for a petition calling for a 'diclofenac-free zone', school talks, and the publication of pamphlets to raise awareness of vultures and their plight. Israeli Partner the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel will be offering public lectures in all its birding centres across the country.

Manufacture of the veterinary form of Diclofenac, was outlawed in India in 2006 after a successful advocacy campaign by BNHS (BirdLife in India) and RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), and although these veterinary formulations are disappearing, equally dangerous human formulations are instead being used to treat livestock. The Asian vulture programme recently had success after Critically Endangered Slender-billed Vultures Gyps tenuirostris were bred in captivity for the first time, raising hopes that captive breeding has the potential to save this and other Critically Endangered Asian vultures.