Tower of Silence, even the very name sounds intriguing but I am sure only few would ever have heard it. The ones who would be familiar with the name or what this is all about would either be Parsis; or someone who is familiar with their customs; or maybe someone who just has an interest in forgotten rituals or spooky stories. Before I go in to further details explaining what a “Tower of Silence” is, let me just summarize the haunting part about it first. It is a place in Mumbai that often gets listed as one of the most haunted sites in all of India. If you were to believe the stories, people passing by this site complain of a “sense of uneasiness and feel uncomfortable”.
And that is pretty much it. There are no scary ghost sightings here; or a woman in white chasing people; strange apparitions; or weird noises; no nothing at all but just a feeling. Then why is this place so notorious as haunted? Reason is simple; people fear what they do not understand. And if what they do not understand has something to do with death or dead bodies; then it has to be either cursed or haunted.
Image Source: Wikipedia
Is it fair to build stories like this about any place? Maybe yes if you go just by the name. If I told you what a Tower of Silence really is then you would tend to agree a bit with the stories. Even I did. But once I started to dig in the topic a bit more, the haunting logic just started to sound all rubbish; and it seemed highly unfair to build up stories based on nothing but personal opinions.
Tower of Silence
In short, a Tower of Silence is a cremation or burial ground, nothing more than that. Faiths like Islam and Christianity have burial sites, “Kabristan”; Hinduism has “Shamshan Ghaats”; and pretty much on the same lines, Zoroastrians or Parsis in common tongue have “Tower of Silence”; actual name of which is “Dakhma”. So considering that India is one of the most superstitious countries and since almost all of burial or cremation sites get tagged as “haunted”, it is no wonder that Mumbai’s tower of silence too has been rewarded the same reputation. I know I used the words cremation and burial here but the process that Parsis follow is actually called “Excarnation”.
So what really happens in a tower of silence? Explanation is quite simple really. According to the customs, when a Parsi dies, the body is brought to the tower of silence and laid under the open sky to be fed upon by scavenger birds; mostly vultures. I will post a picture below to do the explaining.
Image Source: Wikipedia
The uppermost row near the wall is for male bodies, middle one for females and the innermost is for children. The well in between, also known as “Bhandar” is where the bones go. They are left there for a few days to dry under the scorching sun before removal.
To some, this may sound a custom a bit strange but nonetheless, is a custom to one of the many societies living in India. In Parsi Zoroastrian tradition, exposure of the dead is also considered to be an individual’s final act of charity, providing the birds with what would otherwise be destroyed. There is also of course a religious reason to it which I would rather not comment on since I am not a Parsi and have no great knowledge about it. This paragraph below I found on the Wikipedia site explains why Parsis follow this procedure.
Zoroastrian tradition considers a dead body (in addition to cut hair and nail parings) to be nasu, unclean, i.e. potential pollutants. Specifically, the corpse demon (Avestan: nasu.daeva) was believed to rush into the body and contaminate everything it came into contact with, hence the Vendidad (an ecclesiastical code “given against the demons”) has rules for disposing of the dead as safely as possible.
To preclude the pollution of earth or fire (see Zam and Atar respectively), the bodies of the dead are placed atop a tower and so exposed to the sun and to scavenging birds. Thus, “putrefaction with all its concomitant evils, is most effectually prevented
And that is all that the story to this haunting site is. Mumbai’s tower of silence is located in Malabar Hills and if you try Google, you will get several articles telling you that the site is filled with all kinds of ghost stuff. Truth however is that it is no more haunted than any other burial or cremation site in India. There was another fake story going on about it some years ago stating that officials found it filled with dead bodies of people missing from nearby regions. There was also a fake picture being circulated with dead bodies lying right next to the center pit. But as I said, both the story and the picture was fake.
Do Parsis still follow this tradition? I do not know for sure but as far I can tell; they mostly do not. Reason is not because of their lack of faith but lack of scavenger birds. Vultures from our country are almost all gone now, killed by diclofenac drug. So if they left their bodies in the tower of silence now, there are no more vultures to eat. It will mostly just be crows and eagles pecking at the dead bodies for days. But as I said, I do not know for sure whether this custom still gets followed or not.
Last thing, please do not try to get inside the tower because you wanted to be a “paranormal investigator” or “ghost buster”. It is a sacred ritual site and only people from Parsi community are allowed in there. If you get caught, you will be in trouble but more than that, we must respect each other’s tradition even if we do not agree on some. Mumbai’s tower of silence is a reflection of a centuries old tradition of one of the oldest living religion; not a site where Ghosts roam free.
If you know more on the subject or would like to share your opinion, please feel free to do so in the comments section below; or at our Community Forum. These are just my findings on this topic and I would love to hear from someone who knows more.