Sky Burial

Sky burial refers to the custom of placing a human corpse on a mountaintop, or other high place, where the body would be eaten by carrion birds. The idea is that burial is in the birds, in the sky, recycling the body and releasing the spirit. Sky burial has been practiced by various cultures, but historically, has been associated with peoples in Tibet. It has also been a tradition of Zoroasterians (followers of the Persian prophet Zoroaster, who lived some 2,500 years ago). Traditionally they used a round stone tower called a Dakhma, where corpses were placed for vultures to consume. The tradition still exists among Zoroasterians in parts of India, but there is a problem. In recent decades a drug called diclofenac has become widely used in cows in India. Cows are sacred in India, and die natural deaths. Diclofenac in the cows is deadly to vultures. The number of vultures in India has dropped from the tens of millions to a few thousand. Sky burial is no longer feasible in India. The tradition remains in parts of Tibet, where it has become a kind of macabre tourist attraction.

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