DAKHMA - 'Towers of Silence'

Culture Tourism

Read Time: 13 min 17 sec

Translated by YAVAS, Gamze & SEMERCI, Gorkem


Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the world, originated in the BC 6th century. One of the interesting features of Zoroastrianism is that it emerged in a geography where polytheistic religions were common at that time. Their god is Ahura Mazda and their holy book is Avesta. Zoroastrians, who worship five times a day, believe that they will resurge after death and appear before Ahura Mazda and be interrogated there. Zoroastrianism is among the beliefs that come to the fore with a philosophical aspect like Buddhism. It is dualist, at its underlying there is the war of good and evil. Ahura Mazda represents good and Ahriman represents evil.

There are some well-known mistakes in the worship of Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrians are thought to be horrible people who worship fire in many places, but they do not worship fire as it is believed. Fire is sacred. For them, fire is the light and wisdom of God. Darkness has become synonymous with evil. Fire brightens the darkness. For this reason, it is believed that light and brights are the physical representations of God Ahura Mazda. In relation to this, Zoroastrians worship by looking at the fire, light, or the sun.

They also believe that the fire will transmit their prays to God faster, so they enshrine the fire and pray by looking at it. But, their main qibla is the sun. The sun is the representation of the god Ahura Mazda. They perform their worship by standing in the direction where the sun is. Already when there is no sun, they pray looking towards the fire.

Natural elements are considered sacred in this belief system. These elements (water, soil, air, fire) have to be protected from contamination. They believe that the human body will contaminate these natural elements. The lifeless human body... That is why the "Dakhmes (Towers of Silence)" were built.

(One of the Towers of Silence in Yazd, Iran)

Dakhme, also known as the Towers of Silence, are structures located slightly outside the city, built on the hills that are not very high. Despite being on a hill, inside of them are very quiet. It is said that this was done like this because of the cries of the tormented souls would not be heard!

These structures have an important place in the Zoroastrian belief. In the Zoroastrian belief, water, earth, air, and fire are considered sacred. Avoiding to contaminate these sacred values, Zoroastrians did not bury bodies because they did not want to contaminate the soil by the dead people, they fed the dead bodies to vultures! However, this baiting process is not done simply. Some religious rituals have to take place.

At least two priests are invited to the house. After some rituals, the body is washed and shrouded. At the same time, some troparions from the holy book Avesta are read, incenses are burned. Also, Nirang, which is obtained by praying to cattle urine, was used as a cleanser in many rituals. This also includes washing the body.

(Avesta; The sacred book of Zoroastrianism)

Before it is time to go to Dakhma, the funeral carriers named Nasasa to arrive. Although the selection of these carriers varies, in some places it is said that they are said to have been selected voluntarily among prisoners who have been sentenced to life imprisonment or severe punishment. In other words, only a killer can carry a deceased person to the tower of silence...

Nasasas cover the exposed parts of the body and carry it with the help of an iron rod. The sacred book of Avesta forbade lifting the body alone. For this reason, bearers must always be in an even number. Also, this even number phenomenon has great importance in other rituals too.

Nasasas carry bodies on foot and vehicles are not used. However, it is forbidden to take the body to Dakhma at night because it is believed that the night is dark and darkness is evil. The body is also not taken during rainy weather. Because the rainwater that comes into contact with the body will drip on the ground and pollute the soil. 

The carriers who lift the body with covered face take the funeral to Dakhma on foot. No one will be able to touch the body anymore. Besides, mourners in the world generally prefer black color at funerals, while Zoroastrians wear white as a symbol of goodness from head to toe and send the funeral off to the last journey. Also here they walk in pairs, with face veils on and a pair of priests leading them. The Nasasas, who brought the body to Dakhma on foot, look inside Dakhma's door and make sure that no raptors are eating other corpses, and then they enter the door with the corpse. 

The inner section of the Dakhmas is divided into 3 separate sections. The most out part is for men, the next part is for women, the other part is for children. There is a deep stone pit in the middle. Nasasas leave the body according to the type of body, then cut away the shroud, leave the body in an appetizing state for vultures and other raptors.

There are holes in certain parts of Dakhma. Priests take place behind these holes and begin to observe the body. The point here is: Which eye will raptors eat first? Since the areas where Zoroastrians mostly live, are hot climates, raptors prefer to eat aqueous eyes first. This makes the work of the priests easier. If the raptors eat right eye first, it is believed that the person was a good person, a good future and a good hereafter await for him, if they eat left eye first, it is believed that he was a bad person and he will suffer torment and then the relatives of the deceased feel sorry for him and read prayers.

Then silence begins for the deceased. The person's body is consumed by vultures and the other raptors. This process can take months. A dead body waits to be eaten and consumed for months. After consumption, the remaining bones from the body are left in the sun for a while. Then, the bones that dry and whiten are thrown into the stone pit in the middle and destroyed by pouring acid. The fact that the pit is stone here is for the body not to contaminate the soil, and because of the fire is sacred, melting with acids is used instead of fire.

This unorthodox tradition, which was perseverative secretly until the 1970s in Iran, has been abandoned in today's Iran. Because in the past, the Dakhmas were out of the city and the population was not much. For this reason, while death was low, wild birds were abundant. Dakhmas, which are now close to the city because of the increasing population and the growth of cities, were banned in the 1930s on the grounds that they increased diseases. Now stone graves are dug near the dakhmas for Zoroastrian funerals and the bodies are buried there.

In the city of Yazd in Iran, where there is a sacred fire that has been burning for 1550 years when the situation is like this in the dakhmas for touristic purposes, Zoroastrians in India still maintain this and similar practices and feed the vulture and other raptors with deceased in the Dakhmas. It is also told that people who camp near the Dakhmas in the city of Yazd has nightmares all night, some people hear voices from the Dakhmas, and even the souls that suffer torment fly above the Dakhmas.

If one day you will go camping near a Dakhma, be ready for nightmares and surprises.

(The holy fire has been burning for 1550 years in Yazd Fire Temple in Yazd city.)


Cover Page by Anuki Natsvlishvili, AHURA MAZDA & AHRIMAN)


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