In 2015, a decrease in the vulture population of Mumbai caused great consternation, not only among naturalists but also in the local Zoroastrian or Parsi community. The small but affluent community looks to these birds of prey for a peaceful passage after death, through the Tower of Silence, on Malabar Hill.
The 300-year-old dakhma or funerary tower, located deep within a 54-acre forest, is where the bodies of deceased Zoroastrians are placed and exposed to scavenger birds, which as per their beliefs, is the most sacred way of dealing with the dead.
Locally called the doongerwadi, the tower’s raised circular structure has three rows—the outer row is for the men, the central row for the women, and the innermost for children. The premises also contain small structures called bunglis, where prayers are recited before the body is carried to the dakhma by the special caretakers, called khandias.
However, with the drop in the number of birds of carrion in the area, the natural processes are delayed and this has started to interfere with the tradition of dokhmenashini, or exposure.