A tour of the Parsi Tower of Silence in Malabar Hill, scheduled on Sunday, has drawn criticism from community groups which have said that touring the cemetery is inappropriate.
The Mumbai Research Centre of the Asiatic Society, which is organising the one-hour visit, said it has obtained permission from the Bombay Parsi Punchayet, which manages the cemetery. The three-century-old forested cemetery, called Doongerwadi, has prayers halls, a fire temple and circular stone structures known as Dakhmas, or Towers of Silence, where the dead are laid out for a sky burial. Zoroastrian tradition requires the bodies to be disposed of by natural elements such as the sun and carrion birds.
Some Parsi-Zoroastrians said the cemetery should not host tours. “It is not a heritage site. When non-Zoroastrians are not allowed to enter most areas of the cemetery, how will they host a tour?” asked a member of the community who wanted to remain anonymous.
Shehernaz Nalwalla, a professor at Wilson College and a member of the team that is organising the walk, said the tour was non-controversial. “I have taken students from Wilson College to Doongerwadi as part of a lesson on comparative religion,” said Nullwalla. “I started this walk in collaboration with the Asiatic Society last year. There was no hue and cry then. It is not a clandestine walk. We have spoken to the high priests, who do not have a problem,” he said.
Nalwalla added that the visitors will not be taken to consecrated places. “The visit is meant to help students understand the sanctity of the place. Visitors will only be taken to places that can be accessed and not to restricted areas,” said Ravinder Kaur Cheema, an academician and member of the Mumbai Research Centre, Asiatic Society.
Ramiyar Karanjia, principal of Dadar Athornan Institute — a religious school — will lead the tour. “It is an educational exercise, especially for non-Zoroastrian students. I have been conducting these tours for years. Only the nomenclature is different; this tour is being called a heritage walk,” said Karanjia. “We were wondering why there were complaints this year,” he said.
The tour organisers said the tour will accommodate fewer than 30 people. Participants will have to pay Rs100 if they are members of the Asiatic Society and Rs200 if they are not. Students will be charged Rs50.