Two years ago, when Dhan Baria’s cousin died, his daughters fulfilled his last wish and cremated his body at the Chandanwadi crematorium at Marine Lines.
“My cousin dreaded the fact that his body would be left to rot in the Tower of Silence,” said Baria. “He had told his family that those who would put his body in the tower would carry the sin of the act.”
When Baria’s mother died in 2005, the 70-year-old Parsi entered the Tower of Silence at Kemps Corner for the first time since the “disappearance of the vultures”. The bodies, she saw, were being decomposed with the help of large solar concentrators aimed at them, an issue that has sparked a fierce debate in the community about the need to opt for alternate means of disposing the dead.
While reformists like Baria claim that an increasing number of Parsis are going in for cremation or burial, the Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP), which enjoys a majority support in the community, banned two reformist priests supporting cremations from performing ceremonies at Doongerwadi in June last year.
On Monday, the Bombay High Court will hear the case questioning the legitimacy of this ban.
“The solar panels don’t work at all, and naked bodies of men and women lying heaped together rot for as long as a year,” alleged Baria, who runs a charitable trust for underprivileged children at Marine Lines.
“In our religion, khurshed nagreshni (decomposition with the rays of the sun) has been the central idea of the Towers of Silence. The vultures were just meant to hasten the process,” said Dinshaw Mehta, chairman of the BPP, which installed the solar panels 12 years ago. Insisting that the reflectors successfully decompose bodies in five days, Mehta added that fire, sacred to the Parsis, could not be used to cremate impure dead bodies.
“But concentrating solar rays on a body is just another form of burning, and there is no dignity in such a death,” retorted Vispy Wadia, who founded the Association for Revival of Zoroastrianism five years ago to provide Parsis with priests and services for burial, cremation and marriage outside the community.
“My parents had objections to the way in which bodies are disposed in the Tower of Silence,” said a middle-aged Parsi lady, requesting anonymity. She fulfilled her parents’ wishes by cremating them at Chandanwadi’s electric crematorium when they passed away last year.
While Wadia claims at least 15 per cent Parsis now opt for cremations at the city’s public crematoriums, Baria feels the 53 acres of land at Doongerwadi can be used to create a cemetery, since Parsis around the world are now adopting burial.