Parsis in Hyderabad prefer Tower of Silence for the departed

The traditional method of disposal of the dead is to expose the body atop tall towers where they used to be eaten by vultures.

Hyderabad: Despite Parsi-Zoroastrians in Mumbai and Gujarat having discarded the traditional sky burial, Parsis in Secunderabad and Hyderabad still prefer the age-old Tower of Silence for disposing of their dead.

Recently, the community in Navsari, a city in Gujarat, met following a demand from some members for creation of an ‘Aramgah’, (burial ground) for those who wanted to move away from the “sky burials.” Some in Mumbai are opting cremation.

There are two old dokhmas or ‘Towers of Silence’, as they are more popularly known, in Secunderabad, one in Bhoiguda and the other in Parsigutta. There was just one case of cremation last year, it is learnt.

The traditional method of disposal of the dead is to expose the body atop tall towers where they used to be eaten by vultures. But since the vulture population in India is practically extinct, this method is no longer workable.

Solar concentrators have been installed in some cities like Mumbai, which proponents of the old method claim work as well. This has been disputed and there is a major controversy in the community about whether it is not better to also allow Parsis the option of burial or cremation.
In fact, several Parsis do take this option, with a modern crematorium and prayer hall having been completed in Mumbai through community subscription for this purpose.

Delhi’s Parsis have always been laid to rest in an aramgarh or burial ground and Parsis in Navsari, in Gujarat, too, are considering this option. Aspi S Debara, honorary secretary of the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjuman of Secunderabad and Hyderabad told Deccan Chronicle that community members in the twin cities still prefer the Tower of Silence and are not inclined towards burials.

“Parsis are tradition bound. The dead are taken to the Tower of Silence even today. I don’t know about the burial demand in Gujarat, but some are opting for cremation. There was one cremation last year in Hyderabad,”he said.

He says that solar concentrators installed eight years ago for faster disposal are functioning well in Hyderabad. The Parsi Anjuman had earmarked some land a couple of years back for a burial ground in Nizamabad, but it was never used.

“The land is lying idle. No one has used it to date,” Mr Debara says. Zoroastrians consider a dead body (in addition to cut hair and nail parings) to be nasu, unclean.

Parsis’ population in Hyderabad declining
There are just 1,182 Parsis in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad – 564 males and 618 females. The Parsi Zoroastrian Anjuman of Secunderabad and Hyderabad has been keeping track of the population of the community.

During Nizam rule, there were about 3,000 spread over the twin cities and other districts. The Parsi Zoroastrian Anjuman which oversees the affairs of the community, has attributed the declining numbers to migration abroad, late marriages, fewer children and staying single, among other factors.

Old rules of who can and cannot be a Parsi also play a part in the declining numbers. If a male Parsi marries a non-Parsi, their children can become Parsis. But if a female Parsi marries a non-Parsi, their children cannot become Parsis.

“In the past, a Parsi family would have six to eight children. Now things have radically changed because of priorities. Moreover, Parsis from the districts migrated to Hyderabad and abroad over the years,” says Aspi S Debara, honorary secretary of the Anjuman.

Adding to the worries of the Parsis is an aging population. “Thirty-six per cent of the present population is above 60 years of age, 55 per cent women and 45 per cent men,” Mr Debara said.

The Anjuman is upset that the GHMC is not granting permission for construction of a charitable block in its sprawling complex on MG Road in Secunderabad.

“The GHMC wants us to part with the front portion of the building in lieu of permission for a new building, which is quite unjust. I request Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and Municipal Administration Minister K T Rama Rao to consider out plea,” he said.

Published on Deccan Chronical