In pictures: Tibetan sky burial where the dead are fed to vultures

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Pictures: Tibetan sky burial where the dead are chopped up and fed to vultures


These fascinating photos offer a glimpse into the Tibetan burial tradition of chopping up the bodies of the deceased and feeding them to vultures.

A sky burial is a funerary practice in the Chinese provinces of Tibet, Qinghai and Inner Mongolia where a human corpse is incised in certain locations and placed on a mountaintop, exposing it to the elements and animals, especially predatory birds such as vultures.

The majority of Tibetans and many Mongolians adhere to Vajrayana Buddhism, which teaches the transmigration of spirits.

They believe there is no need to preserve the body, as it is now an empty vessel. Birds may eat it or nature may cause it to decompose.

Pictures: Tibetan sky burial where the dead are chopped up and fed to vultures


The function of the sky burial is simply to dispose of the remains in as generous a way as possible. In much of Tibet and Qinghai, the ground is too hard and rocky to dig a grave, and, due to the scarcity of fuel and timber, sky burials were typically more practical than the traditional Buddhist practice of cremation.

The Chinese government prohibited it in the 60s and 70s but started to allow it again in the 1980s.

Judging by the Disneyland-style of the newly-constructed Towers of Silence and the increased number of visitors bearing cameras, it appears that local authorities see the ritual as a tourist attraction from which to earn money.

The tomden (or rogyapas), the master of ceremonies, usually a monk, after reciting Buddhist mantras, sharpens his knife and flays the body from head to toe, exposing the body to the elements.

Pictures: Tibetan sky burial where the dead are chopped up and fed to vultures



Vultures start circling above the site, attracted by the fire of juniper and the smell of meat. The soul of the corpse in the meantime reaches to the heaven, and the believer's body provides food to sustain living beings.

The tomden calls the vultures using the expression "Shey, Shey" ("Feed on, Feed on"). The birds attracted by the meat, descend from the sky and eat the dead man's body. The tomden makes its way through the hungry birds, cut into large pieces the corpse and throws them to the animals.

Bones and brain are then crushed with a hammer and mixed with barley flour. Later, the birds disappear in the sky ferrying the soul of the deceased. Vultures are considered sacred because they are a representation of the god dakini.

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