The Tower of Silence speaks to you.
An evocative name for a place where the slowly disappearing Zoroastrian Community - shout out to all my Parsi friends - lay their dead to rest.
My recent visit to The Tower Of Silence in Mumbai left me with mixed feelings. It was a day of sadness. My grandfather had passed away. Despite the heaviness in my heart I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful the place is. It’s so peaceful and serene that I could go there to clear my head and spend some time by myself - not the most appropriate, given what it’s for. But the atmosphere there definitely brought a sense of comfort to the situation I was in at the moment.
A sign near the entrance to the tower. Image source: zoroastrians.net
Once the body is brought to the Tower of Silence - Dungarwadi - it’s bathed, changed and laid at the front of a large room where the last rights are performed by the priests. The entire ceremony puts you in a trance. I felt as though my brain had become silent, and all I could see was the fire and the body. Fire - the element Zorastrians worship - is probably the most hypnotising thing to watch. There’s something about the golden yellow flames slowly rising at different levels, and the crackling sound of the fire that transports you to a different state of life.
After the prayers, the body was taken to the gate of the well, as family and close friends walked behind the priests carrying the body. The walk to the gate is difficult, knowing that at the end of that walk you’re never going to see that person again. It's confusing, because the world seems so cruel and yet your surroundings are so beautiful. It brings everyone who ever loved the person together, for a final goodbye.
A serene resting place for the Parsi community. Image source: wikipedia
As I walked up to the gate holding my father’s hand, watching my grandfather being laid to rest, I saw my grandmother. The point to note here is that she walks with a cane, and complains of body ache frequently. However, at this moment she was super-human. The walk was difficult, not just emotionally, but physically strenuous. And here was my 80 year old grandmother, walking with full strides to say goodbye to her husband. It was such an amazing sight to watch. That walk gave her strength and her mind gave her strength to take her all the way to the top. Oh, and I forgot to mention she walked without her cane.
As we got to the top our hearts were clenched at the thought of seeing my grandfather for the last time. They lifted him and carried him slowly, through the gate to his new home.
On my way back down the route to the gate, I felt I was in a different world. The silence, the nature, it all felt as though I was miles away from Mumbai Meri Jaan - and at that moment it was exactly what I needed.
You know, to me, no one is ever really ‘gone’. A part of them always lives on - spiritually and scientifically. When I look at my mother, I see my grandfather in her facial features and expressions. When I look at myself in the mirror, I see that little part of me that is genetically - him. Spiritually, we inherit our parents spiritual genes as well. And the memories will always be there. The photos, the unconditional love he showed for all his grandchildren, the picture of him sitting and drinking coffee. It will always remain a memory with an emotion attached to it.
A warning at the pearly gates. Image source: tripadvisor
The Tower of Silence speaks to you, in acknowledging the natural occurrence of death, with equanimity. It showed me the beauty behind the nature of life and death. For the first time, there wasn't negativity surrounding death. Rather, a simple acknowledgement and peace. Death is natural, so it’s only fitting that we be surrounded by the beauty of nature as we are laid to rest.
The Tower Of Silence is an oasis of serenity in the midst of the madness of life.
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Cover photo credit: traveltriangle.com