Sky Burial: A Tibetian tradition of letting a corpse be eaten by vultures so their spirit can be transported to heaven

When it comes to burial traditions, various cultures, and religions across the world all have different beliefs, ways, and means of making the bodies of their loved ones reach the afterlife. Other beliefs are widely practiced around the globe just like cremation and burying of the dead in cemeteries.

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But, there are also traditions that may be hard to believe but does exist and happen in the real world. Just like this “sky burial” tradition that is practiced by the people of Tibet.

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Also known as “celestial burial,” means that corpses are left on mountainsides and are exposed to the elements where they are consumed by vultures or Dakinis (angels).

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According to Metro, this practice of the Tibetians is referred to jhator (‘giving alms to the birds’) was from Vajrayana Buddhism, a tenet of Buddhism that teaches the transmigration of spirits. This belief also adheres with the idea that the body is considered merely a vessel for the soul; once life has expired, there is no need for it to be preserved.

The Drigung Til Monastery, located in Maizhokunggar County around 150km east to Lhasa city is one of the well-known places of Sky Burial in Tibet. This is also where the jhator practice has been ongoing for a long time.

During this ritual, the priest (rogyapa) strips the corpse, ties it securely around the neck to prevent birds of prey from scattering the bones.

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The vultures then do their part of ripping “large” pieces of meat from the human body and “carrying” it while they freely fly to the skies. Some birds even fight over the meat and end up leaving only the bones.

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As the bones are the only thing that remains, the priest then proceeds to pound them using a hammer and mix them with flour and leave their remains on a stone, where the vultures come again to eat them.

Only when the birds finish eating is their soul considered to have ascended into heaven.

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All throughout this process, the relatives of the deceased look on as it is their way of showing their last respects to the dead.

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Though this practice is still common in rural communities, a decrease in the vulture population has made sky burial increasingly difficult and the residue of medicine and chemicals left over from modern medical intervention also poses a threat to the lives of the vultures.