Eco-friendly methods of interment are becoming increasingly popular and for good cause. Around 1 million acres (404,685 hectares) of land in America have been desecrated to make room for human funerals, with the manufacture of caskets destroying roughly 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) of land per year. Bodies have been composted or dissolved in more recent funeral methods, such as aquamation, although not all green options are new. In an 11,000-year-old ritual known as sky burials, people over the world have looked to the skies (and the winged predators they hold) to commemorate and dispose of their dead.
WHAT IS A BURIAL IN THE SKY? A sky burial, also known as a “celestial burial,” is a Buddhist funeral tradition that is used to deal with the deceased in Tibet’s Himalayan area, as well as Mongolia. It entails transporting the deceased to a distant mountain location away from inhabited areas for a private ritual that is said to aid the soul’s journey after death. Sky burial takes happen a few days after the deceased has died because of the preparation requirements. When the body is ready, it is hauled a long way into the mountains to a heavenly burial site.
Su smoke is used to attract predatory birds such as condors and vultures, who feed on carrion. The processes are overseen by a “burial master,” who will feed the birds the body that has been sliced into pieces by a “body bearer.” The bones are crushed and combined with tsampa, a Tibetan staple composed of toasted flour, yak butter, and tea to make pak, which is also fed to the birds.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF SKY BURIALS? The climate in the region has traditionally not been conducive to ground graves as seen in other regions of the world, suggesting that sky burials have both practical and symbolic value for Tibetans. It also connects with Tibetan pragmatism, which holds that once we die, our souls are emancipated and our physical bodies are no longer required. The inclusion of carnivorous, carrion-eating birds is also a testament to the culture’s healthy affinity with nature. Returning to the ground as a meal for another living thing is regarded as a generous and noble manner to lay the corpse to rest, as well as one that is environmentally friendly.
THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT SKY BURIALS while chopping up a deceased person’s body is a dreadful notion for many, Buddhists in Tibet and Mongolia consider it noble to present one’s body to the birds, and burial masters and body bearers execute the rites in a lighthearted manner. The procedure is carried out in a very private manner, typically without the presence of the family, in order to aid the soul’s journey. As a result, their right to privacy must be maintained; tourists should not seek out sky buildings, and visitors to the region should not stay to observe if such a ceremony occurs.