Sky Burial

In Tibet, stupa burial and cremation are honored disposal for high lamas. For common Tibetan people, sky burial is the main way. It is an astonishing and mystical Tibetan tradition based on the belief that the soul of a deceased has exited the body to reincarnate for another circle of life and the corpse is nothing but an empty vessel only. If the corpse is offered to vultures (believed to be Dakinis), the soul will be taken into the Heaven.

Before the ritual, a group of monks will chant for the decreased for three days and then the corpse will be cleaned and wrapped in white cloth in sitting gesture as he or she was born. The ritual usually starts before dawn. On a platform of stones encircled by prayer flags, the tomden, a body breaker, unwraps the body, make the first cut on the back and slices it from head to toe, exposing the underlying flesh and bones. Drawn by the smoke from the juniper fire and the smell of fresh meat, vultures begin to gather on the surrounding rocks. The corpse is cut in a definite and precise way with the flesh into meat chunks, organs into pieces, bones into splinters and then mixed with Tsampa flour. In the shouts of the tomden, vultures descend to have their feast. Then the tomden goes back and begins to dismember the skeleton, throwing arm and leg bones to the ravenous birds and pulverizing the remaining bones with a stone mallet. He recites mantras and crushes the skull with a large rock. Then he mixes the brain and powdered bones with Tsampa flour and again offer to the birds. Soon there will be nothing left and the soul of the deceased is believed having been taken into the heaven.

Tibetans are encouraged to witness the whole process to face death openly. Youngsters less than 18, women impregnated and those died of infectious disease and accident are considered not suitable for sky funeral. At the site, there will be only the funeral party. A visit is strongly objected and photography is also strictly forbidden.