Saturday, 21 April 2018

The Ancient Tibetan Burial Tradition

These remarkable but scary photos give a glimpse into the closely-guarded tradition of Tibetan sky burials, the name it is called locally, where bodies are chopped up and fed to the vultures.  

Sky burials are a funerary practice in the Chinese provinces of Tibet, Qinghai, and Inner Mongolia and in Mongolia and it has been practised for centuries.

The majority of Tibetans and many Mongolians who adhere to Vajrayana Buddhism, which teaches the transmigration of spirits practices this burial system.

This means they do not see a need to preserve the body, as it is now an empty vessel, so they dispose of it through a sky burial where vultures feed it and within minutes, the body becomes a mere piece of skull.

In the days after death, leading up to the ceremony monks - known as lamas -  may chant mantra around the body and burn juniper incense as a part of the ritual.

The body is then chopped into pieces by either monk - known as lamas - or more commonly, by rogyapas (body-breakers). It is a kind of haunting scene for common people.

Eyewitness accounts suggest the body-breakers do the task in high-spirits - according to Buddhist teaching, this makes it easier for the soul of the deceased to move on from this life to the next journey.

It is difficult to ascertain the exact process as Tibetans strongly object to visits by the merely curious, but it is thought the whole body is given to the vultures to be fed.

Some stories even suggest that the body parts are left in the Tower of Silence for a year, and is exposed to the elements and birds - men and women are placed in different sections of it.

Then when only the bones are left in the body as a skull, the pieces are broken up with mallets, ground with tsampa (barley flour with tea and yak butter, or milk), and given to the crows and hawks that have waited for the vultures to depart.

The function of the sky burial is simply to dispose of the remains in as generous a way as possible  - this donation of human flesh to the vultures is considered virtuous because it saves the lives of small animals that the vultures might otherwise capture for food. It is frightening to see but it has been done since ages.

Here's the video of the funeral. Viewers Discretion Advised.


  1. Its Very Haunting.

  2. It is indeed. Seeing how they consider it as salvation or something is not very easy to watch.

  3. It's clean, it's cheap, it's organic.