2003, January 19: The Tower of Silence

Sometime in 2010, the following strange image started to be circulated on the internet through various social media sites with the following legend attached to it:

A Mysterious Pit
A gory find near a strange pit [Larger version here]

19 January, 2003- Indian officials ventured into deep jungle investigating several missing persons reports from a nearby city. What they found was a “Tower of Silence,” or dakhma. Zoroastrians use these sites to dispose of bodies in the open air. While sites like these are not uncommon in certain parts of India, several peculiarities hint at something more unusual:

1. None of the bodies depicted in the photograph were identified. Villagers from nearby, who were initially surprised at the sheer number of corpses in the dakhma, proved unable to recognize the bodies. The corpses also do not match the descriptions of the missing people.

2. There were no animals except for maggots and flies. Zoroastrians rely on birds such as buzzards to dispose of the bodies in the belief they are contributing back to the Earth. Officials found the corpses relatively untouched by any sort of animal.

3. There is no official count of the bodies. In fact little work was actually accomplished at the site, and perhaps this is the reason only one photograph has emerged. Officials avoided the spot not only because they felt uneasy looking at it, but for the following as well:

4. The deep pit in the center of the photograph was filled with several feet of festering blood. Far more than the bodies on the outside could ever supply. The stench was so unbearable many of the officials began to get nauseous when they first approached the dakhma. The expedition was ended when a villager accidentally kicked a small bone into the pit, penetrating the coagulated surface of the pool. A massive burst of gas from the decomposing blood erupted from the pit, splashing those looking into it, along with the photographer.

        Those caught in the explosion were immediately sent to the hospital where they were quarantined for possible infection. They became delirious with fever, shouting about “being tainted with the blood of Ahriman (the personification of evil in Zoroastrianism)” despite never having admitted they had any familiarity with the religion. In fact, many of them had no idea what the dakhma was when they had found it. Delirium turned to insanity as many began to attack hospital staff until they were sedated. The fever eventually killed all of them.

        When officials returned with HAZMAT gear the following day, the site was empty. All the bodies had been removed and astonishingly, the pool of blood in pit had been drained. All that remained of the incident was this photograph.

An Educational Moment

      Dakhma or "Towers of Silence" are a funerary tradition that has existed since at least the middle of the fifth century BCE, and are still in use in parts of India by people of Parsi descent. Contributing your body to such a tower upon death is considered a last show of charity, sharing the remnants of a person's existence with birds... but if you're not a recognized Parsi, the associations that manage the towers won't let you park your corpse there, so don't get your hopes up!

       Tower of silence usually consist of a several rings, each lower than the next as the center is approached. Corpses of men are exposed in the outermost and highest ring; the next ring is for women, and the next for children. Bodies are left exposed until they have been reduced to skeletons and dried and bleached by the action of sun and wind (this usually takes about a year), and then the bones are gathered to the central pit where they are slowly broken down, eventually to be washed as dust out to sea.

        So yes... these towers are a bit of an unpleasant affair to visit if you're not used to corpses.

        Given how long the tradition has existed, it seems quite possible that a tower of silence -- or many -- could have been built in the distant past and then eventually have been lost track of as populations moved to different areas and forests and jungles claimed them.

        The photo above is real and those are in fact dead people, just in case anyone doubted that; it is in fact a picture from a tower of silence located somewhere in India. In this case, however, I would presume the tower of silence shown in the photograph above is neither lost nor involved in a strange, and possibly paranormal, ritual. I presume all this mainly because the photographer is still alive... and the picture is altered.

The Hanging Garden

        The original image was one of three shots of the same tower of silence located somewhere in India that were taken by conceptual artist Si-La-Gi in 1999 and featured in an exhibition called the "Hanging Garden" [Link Here], part of a series of shots that explored the transitory nature of life and death. In the original picture, the central part of the ring is still visible.

Tower Original
The original image, showing the center. [Picture source here]

        The earliest I've found the 'Tower of Silence' meme posted on the internet is from the JoyReactor website, where it was put up on March 30, 2010... and since it was posted with a full text rendering of the story as well, it seems likely this is either very close to or is the first posting. Since the user who posted the meme has the rather unique name of 'anon,' I can't tell you who's to blame.

        The legend is clearly tied to the picture -- stating the picture is the only proof of the story and that the photographer died due to their visit to the structure -- it's most likely the story was never based in fact to begin with... just another good 'creepypasta' style story, though one with a particularly gnarly picture attached.

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