Sky Burials or Ritual Dissection — Funerary practice in Tibet

Sky burial or ritual dissection was once a common funerary practice in Tibet wherein a human corpse is cut in specific locations and placed on a mountaintop, exposing it to the elements or the mahabhuta and animals — especially to birds of prey:

dead body

In Tibet the practice is known as jhator, which literally means, “giving alms to the birds.”


The majority of Tibetans adhere to Buddhism, which teaches rebirth. There is no need to preserve the body, as it is now an empty vessel. Birds may eat it, or nature may let it decompose. So the function of the sky burial is simply the disposal of the remains. In much of Tibet the ground is too hard and rocky to dig a grave, and with fuel and timber scarce, a sky burial is often more practical than cremation.


Having been acculturated to western beliefs, I can imagine this being difficult for many to *gulp* swallow. I’ve had some time to think about this, and I have to say that it isn’t good or bad, it is natural and a life affirming testament of the belief that there is a soul which continues to exist outside of the corporeal body when it is no longer functional — So why not let nature have it? It’s either the birds or the worms, right.

~ by Fionnlagh on September 24, 2009.

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