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Dakhmeh, Narrates Zoroastrians Beliefs in Death

Dakhmeh or Dakhma Mountain; a mountain that takes its name from the Zoroastrian crypt of Yazd and also called the Tower of Silence.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Introduction to Dakhmeh

Yazd Zoroastrian crypt is one of the ancient and historical spots of the city, in the southeast of Yazd, near the Safaeieh neighborhood; it is built on a sedimentary hill called Dakhmeh or Dakhma Mountain; a mountain that takes its name from the Zoroastrian crypt of Yazd. The crypt is also called the Tower of Silence. The building consists of two stone mansions named Mankeji and Golestan. The diameter of the Mankeji crypt is about 15 meters, and it is named after its builder.

The other crypt in the Dakhmeh of Yazd, the Golestan crypt, belonging to the Qajar period, was built in smaller dimensions than the Mankeji crypt. Visiting the Zoroastrian Dakhmeh is not a terrifying thing; Because there is no corpse in it, you can meditate for hours in the sheer silence of the region, remembering the Zoroastrian ancestors and their worldly life.

Our ancestors considered nature created from the four elements of water, fire, soil, and air. After each person’s death, they return the body to one of these four sources without contaminating other elements. Those who live by the seas have thrown dead bodies into the water; The forest dwellers burned them in the fire. The inhabitants of the plains buried the corpses, and those who lived in the cold, snow-capped mountains carried the dead bodies to the tops of the mountains, placing them in caves or the air.

History of Dakhmeh

The Zoroastrian Dakhmeh and similar examples was a place to leave dead bodies. In the Zoroaster rituals, burying the dead is a great sin because they considered the corpse and everything in contact with it to be contaminated and unclean; on the other hand, they believed that if the corpse buries in the soil, it will befoul it. The four elements in Zoroastrianism are soil, water, fire, and wind, so it is not permissible to pollute them. For this reason, after each person’s death, Zoroastrians placed the lifeless body in these places to be destroyed by carnivore animals and birds. The crypts were built at a great distance from the city, contributing to not even slight pollutions penetrating the city.

Architecture of Dakhmeh

The crypt is a circular area located on top of a high mountain, and the wall around it was made of stone and cement, plus a small iron door for entry. The perimeter of Dakhmeh is about one hundred meters, its inner surface is downhill from the wall to the centre, and in the middle of the crypt, there was a deep well that led to four deeper wells dug around it. The wells are filled to a depth of about one meter with sand. Zoroastrian Persians called the crypt’s middle well, Ostodan or ossuary (a place to collect the dead’s bones). The inner surface of the Dakhmeh was divided into three circular parts from the wall to the ossuary. The first part, which was larger and started from the wall, was dedicated to the corpses of men, the second part was for women, and the third part was for children.

The bones were thrown into the well to be reduced to the soil. Here the rich and the poor became equal at the bottom of the well when they died! Sometime after the ceremony, a particular service was held to sweep and disinfect the crypt and prepare it for the next ceremony. The tombs were cemeteries that were used once every six months and periodically. The Dakhmehs were made completely identical; The doors, walls, and surface did not have specific specifications or sizes but were built according to the needs and population of Zoroastrian cities and villages.

Rituals of Ceremonies

Near the Dakhmeh, more or less about 150 to 200 meters, a two-storey brick and mud building known as Khileh was built, with several rooms equipped with amenities for religious ceremonies after the death of its members. One of the rooms in the building was dedicated to firefighters and fires. The work of the firefighters, who were usually two people, was that from the day the dead body was taken into the crypt, it was customary to light the fire in the room with a window directly facing the Dakhmeh from night to morning (up to three nights). The light must shine from the same window to the whole crypt.

There was a small window-like hole in the crypt’s wall that had to be along with the light of the flames and the fire room to shine on inside and outside of the crypt, from night to morning. Certainly, the custom stems from the fact that according to Zoroastrians, the dead person’s soul flies around and above the dead body for three days and nights until it crosses to the heavens after the third night. Such a ceremony was held so that the first three nights after death would not be afraid of darkness and loneliness.

Today’s burial rites in Zoroastrianism

After the advent of Islam in Persia, Zoroastrianism, one of the ancient religions of Persia, continued to exist as one of the religious minorities alongside Islam. Meanwhile, the Zoroastrianism followers have preserved many of their rituals and ceremonies, practiced them as much as possible during the post-Islamic centuries as well; The burial rite is one of these rituals.

After Maneckji Limji Hataria, known as Maneckji Sahib, came to Persia about 140 years ago on behalf of “The Zoroastrian Association for the Improvement of the Zoroastrian Situation in Persia” to enhance the social and religious status of the Zoroastrians, some of the tombs were repaired and renovated. Newer crypts were also built that had been in use for a while. Over time and for various social, cultural, and health reasons in Tehran from the mid-1930s, in Kerman from the 1940s, and Yazd from the 1960s onwards crypts became tombs, and the burial method of Zoroastrian dead performed similarly to Islamic burial rites. Other Dakhmehs of the historical province of Yazd include Cham crypt (Cham village, Taft city), Firuzabad crypt (Yazd city), and Ardakan Dakhma.

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