A Tibetan funeral ritual. Disposal of a corpse by allowing it to be eaten by birds.

Three days after death, the bodies of the departed are given to the care of certain monks. The monks bring the bodies to the durtro, or burial rock, usually an outcropping high in the mountains. Incense is burned to summon vultures as the monks unwrap the funeral shroud. Internal organs are removed and set aside. Huge cleavers are then used to dismember the body, and at a signal, the monks fall back to allow the swarming birds to eat. A few minutes later only bones remain, which the monks smash with mallets, mix with grain, and feed to lesser scavengers.

Sometimes, for Vajrayana ritual purposes the top of the skull would be preserved for use as a teacup; or the thigh-bone for a trumpet. Modern Chinese authorities naturally like to point this out as evidence of Tibetan barbarity. In fact Tibetans are neither morbid nor macabre, and air burial is a practical method of burial in a land where fuel is scarce and the earth is hard.

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