TOWER OF SILENCE is a designation of the elevated structure raised by the Parsecs, on which are lodged the remains of their dead. In Bombay, ou the N.E. crest of Malabar liill, are situated two towers of silence. From the Gowalia Tank Road towards the north, a winding avenue leads to the gateway at the top, on which is an inscription that none but Parsecs may enter there. The gateway is also reached by a sort of giant stair case, half a mile long, which, starting from the Gaundavi Road, close to Back Bay, comes almost. straight up the hill. The grand staircase is shaded by palms and other trees, and it is the mite along which the dead are borne. The visitor on passing the portal is in a kind of small court yard, from which he can only advance by mounting some half-dozen steps. On the right is the Sug gree, a low stone building open on all sides, in which prayers arc offered for the dead. When the mourners are numerous, they group themselves round the building, see all that goes on within, and take part in the prayers. The dead are never taken within the Sugg,ree. Beyond the garden, on the undulating summit of the hill, looking towards Malabar Point, is the park-like grass covered tract in which, at irreguar intervals, are the towers of silence, where the dead are laid. The towers, of which there are six, are round, and on an average from thirty to forty feet high, and about as much in diameter ; one or two are, per haps, higher. They are built of stone, the walls being some three feet thick, and they are all coloured white. There is no window, and only one door, covering a small aperture about a third of the way up. To this aperture access is obtained by a narrow stone causeway, up which the bier beuers of the dead alone may venture ; no one, except the bearers who are set apart for the pur pose, approaches within thirty paces of them. Inside, on the lock pavement, spaces are marked out on which the dead are placed to await the vultures, and pathways are marked out for the bearers to walk upon without defiling the place where their unconscious burdens are to rest.
When a Parsee dies, his body is at once washed and purified, and if there be time, it is carried t,o the towers before sun-down. If death take place, however, after, say, three o'clock, when there would not be time to pin the towers and pray beekmingly before dark, the body is kept till the early morning. Having been rendered undefiled, it is clothed in white, and pmyers are offered at the house by the family and friends. None may henceforth touch it. The women of the family take a last look, and the light bier on which it has I been placed being covered with a white shroud, it is carried by the bearers to the bill. No vehicle
can on any account be used ; no one must even follow iu a vehicle ; the whole journey, no matter what the distance, must be made on foot. All who form part of the cortege must have been washed and clothed in white, and to touch an.y one would be to become defiled. The women in some cases wear mourniug—black, but the men never. No woman attends a funeral ; the female relatives of the dead always remain at home on that day, but they may aud do go afterwards to the garden near the towers to pray. .
Carrying the body and following it in pro cession, holding scarfs passed from one to the other, those forming the cortege wend their way slowly to the foot of the steps leading to the top of Malabar Hill ; ascending these, they reach the crest in a quarter of an hour, and the priests go through the sacred cereindnies in the Suggree. When the prayers are over, the body is borne to the foot of the causeway leading to the door of one of the towers. Here the face is uncovered so that all may take a last lingering look ; it is covered a.gain, and the form disappears into the tower.
The towers are scattered over a large and park ' like enclosure, secluded by its elevation from every eye. Outside the lofty wall which encircles the whole space, there are hundreds of. acres of land, partially cultivated, which the Parsees claim, and which, while in their possession, they have carefully kept as a sort of neutral tenritory between the domain of outsiders' bungalows and that of the towers. What goes on inside, therefore, no one can see ; but what happens is this. Some fifty vultures make their abode in the lofty palms within the enclosure ; seldom indeed do they go beyond the trees in the rough ground outside the vast compound. There is nothing of a sacred character ascribed to these useful but unclean birds. They are regarded simply as creatures who remove the dead, and the grounds about the towers of silence have nothing of the hideous taint of the charnel-house. A magnificent view bursts upon him who stands on the Suggree steps and looks across the island and the bay beyond. The white walls of innumerable bungalows and public build ings are seen through a forest of palm trees, over the tops of which you see, in the middle distance, the great sea, whicli is the harbour. Beyond rise Elephanta and other mountain islands ; towards the south is the fort, with its public buildings glistening in the sun; while Back Bay with Colaba beyond make up another and only a less beautiful picture.