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About Sky Burial

Topic Summary


Sky Burials are an ancient burial practice that have been performed for thousands of years. Once the only means of burial for Tibetan Buddhist, Sky Burials are believed to be the most noble. Once a person dies, a Lama uses astrological calculations based on the time of birth and the time of the death to determine the necessary pujas and death rituals to be performed. If it is determined that a Sky Burial ceremony is to be performed the body will be prepared and taken to a ceremonial location where it will be cut into pieces by a Roygapa, or body breaker. Vultures, known as Dakinis or sky dances are the Tibetan equivalent of angels and are summoned by the Lama to consume the body. Once the Body Breakers complete the process of pounding the flesh, bones and organs together, the vultures consume the body entirely. The act, on behalf of the deceased and surviving family members, is believed to be extremely noble by virtue of giving one’s self as sustenance for another living creature. The vultures are believed to be deities that consume the body and ascend with it to the celestial realm where the soul awaits reincarnation.
The beautiful symbolism supports many tenants of Buddha’s teaching including transmigration of souls and compassion for all living creatures. The practical benefits of Sky Burials point to the realities of life in an unforgiving Himalayan landscape where resources are extremely scarce. Together the symbolic and practical benefits have served Tibetan Buddhist for millennium. Despite being such an honorable ritual, the practice has slowly waned to the point of near extinction. The practice is limited to only a few culturally protected areas.
One contributing factor to the decline of the ritual is an ever-encroaching global community and western influence. The impact is clear in many aspects of the culture where western brands and styles are prevalent. With the influx of walking paths and roads making it easier than ever for tourist looking to explore the wonders of the Himalaya’s to access the primitive and remote areas where Sky Burials were once commonplace. The foreign presence alone presents challenges to the privacy and dignity of the ritual.
Another Contributing factor to the decline of the Sky Burial practice is due to a declining vulture population as well as the introduction of modern medicine. The Vulture population has seen a  sharp decline resulting from poaching and other threatening epidemics. The introduction of modern medical treatments act as a repellant to the vultures preventing them from consuming the body. Both impacting the ability to effectively carryout the ritual.
It’s not unreasonable to believe the practice of Sky Burials may completely cease to exist in our lifetime. The notion of losing such a rich cultural practice is a tragedy. Blue Kangling’s aim is to document and preserve this beautifully different perception and death ritual. By virtue of its bold execution and practice, Sky Burials inherently raise questions about death and burial practices. These questions hold the key to self-discovery and an ability to reconcile the unknown and taboo topic of death that so many people spend a lifetime trying to avoid.