Tibetan have very unconventional burials.
There are 5 main types of burials practice in Tibet.
- Stupa Burial
- Sky Burial
- Water Burial
- Fire Burial
- Earth Burial
Stupa burial is the holiest type of burial and only reserved for revered lamas like Dalai Lama or Panchen Lama. The body is embalmed or mummified and then placed inside a Stupa. The stupas of Panchen Lamas I saw in Tashilunpo Monastery and Dalai Lamas in Potala Palace are all gilded with gold and decorated with precious stones.
Sky burial is the most common burial method in Tibet and cheapest as well. My guide explained the ritual of the burial to me and I was deeply disturbed by it. Just by imagining the procedure makes me very uncomfortable.
Simple way to explain the ritual, a corpse is cut into pieces, flesh peeled and separated from bones, bones smashed into powdery form with a sledgehammer and mixed with flour and water, and all are fed to the vultures. Nothing of a body is left uneaten and all must be eaten.
Families of the deceased don’t attend the ritual, they ask friends or neighbor to help bring the deceased to the sky burial site and witness the procedure on behalf. My guide attended her neighbor sky burial funeral and she could not eat meat for a month. She had to use a stick to fend of the huge and fat vultures while the undertaker is “preparing” the body for the vultures to eat. The whole process took 15-20 minutes and the entire body is gone. She said the vultures ate too much and had to walk out of the sky burial site through the door and up to the hill to catch the wind to fly.
Tibetan believes that the vulture will carry the soul of the deceased up to the heaven when they take flight.
My group member, Pui Sun, wants to see the Sky Burial ritual when she goes to Tibet the next time. When I go to Tibet again, will I be able to witness the ritual…. I dunno, see how when the time comes la.
Water burial is similar to Sky Burial just that instead of being eaten by vultures and taken to the sky in their stomach, the deceased body is dump into a river or lake and to be eaten by fishes. The reason why Tibetan don’t eat fish.
Came across this site on the way to Shigatse. The guide to me that this is a Water Burial Site. Found an axe and cleaver there….
Fire burial or cremation is only carried out by the rich because wood is scarce and expensive in Tibet.
Earth burial is usually carried out by Han Chinese in Tibet or for Tibetan who died of severe illness or disease. They are afraid the disease or illness might infect the vultures.