The so-called Sky Burial

Tib., jhator: giving alms to the birds

A funerary custom practiced in parts of Tibet. Although the term "burial" is somewhat wrong, the name sky burial for this form of corpse disposal has become the most commonly used one (in English language publications, films, or eye-witness reports).

What actually happens can take two forms:

1. In the case of nomads, remote places, poor people or tiny villages without professional care-takers, the body of the deceased will be taken to a more or less remote spot and is then simply left there to decay or be eaten - mainly by dogs and vultures. It depends on local circumstance and chance wether or not animals claim it or the natural elements.

2. The second form of jhator is equally spectacular as expensive; considering that the procedure costs the equivalent of about three times the average income for a month.

In this case, the corpse is carried to a place reserved for this purpose. There, one or more professional care-takers will strip the deceased and use a kartrika, a ritual flaying knife or chopper, to dismember the corpse. Progressively cut into smaller and smaller pieces, the remains will be thrown to the quickly assembling carrion birds. Sometimes, the flesh and organs may even be mixed with tsampa (flour); making it even more obvious that this is truly a "giving of alms".

In some cases, the remaining bones will be crashed with stones, pulverized and mixed with clay in order to build a miniature chorten called tsa-tsa.