Zoroastrians’ Dakhmeh is one of the main tourist attractions of Yazd which is on the southeastern part of the city. It is the place where the Zoroastrians kept their corpses after death with a special ceremony. Although there are other Dakhmeh in Tehran, Kerman, Sirjan, Isfahan, Ardakan, Taft, and Ashkezar, the Zoroastrians’ Dakhmeh of Yazd is the main one. Since the city of Yazd was the religious capital for the Zoroastrians’, this Dakhmeh is more important than others and also has more visitors today. It is also registered in the Iranian National Sites list.
If you are not familiar with this word, you might ask yourself “What does Dakhmeh mean?”
Dakhmeh is an ancient Persian word which is equal to the word “Tower of Silence” in English. And it is exactly the tower of silence because it’s on top of a mountain where is full of silence. Since the dead bodies kept there, that can even be scary too. Therefore, if the word “Tower of Silence” seems scary to you, the Dakhmeh might too. Dakhmeh was the cemetery of the Zoroastrians for many years.
People with different religions acted differently with corpses. Some delivered them into the sea, some burned them, and some might bury them under the earth (which is more common today). But the Zoroastrians had different beliefs in their tradition. They didn’t bury the dead body under the ground because they considered it impure. And since the soil was a sacred element to them, they believed if they put the body under the ground they make the soil foul. They similarly didn’t burn the body, because the fire was also a sacred element.
Therefore if they burned a corpse, which was not pure to them, they committed sin. Because the ashes and the light of the impure dead body might go up to the sky, which was improper and bad. So they put the corpses in Dakhmeh for the vultures and other birds to eat. Hence, only the bones of the dead body remained.
Dakhmeh was always far from the denizens or villages. Because it was a place where the wild animals or the birds gathered to eat the corpse so it wasn’t safe to be near the city. And it wasn’t also healthy for the people to be near the dead bodies for a long time. Although the process of eating the body mostly just took several hours.
The Zoroastrians’ Dakhmeh changed several times during history. At first, there wasn’t any place like Dakhmeh to put the corpse in. Hence, most of the time, they put the dead body in some place far from the village for the animals to eat. But then, they decided to make a place for this ceremony. To prevent wild animals from eating the corpses, the Dakhmeh changed to a higher place such as the mountain. So since then, it was just the birds and the vultures’ responsibility to purify the dead bodies by eating them.
As it was mentioned before, today the main and the most important Dakhmeh in Iran is the Zoroastrians’ Dakhmeh of Yazd. There are two Dakhmeh in one place. When you enter the site, on the left side, there is a bigger mountain which is the Maneckji Dakhmeh. Its diameter is 15 meters.
Maneckji Limji Hataria was the name of the person who built this Dakhmeh in Yazd. Maneckji was one of the most influential people in the Zoroastrians’ community. His body also kept in the Dakhmeh which has his name.
The other Dakhmeh, which is on the right side, is Golestan Dakhmeh. The newer Dakhmeh which was built during the Qajar era. Because it was hard to go up the Maneckji Dakhmeh Mountain, the Zoroastrians decided to make another Dakhmeh which is smaller and has fewer difficulties. Therefore, they made the Golestan Dakhmeh on the other side of the main Dakhmeh. Its diameter is 25 meters but its height is less than the main Dakhmeh so it is easier to get to the building.
All Dakhmehs have the same construction. First of all, there is only one door between Dakhmeh building and the road outside. The road didn’t have any steps at that time. But today, the steps are made in the Zoroastrians’ Dakhmeh of Yazd to make it easier for the visitors to get to the main building.
After that, there is a stone or iron door. This door is built to prevent the wild animals to find their way to the building to eat the corpse. Then there is the main building with a circular shape. There was a special place for each corpse according to its gender or age. Men were placed in the outer circle, women in the middle, and the children in the inner-most ring. Then in the centre of the circle is a deep hole where in the end the bones would be thrown in. According to the Zoroastrians’ religion, all the poor and riches will be in the same place after their death which is this hole. This means that no matter who you are, you are always equal to others, no matter you are richer or have a higher position.
Zoroastrians’ funeral consisted of different ceremonies. The last part of the funeral was putting the corpse in Dakhmeh.
First of all, when a person died, his/her family and friends wore white clothes. They never cried or made any noise because of their loss. Because, in the Zoroastrians’ religion, death is not the end of life. They consider it the beginning of a life of joy and happiness.
Together, they brought the corpse to a room outside the village whose name was “birth and death” room. So they recorded the dead in this place then washed the body and made it ready for the funeral.
After that, they transferred the body to Dakhmeh. Since Dakhmeh was far from the village, it might take a few hours. Therefore, with a special ceremony, they delivered the body to someone called Salar. He put the corpse in Dakhmeh and would come back the other day to throw the bones to the well in the centre of Dakhmeh.
Salar was the only person who could get into the Dakhmeh. He took the corpse from the family and carried the body to Dakhmeh, put it on the right spot and then left the place. Salar had a house near the Dakhmeh. He was the person who lived all his life in this place and couldn’t get out. The main reason was the infection. Because many deaths at that time were caused by different infections, and he was the only one who was in touch with the dead bodies, he might get different diseases so it wasn’t safe to be near the village and people.
Besides the Salar House, there are other small soil buildings near Dakhmeh. One of them is called the Fire Room. This room has a window faced with Dakhmeh. From the first night after putting the corpse in Dakhmeh till 3 night later, they should light up Dakhmeh from this place. There were two men who were responsible for lighting a fire from the window to Dakhmeh and keeping it burning till the morning.
That’s because the Zoroastrians believe the soul of the person who is dead will fly over his corpse for three nights and then goes to the sky. So according to this belief, they lit up the surrounding for him to not frighten of darkness in these nights.
The Zoroastrians’ Dakhmeh of Yazd is located near the Safaeie neighbourhood near Yazd-Bafgh Road. Therefore, it is not near the city centre and other tourist attractions of Yazd. The nearest hotel to this attraction is the Yazd Arg-e-Jadid Hotel which is only 2.8 km far from this place. It will only take 6 minutes to get to Zoroastrians’ Dakhmeh of Yazd from this hotel by bus. It is also possible to walk to this attraction which might only take 30 minutes.
Since the Zoroastrians’ Dakhmeh of Yazd is not close to the city centre, if you are staying in any hotels in the old town you can either take a taxi or take a bus. It is so easy to get to this place by bus because there are many bus stops near it. Any buses to Eesar Square of Taravat Boulevard can take you to this place. The nearest bus stops are Mojtama Golestan bus station in Shahid Entezari Boulevard, which is still 5 minutes away from Dakhmeh by car. Sarv bus station is another one in Sayyad Shirazi Street which is again 5 minutes far from Dakhmeh by car. Although it is possible to walk to this place from any of these stations which might take at least 30 minutes.
Since the 1970s, the use of Dakhmas has been illegal in Iran, forcing orthodox Zoroastrian’s to adapt to new burial methods. Many in the Zoroastrian community have moved to bury bodies beneath concrete, to keep out all contaminants.
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