Jhator -Gruesome but confronts Death directly!

Buddhist religion has three schools of thoughts or branches and all three have different focus but follow the basic teachings of Buddha. The first one is Theraveda Buddhism, the second, Mahayana Buddhism and the third being Vajrayana Buddhism. Vajrayana Buddhism, which is mainly followed by the Tibetans, is also known as the Tantric Buddhism due to its reliance on sacred texts called tantras. Of many other rituals, I will stick to one followed by them as part of burial after death, called as “Jhator”.

When death occurs, three forms of burial are used: cremation, water burial, and Jhator. Because of lack of wood/forest, cremation is almost absent in Tibet unless rich. Cities which have flowing rivers do follow the water burial. But majority Tibetans follow Jhator, which means “giving alms to the birds,” or Sky burial, a phrase coined by Europeans.

Tibetan Buddhists believe life is not over at death, but merely entering a rebirth. Monks emphasise this cyclical nature of existence to dispel the fear of death in Tibetan society and help people prepare for a new beginning. They believe that the corpse is nothing more than an empty vessel. The spirit, or the soul, of the deceased has exited the body to be reincarnated into another circle of life. Tibetan people witness sky burial and confront death directly. They know the impermanence of life!!

Interestingly, this is the same teaching that Lord Vasudev passes on to us in Bhagavat Gita, Chapter-2, Verse-22. वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि। तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णान्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही।। Meaning: As a person gives up old and worn out garments and accepts new apparel, similarly the embodied soul giving up old and worn out bodies verily accepts new bodies. Hence this physical body of ours is nothing when the soul leaves it.

When a person dies, a funeral procession takes the body of the person to the burial site. Family members sit afar, so that they are present yet unable to see everything. Whole process is done by few specialised monks and no one from outside world is allowed near the place to see. The Tibetan monk places the naked corpse on a sacred clearing and steps away to mumble a prayer, and then he cut the body into pieces. Performing a Tibetan tradition that has haunted these grounds for centuries, the monk strips flesh from bone and flay the body in order to expose the soft tissue. They also beat the bones and flesh against the rock to create a pulp, which is mixed with barley flour, tea, butter, and milk. This mixture is then left for the vultures to devour.

Even for Water Burial similar method is used whereby the body is similarly cut and then thrown in water for the fishes to devour. Jhator may seem very gruesome but actually it is a highly ecological method of disposing the dead. Also this way they make sure the body comes to some use even after death!

Here are few photographs of this ritual taken from a distance. They were taken at Sky Burial site near Seda Monastery. Last one is the Sky Burial site at the base of Mt Kailash.

001

Even the children are made aware of this cycle of birth

002

Subtle family member after Sky Burial gets over.

003

Mysterious temple at the site.

004

Skull Heads on a building at the site.

005

The Sky Burial Site.

006

Burial Site another view

007

Sky Burial site at the base of Mount Kailash

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11 thoughts on “Jhator -Gruesome but confronts Death directly!

    • Its creepy and though I watched it from afar, it was giving me a bad feeling. Especially when the fellow monk told me they were grinding bones to dust.

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    • It was shocking. I never saw it from close ranks yet felt Yuk!! But then realised, these people are really following the true teaching of our sanatan dharma. Body is just the empty vessel.

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