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The Zoroastrians have an unusual way of disposing off their dead. They neither bury them nor cremate them. Instead, corpses are left atop high towers known as dakhma, or Towers of Silence, where they are exposed to the elements and consumed by scavenger birds such as vultures, kites and crows. This macabre funeral practice arises from the belief that the dead are impure, not just physically because of decomposition, but because they are contaminated by the ‘corpse demon’ and evil spirits who rush into the body as soon as the soul leaves. Burial and cremation are thus seen as polluting nature and fire, both of which the Zoroastrians thrive to protect. This reverence towards all things natural has led some scholars to proclaim Zoroastrianism as the "world's first ecological religion."

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A defunct Tower of Silence in Yazd, Iran. Photo credit: Photoroamings/Flickr

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