What is Sky Burial?
Sky Burial, once commonly practiced in Tibet, was a funerary practice of dissecting human corpse, and placing the pieces on a mountaintop, for birds of prey to consume. The location of such burial, as mentioned in Vajrayana, is charnel grounds. In the country of Tibet, this funerary practice is referred to as ‘jhator’, which means providing alms to the birds.
According to Buddhism, which is a majority religion in Tibet, rebirth of the soul is certain. However, there isn’t a need to preserve the human body, as the soul will take birth in another body, somewhere else in the world. So, instead of allowing the nature to slowly decompose the body, this religion believed in disposing the body through letting the birds eat it off.
Besides, there is another reason why people followed this practice for a very long time. Most land of Tibet, even until now, remains to be very hard, and digging a grave was a terribly difficult thing to do. The scarcity of fuel and timber added another reason, why Tibet adopted sky burial as a funerary practice.
Purpose of Sky Burial
Jhator is more of a generous practice than a cruel practice, as perceived by many westerners. By providing food to birds, Tibetans believed in making good use of the body. This was because compassion and generosity were the base pillars of Buddhism. Many believers have mentioned that this tradition was practiced because it brings the deceased neared to the sky or sacred location. But due to inconsistency of this belief and lack of such opinion by knowledgeable leaders, this is often referred to as an unauthentic reason.
Sky burial is an act that would, by no means, affect the deceased or his relatives, as the soul has already left the body. After death, the body is nothing but a big chunk of flesh, which would decompose within a few days. Hence, putting it to better use by feeding birds would be the most appropriate usage of the body.
The tradition of sky burial was in practice until 1960s, when the government of China started controlling Tibet. However, the practice was re-allowed by the government in 1980s.
People who knew the deceased were allowed to witness this Tibetan tradition, and others simply did not visit the mountaintop. Photography during this practice was considered to be unethical.