Viridian Note 00259: Solar Vultures

Bruce Sterling []

Key concepts: Zoroastrianism, funereal vultures, solar power, Viridian Embrace Decay principle, the Viridian Uncanny, Towers of Silence, Jemima Perry-Jones

Attention Conservation Notice: A peculiar anecdote that is very macabre.

Links: This nun-in-mirrorshades poster was all over Bonn during the climate conference.

Mars undergoes a spasm of global warming without any help from ExxonMobil. t501006

A hijacked, culture-jamming device rather close in spirit to our imaginary product, the "Viridian Product Scanner."


It's "ecologically sound and practical," declares Parsi leader forthrightly.

"Parsees try solar power to replace vultures

"From Rahul Bedi, in New Delhi

"India's Zoroastrian community, better known as Parsees, have installed solar reflectors in their Towers of Silence in Bombay to help dispose of their dead. This following a sharp decline in the number of vultures who normally scavenge the corpses in keeping with tradition.

"The Parsee Panchayat or council, which recently installed the eight giant reflectors in the 350-year-old towers to hasten the decomposition of corpses, is also starting a vulture aviary on the premises with help from a British expert.

"The council has asked Ms Jemina Perry-Jones, of the National Birds of Prey Centre, near Gloucester, to establish the aviary for white-backed and long-billed vultures as the birds have been dying in large numbers of a mysterious disease." (((Could be climate change; directly through a disease extending its range, or secondarily through habitat disruption.)))

"Ms Perry-Jones is believed to be the first non-Parsee to enter the towers.

"Council trustee Mr Rustom Tirandaz said the Bombay municipality had given permission to start the aviary with 90 vultures captured from the wild. 'By breeding the vultures in captivity, we hope to preserve this 2,000 year-old ritual of disposing of our dead.'

"The Parsees cannot cremate, bury or submerge their dead in water because they consider a corpse impure and their Zoroastrian faith does not permit them to defile any of the elements. The desert ritual which originated along with their faith in Persia over 3,000 years ago dictates that the dead be left to vultures on hilltops known as Towers of Silence.

"Dead Parsees are carried on a simple bier to a ceremonial gate, a short distance from the rounded five Towers of Silence, where their relatives hand them over to the socially outcast kandhiyas or traditional pallbearers, the only ones allowed inside.

"The black stone towers, around 50ft high, are like three- tiered, open-air arenas where the men are placed in the outer circle, women in the middle and children in the innermost for the vultures to feed upon. However, with an average of three Parsees dying every day, the six-odd vultures at the towers are overfed and unable to cope. Experts claim some 100 to 120 birds are needed to deal with the daily inflow of bodies. There are some 76,000 Parsees in India.

"Several Parsees in Bombay have said the solar reflectors have proven effective. They increase the temperature of the bodies on which they were trained to over 180 degrees, cleanly disposing of them within a short time."

(((Ladies and gentlemen, even we Viridians don't come across a tale like this every day. Though it may be a tad perturbing to parochial Western sensibilities, having one's dead devoured by birds is a pleasantly Viridian approach to a rather pressing design problem. One certainly has to wish Ms. Perry-Jones every success, even though hand-raising tame vultures for a 350-year-old Zoroastrian Tower of Silence is a job straight out of H. P. Lovecraft. You see, led by a socially outcast khandiya, Jemima breaks through a crumbling enclosure just behind the Long-Billed Vulture Aviary, and there, inscribed in the living rock in eldritch, uncanny glyphs... but really, don't get me started.

(((A Viridian approach to being devoured by birds would likely be a tad more up-to-date. For instance, you could have yourself tidily ground up into pellets like BSE cattle- feed, then fed to a clutch of urban peregrine falcons on some webcam.)))

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