Dying and diaspora: the faith and finance of death rituals

Leilah Vevaina

- completed -

Zoroastrianism, while still a lived religion today, sees its practitioners as not only small in number, but increasingly scattered around the globe. From the Parsis’ arrival to India until the present day, Dokhmenashini, the funerary practice of excarnation or sky burial, has been consistently practiced by the majority of the community in Bombay-Mumbai as one of the most important Zoroastrian rituals. Wherever Parsis moved and settled, they constructed sacred spaces, such as temples and funerary grounds, to maintain Zoroastrian laws of purity and pollution in their new environment and used endowments to financially support them. Due to the unviability of excarnation in the present (Vevaina 2013), even the Parsis in Mumbai are now moving away from Dokhmenashini and seeking viable alternatives.

This project demonstrated that this transition away from millennia-old ritual practice is not simply attributable to the reduced viability of excarnation outside of a few locations, but also due to the newly acquired financial and political strength of diaspora groups, particularly in Hong Kong, within the global Zoroastrian community. The material support and reformist values of diaspora groups have been funding several new initiatives, such as Parsi cremation in Mumbai, a funerary practice which was, until recently, considered unthinkable within a traditional Zoroastrian framework of purity and pollution (putting the impure corpse into the pure, i.e., fire). The project aimed to examine the new and influential role of the diaspora for those dying in Mumbai. 

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