Travels

China Litang: The Far West of China

The dead man is undressed in his white clothes and all those who witness the funeral bathe with incense. The Tonden sharpens its long dagger against a stone while reciting mandras and cutting the flesh of the body into large pieces. The bones and brain are crushed and mixed with flour.

The smell of meat and incense attracts a large number of vultures that circle around the funeral. The Tomden departs a few meters and the gigantic birds pounce on a frantic feast, devouring every little part of the body and taking it to the sky, witnessed all by the family of the dead from a nearby hill.

This is the celestial funeral, a funeral of ancestral Buddhist-Tibetan tradition. While it may seem crazy to Western sensibility, in this part of the world it makes sense both spiritually and practically. According to the Buddhist creed, the body is a mere vehicle for transporting life; Once the body dies, the spirit leaves the body and it is no longer necessary. Giving the body of food to the vultures is a final act of generosity to the world of the living and provides a link with the cycle of life.