What Is the Function of the Sky Burial?
Sky burial is a funeral practice in which a human corpse is placed on a mountaintop to decompose while exposing to the elements or to be eaten by scavenging animals, especially birds of prey. It is a specific type of the general practice of excarnation.
It is practiced in the Chinese provinces and autonomous regions of Tibet, Qinghai, Sichuan and Inner Mongolia, as well as in Mongolia, Bhutan, Nepal, and parts of India such as Sikkim and Zanskar.
The function of the sky burial is simply to dispose of the remains in as generous a way as possible. In much of Tibet and Qinghai, the ground is too hard and rocky to dig a grave, and, due to the scarcity of fuel and timber, sky burials were typically more practical than the traditional Buddhist practice of cremation.
In the past, cremation was limited to high lamas and some other dignitaries, but modern technology and difficulties with sky burial have led to its increasing use by commoners.
The customs are first recorded in an indigenous 12th-century Buddhist treatise, which is colloquially known as the Book of the Dead. The body is cut up according to instructions given by a lama or adept.
The species contributing to the ritual is the “Eurasian griffon,” a species of Old World vulture (order Falconiformes, family Accipitridae, and scientific name Gyps fulvus).