A Crisis for the Faithful

KtB senior editor Meera Subramanian has a thing for birds and they take her to the most interesting of places. In Mumbai, following an evaporating trail of vultures, she found herself wandering the sacred Parsi grounds that have been used for centuries to lay out the Parsi dead.

In a ritual so old it was described by Herodotus, Zoroastrians have laid out their dead atop Towers of Silence to be exposed to sun, sky and—most importantly—vultures. These massive harbingers of death with eight-foot wingspans once numbered in the millions across South Asia and could strip a corpse to the bone in hours. Yet their service has come to an abrupt end in the past decade as the vulture population plummeted due to a fatal reaction to a common painkiller given to the livestock and humans that the birds eventually feed upon. Ongoing habitat shrinkage has exacerbated the decline. With vultures virtually extinct, the Parsis are left struggling with the question of how to preserve traditions when modern forces conspire against them.

In an exploration of what it means to be faithful if the biological world stops cooperating, she wonders whether the only way for a faith to survive is to adapt.  Read the entire piece here, at least for the next week, unless you’re a WSJ subscriber.