Breach Candy, on the seashore, in front of Cumballa Hill, is the most aristocratic neighborhood, and contains the finest mansions. Tramways, which is the English name for horse-cars, extend to this locality, as well as to most other important parts of the city; and there is a station on the steam railroad near it, though most of the wealthy residents ride back and forth in their own carriages.
The Tower of Silence, in which the Parsees expose their dead to be devoured by birds of prey, was pointed out to them. No one but the priests are allowed to enter it; and the relatives leave the body at the door, from which they take it into the building. It is placed between two grates, which allow the vultures to tear off the flesh, but not to carry off the limbs. It made the Americans shudder when their guides told them about it more in detail than when it was described in the lecture.
Passing by the cemeteries of the English and the Mussulmans on their return to the city, they halted at the Hindu Burning-Ground, on the shore of the Back Bay. Here the natives are burned to ashes. For some distance they had noticed funeral processions on their way to this place. The remains are borne on open litters. A granite platform is the base of the funeral pyre, and the bodies wait their turn to be reduced to ashes; and the cremation is far more repulsive than that in our own country.
Dealers in wood for the combustion sell the article to the relatives. Some of them are cutting up fuel and arranging the pyre, while others seated on the walls play a lugubrious strain on the native instruments. The disposal of the body of an old man was in process while the tourists looked on; and the corpse was placed on the pile, the friends covering it with bits of wood till it was no longer in sight.
Then the eldest son came to the scene, howling his grief and beating his breast. Grasping a torch prepared for him, he set fire to the corners of the pile that covered the remains. The flames rose high in the air, and the attendants fed the fire by throwing on oil. Soon the body reappears, a blazing mass, which is soon reduced to ashes. Water is then thrown on the pyre, and a portion of the ashes cast into the sea.
There is nothing very repulsive in the rite of burning the dead; though the visitors had some difficulty in keeping out of the reach of the foul smoke, which brought with it a disagreeable odor. The carriages continued on their way to the city; and when they entered a street, Lord Tremlyn called the attention of those with him to a couple of native women who had stopped to look at them, for the party excited no little curiosity wherever they went. It had become known by this time that a dozen American ladies and gentlemen were circulating through the place, engaged in sight-seeing.
They had comely features of a brownish hue, and were dressed in the loose robes of the country, reaching to the ground; one of the garments extended to cover the head, though not the face. Both of them wore heavy gold bangles on their arms, but both were barefoot.