Tower of Silence, where vultures devour the Parsi dead, Malabar Hill, (N.E.), Bombay, India
Photographer: Ricalton, James
Medium: Photographic print
Stereoscopic photograph of the Tower of Silence at Bombay in Maharashtra, taken by James Ricalton in c. 1903, from The Underwood Travel Library: Stereoscopic Views of India. This image is described by Ricalton in 'India Through the Stereoscope' (1907), 'We are looking a little north of east, in the direction of the native quarter of Bombay; the European part lies a few degrees to our right. The flight of eighty stone steps by which the Tower is reached is on the other side, a little to the right of the Tower. We can see quite distinctly a line of waiting vultures on top of the wall, and one huge bird soaring in mid air...Corpses cannot be burned in the fire, nor buried in the earth, nor put into the water; this "Tower of Silence" provides a method of disposal. It consists of a great building twenty-five feet high and two hundred seventy-six feet in circumference.' The Parsis are Zorastrian, often described as fire-worshippers. However, they do not worship fire, instead they revere many aspects of nature as manifestations of the divinity of Ahura Mazdah. Ricalton explained that the rules for photographing the tower were very strict and that this was the closest he was able to get to the building.
This is one of a series of 100 photographs, designed to be viewed through a special binocular viewer, producing a 3D effect. They were sold together with a book of descriptions and a map with precise locations to enable the 'traveller' to imagine that he was really 'touring' around India. Stereoscopic cameras, those with two lenses and the ability to take two photographs at the same time, were introduced in the mid 19th century and revolutionised photography. They cut down exposure time and thus allowed for some movement in the image without blurring as subjects were not required to sit for long periods to produce sharp results.