Maybe you are already heard or even knew that there are so many traditions throughout the world which is involving parts of the human: the skull. Although there are some famous places in Europe and Asia, you have to know about the story of these Dodoka monks, from the Dodoka monastery located in Biru country in Nagchu Prefacture, Tibet. The Dodoka monastery complex is located in an area of approximately 4000 square meters. It has a celestial burial poo, a stone slab for the resting corpses which is all surrounded by a wall. What we are going to talk is about this strange, horrifying yet beautiful wall named the Biru Skull Wall or Dodoka Skull Wall.
The monks of Dodoka monastery have a really unique spiritual approach in giving the last respect towards the dead. Instead of cremating or burying their loved one like what western people prefer to do towards their loved ones, their “burial” process is happen to involves vultures and a wall of skulls. This “burial” ceremony performed by the monks is actually considered as a very poetic one, but it is indeed frightening for some reason due to its out of context performs.
“Sky burial” is the beginning point of processing the skull wall. When a villager dies, the dead body will be placed in its sitting position by the monks on an open place. The monks will also burns juniper in order to attract the vultures to come down towards the dead body. As expected, the skull will arrive and starts to consume the dead body and all its flesh. After all the vultures done with eating, the monks will crush all the bones remains, except the skull, and mixed them with barley flour, tea, and butter then serve them to other birds of prey. What makes the Dodoka unique is that they kept the skull of the dead to fortify its walls instead of disposing all the bones. It is estimated at more than 1000 skulls stored between their western and southern monastery’s walls.
While being frightening and unusual, the origins of this tradition of burial ceremony are not clear. Most of the monks believe that long ago, the family of one sky burial master was murdered in front of his own eyes. He was really traumatized by what he had seen at the time till he grown adult. After he became an adult, during his tenure, he kept theskulls and left them at the wall in order to ward off the murderer he saw long ago and also other murderers. Another famous story among the monks which is believed as the origin of the tradition was the story of the living Buddha. It is said that long ago, it is the living Buddha who wants the skulls to be placed there, on their fortified walls. Buddha was not doing that for no reason, one is that to remind those people at the temple about the fragility of life. In other words, someone has to spend their short time period of life on doing the good deeds on earth.
Actually it is not Dodoka monastery alone which practicing the same form of burial ceremony. It is believed that actually three monasteries in Biru country: Ridazeng, Queidai, and Dodoka which actually used to perform this tradition. Therefore, during Cultural Revolution of China in the late of 60’s, most of the artifacts including the skulls itself were destroyed. Within last ten or so years, the monks of Dodoka revived this tradition.
The government has finally put their attention more onto this precious tradition. The wall is now protected by government policies, which is preserving the religious artifacts. The “burial” ceremony performed by Dodoka’s monastery monks is now being resumed as a strange but beautiful practice. Maybe they don’t celebrate Halloween or that festival for the dead in Tibet, but Dodoka monastery would definitely more than ready for it. Despite of the tradition which seems strange, frightening, of even primitive, the walls of skulls are beautiful and fascinating in their own way. They are all honoring the dead, and the ones they love, I guess?