12. QA about ZOROASTRIAN PRACTICES

Why should I wear a topi / scarf to cover my head?

1. Head covering – topi (cap) or paghdi for men and scarf or mathabanu for women were an essential part of the attire of Zoroastrians. Till about 3 generations back, Parsis kept their heads covered throughout the day and night. We notice that great men like Dadabhai Navroji, Pherozeshah Mehta and Jamshedji Tata kept their heads covered at most times. It is interesting to note that these worthy men were not in a religious profession.

2. Keeping the head covered is a necessary part of Zoroastrian religious life, as it is essential to maintain the power (amal) of prayers. Zoroastrian priests from Iran mention it as one of the basic Zoroastrian practices to king Jadav Rana while introducing the Zoroastrian religion. This is recorded in the 16 Sanskrit Shlokas.

3. Head covering should be preferably white. However it is often black or dark coloured for reasons of convenience.

4. In the recent past, for reasons of style, fashion or assimilation, Parsis kept their heads covered only in the house. Thereafter even in the house, head was covered only while eating or attending the call of nature. Nowadays most Parsis cover their heads only while praying, participating in a ritual or going to a fire temple.

5. Zoroastrian texts consider not keeping the head covered as a sin, which implies that Zoroastrian religion expects the head to be covered at all times. Religious texts do not explicitly state the reasons or significance to cover the head. The most convincing reasons given are that it is considered a sign of servitude to God, since in ancient times slaves were expected to cover their heads when near their masters. Covering the head is also believed to enable the undisturbed exchange of spiritual energies which take place at certain spiritual centres in the human body, especially at the area near the crown of the head. This happens all the time, but more so during prayers.

Why should the shetā of the topi be kept at the back? (JJ 27-12-15)

1. The shetā of a topi (prayer cap) is the diagonally stitched seam on the outside of the topi which is clearly visible when one wears the topi.

2. There is a tradition to keep this shetā at the back when the topi is worn. This may just be due to aesthetic reasons, so that the seam may not be visible at the front. In the past and even today, when a Paghdi (turban) is made, the end part of the cloth is tucked at the back.

3. Moreover the word shetā sounds very much like shetān “devil” and so the term became synonymous with something evil, needed to be kept at the back – a figurative allusion made literal.

4. There is no purely religious reason or compulsion to keep shetā at the back.

Why do Zoroastrians not eat meat (observe an-roja) in the month of Bahman?

1. Zoroastrians have a tradition of respecting Ameshāspands and Yazads on the day of the month (roj) dedicated to them. Bahman Ameshāspand who presides over cattle (referred to as Gospand “beneficent animals”) is respected by refraining from eating meat of beneficent animals, on the days and month dedicated to him and his hamkars (co-workers) that is on Mohor, Gosh and Ram roj.

2. Some Zoroastrians eat fish and eggs during Bahman month, as they consider these are not under the guardianship of Bahman Ameshāspand.

3. There is no specific injunction about not eating pork or beef in any Zoroastrian religious texts. Zoroastrians avoid eating pork as they have an aversion to it because of its dirty living and eating habits. The Zoroastrians revere cows and bulls, which have an important role to play in the religion. That is why beef is not eaten.

4. The spirit behind observing Bahman mahino is two-fold. Firstly it is a mark of respect to Bahman Ameshāspand. The second idea is to inculcate a spirit of self-restraint and self-discipline in oneself.

Is belief in astrology and astronomy, and observation of the phases of moon – Amas, Chand-Rāt, and Punam, part of Zoroastrian religious tradition?

1. Astronomy is the study of stars, planets and constellations. Astrology is the study of the effects of these heavenly bodies on human beings and their behaviour. Astronomy and astrology were considered as sciences in ancient Iran and studied and practiced under royal patronage in Sasanian times.

2. The movement and position of stars, planets and constellations have an effect on human beings, but it is not as much as it is generally believed to be. Moreover, humans have the power to soften, nullify and retard the adverse effects with their deeds and prayers. Similarly the good effects of the beneficial heavenly bodies can be amplified with one’s actions and prayers.

3. People should pay more attention to their efforts and not have excessive belief in astrology. One should just exercise more caution when adverse planets and stars are portended.

4. Amas (no moon day), Punam (full moon day) and Chand rat (new moon day) are related to the phases of the moon. Since the moon is the closest heavenly body to the earth, it does have effect on every living organism like plants, animals and humans, as well as on water.

5. Phases of moon also have an effect on the human mind and on other human aspects of physiology like the menstrual cycle of ladies. Since the moon is referred to as Bokhtar, that is, distributor of fortune, phases of moon also have effect on the fortunes of our life.

6. The moon is not known to have adverse effect on events. The day of Amas (no moon day) is generally considered to be inauspicious as this day has a completely dark night with no trace of light of the moon. On such a day black magicians are known to work very hard, especially in places like cemeteries, and experience great success in their work. Hence this day is avoided for the purpose of any auspicious events.

7. Zoroastrians are enjoined to pray to Mohor Yazad, also known as Mah Bokhtar Yazad, who presides over the moon, everyday or at least on the 3 important phases of the moon mentioned above.

Should Zoroastrians believe in the Rāshi? How to give name to a child based on Rāshi? How to find out the Rāshi of a child?

1. Zoroastrians have a tradition, reflected in Indian astrology, that the name of a child is given on the basis of the moon sign prevalent at the time of birth at the particular place. The moon sign is called the Rashi. This is done because of the belief that the sound that each letter creates is connected to a particular planet/constellation and when that sound is continuously pronounced, it has a good and beneficial effect on the individual.

2. Astrologically there are two signs at the time of birth – sun sign and moon sign. The sun sign remains same for about thirty days, whereas the moon sign changes after almost every 14-18 hours. The names of the signs are same but the durations are different. For example, from 21st March to 20th April the Sun sign will be Aries, but the moon sign Aries will come about 3 to 4 times during the month, at the lapse of about every 8 to 10 days.

3. Every moon sign is associated with 2 to 5 letters of the Gujarati alphabet. For example the moon sign Aries (Guj. Mesh), is associated with letters a, l and i.

4. Nowadays it is easy to get the Rashi for a particular day and time. One can get it daily in the Mumbai Samachar newspaper,22 get it from Janma-bhoomi Press Panchang or from websites like http://www.drikpanchang.com.

Why do Zoroastrians do not pray Rapithwin Geh from Āvān  mahino for five months?

1. In Zoroastrianism, a day is divided into 5 parts (gehs), especially for the purpose of prayers and rituals.

2. Havan Geh is the most preferred Geh for performance of most prayers and rituals.

3. In Northern hemisphere, where Zoroastrians stayed in the ancient past, the period from November to March, corresponding with the months from Āvān  to Aspandad in the Zoroastrian religious calendar, were winter months when days were shorter and sunrise was late. Hence the Havan geh time period was inadequate for performance of some rituals.

4. To enable longer rituals like Yajashne and Visperad to be performed, the time of the Rapithwan geh was added into the Havan, which came to be known as second Havan (biji Havan).

5. During the five months from Āvān  mahino to the 5th Gatha day, Havan geh is recited instead of Rapithwin geh in all prayers.

6. Lay people resume the reciting of Rapthwin geh from Hormazd roj of Farvardin month (Parsi New Year day). Priests who perform higher rituals resume the recitation of Rapithwin geh from Ardibahesht roj of the new year. On this day special Yajashne and Jashan are performed to invite Rapithwin Yazad. These rituals are performed on Ardibahesht roj, since Ardibahest Ameshāspand presides over Rapithwin geh.

7. It is also believed that during winter months, Ardibahesht Ameshāspand, who also presides over fire and warmth, goes inside the earth’s crust to give her warmth.

8. Having the Rapithwin consecrated (rapithwin ijvāni) or at least attending such a performance to welcome it, is regarded as one of the chief religious duties of a Zarthoshti.

Why should we not throw things in well ?

1. A well is an integral part of all fire temples, as all rituals, especially the higher ones, require water from a natural flowing source.

2. Zoroastrians venerate the water divinity Āvān  Ardvisur banu and feel that one of the ways to reach her is by giving offerings to water. This does not mean that one should throw offerings inside water.

3. Offerings like flowers, rice, coconut or dar ni pori have to be kept near the natural water-source like well, river or sea and then given to poor and needy or shared among friends.

4. It is not right to throw these offerings in water, as it pollutes and contaminates the water. At the most one can put a few grains of sugar in the water.

Why should we not pray at the well at night?

1. A well has natural flowing water which is presided over by Āvān  Ardvisura Anahita Yazad.

2. Āvān  Yazad works along with Khorshed Yazad who presides over the sun to charge the water with the rays of the sun.

3. Avestan texts like Āvān  Yasht advise that the water divinity Āvān  Yazad should be invoked only in the presence of the sun.

4. In the Āvān  Yasht it is stated that if Āvān  Yazad is invoked after sunset, evil creatures take away the benefit of the invocation prayers.

Why do Zoroastrians venerate and respect nature?

1. Respect and veneration of nature and all natural creations has been a part of all ancient religions including Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism sees each creation as a part of the supreme divine being and hence venerating and respecting creations is like venerating God Himself.

2. Respecting natural creations is not only a religious practice, it is part of Zoroastrian religious philosophy. Zoroastrian religion has divine beings presiding over all creations and hence there are special prayers to individually invoke and thank each natural creation. Among the creations, Zoroastrianism especially value luminescent and shining creations like the sun, stars, moon, fire, light and water as they hold and transmit God’s divine energy.

3. All the seven creations have a special divine being – Ameshāspand presiding over it. Venerating and taking care of the creations makes the Ameshāspand happy. In all rituals, all seven creations are represented.

4. All creations are for man’s use, but they should not be abused or misused. Even during rituals when priests have to use goat’s milk or date palm leaf, they seek permission of the goat and the date palm tree before taking the milk and leaf.

5. The basic Zoroastrian principle of veneration of natural creations ensures that environmental problems like global warming, ozone layer depletion, pollution of water and depletion of land covers do not arise. It is for this reason that Zoroastrian religion is regarded as the first and the most ecological and eco-friendly religion in the world.

6. It should be noted that Zoroastrians do not venerate natural creations as objects by themselves, but they respect the divinity presiding over them. They believe in the age old adage “From Nature to nature’s God.”

Why are women debarred during the menstrual period from attending fire temples, sacred places and religious ceremonies?

1. Menstruation is a very natural process among ladies after puberty which is integral to the divine process of conception and childbirth.

2. However, in almost all religions and cultures, a lady during the menstrual period is regarded as having physical, emotional and psychological limitations which creates an imbalance in the unseen etheric body.

3. This imbalance in the auric body (Av. Kehrpa) of a lady during menstruation is detrimental to spiritual or divine purposes as it interferes with the exchange of good energies (Av. khvarena). Hence religion and tradition advises against such ladies participating in religious rituals.

4. Since the auric body (Kehrpa) of menstruating ladies is imbalanced they are not able to receive the divine blessings that result from, as they are collected in the auric body, hence these divine blessings are wasted in a way. That is why their names are not taken in Tandarosti or in farmāyasne in other rituals like Afringān, Jashan and Machi.

5. In the past there were stringent rules and regulations to be observed by a Zoroastrian lady during menstruation, mainly based on the 16th chapter of the Vendidad.

6. In the very olden times, there was a separate out house where menstruating ladies had to stay. Thereafter there was a separate room at the back of all Zoroastrian houses where such ladies used to stay. They had to have a separate set of clothes, a separate bed, vessels etc. and had to live in total seclusion. They were not allowed to touch anybody or anything in the house and expected to stay away from ritual objects and places. Till about 5 to 6 decades back girls were not even allowed to go to schools and colleges during the menstrual periods, as then it would not be possible to follow these rules.  According to Indian traditions a lady during menstruation wears the Sadra, a separate kasti and can say the Yatha ahu vairyo and ashem vohu prayers only. The present generations do not follow these rules so stringently.

7. In the post-modern times the ritual seclusion during menstruation was erroneously viewed as ignorance about a scientific biological phenomena and the practice of seclusion was seen as a relic of an ignorant, superstitious people.

8. In present times, the seclusion has became minimal, partly on account of crammed living conditions in cities. However even today, almost every Zoroastrian woman observes rules during menstruation when it comes to doing prayers, participation in or preparation of rituals and entry into fire temples. In the present days and times one must make efforts to observe this practice as much as possible.

Why should Zoroastrians do lobān in the house? (16-9-2012)

1. The practice of taking around fire embers in a small afarganyu (fire-vase) around the house, especially at the time of dusk or dawn, while putting some loban (incense) on it, is called loban feravvu. It was a regular practice in many Parsi houses till recently.

2. The fire embers for loban can be temporarily created by burning pieces of coal on the gas-stove. Previously when fire was kept in the house for 24 hours, embers were taken from that.

3. The practice has a scientific as well as a spiritual purpose. Scientifically, taking around fragrant smoke in the house fumigates the house, reduces household insects, mosquitoes etc. Spiritually, a fragrant atmosphere is conducive to good energy and the presence of good divine beings in the house. It is an invitation to the Yazads, Ameshāspands and Fravashis to come to the house.

What are the compulsory practices of the religion?

1. To understand the above we have to understand the difference between tradition and religion.

2. Some of the practices that we consider religious are part of the tradition, which may be changed from time to time and place to place, and are not sacrosanct. Religion and religious practices connected with the core teachings of the religion are sacrosanct and should not be tempered with.

3. Practices like lobān karvānu, chok purvānu, garlanding people on birthdays, putting on garlands on frames, cooking sev and  dhan dār, taking ovarnā, doing āchhu michu, wearing new clothes, doing sagan ni tili, ses etc. are part of customs and traditions. Some of the above traditions like tili, ses, cooking of sweet things etc. are to mark auspicious events, some like ovarnā and āchhu michhu are to remove evil influences, and some like putting garland on frames are to show respect.

4. Zoroastrians keep away from certain auspicious practices when there is a death in the family. At such times sagan of putting chalk, hār etc. is not done as a mark of respect to the deceased. There is no specific timeframe for abstaining from such auspicious traditions. Some may not do it for ten days, some for a month and others for longer periods.

5. Practices like wearing the sadro kasti and topi, regularly doing the kasti prayers, doing the daily morning prayers (farajyāt bandagi), regularly going to the fire temple, doing the kasti before entering the fire temple, having the minimum rituals performed for the departed souls, ladies keeping away from rituals, prayers, ritual places and ritual related objects while in menstruations etc. are part of the religion. Some religious practices like taro-kasti, bāj and rules related to hair–cutting and nail paring are now not so regularly followed.

How to dispose religious items which are damaged or no more in use?

The disposal of items which have been used for religious purposes has often been a vexing issue. Here are some common sense, practical and proper solutions:

1. Broken kastis can be buried in the compound or garden. They could either be put whole or for speedy disposal may be cut into small pieces.

2. Torn Sadras can be used to dust furniture after removing the girebān which can be separately burnt.

3. Flowers and garlands used in Weddings, Navjotes etc, flowers from Muktad, and rinds from fruits of chashni can be disposed off in a pit in the garden. Rinds can also be fed to cattle if available and possible.

4. Old and torn pictures of prophet, asho farohar, departed ones etc should be burnt after removal from frames and their ashes strewn in the garden. Same holds good for old Khordeh Avestas and other prayer books.

5. One should not throw away any of the above items into water since they do not disintegrate there for a long time. They either keep rotting making the water impure or are washed out of the water after some time.

What is Naso or Nasu? (12 & 19-2-17)

1. The Parsi Gujarati word naso, derived from Avesta word nasu, means any dead, decomposing, putrefying matter emanating from a human being. After death, the entire human body begins to decompose, and in Zoroastrian religion it is considered the biggest naso which is to be properly and ritually disposed. It is further stated that a demon of putrefaction called the ‘Druj-e-nasu’ attacks naso. Men have to keep away from and safeguard themselves from naso as far as possible.

2. It should be noted that the term naso is applied only to dead, decomposing, putrefying matter emanating from humans, since humans are conscious beings who perform good deeds and fight against evil. The putrefaction that arises out of animals or plants cannot be considered naso.

3. The text of the Vendidad is chiefly about laws to deal with impurities arising out of Naso. It has elaborate injunctions to safeguard mankind from the harms arising out of the attack of nasu on the corpse.  The Patet Pashemani prayer mentions repentance for one who has come in contact with different types of naso.

4. In Zoroastrian post death rituals near the dead body, a kash, that is, “a furrow” is made around the corpse with iron nails along with chanting of prayers, so that the naso is fortified, contained and does not spread. Fire is to be kept burning, fragrance has to be kept over it and prayers are to be continuously chanted to limit the ill effects of the naso. 

5. In Zoroastrian tradition, the term naso is applied to a dead thing connected to a human being, when it is fresh or wet. In Gujarati it is known as ‘lilo naso.’ The term her naso is applied to dried naso, which is known in Gujarati as ‘suko naso.’  Only fresh naso is potent. After a few months of drying, the wet naso becomes dry and loses most of its power to putrefy. After a year, the naso, if exposed to sunlight, becomes completely dry and loses its power to putrefy.

6. The druj-e-nasuthat emanates from Nasu, has the tendency to attack the living. Since it always attacks at the centre, all actions dealing with naso arising out of a corpse have to be done in pairs with a ‘paiwand’, that is, connection between two persons, whether they are priests, lay men or corpse-bearers. If anybody comes in direct contact with a corpse after the Sachkar, he is said to be ‘riman’, that is, “impure”. Such a man can be made ritually pure by a nahan. Direct defilement from naso is called ‘hamrit’ and indirect defilement is called ‘patrit.’

7. The druj-e-nasu becomes more active when the corpse is moved. That is why mourners turn away their face when the corpse is lifted in the midst of the Geh-sarna prayer. For the same reason mourners are expected to fortify themselves with bāj prayers and walk in pairs when they follow the corpse during the Pāidast. 

8. Any part of human body, once it is severed from the living body, becomes naso. Hair and nail are considered alive as long as they are attached to the body, though they do not constitute living tissues. However, after they are cut, they too are considered naso. It is necessary to dispose cut hair and pared nails, properly, and not leave them scattered in the house. In Zoroastrian tradition it is mandatory to take a bath after cutting hair (which includes shaving) and paring nails. This practice is beneficial also from a hygienic view-point.

9. Dokhmenashini and Khurshed-nagirashni – the mode of disposal of death of Zoroastrians has been designed in such a way that the naso emanating from the corpse does the least harm to other humans and creations like fire, earth, water, animals and plants.

If Zoroastrians consider hair and nails as naso, then how is it that we wear a kasti made out of wool, which is sheep’s hair?

1. According to Zoroastrian religion, druj i nasu, the fiend of putrefaction,  attacks nail and hair severed from the body only of humans and not of animals, since druj-i-Nasu does not attack any animal, except a dog.

2, Hence animal hair does not amount to Naso (putrefied thing) and hence hair of animals can be used for religious or ritual purposes, like the Varasyaji’s hairs for higher rituals and sheep’s wool for Kasti.

3. Another case in point is the use of leather for footwear, especially for religious and ritual purposes, though leather is procured from a dead animal.

How is a Sapāt (leather moccasins generally used by priests) permitted as a foot wear when it made of dead animal skin, which is Naso? (13-10-2013)

1. The Parsi Gujarati term ‘naso’ comes from the Avestan word Nasu, which means “dead, decaying matter emanating from human beings.” The druj ī nasu “fiend of putrefaction” attacks all dead and decaying matter.

2. The term ‘naso’ is applied to dead or decaying matter emanating from human beings alone and not from animals. 

3.A Sapat made of leather, the skin of dead animal, it is not considered naso, as it is not from human beings. Among animals, only the dead body of a dog attracts the druj-i-nasu, and is hence considered ‘naso.’

4. Hair cut from a human being is dead matter and hence considered naso. However hair of animal is not considered naso. On the contrary such hair is used for religious rituals. For instance, the Kasti that Zoroastrians tie on the waist is made from hair (wool) of an animal (sheep) and the varas ni viti (ring) used in all inner rituals like the Yasna and Vendidad, has the hair of Varasyaji – the sacred albino bull – on it.

Why are special precautions taken to cut hair and pare nails? Why is it necessary to properly dispose them after cutting and take a bath afterwards?

1. Any part of the human body, once it is severed, becomes Naso that is dead matter which has powerful potentiality, physical as well as spiritual, for contagion and contamination.

2. Hair and nail are considered alive as long as they are attached to the body, though they do not constitute living tissues, once they are cut, the become naso.

3. There are special short prayers called bāj which could be recited before and after cutting hair and paring nails, which helps control the non-physical contagion emanating from them.

4. In the present times, these short prayers are rarely known and used. However, it is necessary to dispose cut hair and pared nails properly, or at least not leave them scattered in the house, to minimize the contagion emanating from it.

5. In mystic circles it is believed that cut hair and pared nails have an unseen connection with the body long after they are separated from it.

6. Taking a bath after cutting hair, shaving and paring nails, is not only necessary from a Zoroastrian religious view point, it also ensures hygiene and physical cleansing from Nasu.

Can hair and nail be cut at any time of the day or night? (TMY – JJ of 8-10-17)

1. Cut hair and nail is considered as Naso, that is dead and putrefying matter. Naso should not to be created in the absence of the sun, as at that time the forces of evil are very strong, and the light of the sun is not present to disinfect the physical ill effects of the naso.

2. Since cutting of hair and nail should be done in the presence of the sun during daylight hours, Zoroastrian tradition prohibits cutting of hair and nail after sunset.

3. Even a dead body is placed in the Dakhma only during the day, on account of the necessity of the presence of the sun, since the dead body is also a naso.

Why should Zoroastrians wear white clothes ? (27-1-13)

1. White colour is referred to as spaeta in Avesta. White is the symbol of the Mazdayasni Zarthosti religion.  Zoroastrian priests are always attired in white.

2. White colour is synonymous with purity, which is one of the understandings of the word Asha – the basic tenet of the Zarthushti religion.

3. Zoroastrians should preferably wear white clothes on festive as well as serious occasions.

4. From a spiritual viewpoint white clothes are conducive to attracting good energies.

5. Scientifically white colour reflects light and helps keep the body cool in warm and tropical climates.

6. There is a misconception that Zoroastrians do not wear black because Muslims and Christians predominantly wear black.  This is not so. Zoroastrians avoid wearing black only for the above cited reasons.

Why do we wear Asho Farohar as pendants or broaches and use it as stickers?

1. The word Asho Farohar is made of the words Asho “righteous” and Farohar (a later form of the word Fravashi) “a guardian spirit.”

2. The Fravashi is a spiritual constituent of human being. It is the pure, incorruptible essence of god, given to every human. Each person has his or her own personal Fravashi. Its main function is to individually help, guide and protect each human being.

3. The Fravashi is one of the most ancient emblems of the Zoroastrian religion and can be seen in 2500 years old rock reliefs in Iran.

4. Some Western scholars of the last century wrongly referred to the figure of Asho Farohar as Ahura Mazda.

5. When the Asho Farohar / Fravashi is worn on our body as an ornament or kept as a sticker it is a reminder of being divinely protected by our Guardian Angel.

Do Zoroastrians have a special greeting?

1. A Greeting is a traditional way of expressing good wishes to the people we meet. Greetings differ across all cultures in the world.

2. The general traditional Zoroastrian greeting since the past couple of centuries is Yazdān Panāh Bād  which means “May God Protect you”. It is acknowledged by a return greeting Der zi o shād bād which means “May you have a long and happy life.

3. The night time greeting before going to bed is Sarosh Yazad Panāh Bād which means “May Sarosh Yazad (the guardian Yazad of night) protect you.”

4. In Parsi Gujarati the general greeting is Saheb-ji which may be interpreted as “may you have a long life (ji) on account of God (Saheb)” or “I salute the God (Saheb) in you, may you have a long life (ji).”

5. In recent times some Zoroastrians greet each other with the phrase Khshnaothra ahurahe mazdāo which means “May we make Ahura Mazda happy.”

What is the importance of mirror in Zoroastrian religion? Is it true that it is inauspicious if a mirror breaks?

1. The importance of mirror is part of a later Iranian tradition.

2. Since mirror reflects the self, it is often equated to the soul and hence breaking of a mirror is considered ill omen as it is equated with the death of a person.

3. A mirror is also kept in some fire temples, to remind Zoroastrians of the precept of daenā that is introspection. This means that one has to look within the self for one’s shortcomings as well as to be conscious of the soul within at all times.

4. In the Iranian tradition, guest are welcomed by showing their faces in the mirror. A mirror is also used in the wedding of Iranian Zoroastrians.

Why are rules for purity an integral part of the Zoroastrian religion?

1. Rules of purity and impurity are an integral part of the Zoroastrian religion, and are reflected in almost every injunction, practice and institution of the religion like kasti ritual, prayers, rituals, menstruation, nahan, fire-temples, death and death rituals.

2. Some of the purity rules are: Washing hands and face, maintaining distance from certain things which can vitiated purity, fortifying oneself with prayers, cleaning oneself after coming in contact with naso, that is, ritual impurity.

3. Thus rules of purity and impurity are an integral part of the Zoroastrian religion as they reflect the basic religious teachings of good and evil on the physical level.

4. Rules of purity also prepare and protect us in the ongoing battle between the good forces of Ahura Mazda against the negative forces and emphasizes the need for man to be on the side of good on a practical day to day level.

Do Zoroastrians have any religious obligations? (18-8-13)

Two Zoroastrian texts have given some daily, monthly and annual obligations to its Zoroastrians followers. These are: 

1. Perform the six Gahanbars (seasonal festivals for thanksgiving of six creations) every year or at least participate in their performance.

2. Have the Rapithwin consecrated (on roj Ardibahesht mah Farwarden), or at least attend the performance of ceremonies to welcome it.

3. Perform regular worship of Sarosh Yazad.

4. Remember the Fravashis of the departed ones on the Farvardegan (Muktad) days.

5. Recite the Khorshed and Meher Nyāishnas thrice, or at least once a day.

6. Recite the Māh Bokhtar Nyāishna at least thrice a month – on amas (no moon day), punam (full moon day and chandrat (new moon day).

7. Have annual rituals performed in memory of souls of dear departed ones.

8. Wear the Sudreh and Kushti and regularly perform the Kushti ritual.

9. Performance of the above duties ensure three things for a Zoroastrian:

a. He/she is always in touch with divine beings and the divine world,

b. He/she has a grateful mindset towards divine beings and his dear departed ancestors, and

c. He/she lives in consonance with nature.

Why should Zoroastrians avoid mixing water with oil in the diva? (23-2-14)

1. The Divo is a traditional oil lamp, lighted in most Parsi houses and fire temples in a transparent glass. It is very beneficial to keep a diva burning for twenty four hours in the house.

2. There was a time when fire embers were kept in almost every Zoroastrian house. When it was not possible to have the embers, people started keeping a diva. Zoroastrians generally light a diva in a transparent glass so that the light of the Diva can spread throughout the room.

3. The Divo should be done fully with oil. Water should be avoided, since if water is used, when the oil gets over, the fire in the wick comes in contact with the water. According to Zoroastrianism water and fire should not be brought together except in extreme conditions like a fire breaking out. At such times the fire is supposed to have been taken over for evil purposes and used for destruction. Hence extinguishing it with water is justified.

Is there a limit to the number of divas that can be lit at home? Which would be the best place to light a diva in the house?

1. The Divo, a traditional oil lamp lighted in most Parsi houses, is to be kept burning for twenty four hours.

2. There was a time when fire embers were kept in every Zoroastrian house. When it was not possible to have the embers, people started having a diva. A divo maintains positive energy in the house and keeps away negative influences and powers.

3. The purpose to light a diva in a transparent glass is to enable maximum light of the Diva to spread to a greater distance.

4. There is no limit to having any number of divas in the house, but it is not necessary to have more than one divo. However, rather than having multiple divas, it is necessary to have one diva continuously burning. This can be achieved by lighting the wick of a new diva from the flame of an old diva or replacing the wick of the diva in the same glass and replenishing oil. 

5. The diva should be lit in a place in the house which is most ritually pure. This could either be a special room or corner kept in the house which is not frequented by outsiders, or in a corner in the kitchen.

Why should Zoroastrians refrain from having candles on birthday cakes? (2-3-14)

1. The practice of putting candles on birthday cakes is a Greek practice adopted by the Europeans in the 18th century. Surprisingly nobody exactly knows when the candles started being put on birthday cakes. The custom goes back to a religious practice of the early Greeks, later adopted by the Germans and Swiss.

2. The present practice in India of putting as many candles on the cake as the number of years, is a remnant of the British influence, as Indians did not have any such practice.

3. As per Zoroastrian tradition, candle is a form of fire. Blowing off a fire in any form is not acceptable religiously, as by doing that one blows saliva on the flame.

4. Some Zoroastrians have adopted the alternative of putting off the candle by hand. Though this is not as bad as blowing off the candle, it is better to avoid this too, as it is in contradiction to the Zoroastrian teaching of not needlessly igniting a fire only to put it off in a few minutes.

5. Instead, Zoroastrians may have a Divo lighted at the hands of the person celebrating the birthday, next to the birthday cake and keep it burning, symbolizing that the light of the Divo may brighten the life of the person.

Why should Zoroastrians not wish ‘Pateti Mubarak’ or ‘Happy Pateti’?

1. Pateti is the last day of the Zoroastrian calendar year, which is Gatha Vahishtoishti.

2. This day, is meant for seeking forgiveness for all mistakes, committed knowingly or unknowingly, during the year which would be ending on that day.

3. On this day, Zoroastrians are expected to recite the Patet Pashemani, the Pazand prayer of repentance from the Khordeh Avesta.

4. Since repenting is not something that one looks forward to, be happy about or celebrate, one should not wish “Happy Pateti” or “Pateti Mubarak”, which would effectively mean “Happy Repentance.”

5. On the Parsi New Year’s day, Zoroastrians should just wish each other Navroz Mubarak, which means “Happy New Year.”

Why should chāshni be given only to Parsis?

Why should flowers used in rituals not be thrown with other garbage?

1. When a ritual is performed over fruits, flowers, water, milk, malida etc. these items became sacred, as they are now imbued with ritual power on account of the prayers recited upon them.

2. These items are then referred to as chāshni, which means “things tasted by the divine.”  These things are then to be consumed only by those who themselves follow ritual guidelines.

3. Since practicing Zoroastrians are deemed to follow the ritual guidelines they can partake of the chāshni, but not non-Zoroastrians.

4. For the same reason, rinds of fruits and flowers as well as water used in the ritual are to be disposed in a garden and not in garbage, because of the sanctity inherent in them on account of the ritual performed over them.

Why do people touch the feet of elders (page parvenu)?

1. The term ‘page parvānu’ literally means touching the feet. However, every time it does not involve touching the feet, but just bowing down before something that is reverent and worthy of respect.

2. Hence, many a times, even though we are not touching the feet, we call it ‘page parvānu’, for instance when we bow down before the photo frame of a departed one.

3. Zoroastrians generally do ‘page parvānu’ to show respect, for instance, before the sacred fire, near photos of prophet Zarathushtra and departed ones, at the entrance and threshold (umbar) of fire temples, to a divo, to the earth, to parents, teachers and elders.

4. People also do ‘page parvānu’ to show gratitude, for instance when we do it to our food plate before and after eating food.

In Zoroastrian tradition is it acceptable to touch the feet of elders?

1. Touching the feet of elders is symbolic of showing them respect and reverence. It is not originally a part of Zoroastrian religious tradition.

2. Touching the feet, however, is very much a part of the Indian tradition, and a practice among other Indian communities, especially the Hindus.

3. Since this observance is not a religious ritual or practice and is just done to express respect and reverence to elders, there is no harm if this practice is adopted by Zoroastrians.

Why do Zoroastrians do ‘Ardibahesht ni picchi’ near a person who is not well?

1. Zoroastrians have different Ameshāspands and Yazds presiding over different aspects of life, health, mind and creations. Ardibahesht Ameshāspand, among other things, presides over holistic health.

2. In the past the priests and devout elders of the family used to pray the Ardibahesht Yasht to eliminate most basic illnesses like fever and aches.

3. Zoroastrians have a practice of reciting the Ardibahesht Yasht regularly, in general too, for ensuring good health, especially of a person who is not well.

4. Zoroastrian priests elders had traditionally added one more dimension to the healing prayer of Ardibahesht Yasht. A white handkerchief was held by the person praying the Ardibahesht Yasht in his right hand, which was gently swept across over the ailing person from head to toes and then shaken off near the ground. This practice was called picchi feravvi (Guj. “to move a feather around”). The practice may have got the name from the ancient practice of using feathers (Guj. Pichhā) for this purpose, instead of a handkerchief.

5. At times and places where it is not possible to recite the entire Ardibahesht Yasht one can do the Ardibahesht ni pichhi by thrice reciting the Ardibahesht Yasht ni Nirang.

Why is there a preference in Zoroastrianism for using the right hand, like for offering the sandal-wood and applying the Rakhiā (sacred ash). Why is the left hand not used?

1. In most religions and cultures there is a preference of the use of right hand over the left and hence the name of the right hand was “right” which means “proper.” The right hand was considered the more preferred hand as the word ‘right’ itself denotes correctness.

2. In Avesta language the right hand is referred to as dashina, a word which also means “south.” South is regarded as the side of God, and hence the ‘right’ side. In Persian language the right hand side is called dast-e-rāst, which means “the proper side.”

3. In images from the Achaemenian and Sasanian times, we see the right hand raised to indicate reverence to divine beings or bestow blessings. Even today right hand is used to show reverence and respect.

4. However, as far as the use of the hand is concerned, we do not see any particular preference for the use of one hand over the other. Both the hands are almost always mentioned simultaneously. 

5. In Zoroastrian priestly rituals certain acts have to be exclusively performed by a certain hand. But this does not mean that either of the hand is given preference or prominence over the other. In rituals, the left hand is always used for long drawn purposes, like the holding of the barsom, whereas for showing respect and veneration or giving offerings the right hand is used.

6. In rituals, the only time an offering is made with the left hand is when the priest pours libation into the well after the Yasna ritual.  The reason for this may be that while offering the libations, the priest recites certain prayers wherein he offers salutations to the divine beings with his right hand.

7. When a priest offers ‘Boi’ in the fire-temples, he holds connection with the fire vase with his left hand and with his right hand he rings the bell. The acts of offering wood and sandalwood to the fire as well as washing the fire-stand are performed by the right hand.

8. Thus we see that in Zoroastrian religion, the two hands have well-defined roles, without any particular preference to either side. However the right hand due to its superiority by virtue of it being ‘right’ did enjoy greater privilege and gradually became the more prominent of the two sides.

Why is it not advisable to have a permanent tattoo on the body?

1. Religious texts do not have any specific mention about permanent tattoo on the body, as this is a comparatively recent practice.

2. By inference from other religious prescriptions it can be surmised that tattoos are prohibited for Zoroastrians, because when a permanent tattoo is done, it kills the skin cells.

3. The dead skin cells harbour ‘Naso’ “putrefaction.” This is not only religiously unacceptable but is also a threat to the other living cells of the skin.

4. From a hygienic view point too, tattoos are not advisable. The place where a tattoo is done becomes a spot which is vulnerable to potential sources of infection.

5. The chemicals of the tattoo ink may also prove allergic, react with the body and prove harmful to the skin.

6. There have been several documented instances where a tattoo has become life-threatening.

7. Generally, by etching a tattoo on one’s body, a person wants to make a ‘statement’ about one’s convictions, leanings, likes and dislikes to the world at large. A firm internal resolve is a better alternative for such a purpose.

8. Moreover, many a times when circumstances in life change, the tattoo may become a source of great embarrassment and a psychological burden to the person.

Why and when should a Tasbih (rosary) used?

1. The tasbih is a garland made of prayer beads, generally used to mark the counts in a prayer. Tasbih is an ancient Iranian word which later became a part of the Arabic language. The English word ‘bead’ comes from the Old English word ‘bede’ which means prayer. Prayer beads or tasbih helps one to focus while counting numbers of recitations of short prayers.

2. Though Zoroastrians do not have a strong tradition of using prayer beads, a few Zoroastrians use them, especially for chanting Ahem vohu, Yatha ahu vairyo and 101 names of God. Prayer beads used by Zoroastrians generally have 101 beads in it. The beads may be made of sandalwood, plastic, rudraksh or other material. They are generally separated at every 33 beads by a bead of a different size.

3. Members of several religions like Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs use prayer beads to mark the repetitions of prayers, chants or devotions. Judaism is the only religion which is not known to use the prayer beads. Different traditions have different number of beads in their prayer strings, ranging from 333 to 108.

4. Hindus are known to have been the first to use the prayer beads. They have been using them since at least 2500 years.

5. The Christians call their prayer beads ‘rosary’ and use it to keep a count of the Hail Marys or Lord’s prayers. The Hindus call their prayer beads ‘japa mala’ and use it for nām smaran and chanting mantras.

6. The Muslims call their prayer beads ‘misbāh’ or ‘tasbih.’ They use it to pray the names of Allah or the ‘Tasbih of Fatima.’ In Islamic countries one generally sees people carrying prayer beads in their hands all the time.

What are the religious practices that a Zoroastrian needs to do in the month of Āvān?

1. In the Āvān month Zoroastrians should pay homage to Āvān Ardvisur Yazad through the waters, especially water from underground sources like well, rivers and springs, and also to waters of oceans, seas and lakes.

2. Zoroastrians can pray the Āvān  Ardvisur Nyash, Āvān  Yasht or at least the Namaskār of water. Āvān  roj in Āvān  month is the most important day for water in the year when prayers to Āvān  Ardvisur banu have to be offered.

3. In the Āvān month, some people unknowingly hurt Āvān  Yazad by their misguided devotion when they pollute the water by putting in it offerings like flowers, rice, sugar and dar-ni-pori which later decay and pollute the water.

4. Dar-ni-pori is a special sweet offering which is made to the waters and the fire. Nowadays it is done only to waters. After offering the dar-ni-pori to the waters, Zoroastrians should not drop it in the water, as it is not only wastage of precious foodstuff, but it also pollutes the water.

5. Zoroastrians can keep a very small morsel of the pori, if necessary, in the water. Otherwise it should be given in charity or one can consume it in the family. If the pori is not prayed upon and just offered to the waters, it could even be given to Non-Parsi poor people, instead of throwing it in the water.

6. Water is not only an invaluable source of life, it is also a source of health, agility and energy. It should be conserved, honoured, respected, but never polluted and wasted. This message should be deeply ingrained in all of humanity and it should be the pledge of every Zoroastrian in the month of Āvān  to look after the sacredness and purity of the wonderful creation of water.

Why is there a religious tradition to have auspicious events like Navjot and Navar done on death anniversary days of dear departed ones?

1. Living humans are always connected to their dear departed ones through pleasant remembrances of joyful memories. They can also be connected to them through prayers and rituals. The dear departed ones, on their part, help, guide and protect the living humans in their own ways.

2. The blessings, guidance and presence in spirit form, of dear ones, are especially required on auspicious events in our house. In order to perpetuate their memory, make them feel a part of the household and have their blessings for auspicious events, Zoroastrians have a tradition of having important religious rituals like Navjote, Navar and Maratab on the death anniversary days of dear departed ones.

3. Another way of including departed ones in the joyous events is to have rituals performed in their memory on the days of auspicious events.

4. Zoroastrians also have a tradition to remember dear departed ones during the wedding festivities, when a day prior to the marriage rituals are performed in their memory, in a way inviting them to the auspicious occasion.

Why do Zoroastrians say “ovāryu re” and take ‘ovarnā’?

1. The above mentioned two practices are Parsi traditions mainly observed by ladies. They are meant to express concern and protection for a loved one or the family, on auspicious days.

2. In the practice of ovarnā, certain food articles, especially rice grains are thrown over and around the person whose ovarnā is being taken. It symbolizes that any negative energies or bad luck that may be coming to that person may be taken away by the food articles, especially because they too are, in a way, ‘living organisms.’ Thus the person would be safe from the ill effects of the negative energy or bad luck.

3. A more elaborate ovarnā ritual is done especially during Navjote and marriage rituals, where more food articles like the coconut, betel leaf, eggs and water are used to take away the negative energies and ill fortune of the person that may potentially come to that person.

4. The words ‘ovāryu re’ seems to be an extension of the ‘ovarnā’, wherein only the words are sufficient to take away the negative energies and ill effects from the person. These words are uttered especially when somebody says something ill or harmful about the person knowingly or unknowingly.

What does the word Nirang mean?

1. In Parsi Zoroastrian tradition, the word Nirang is used in many different ways and has various meanings.

The word Nirang originally means “strength” or “power” and is used to refer to anything that imparts strength and power.

2. One of the uses of the word Nirang is to indicate specially constituted short powerful prayers. There are two such types of Nirangs. One are the independent small prayers for particular purposes and the other are short Pazand prayers recited thrice after certain Yashts.

4. The word Nirang is also used to indicate the consecrated urine of Varasyaji and other bulls which is imbued with the spiritual power during the Nirang-din ritual. This Nirang has special powers. A drop or two of it is sipped in the Nahan ritual.

5. The Nirang-din ritual is the most important Zoroastrian ritual. The word Nirang-din means “strength of the religion.” It is on account of the Nirang created in this ritual that many other Zoroastrian rituals can be performed, and Zoroastrian institutions like Agyaris and Atash Behrams can be sustained.

What is the difference between nirang and taro? Why do we drink Nirang at the time of Navjot?

1. Taro (also referred to as gaomaeza in Avesta) is fresh cow/bull’s urine which is used only for external application. It has to be used within seventy two hours after which it becomes contaminated and inappropriate for use.

2. Nirang is the urine of the sacred Varasyaji and other bulls, over which the lofty Nirang-din ritual is performed. It stays free from bacteria and other germs for years.

3. Drops of Nirang are used for internal consumption in rituals, especially the Nahan which is administered before navjotes and weddings and in Bareshnum ritual. During the Nahan, before sipping the Nirang we recite the line: In khuram in pāki-e tan, yaozdāthri-e ravānrā, which means “I drink this Nirang to cleanse my body and purify my soul.”

4. Taro is applied externally as it has an antiseptic effects on the body. It is also known to cleanse the astral body (Av. Kehrpa). Joseph Lister discovered the antiseptic property of carbolic acid, which is present in cow’s urine, in 1865.

5. The Nirang, was tested in a laboratory the 1970s, when it was proved that even after several years, bacteria had not set in it. In the general course, bacteria sets in cow/bull’s urine within 2 to 3 days.

What does the word bāj mean?

1. The original meaning of the word bāj is “word.” However in contemporary Parsi usage, the word bājhas several meanings and usages, as follows.

2.  Most often the word bāj is used to indicate the framing of a particular act by prayers, before and after, thus framing the action by holy spells.  There are such bāj for eating, drinking, sleeping, bathing and answering the call of nature. Once the initial portion of the bāj preceding the action has been recited, silence has to be maintained till the bāj is concluded by the recitation of the concluding portion. The initial portion of the bāj is referred to as ‘taking the bāj’ (G. bāj levi or bāj dharvi) and the concluding portion as ‘leaving the bāj’ (G. bāj chhodvi or bāj mukvi).  A few decades back, most Zoroastrians used to recite these bāj. Now this practice is almost forgotten except among some priests.

3. The word bāj is also used to indicate a particular mode of speech.  In modern Parsi usage, the term ‘praying in bāj’ refers to a particular suppressed or subdued tone of prayer. This is also referred to as ‘praying in mind.’ Such a tone is especially used to recite Pazand passage/s occurring between two Avestan texts.

4.  A Zoroastrian is not supposed to talk whilst reciting prayers or performing rituals. However, if he has to communicate in the above circumstances, he is supposed to speak ‘silently’ in a suppressed tone by pursing the lips together. Such a mode of conversation is also referred to as ‘speaking in bāj.’

5. The ritual of Bāj-dharnā itself is referred by the shortened name bāj.

6.  Occasions like the monthly and annual commemorations of departed ones are referred to as ‘the person’s bāj’, possibly because the Bāj-dharnā ritual is an important part of such ritual at such commemorations.

Can Zoroastrians celebrate festivals like Ganpati, Holi, Diwali, Kali chaudas and Christmas?

1. There are two aspects to any festival. One is the religious and the other is the social. Religious aspect involves performance of, or participation in rituals, practices and acts based on that religion like arti, going around the idol, going around the temple, doing tilak, taking prasad etc. Social aspects include festivities, food, enjoyment and giving of gifts.

2. It is acceptable to be a part of the social aspects of a festival of some other religion, as long as it does not interfere with one’s religious beliefs. For instance, in the Diwali festival, lighting diyas is a social aspect, and can be harmlessly participated. However, when it comes to lighting fire-crackers, though it may be regarded as a social aspect, it is not in consonance with Zoroastrian religious prescriptions of respecting fire, safety of life, preservation of health and non-pollution of nature. Loud crackers are harmful to the ears, dangerous firecrackers are harmful to life, and big fire-crackers are harmful to the environment. Hence lighting fire-crackers come in the grey area. However, doing Arti and participating in other aspects of Hindu ritual like taking the Prasad, is a religious issue and should be avoided.

3. On Dhan teras, some Parsis wash silver coins which is symbolic of respecting wealth, which is again a social aspect of the festivities.  As far as Kali chaudas is concerned, it is okay to maintain caution and not venture out at night, but participating in superstitious practices like breaking several eggs in the house must be avoided.

4. On Christmas, gift giving may be considered a social practice, but keeping Christmas trees or tableau of the manger in the house and attending the midnight mass to celebrate nativity is a religious part of the festival.

5. The world is full of many religions and Indians celebrate several festivals. To integrate with people and place where one stays is a very welcome habit but it must be ensured that one should not participate in any form of ritual for that purpose, and not do anything which is contrary to the spirit of one’s own religion. Sometimes there is a very thin line between religious and social aspects and one needs to tread with caution and properly exercise one’s discretion.

Can Zoroastrians burst fire crackers during the Diwali festival? (JJ of 21-1-18)

1. Diwali is an Indian festival of light, in which the followers of mainly the Hindu religion burst fire crackers as a manifestation of light.

2. From a Zoroastrian point of view, is regarded as sacred and life giving, and hence bursting crackers amounts to insulting the fire, since while lighting crackers, people manhandle, fling and throw fire.

3. Fire crackers carry along with them many harmful and negative effects which are extremely dangerous to humans, animals, economy and the environment.  Lighting fire crackers is now denounced by many because of its tremendous harmful effects.

3. Bursting crackers is also dangerous to human life and limb, not only to the people who light them but also to people get scarred by them, and to people who work in fire-cracker industries. Many people have been burnt by fire crackers, have lost their limbs and sight and have been scarred for life for, often for no fault of theirs.

4. Fire crackers severely scare birds and animals, especially household pets like dogs, who exhibit a strange and unnatural behaviour when fire crackers are being burst.

5. One of the biggest damage done by fire crackers is that it creates a lot of smoke, smog and pollution in the environment which lasts for several days. Pollution is one of the biggest killers in the world. It is deadlier than war, smoking or hunger. In 2015 alone, ninety lakh people died a premature death because of pollution.

6. Bursting fire crackers can even be seen as a waste money, since hundreds and thousands of rupees are spent for a few seconds of thrill. The same amount can be utilised for other constructive and more positive purposes.

What is the Zoroastrian view about Yoga?

1. On the World Yoga Day on 21st June, several Muslims and Christians debated whether Yoga was part of their religious tradition. Such a question has also been raised by Zoroastrians, as there are many Yoga enthusiasts and Yoga teachers among Zoroastrians too.

2. Some Muslim scholars say that their namāz gives some physical movements which are similar to Yoga. To me the act of tying and untying the Kasti also gives some physical exercises and benefits.

3. The Kasti ritual, has physical, mental as well as spiritual benefits. Though it may not have been designed for that purpose, the ritual acts in the Kasti provide physical benefits like stretching and adding flexibility and strength. We start the Kasti by reciting the Kem nā mazdā during which we may firmly join hands or stand with hands at the side.

4. Untying the Kasti by taking our hands back, while standing erect gives the shoulder and upper body some motion and movements.  Holding the Kasti in the hands while reciting the Ahura Mazda Khoday offers resistance to forearms and upper arms. Stretching hands while doing manashni and gavashni, bowing at the time of  kunashni, and taking the hands away from the body while doing taroidite angrahe mainyeush exercises the wrists, elbows, neck, shoulders and the upper back. Tying the knots at the front and the back, again exercises the shoulders and the upper body. Holding the kasti while saying jasa me avanghe mazda can be an exercise in strengthening the upper body. Bowing down  at the end of the Kasti is good for the vertebra, and also gives movement to the internal abdominal organs. Thus the ritual acts give some movement and exercise to the spine and the upper body.

5. Moreover, kasti also benefits breathing. The audible chanting of the prayers, at regular intervals, for three to four minutes, benefits the breathing process. If this is done with awareness and concentration it is a wonderful tool to calm and relax the mind.

6. The only religious component in Yoga, which may be objectionable from a Zoroastrian point of view, is the chanting of Mantras that some Yoga teachers suggest. Thought the Mantra Aum (Om) is considered a Universal chant, Zoroastrians may replace it with Ahun which is the similar Zoroastrian manthra of creation.

7. Much of Yoga deals with physical exercises of stretching, bending, aerobic and resistance, which benefits the body and the mind and may be adopted in one’s daily fitness regime without fear of breach of religion.

Is it necessary to touch pictures of prophet Zarathushtra, holy men and departed ones when we go near them to pay respect?

1. Zoroastrian religion enjoins remember our prophet, Saoshyants, great and pious men and ancestors. This is done by thinking of them and remembering their souls and Fravashis in a pleasant manner.

2. When a Zoroastrian goes near the photo frame of the prophet, holy men or departed ones, it is to remember their soul and Fravashi. The photograph is just an aid to the memory.

3. It is not necessary to touch these pictures. Even if one touches the photo frame, it is either out of respect or just to fulfil the human need to somehow physically communicate with that person.

4. However it is totally un-Zoroastrian to kiss the photo frames as that is against the Zoroastrian injunction. When we kiss we transfer our saliva on the photo frame, thus making it ajithu (ritually impure).

What are Khrafastars ? (26-2 & 5-3-17)

1. In Zoroastrian religion, the word khrafastar refers to all noxious creeping, crawling creatures that are harmful to all good creations, especially mankind. Zoroastrian cosmology revolves around two opposite forces– Spenta and Angra. This polarity exists in the Universe at all levels – molecular, physical, spiritual and moral. Hence all living creatures are divided into ahuric “beneficent” and daevic “maleficent” creations. Though animals mainly operate by instincts and not by conscious will, they are divided into two categories gospand “beneficent animals” and khrafastar “noxious creatures.” The former are useful to human beings and the latter have been taken over by Angra Mainyu.

2. Cattle and most domestic animals belong to the former category, that is gospand, whereas wild animals, reptiles and insects are khrafastar. Man is advised to protect the Gospands and exterminate the Khrafastars, if they are a threat to humans or other good creations. Though the Khrafastars may be helpful in a limited way, most of them pose mortal danger to mankind. Khrafastar. This aspect of Zoroastrianism is quite different and distinct from most other Indian religions. 

3. The main khrafastars among animals are the wolf and the entire class of wild carnivorous animals, which were regular predators of cattle and a natural enemy of cow-herds, the ant which carries away grain, and the lice that cause diseases and eat away clothes. Rats, cats, serpents, wasps, bees, worms and frogs are also included among the of khrafastars.

4. Vanant Yazad helps mankind to fight and be victorious over khrafastars. In the Vanant Yasht, the devotee praises the star Vanant for withstanding khrafastars. King Faridun is also invoked to destroy khrafastars as he was successful in destroying Zohak who may be regarded as a khrafastar among men. In the Gathas, the word khrafastar is used for evil men. On the day Aspandad of the month Aspandad in the Zoroastrian calendar, a special charm called Nirang i khrafastar zadan “Prayer for smiting noxious creatures” is written on paper after reciting certain prayers.

5. Such was the revulsion for khrafastars among ancient Zoroastrians that druj-i-nasu “the demon of putrefaction” was referred to as a khrafastar, and was depicted as a fly. This revulsion is amply documented by Persian, Greek, Western and Indian writers like Plutarch, Agathias, Herodotus and Tavernier. An 18th century Dastur of Kerman, in his last will, while enumerating the tasks that his son needed to do after his death, instructed his son to have khrafastars killed for the benefit of his soul.

6. In the battle between good and evil, man was expected to side with the good. One way of fighting evil was to drive away the khrafastars from near the residences and villages. This was considered a meritorious act, as it rid the world of evil. One of the punishments for a sinner in ancient Iran was to make him drive away khrafastars from the village and town. A ritual implement called khrafastar-ghna “a stick to smite khrafastars” was used for this purpose.

7. before concluding, I request all animal loving Zoroastrians to understand this Zoroastrian teaching in its proper light and in the context of the philosophy of the religion. They are requested not to get emotionally carried away by their love for all living things and look down upon this unique Zoroastrian teaching. This is one of the teachings that distinguishes Zoroastrianism from other religions and gives it a unique and distinctive character.

Why should silk not be used in rituals and for religious purposes? (Feb 2015)

1. Whenever a fabric is required for ritual purposes, natural fibres like cotton is used.

2. Any article which is to be used for religious or ritual purposes, may be from a Gospand, that is a benign animal, but never from a khrafastar.

3. Since silk is made from a worm, which is a khrafastar, it can not be used for ritual purposes.

What is a Ses? What is its significance? (JJ 13-3-16)

1. Ses is the name given to a round/ova; metallic tray of varied shapes and sizes, present at all times in a Parsi house, especially on auspicious occasions. The Ses for general occasions is a small one and the Ses for special occasions like Weddings and Navjote is a big one. The Ses is one of the most prominent requirement in a Zoroastrian house for auspicious occasions.

2. The Ses has a wonderful collection of auspicious items in it:

i. Paro:  It is a conical metallic utensil in which patasha and/or rock sugar (khadi sakar) is kept. It is reminiscent of the conical piece of sugar wrapped in Green paper in Iran, which is called ghand-e-sabz.

ii. Pigāni: It is a small metallic utensil with a lid in which Kanku (vermilion) is kept, which is used to put an auspicious red mark (Guj. tilā/tikā) on the forehead. The Parsis generally put a vertical mark on the forehead of a man and a round one on the forehead of the woman. The former signifies rays of the sun, and the later signifies the moon. Rice is placed on to the red mark to signify prosperity.

iii. Gulābāz: It is a metallic container of Rose water (Guj. Gulāb-jal), which is also used as a sprinkler. In Iran it was used to sprinkle rose water on guests while welcoming them, saying the words khush āmadid “welcome.”

iv. Miscellaneous items: Coconut, betel leaves (pān), betel nut (sopari), dried shell almonds (badām), dried dates (khārak), rice, curd and Fish. Nowadays fresh fish is not used but sweet meat in the shape of a fish or a metallic fish is used. Nowadays metallic replicas of most of the above perishable things are placed in the Ses instead of real ones.

3. At the time of Navjot and Marriage, a special Ses is prepared. The tray is a much bigger one, since a special set of clothes are kept in it, which differ for a boy and a girl. If the Navjotee is a boy, then shirt, pant, dagli, socks and shoes are kept. If the Navjote child is a girl then a Saree is kept in the Ses. This Saree will be most probably the first Sari that the girl would wear when she grows up.

What is the ‘Biji hāvan’ geh? (15-10-17)

1. During the first seven months of the Zoroastrian calendar year, that is from mah Farvardin to mah Meher, all the five Gehs are recited according to their appropriate timings. However, during the last five months of the year, that is from mah Āvān to mah Asfandad, and the five Gatha days, Rapithwin geh is not recited and instead of that Hāvan Geh is recited again. Thus Hāvan geh, which is recited instead of Rapithwin geh, is called the ‘Biji Hāvan’ or “the second Hāvan” geh.

2. This practice had commenced in Iran thousands of years ago when the religious calendar started around March. In this religious calendar, the last five months of the year were winter months when the days were short. 

3. On account of short days and late sunrise, it was difficult to perform rituals like the Yasna, which are specific to Hāvan geh. Hence the Rapithwin geh was considered as the ‘second Hāvan geh’ to facilitate the performance of rituals.

4. Another reason for not praying Rapithwin geh during this period was that Rapithwin Yazad, who is also the Yazad of warmth, was expected to stay in the core of the earth to give her warmth during the winter months, and hence was not to be invoked during these months.

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