Why is a dog given so much importance in Zoroastrian religion? (6-1-13)

1. Among animals, dog is given the greatest importance in Zoroastrian religion as it is the only animal which has the power to ward off evil.

2. This power is not conscious, but it comes naturally to a dog, especially since its eyesight has the intrinsic power to ward off evil.

3. Two chapters in the text of the Vendidad (13 and 15) are dedicated almost entirely to the description and care of dogs. Moreover there are references to the dog in several other chapters of the Vendidad.

4. A dog is used in the Sagdid ritual performed after death. A chathru chasham “four eyed” dog is preferred for this purpose. In actuality such a dog is not four eyed but has two spots over its eyes. If such a dog is not available any dog can be used for Sagdid.

5. A dog is also required in the Bareshnum ritual, wherein the candidate undergoing the Bareshnum has to tap the ear of the dog at a certain point in the ritual, so that the dog would caste its glance at the candidate, which would cleanse the candidate of unseen evil influences.

6. Scientifically a dog has a wider range of hearing and sight. It can hear higher decibels than humans and see the ultra-violet and infra-red ranges of light which humans can’t.  Hence it is able to see beings that are invisible and hear sounds that are inaudible to humans.

7. A dog’s uncanny abilities include detecting the onset of epileptic feats in humans which even sophisticated scientific devices are not able to predict.

8. Till recently, the kutrāno buk “the morsel for dog” was invariably kept in a separate plate in the Satum ritual and given later to the pet dog or a neighborhood dog.

9. By nature, the dog is faithful, sincere, watchful and intuitive, which makes it a preferred pet.

Why is a rooster considered important in Zoroastrianism? (19-5-13; 4-11-18)

1. In the Avesta, a rooster is referred to as paro-darsh, which means “he who foresees (the dawn)”. Its main function is to crow at dawn, which is believed to scare away Bushyãsta, the demon of sloth and laziness, who makes people drowsy and puts them to sleep.

2. When the rooster wakes up people by crowing, it seems to say “Wake up, Oh Man! Sleeping for long is not good for you.” Lazy people who do not appreciate the rooster waking them up, rebuke it by calling it Kahrkatās “a croaker”.

3. Being an opponent of evil forces, a rooster becomes a natural ally of the good forces. The rooster has a special alliance with Sarosh Yazad and is considered his most faithful follower.

4. It is believed that the rooster protects the world from the evil Zohak who is bound in the Demavand mountain and is waiting to unleash his evil terror on the world by trying to free himself. Tradition has it that throughout the night Zohak tries to free himself by licking at his chains making them thin, but as they are about to snap, dawn draws near, and the crowing of the rooster foils his attempts to escape and his chains resume their thickness. Actually the crowing of the rooster indicates the rising of the sun, and it is the good energy of the sun that neutralises the strength of evil accumulated during the night.

5. An oral tradition associated with the rooster in Parsi culture is that one should not eat a rooster, the reason being that it is a representative of Sarosh Yazad and an opponent of Bushyāst dev.

6. The rooster is highly regarded in the Pir-e-Banu Pars shrine at Yazd, Iran. When princess Banu Pars was fleeing the Arabs, night came on, and the exhausted princess went to sleep on the mountains. In the morning, the tired Banu Pars was unable to wake up. When the pursuing Arabs came very close to her, the rooster crowed and woke her up, and she was able to escape the clutches of the Arabs for the time being.

Why do Zoroastrians have a tradition of feeding animals like cow, dog, fish and rooster? (5-1-14)

1. In Zoroastrian religion, animals are divided in two groups – gospand (beneficial) and khrafastar (hostile). Zoroastrians are supposed to care of gospands like cows and goats, and protect themselves from khrafastars like insects and reptiles. Zoroastrians are even enjoined to exterminate the khrafastars if they are perceived to be harmful to the humans or the good animals.

2. The dog is a unique animal, as it alone has the innate and natural power to recognize and fight evil just by its presence and sight. Therefore, it also has a role to play in after–death rituals and there was a tradition of keeping some food specially for dog in the Satum ritual.

3. Cow and bull are the foremost gospands, the first created animal, and a symbol of Bahman Ameshāspand. Cow or bull’s urine is used as taro for primary cleansing of putrefaction. Drops of consecrated bull’s urine, referred to as Nirang, are sipped during the Nahan and Bareshnum rituals. Consecrated hair from the tail of a special consecrated bull, referred to as the Varasyaji, are used as an alat “ritual implement” for inner rituals.

4. The rooster is the symbol of Sarosh Yazad. The Vendidad states that the rooster wakes people up early in the morning so that they may become industrious. By crowing it seems to say “Wake up, Oh Man! Sleeping for long is not good for you.”

5. Taking care of these animals by feeding, protecting and looking after them is considered meritorious in Zoroastrian religion.

What is the status of a horse in Zoroastrian religion? (8, 15, 22 & 29-7-18)

1. According to Zoroastrianism, horse is one of the most helpful and beneficent gospands “beneficent animal”. Since early times Iranians tamed horses and kept them in stables. Herodotus, while talking about Iranian education in the Achaemenian times had said that “The Persian children were taught to speak the truth, ride a horse and shoot arrows from the age of five.”

2. There are at least five different words used for a horse in the Avesta. The most common among them is aspa. The other words are aurvant, vastāra, yukhta and hita. Each of the name gives an idea of the different usages of a horse in ancient times.

3. In the Avesta, the horse is shown to be an animal with amazing powers of strength, health, well-being and eyesight. The remarkable eyesight of the horse is described as being able to distinguish a hair and its type even in the darkest of the nights. Warriors, kings and devotees prayed to divine beings so that they may acquire the strength of a horse.

4. The use of chariot almost immediately followed the domestication of horse. In the Avesta the word for a warrior is rathaeshtār which literally means “one standing on a chariot”. The adjective aspāyaodha “fighting on horse-back” is exclusively used for Zarir, brother of King Vishtaspa. Even in those times, horses wore horse-shoes made of lead, sometimes decorated with gold.

5. The gift of horses was symbolic of the gift of wealth. When compared with the special metals gold and silver, a horse was compared to silver whereas a camel was compared to gold. Yazads used to bestow their devotees with gifts of horses. Ashishwangh Yazad gives a gift of a thousand horses. Meher Yazad gifts good horses to those who are faithful to him.

6. In the Avesta a horse is regarded as the vehicle of Avan, Sarosh and Khorshed Yazads. Avan Yazad and Sarosh Yazad ride a chariot of four swift white horses.

7. Tir Yazad assumes the form of a white horse having yellow ears and a golden caparison. In opposition, the demon of drought Apaosha assumes the form of black, ugly and loathsome horse to fight Tir Yazad. This is the only instance where a demon is shown assuming the form of a hideous horse, otherwise the horse is always associated with good divine beings and heroes.

8. The word for horse was also used allegorically to indicate the ‘senses’ which are originally untamed like the horses and need to be tamed in order to be of any use. There could be no better metaphor for senses than a horse. Though both are very essential, left to themselves both are wild and hence need to be restrained. Both have the ability of harming the person who uses them without proper knowledge but immensely helps those who use it cautiously and wisely.

9. A classic example of the word horse used metaphorically comes in Gatha Ushtavaiti where prophet Zarathushtra asks Ahura Mazda for ten pregnant mares, a stallion and a camel as a reward for his exertions. Dr.I.J.S.Taraporewala was one of the first to point out that there was more significance to the words horse and camel than literally understood. He cited the Kathopanishad (I.3.3-6) where the Soul is called the Lord of the Chariot, the Body is the Chariot and Senses are the Horses. He suggested a similar explanation for the referce in the Gatha – number ten indicating the ten senses – five senses of perception and five senses of action and the stallion indicating the Mind.

10. Among Zoroastrians, several names are associated with horses. In fact no other animal is used so much for proper names as a horse. Some of these names are: Drvāspa “having a healthy horse”, Tehmāspa “having a strong horse”, Jāmāspa “having steady flow of horses”, Kersāspa “having a lean horse”, Vishtāspa “having several horses”, Dejāmāspa, “having abundant flow of horses” Haechataspa “having a trained horse”, Frināspa “having a loving horse”, Pourushaspa “having many horses”, Aurvat-aspa “having a swift horse”, Hitāspa “having a restrained horse”, Habāspa “having a good horse”, Raevat-aspa “having an illustrious horse”, Yukhtāspa “having a skilled horse”, Fraothat-aspa “having a foaming horse”, Āsu-aspa “having a swift horse”, Hazanghra-aspa “having a thousand horses” and Renjat-aspa “having agile horses”.

11. In ancient Iran, apart from the use of horses for domestic and war purposes, they were also used for the sport of racing. Special swift horses were selected to  and made to run on race-courses. Chariot racing was an also a significant royal sport. In various Yashts, Kayanian king Kaekhushru prayed to different Yazads to help him finish and win long horse races.

12. Several stories connected with horses abound in the Zoroastrian religion. One is about infant Zarathushtra being saved from stampeding horses by a white stallion. The other is about prophet Zarathushtra healing the king’s favourite horse Aspe-sihā.

13. In the Shahnameh there are various incidents of the bravery and presence of mind of Rakhsh – the powerful chestnut coloured horse of the great paladin Rustom. He was a very faithful horse and saved his master from certain death several times. The stories about Rustom finding him and later their brave escapades together form a significant portion of the Shahnameh.

14. Another story is from the Shahnameh about king Kaekhushru being guided by a light near the ear (gush) of his horse (aspa) which helped him win a fortress and subsequently establish his claim over the throne.

15. The Shahnameh also tells us about Behzad, the favourite horse of king Kaekhushru, which came to him from his father Siyavakhsh. Folklore also tells us about Shabdiz, the favourite horse of Sasanian King Khushru Purviz.

What is the position of camel in Zoroastrian texts? (14-10-18)

1. Ancient Iran, being largely a desert, camel was the main mode of transport and hence was considered a very valuable animal. The camel was described as “having a high hump, abundant thinking power, swift runner and carrier of heavy loads.” Special shelters were built for housing camels.

2. The word for camel in Avesta is ushtra. It is most probably derived from Öus- “to tame.” Two other words are used in the Avesta to describe a camel, both of which refer to a camel’s hump.  They are stvi-kaofa, literally meaning “having a large mountain” and saeni-kaofa, literally meaning “having the peak of a mountain.”

3. As a domestic animal, the camel was regarded more valuable than a horse, a cow, an ox and a donkey. When compared with special metals gold and silver, a horse was compared to silver whereas a camel was compared to gold.

4. In the Avestan times, wealth of a person was often ascertained by the number of camels they possessed. Those who owned camels were considered wealthy and had great respect in society. Camels were desired as gifts and granted as a boon by Yazads.

5. Some proper names in the Avesta had the word ushtra in them. For example, Zarathushtra “possessing mature camels”, Frashaoshtra “possessing excellent camels”, Ratushtra “possessing the leader among camel” and Ranghushtra “possessing healthy camels.” Ushtra by itself was also used as a name. 6. The word ushtra is also used metaphorically in the Avesta to denote higher consciousness, since another derivation of the word ushtra is from Öush– “to burn, to shine.” In that context the meaning of the name of prophet Zarathushtra is “one having a brilliant and higher consciousness.”