- Denkard or Denkart is a ninth century voluminous encyclopaedic work on religious, philosophical, historical and other subjects in the Pahlavi language. The word Denkard literally means “Acts or Knowledge of the Religion”.
- Originally it was compiled in nine books, but the first two books and the initial portion of the third book have now been lost. Among other things, the book includes the life-story of prophet Zarathushtra, admonitions and teachingsand most importantly, a list of the contents of 19 of the 21 AvestaNasks, in the eighth book.
- The work of compiling the Denkard was started in the Sasanian dynasty by Aturfarnbag son of Farrokhzat and was completed by Aturpat i Emit in ninth century AC.
- The Denkard has extensive quotes from materials thousands of years older, including hitherto lost Avestan texts. It is the single most valuable source of information on the Zoroastrian religion after the Avesta.
- Dasturji Dr. Peshotan Byramjee Sanjana, started the work of editing and translating the Denkard in 1876, which was later continued by his son Darab. Presently the full work is compiled in 18 volumes.
- The word Bundahishna means “origin of creation.” This word denotes two things. The first is the name of a very important Pahlavi book which contains the story of creation. Te second is the Zoroastrian story of creation. A detailed account of the Zoroastrian story creation had come in a previous TMY under the question “What is the Zoroastrian story of creation?”. Today we will just talk about the book Bundahishna.
- The book Bundahishnais to the Zoroastrians, what the Biblical ‘Book of Genesis’ is to the Christians. It is the Zoroastrianaccount of the origin of the creations of the spiritual and material worlds, their nature, characteristics, and functions. The book also deals with ancient Iranian history, geography, traditions, astronomy, astrology, natural science and a number of other subjects. There are two versions of the text. The shorter version, which is generally known as ‘Indian Bundahishna’ and the longer version, which is generally known as ‘Iranian Bundahishna’.
- The Bundahishna has thirty four chapters. The main story of creation is contained in the first chapter, from which the book gets its name. The first chapter of this book allegorically states that the entire period of creation is for 12 hazāra or 12000 years, and this is further divided into four parts, each of 3000 years. The Hindu idea of Yuga is similar to the Zoroastrian idea of four fold division of created time. According to the Hindus there are 4 Yugas –Sat Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvāpar Yuga and Kali Yuga.
- The rest of the book of Bundahishna covers topics like creation of 12 Zodiac signs and 28 constellations,
the attack of the Evil Spirit on the seven creations, 7 planets, Mount Alburz, solstices, defense of the creations against the attack of the Evil Spirit, the different lands (seven Keshvars), mountains, seas, species and types of animals (including birds), men (the first human pair of Mashya & Mashyane), the five different types of physical and spiritual fires, the three spiritually created fires, main rivers, mountains and lakes.
4. The full translation of Bundahishna, done by Professor Eugene W. West, can be found in the fifth volume of the Sacred Books of the East, which may be available in most prestigious Oriental libraries.
(Er. Dr. Ramiyar P. Karanjia in conversation with Parsi Times)
The concept of rebirth and reincarnation is one of the beliefs of many religions. We have been born as Zoroastrians and Ervad Dr. Ramiyar Karanjia enlightens us about this concept with regard to the Mazdayasni Zarathushti religion.
P.T. : Sir, does the concept of rebirth exist in the Mazdayasni Zarathushti religion? Why do some Zoroastrians feel that a departed soul has returned to the family when there is a new birth in the family?
RK: The idea of re-birth or re-incarnation is an integral part of Hindu philosophy. It is the belief that after a person’s death, the soul of that person has to invariably come back to earth taking the body of another human being, order to fulfil its Karmic debts, especially to pay for it’s sins.
However re-incarnation is not a part of the mainstream Zoroastrian religious philosophy. Many Zoroastrians however do believe in this teaching and feel that a departed soul has returned to the family when there is a new birth in the family. The idea of rebirth helps to alleviate some harsh realities of life, like death, and hence is followed by many people. The teaching of re-birth is not only the easiest way to explain most misfortunes of life, it is also the most convenient way to respond to unanswerable existential questions about life, death and destiny.
Zoroastrian philosophy explains the misfortunes of life and questions about life and death in a different manner. In order to understand these answers one has to understand the accept Zoroastrian concept of good and evil and the nature of good and evil.
The phenomenon of re-birth or re-incarnation in a certain limited manner is a reality in nature but is not so simplistic that it could be characterized in yes and no. Re-birth may be a remote possibility after certain types of death, but not an inevitability after death in general. Within the phenomenon itself there are several possibilities, like transmigration and differences in gestation period between two lives.
The teaching of re-incarnation is not compatible with Zoroastrian religious philosophy and world view in general as it is not compatible with the following teachings of the religion:
- Remembrance of souls of departed ones since times immemorial, irrespective of the number of years after death.
- Linear nature of Zoroastrian cosmogony as against cyclical nature as in Hndu philosophy. According to Zoroastrian cosmogony there is only one beginning and end of the world.
- The idea of Heaven, hell and purgatory and gradual progress of the soul is not consistent with the idea of re-incarnation.
- Zoroastrian souls have to pass through two judgements after death. The first judgement is immediately after death after which the soul gets its place in heaven, hell or purgatory. The second judgement is to take place at the end of time. This idea of two judgements is also inconsistent with the idea of re-incarnation.
- The Zoroastrian apocalyptic teaching of Tan-e-pasen is also inconsistent with the idea of re-incarnation. Tan-e-pasen means that after the end of time the soul will get the spiritual constituents of the physical body, and will appear as the person looked in his youth. If a person has led several lives, this teaching would not have been there.
Moreover, none of the extant Zoroastrian texts mention anything about rebirth. In books like Ardaviraf Nameh and Hadokht Yasht, which deal exclusively with the state of soul after death, no mention whatsoever of re-incarnation is there. These books only talk of heaven, hell and purgatory.
There are some within Zoroastrian religion, like Ilm-e-Khshnoom, the mystic Zoroastrian school of thought which believe this teaching to be part of the Zoroastrian religious teachings. Dasturji Khurshedji Dabu, also subscribed to belief of re-incarnation, most probably because he was sympathetic towards the Theosophical system of philosophy.
The schools of thoughts which subscribe to the religious philosophy of re-incarnation quote two indirect evidences from Zoroastrian texts to support their contention. However mainstream Zoroastrian scholars have explained both these references in a different way.
P.T. : If our Scriptures do not mention the concept of rebirth then how is the concept of Karma described in our Scriptures vis-à-vis other religions.
RK: The doctrine of Karma (action and reaction) is a part of Zoroastrian religion, and is enshrined in the idea of the Law of Asha. We have the following teachings regarding the Law of Karma:
- Good unto good, evil unto evil
- Every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction
- The soul is responsible for all actions done during the life time.
However having the teaching of Karma (that is, good unto good and evil unto evil) does not mean that the soul has to take re-birth for the rewards or retributions of the actions done in life.
P.T. : Please explain the journey of the soul in the Zoroastrian religion.
RK: Zoroastrian religion explains many Stages of the soul’s journey. The first stage is before creation when the soul was a part of the pure light in Endless Time. The second stage is in the spiritual world where individual souls were created. The Zoroastrian word for soul is urvan or ravan which means “the chooser”. Here they were attacked by Ahriman, the evil spirit, and hence they decided to take birth in the material world to fight evil and overpower it once and for all.
The third stage of the soul is in this material world with a human body, as a soldier of Ahura Mazda to fight evil. It his world the friends of the soul are wisdom, good mind, conscience, intellect, Will and reasoning. Its enemies are lie, jealousy, anger, revenge, excessive need, envy, excess and deficiency. Every soul has an exclusive Fravashi (Asho Farohar) as it guide. Sarosh Yazad is the guardian of all souls. In the material world the soul has to depend on the mind for guidance as a human can reached the soul only through the mind. Most of the times, the Mind tries to rule the soul. Religions give spiritual disciplines like ethics, prayers, meditation, and practices (tarikats) to control the mind and reach the soul. Mind continually tries to create deception and makes the best efforts not to allow the soul to operate.
The fourth stage of the soul is when it separates from the body at the time of death. It stays near the body for three days and nights and then begins its journey to the other world on the dawn of the fourth day from when starts its fifth stage. In this stage the soul’s Judgement takes place and then it crosses the Chinwad Bridge, led by its Daena to its station in the spiritual world. Here the soul continues to progress very slowly. Its only expectations from the living people are that they remember it in a pleasant manner and do good deeds in its memory. At the end of this stage, the second Judgement of the soul takes place for souls who have not yet reached the highest heaven (Garothman). Then the soul stays in Garothman till the end of the world.
The last stage of every soul is when it will go back to the Timeless World from where it had first begun. This stage of existence is known as Frasho-kereti or Frashogard.
P.T. : Which religions do not support the theory of rebirth?
RK: None of the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam support re-incarnation. The philosophy of re-incarnation is supported only by Hinduism and other Indian religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. However most of these religions believe that the soul can be reborn either as an animal or a human being.
However, we ordinary humans need not be bogged down by this eternal existential question. To substantiate what I am saying, let me narrate a Buddhist parable before I end. Once, when a devotee asked Gautam Buddha whether rebirth was a possibility or not, the great prophet said, live well your life, then you need not bother whether you are coming back or not.
Today, for most Zarthoshtis, accepting or rejecting re-incarnation has become a matter of personal belief. But we need to be assured that whatever is to happen in nature will happen, and whatever that may happen, will be the reflection of our present life. Hence we should only concentrate on making our present life a good, ethical, helpful and enjoyable experience.
- In Zoroastrian religious tradition, the term hamkaar refers to divine beings (Ameshaspands and Yazads) who have similar or common functions and hence work with each other. The word hamkaar literally means “co-workers.”
- In the schema of the 30 roj of the month, the first seven roj are the Ameshaspands who are the chief of the other 23 roj. Each of the seven Ameshaspand has 3 to 4 Yazads as their hamkaars, who are similar to the Ameshaspands in the work they handle. The list of the hamkaars of the 7 Ameshaspands is given in all Khordeh Avestas.
- The hamkaars assist the Ameshaspands in looking after the seven creations. For instance Adar, Sarosh and Behram Yazads are the three hamkaars of Ardibahesht Ameshaspand. All the hamkaars, like their chief Ameshaspand, are connected to fire and divine energy.
- Some of our religious traditions are also connected to the concept of hamkaars. For instance, on Ardibahesht roj and his hamkaars, Zoroastrians are expected to go to the fire temple. That is why these days are marked in red in the Parsi calendar.
- Another example is of Bahman Ameshaspand who looks after cattle. His hamkaars are Mohor, Gosh and Ram Yazads. On all these days we abstain from eating meat and observe them as an-rojaa as a mark of respect to Bahman Ameshaspand.
- Ahura Mazda, our God, is described in our texts as shapeless, formless and infinite. He is referred to as Minoaan mino, that is, spirit among the spirits.
- In order to visualize Ahura Mazda we have to look for words which are most frequently used to describe him. These words are raevant/rayomand and khvarenanghant/khorehmand which mean “full of light” and “full of energy.” Thus we have to visualize Ahura Mazda as radiant, energetic, being who is present everywhere.
- In other words if we want to visualize Ahura Mazda, we have to visualise him as light and energy. The best embodiments of light and energy on the earth are the sun and the fire. All other radiant bodies like the moon are also in a smaller way embodiments of these two things.
- A Mazdayasni is a person who believes in Mazda as the God and practices the teachings of the Mazdayasni belief system.
- In earliest times, even before prophet Zarathushtra, the Peshdadian king Gayomard was the first to receive communication from Mazda and thus was the first Mazda-yasni that is “worshipper of Mazda.” He then led other people to understand, follow and practice this good path of life.
- Thereafter all kings of Peshdadain and Kayanian dynasty followed the Mazdayasni belief system. Some of them also added new beneficial practices. Such kings are known as Saoshyants.
- Prophet Zarathushtra was born a Mazdayasni. He later consolidated the Mazdayasni belief system into the Mazdayasni Zarthoshti religion.
- In the beginning of the Jasa me Avanghe Mazda prayer at the end of our Kasti, we say the words “Mazdayasno ahmi, Mazdayasno Zarathushtrish” which mean “I am a Mazdayasni, a Mazdayasni Zarthosti.” In this sentence we profess ourselves to be first Mazdayasnis and then Mazdayasni Zarthoshtis.
6. In the Fravarane prayer, we introduce ourselves as Mazdayasno Zarathushtrish “a Mazdayasni Zarthoshti” who is vidaevo and ahura-tkaesho, that is, who works against the daevas (negativities) and follows the good teachings of Ahura.
- Aspe-siha was the name of the favourite horse of King Vishtaspa, the patron king of prophet Zarathushtra. Literally the word aspe-siha means “a black horse”. The horse has become famous in Zoroastrian religious lore, since events in the life of prophet Zarathushtra are closely connected to this horse.
- It is stated that the four legs of this horse got embedded in its stomach and none in the kingdom was able to heal the horse from this condition. Finally prophet Zarathushtra, who was wrongly imprisoned by the king at that time, offered to heal the horse with the power of the prayers of Mazdayasni religion, thus proving his credential as a true prophet of Ahura Mazda. This incidence not only proved his innocence but also sealed his place as the true prophet of Ahura Mazda.
- This story is also allegorically explained in another way. Aspe-siha or black horse is considered symbolic of darkening of the mind of the king against the prophet and his religion by his detractors. The healing of the horse by the power of prayers is symbolic of clearing of the mind of the king from negative thoughts by the power of the Mazdayasni religion.
- Before answering this question, first let us understand the word ‘miracle.’ The word miracle means “an extraordinary event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency.” This means that when the existing natural laws that we know are not able to understand and explain a certain happening, then it is regarded as a miracle. Thus what is not understandable by natural laws becomes supernatural, that is, miraculous.
- Mankind is far away from knowing, understanding and deciphering all the laws of nature. We do not even properly understand our own body and its working. Miracles are happenings related either to the physical laws which are not yet discovered, or to laws which work beyond our dimension and scope of understanding.
- Zoroastrian religious tradition chronicles many happenings that can be termed miraculous. This includes several happenings related to the life of prophet Zarathushtra. Several miracles are recorded before Zarathushtra was even born, and also when he was an infant, a child, a youth and in later years. Part of the Seventh book of the Pahlavi Denkard is about the miracles of prophet Zarathushtra. The Pahlavi word for miracle is awd or abd.
- Recent Zoroastrian religious tradition has recorded many highly evolved people like Dasturji Kukadaru, Dasturji Meherjirana and Homaji who have done things which can be called a miracle.
- Religious aspects like prayers and rituals work at a level which is beyond the physical and hence cannot be quantifiable by known empirical laws. Their working and effects may be termed as miracles.
- However, one should not blindly accept every inexplicable happening as a miracle. Some people take recourse to sleight of hand, illusion and other forms of deception to show that they are working miracles. Such acts amount to fooling people and cheating the faith of people. They cannot be regarded as a miracle.
What is the Bareshnum?
Bareshnum is the highest Zoroastrian ritual for purification. It goes on for nine days and nights. It is often also referred to plainly, although erroneously as the Nahan.
The term Bareshnum means “top, head” since the purification in this ritual starts from the head. The word is derived from the Avesta word bareshna which means “high.” Till about a hundred years ago, the Bareshnum ceremony could be undergone by anyone, especially those who had come in contact with Nasā (dead matter). Presently it is undergone only by the priestly class.
The reference about the Bareshnum ritual comes in the ninth chapter of the Vendidad. The place where the Bareshnum is given is known as the Bareshnum-gāh. It is an open ground, about 50 feet long and 40 feet wide, covered with sand with stepping stones in the middle. Generally the Bareshnum-gāh is attached to a fire temple.
A priest who is himself a holder of the bareshnum is qualified to give a bareshnum to another person. The Bareshnum ritual starts in the morning after some elaborate prayers and rituals. From that day onwards the candidate has to maintain seclusion and observe other elaborate rules and regulations, like devoting maximum time to prayers, doing Farazyat prayers in all the gehs, eating specially prepared food only during the day after taking the baj, not having physical contact with other humans, not touching water, wood etc. For this reason, the Bareshnum, is often referred to as a spiritual retreat.
On the fourth, seventh and tenth day of the Bareshnum, a special bath called Navsho is given to the candidate in the morning in which a priest pours water. The Bareshnum ends on the morning of the 10th day.
The priest who has undergone and maintains a Bareshnum is said to be “the holder of the power (amal) of the Bareshnum.” In the past, only such a priest could perform higher rituals like Yasna and Vendidad. Even today the performers of Boi ceremony of Atash Behrams are required to be holders of the power of Bareshnum.
6. Presently the Bareshnum is required for priestly initiations of Navar and Maratab, and for priests who perform the Nirangdin ritual.
Mr. Jamshed Arjani asked questions on behalf of the Parsi Times to Er. Dr. Ramiyar Karanjia (Parsi Times, 16th October 2016, pages 4 and 5).
- PT : Tell us about the origin of ‘Gehs’.
RK: The word Gah or Geh is from the Pahlavi language. It means “time, period or place.”
Time is a very important concept in the Zoroastrian religion. The world was created as a fixed period of time from Endless Time. To be connected to God it is necessary to connect through time. Hence Zoroastrian religion divides time as follows: Endless Time (zaravaana akarana), specific time (thwaasha khadhaata), years (ayara), months (maah), gahambars, days (asnya/roj) and periods of days (Geh).
The division of a day into Gehs is very ancient. From the Gathas we come to know that in the time of prophet Zarathushtra there were originally at least 3 divisions of the day – Morning (Usha), mid-day (Arem-Pithwa) and night (Khshapa).This shows that divisions of the day existat least since the times of prophet Zarathushtra. We are told in the Hom Yasht that prophet Zarathushtra prayed to Hom Yazad in the Havan Geh (haavanim ratum).
- PT: Why are there 5 Gehs and why is it essential to perform the Boi ritual when each Geh changes? What is the necessity of Pre-Boi Baj ritual?
RK: The five Gehs were fixed keeping in mind certain fixed points in the 24 hours day – they are: sunrise, mid-day, sunset and mid-night. Boi ritual and Kasti ritual have to be periodically performed to feed the fire and the human body respectively, with spiritual energy, every few hours. The Boi also regulates the time of feeding the fire which requires fuel to keep burning.
It is necessary to perform Baj or Yasna ritual before giving Boi of the Atash Behram in order to prepare the Mobed saheb himself for the onerous task. However it is not necessary to perform it before each gah. One Baj/Yasna ritual performed can last for several Gehs.
- PT : What is the meaning of Gehs – Havan, Rapithwan, Uzerin, Aiwisruthrem and Ushahin Geh? Why are they in this order?
RK: The names of the five Gehs are originally from the Avesta language. Havan means “time of pounding Haoma”, Rapithwin means “half part of the day”, Uziran means “high part of the day”, Aiwsruthrem means “singing prayers” and Ushahin means “enhancing consciousness.” As can be noticed, the names are significant to one or the other aspect of that part of the day. The name of the Geh is not only the name of that part of the day but also the name of a Yazad who presides over that period. For instance, Haavani Yazad presides over the Haavan Geh.
Each Geh has three other particular Yazads associated with them. For example Meher Yazad, Saavanghi Yazad and Visya Yazad are associated with the Havan Geh. The text of each Geh invokes the four particular Yazads associated with the Geh as well as several other Yazads who are particularly and generally associated with the Geh.
From an esoteric point of view, the names of the five Gehs are also the names of the five stages of the progressive evolution of the soul, as follows: 1. Stage of tribulations and temptations, 2. Stage of equilibrium, 3. Stage of triumph over negative (self-realisation), 4. Stage of working and being in total harmony with the divine, 5. Stage of being divine.
- PT :What is the reason for the specified timings for observing each Geh?
RK: The time divisions are mainly to fulfil the following purposes: Facilitate prayers, perform rituals, regularly recharge our spiritual energies, regularly cleanse from unseen negativities and regularly be in touch with the divine world.
It is pertinent to note that each Geh has an average time span of 4 to 5 hours. Ushahin and Havan Gehs are longer to facilitate performance of rituals.
- PT: Based on the Gehs, what is the right time to perform different ceremonies and rituals like Navjotes, Jashans, marriages and funerals?
RK: Navjote has to be ideally performed only in the Havan Geh. However it is generally performed in any of the other two day-time Gehs – that is Rapithwan or Uziran. A Jashan can be performed in any of the 5 Gehs. However, Havan Geh is the best time to perform most rituals.
Yasna (Ijasni) is the only ritual which can be performed only in the Havan geh, except for theYasna performed once a year for consecrating Rapithwan Yazad (Guj. Rapithwan ijvani) on Ardibahesht roj of Farvardin Mah.
Nuptial ceremonies (lagan na ashirwad) are done during the Aiwisruthrem Geh on account of the promise given to King Jadav Rana that Zoroastrians will have their weddings performed after sunset. Technically a Zoroastrian wedding ritual could be performed in any other Geh preferably Havan.
Funerals (Geh-sarnu and Paydast) can be conducted in any of the three day time Gehs – Havan, Rapithwan or Uziran – because of the religious requirement that the dead body has to be placed in the Dokhma in the presence of the sun and sunlight.
Sarosh nu Patru is exclusively to invoke Sarosh Yazad. This ritual includes the recitation of Sarosh Yasht Vadi, which can be recited only in the Aiwisruthrem Geh.
- PT : Why is the Navar/Maratab ritual performed only in Havan Geh?
RK: Navar ritual is performed only in the Havan Geh because the Yasna ritual is performed in Navar ceremony and Yasna can only be performed inthe Havan Geh.
Maratab is never done in Havan Geh. It is done onlyin the Ushahin Geh, as the Vendidad s performed in the Maratab and the Vendidad can only be performed in the Ushahin Geh.
- PT :Which prayers are recited by the priest performing the Boi ritual in each Geh?
RK: In each Geh the Mobed saheb does the relevant Farazyat Bandagi and then enters the Kebla (sanctum). The regular Boi ritual then involves the recitation of the Atash Nyash for different number of times followed by the Doa Nam Setayashne.
- PT : Why are the Chahrum and the appropriate Baj rituals performed during a particular Geh?
RK: The set of special Baj ritualscalled the ‘Chahrom ni Baj’are performedin the Ushahin Geh just before Chahrum. At the time of Chahrom the passage of the soul and many other related activities related to the soul take place. These Baj are to invoke the Yazads (Meher, Rashne, Ashtad, Sarosh and Vayu) and Ardafravash (Asho Farohars) who look after the deceased’s soul’s passage to the other world andtheir care. They also preside over the judgement of the soul.
- PT: Is the belief true, as per the Denkard Nama, that if devotees pray the Hosh Bam prayer between 3.40 am and sunrise, all their righteous wishes are fulfilled because the Yazads, Ameshaspands and Fravashis descend on Earth during this period?
RK: This is a tradition. There is no such direct reference from the book Denkard (There is no book like Denkard Nama). The time of dawn (Bāmdād/ Hoshbam ) is the best time for prayer as it is conducive to a meditative, contemplative and reflective state of mind. Not only is it the calmest part of the day, it is also the time when benevolent, positive forces of nature are strongest. There is very little external disturbance and the currents of spiritual flow are undisturbed. Hence prayers done at this time of the day gives best results.
The Sikhs and Hindus call this time ‘Amrut Velaa’. It is the time when Rishis, Maharshis and Siddhas pray. The great poet Narsinh Mehta called this time ‘Brahma Muhurat’.
- PT: During which Gehs are higher rituals like Nirang Din and Vendidad performed?
RK: Vendidad is performed only in the Ushahin gah, when the negative and evil forces are at their zenith. Nirang-din is an 18 day ritual, the high point of which is the performance of the Vendidad ritual in the Ushahin Geh of the last day.