- 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.
- The Nahan ritual is the second level of Zoroastrian purification. The term Nahan comes from the Sanskrit word Snān which means “bath.” It is given at particular times, like before Navjot, Wedding, to the widow of a deceased before the Uthamna and 40 days after child birth.
- The Nahan is given by a priest, who in the past was expected to be the holder of the power (amal) of a Bareshnum.
- The nahan starts with the performance of Kasti, after which the priest makes the person recite the Baj for food. After this a few pomegranate leaves are given for chewing and any residue if at all is to be spit out. Then a few drops of the Nirang are thrice sipped while mentally reciting the line In khurram in pāki-e-tan, yaozdathri-e-ravān rā which means “I drink this for cleansing my body and purifying my soul.”
- Then the person is made to recite the Baj for bathing. A spoonful of taro is given which the person is asked to apply on the body and allowed to dry. After that a regular bath is taken, after which the person puts on clean clothes, places the Kasti over the shoulders and comes to the priest. The priest makes the person complete the Baj prayers. The ritual ends with the performance of Kasti and recitation of the Patet Pashemani prayer.
What and where is the Chinwad Pul (bridge)?
- The Chinwad Pul (Bridge) or “the Bridge of Separation” is an allegorical bridge. It actually indicates the connecting space which links the material world to the spiritual world. It is supposed to start on the earth from the summit of the Alburz mountains located at the centre point of the world, from which souls cross over to the other world on the fourth day after death, to begin their afterlife journey.
- The Chinwad bridge is described as a beam which is broad on one side, and sharp narrow on the other. The souls of the righteous cross the bridge without difficulty from the broad, side, but for the souls of the wicked, the beam rolls over to its sharp side and from there they plunge to hell below.
- The Judgement of the soul takes place before the Chinwad bridge. Thereafter the soul’s collective actions (Kerdār or Daenā) appears before it in the form of a young woman. She comes in the form of a beautiful woman and escorts the souls of the righteous across the bridge to heaven. However for the souls of the evil ones, it comes in the form of a wicked hag and drags the unwilling soul down into the dark hell.
4. On the other side of the bridge, the righteous souls first encounter Bahman Ameshaspand, who rises from his golden throne and addresses it. After this the soul proceeds to its station in heaven.