What is the contribution of King Cyrus the Great to Iranian history? (TMY, JJ of 13-10 to 3-11-19)

1. King Cyrus II or Cyrus – The Great, who ruled Iran from 559 to 529 B.C., was the founder of the Achaemenian Empire. He was born in 599 BC to Cambyses I, the king of Pars, and Mandane, the daughter of the last Median king Astyages. Pars was a small kingdom under the lordship of Median Emperor Astyages. The name Cyrus is the Greek form of the Iranian name “Kurush.” In the Old Persian language, Kurush means ‘Shepherd’ or ‘Sun’.

2. As a newborn infant, Cyrus was condemned to death by Astyages, but was saved by courtiers Mithradates and Herpagus. After Cyrus grew up, he took the throne in 559 B.C. after his father’s death. Then he defeated Astyages, put an end to the mighty Median empire, and founded a new dynasty in 547 B.C., which he named Achaemenian after his ancestor Achaemenish/ Hakhamanish.

3. Thereafter Cyrus conquered Babel, Akkad and Sumer. He also conquered the provinces of Hyrcania, Chorasmia, Parthia, Sogdiana, Drangiana, Aracosia, Sattagidia and Gandara, brought the Iranian countries under one rule and founded the First Parsi Empire. Cyrus built the capital city, at a place known as Pasargadae, which literally means “city of the Pars.”

4. Cyrus defeated king Croesus and took over Lydia in 546 B.C., and thereafter the Greek kingdoms of Asia Minor. Then Cyrus turned his attention towards Central Asia and the east, and brought the Bactrians and the Sakas under his rule. Thus the Parsi Empire of Cyrus stretched up to the Mediterranean Sea. Cyrus had the wise policy of allowing the conquered kings to rule their countries, and allow the conquered subjects to follow their religion.

5. Then Cyrus captured Babylon, which in itself is a very interesting story. The Babylonian king Nabuchadnezzar (604 – 562 B.C.) had conquered Jerusalem and destroyed it. He also demolished the famous Temple of Solomon, and kept nearly 70,000 Jews in captivity. When his successor Nabunaid came to power, Cyrus marched into Babylon, and in one single night of stunning military strategy, went into the fortress city with his army from under the riverbed of Euphrates, in almost a bloodless takeover of the enemies.

6. Cyrus then freed the Jews from their prisons in Babylon, allowed them to return to their country and also gave them wealth from Persian treasury to rebuild their Temple. For this act of magnanimity, he is honourably remembered in the Old Testament, as the ‘Messiah’, “the anointed one”, a unique reference to a foreign king in Jewish literature. He is favourably mentioned at 22 other places in the Old Testament including Isaiah 44.28 and 45.1, Ezra 1. 1-2, 6. 3-4 and 14-15.

7. He declared freedom for the conquered people of Babylonia on clay cylinders and distributed them all over the country. One such declaration on a clay cylinder, in the shape of a corn cob, is now famously known as “The Cyrus Cylinder.” It is regarded as the world’s first declaration of human rights and is preserved in the British Museum, with its replica at the United Nation, New York. In it Cyrus declares, “When I entered Babylon I did not allow anybody to terrorise any of the people…. I strove for peace in Babylon and in all the other cities. I ordered that all people were free to worship their God……that none of their houses or properties should be ruined……that none of the citizens should be put to death……that the temples of Babylon be rebuilt and opened………” A couple of years back, the original ‘Cyrus Cylinder’ was loaned from the British Museum and exhibited all over the world. It was also kept on display at the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai.

8. Cyrus lived a full and active life and was on the battle field whenever required. He was fatally wounded while engaged in one of his battles and he died at the age of 71 years in 529 B.C. His last resting place (astodān) is situated at Pasargadae. It is also known as Kabr-i-Madar-i-Suleiman, a name given by the Iranians to save the place from being pilferaged by the Arabs. It consists of seven tiers leading to a rectangular chamber where the final remains of the king were kept.  It is a splendid yet simple structure, in huge finely-dressed blocks of white limestone giving the appearance of marble. It comprises of a small edifice, 42 feet in breadth at the base and 40 feet in height. Each of the stones of the seven tiers was fixed by iron clasps, most of which are not seen at present. The seven tiers indicate the seven steps to heaven.

9. Near the doorway of the chamber of Cyrus’ astodān, there were 2 plates of cuneiform inscription, which read: “O man! Whoever thou art, and from wherever thou cometh, for I know that thou will come, I am Cyrus, son of Cambyses, founder of the Persian empire. Grudge me not this small piece of land on which lay my body, for I was the Lord and Master of the Empire.”

10. After Alexander attacked Persepolis, his soldiers under the leadership of General Aristobulus, plundered this astodān. When Alexander went there, he read the lines inscribed over there. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He removed his helmet, bowed down before Cyrus and ordered his soldiers to restore the place.

11. Near the astodān are the ruins of Cyrus’ four palaces, which include the Audience Hall and the Royal Residences. One of the doorways of the palace had a winged figure of Cyrus with a trilingual inscription on it, till the last century, but it has now disappeared. The inscription read, adam kurush khshāyathiya hakhāmanishiya “I am King Cyrus, the Achaemenian.”

12. Cyrus the great is immortalised in history as one of the most astute, noble, kind and tolerant king, not only of Iran but of the whole world. In October 1971, a massive celebration was organized by H.I.M Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Iran, to mark the 2500th Anniversary of the founding of Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great. Lavish feasts and programmes were held at Persepolis, Shiraz and Tehran, which were attended by state heads and representatives from many nations of the world.

Is it true that Zoroastrian priests have a very good memory? (TMY, JJ of 6-10-19)

Is it true that Zoroastrian priests have a very good memory? (6-10-19)

1. It has been traditionally believed that Zoroastrian priests, and especially children from Zoroastrian priestly families, have a good memory. This is generally true, though there are some exceptions to this general tradition.

2. The good memory of children from Zoroastrian priest’s family is partly on account of heredity and partly on account of constant memorisation of Avestan texts right since a very young age.

3. It is scientifically proven that memorisation is a mental exercise which greatly enhances the powers of the brain. It has been attested by Neuroscience that regular memorizing helps keep the brain active and agile. Recently, neuroscientist James Hartzell, studied 21 professionally qualified Sanskrit scholars who had memorised Sanskrit texts. He discovered that memorising Vedic mantras increased the size of brain regions associated with cognitive functions, including short and long-term memory. This finding corroborates with the Zoroastrian tradition that memorising and reciting sacred mantras enhances memory and mental powers.

4. Dr Hartzell’s recent study raises the question whether this kind of memorisation of ancient texts could be helpful in reducing the devastating illness of Alzheimer’s and other memory affecting diseases. Apparently, Ayurvedic doctors from India suggest that this may be possible. Future studies are expected to throw more light on this.

5. In modern times on the one hand we are flooded with information, and on the other hand the attention spans are shrinking. At such times, practices of memorisation have a potential to rectify the present day problems related to attention deficit disorders. Even introducing small amounts of memorisation and chanting into the daily routine are proven to have an amazing effect on the brains of people from all ages.

Is there a tradition in Zoroastrian religion to substitute prayers by the recitation of certain numbers of Yatha ahu vairyo and Ashem vohu? (TMY, JJ of 29-9-19)

1. There is a tradition in Zoroastrian religion to recite a particular number of Yatha ahu vairyo and Ashem vohu instead of certain prayers in exceptional circumstances. This option is has to be availed of only by those who are not able to read and write or when there is no way to read the prayers, for instance when one does not have the prayer book or if there is no light to read the prayers.

2. This option is for rare occasions and should not be utilised as a regular substitute for reciting prayers. The following are the numbers of Yatha ahu vairyo and Ashem vohu to be recited in place of certain prayers:

Khorshed Nyāsh – 103 Yatha ahu vairyo

Meher Nyash – 65 Yatha ahu vairyo

Māh Bakhtār Nyāsh – 65 Yatha ahu vairyo

Āvān Ardvisur Nyāsh – 65 Yatha ahu vairyo

Ātash Nyāsh – 65 Yatha ahu vairyo

Any of the 5 large Geh prayer– 65 Yatha ahu vairyo

Hormazd Yasht – 103 Yatha ahu vairyo and 12 Ashem vohu

Ardibahesht Yasht – 65 Yatha ahu vairyo

Sarosh Yasht Hadokht- 75 Yatha ahu vairyo

Sarosh Yasht Vadi- 103 Yatha ahu vairyo

Patet Pashemāni – 121 Yatha ahu vairyo and 12 Ashem vohu

Āfringan- 121 Yatha ahu vairyo and 12 Ashem vohu

C. Why does king Faridun have a special place in the Mazdayasni Zarthoshti religion? (TMY, JJ of 8, 15 & 22-9-19)

1. Faridun was born when the reign of the evil king Zohak was at its height. He was the son of a noble lady by the name Faranak. His father Abtin was a young and able bodied man who was always in fear of being caught by Zohak’s men to be killed, so that his brain may be fed to the snakes. One day Zohak’s guards carried Abtin away and killed him. When Faranak came to know of this, she was terrified. She took infant Faridun and went in hiding. In the jungle, she came across a farmer, to whom she entrusted the child. The farmer had a cow by the name Purmae, who nursed infant Faridun for three years.

2. Zohak found out about the cow nursing a child. He suspected the child to be Faridun and ordered his men to search.  Faranak, on a divine intuition, reached there, before Zohak’s men could reach the farmer’s house. She took the child and proceeded towards the Alburz mountains, where she entrusted the child to a saintly man.  When  Zohak’s men came to the farmer’s house, they were unable to find Faridun. Frustrated, they killed the farmer and the cow Purmae.

3. When Faridun was sixteen years old, his mother narrated to him the story of his childhood. Faridun was determined to put an end to the evil reign of Zohak. He decided to go and fight Zohak. His mother constrained him saying that time was not yet ready for him to go to fight Zohak. When the time was ripe, friends and allies would help him in his destined work.

4. A blacksmith, frustrated by the evil rule of Zohak, revolted against him. As he was about to attack Zohak, he was guided by Sarosh Yazad to seek Faridun from Mount Alburz and together fight against Zohak and bring an end to his reign. Faridun ordered a mace to be prepared for him, adorned with the head of a cow, in memory of Purmae. This mace is now known as the Guraz. Even today, priests use the Guraz at the time of Navar and it adorns the Kebla of many a fire temples.

5. Faridun then brought an end to Zohak’s evil rule. He bound him up with chains under Mount Demavand, as instructed by Sarosh Yazad. Even today people go to Mount Demavand, remember kig Faridun, offer their prayers to Sarosh Yazad and pray to strengthen the bonds of Zohak.

6. Faridun was divinely taught many powerful Nirangs to be used for his missions. He used it for many purposes, including to break the evil magical cordon set up by Zohak around his palace. Even today people pray Nirangs which are attributed to king Faridun, known as ‘Afshun-i-Shah-i-Faridun’ (afshun means short prayers) to seek his help and destroy evil and noxious creatures. In the Avesta, king Faridun is referred to as Thraetaona.

7. King Faridun also had the ability to metamorphose himself into another form or change somebody else into another form. Once he metamorphosed a boatman into a bird to teach him a lesson. At another time he metamorphosed himself into an Azdāh (a dragon like monster with the head of a snake breathing out fire) to test the valour of his three sons.

8. Faridun ascended the throne and celebrated a thanksgiving Jashan on roj Meher of mah Meher. This Jashan, known as the Jashan-e-Mehrangān, is celebrated even today as a festival to commemorate the end of Zohak’s rule and king Faridun’s ascension to throne. This festival epitomizes the ultimate victory of good over evil. Faridun became the fifth king of the Peshdadian dynasty.

9. King Faridun had three sons, Selam, Tur and Irach. He divided the kingdom among them, which gave rise to the countries of Iran, Turan and Rome. He retired after instituting his great grandson Minocheher on the throne of Iran. He passed away peacefully after that.

10. King Faridun is also known as Paridun in Iran. Many Parsi names today, like Parizad, Paricheher and Parinaz refer to King Faridun and show the importance in which he is held by people even today.

11. Thus king Faridun is immortalised among Zoroastrians in India and Iran and is remembered a lot as he is associated with the Guraz, Mount Demavand, fighting against noxious creatures, Nirangs (Afshun-i-Shah-i-Faridun), the Mehrangān festival, Mehrangān Jashan and several names connected with him.

B. When performing the Kasti ritual, why do we hold the Kasti while reciting the Jasa me avanghe Mazda? (TMY, JJ of 1-9-19)

1. The Kasti ritual is a very powerful tool that Parsi Zoroastrians have for an all-round physical, mental and spiritual well-being. It has five main prayers, each of which has a powerful message as well as significant tasks to perform. These tasks are protection, cleansing, drawing of energy and energising. The last of the five prayers is the Jasa me avanghe Mazda.

3. The Jasa me avanghe Mazda prayer is a pledge to follow the beautiful Mazdyasni Zarthoshti religion and have faith in it. The meaning of the prayer contains a brief description of the salient features of the religion.

4. The task that Jasa me avanghe Mazda prayer performs, is to re-energise the Kasti which is worn around the waist, and also re-charge the Khoreh (divine energy) of the person. This energy is drawn while reciting the two Yatha ahu vairyos while doing the Kasti.

5. While saying the Jasa me Avanghe Mazda prayer, the Kasti is held with the two hands, by keeping the thumb in the knots. This is done to energise the Kasti with the energy that the person has drawn and imbue the Kasti with that power. The Kasti is a religious implement f a Zoroastrian, which holds the energy of the prayers and acts as a powerful shield of protection against all negativities that the person may encounter, till the next Kasti is done.

A. What is the significance of pre-marriage and marriage customs, practices and rituals? (TMY, JJ from 23-6 to 25-8-19)

1. Though the marriage ceremony is a sacred and exalted religious ritual, the customs and festivities prior to the marriage ritual are socio-religious in nature, and are meant to increase the bonding and camaraderie among families. It is also meant to keep the guests involved when they are invited for the marriage. These customs are not as sacrosanct as religious rituals. These customs may be done a few days or months before the marriage. They are pre-dominantly done by ladies of the house.

2. There is a difference between the marriage ceremony performed by the Kadimis, Iranis and Shahenshahi Parsis sects. Here we will look at the Shahenshahi marriage. To understand the topic at hand, we will divided it into three parts: A. Pre-marriage customs, B. Customs 4 day prior to marriage; C. Marriage ritual proper.

A. Pre-marriage customs:

1. Rupyā paherāvānu / Nām pādvvānu “betrothal”: This is the first pre-wedding custom, which could be done days, months or even years before the wedding. Once the couple desirous of marriage informs their parents about their decision, the parents whet their decision from their view-point before giving their consent. This may also involve the matching of horoscopes. Once the parents agree to the match and allow the couple to move about together, the Rupya Pehrāvānu is performed to mark the official coming together of the two individuals and two families.

It is a simple exchange of monetary gifts (rupyā) among members of the family. It is done in the morning, first at the girl’s house and then at the boy’s house. In the past a silver coin was gifted to the bride and the groom in a brocaded bag. The home is decorated, as it is usually done for auspicious occasions with chalk designs and floral garlands. Generally the women of the house are involved in this ceremony. A girl’s name can be connected with the boy’s name in rituals after betrothal, even if marriage is not performed for some reason. The significance of this ceremony is that now the couple to be, are officially and formally allowed to move about together in public and private.

2. Adrāvvu “engagement: It is the exchange of clothes and gifts, which, in the past, also included furniture and utensils  between the two families. The ladies of the house go to each other’s house and exchange clothes. In a special Ses, called the dahi machli ni ses, curd, fish (fresh fish or sweet meat or chocolate in the shape of a fish), horoscope (tapko) and rock sugar (sākar) is kept. Both families prepare this ses. Then the two families meet at the girl’s house and the boy and girl exchange rings. The boy has dinner at the girl’s place.

This custom could be done much prior to tshe marriage or even during the four day marriage festivities. This is a more formal bonding between the two families as it also involves exchange of clothes and gifts

3. Divo Ādarni: The bride’s family takes gifts to the groom’s house. These gifts are referred to as rit in Gujarati.  It may be considered a sort of voluntary dowry. This ceremony too may be done any time before the marriage, but if not done before, they may be done during the four days festivities preceding marriage.

B. Celebrations four days prior to marriage:

1. First Day : Māndav-saro / māndav-muhrat: Māndav means “pandal, shamiana” which was generally erected in villages to accommodate guests for festivities. This ceremony is done in the houses of the bride-to-be as well as the groom-to-be. The family plants a fresh mango twig in the garden or in a flower-pot near the door, while saying 7 Yatha ahu vairyos and with the help of 4 married woman. Along with the twig, two to three gold and silver plated sequences (tilis) are also kept in the ground/pot. It is done in the morning, preferably by the māmā (maternal uncle) or any other male relative on the mother’s side, who wears a red turban. It may also be done by a priest.

This ceremony is symbolic of having a new “tree” in the family. The significance of this custom is to mark the beginning (saro) of making of māndav, that is, a pandal or shamiana, for receiving the guests for the wedding which is to take place after three days.

The Suprāni rit “the custom of Suprā” is also done on the first day, when 4 new suprās (a flat rectangular plate of mat open at one end for winnowing wheat etc.) are taken and four married women (G. sohāsan) symbolically use them with rice, wheat, adad gāthyā (turmeric pieces), sopāri (betel-nut), khārak. Sākar (rock sugar) and coconut piece in it. Then four ladies take adad gāthyā in a mortar and make powder of it, mix it with water and then apply it to the boy and the girl. This is referred to as pithi chorvi. It is done separately at the house of the bride and the groom for each of them.

The significance of this custom is to enhance the skin tone of the couple and make them look more presentable for the big event. Turmeric paste is widely used in India for this purpose.

2. Second Day: On this day the Varadh-pattar ni baj is done at the fire-temple in memory of departed ones, who are symbolically invited and whose blessings are sought for the auspicious event. The word varadh comes from the Gujarati word vruddhi “prosperity.” In the fire temple, Satum is recited on a special sweet-meat called Varadh, along with other eatables like sāryā. It is symbolic of inviting departed ones for the marriage festivities and seeking their blessings. Also a Baj for Ram Yazad is done to seek his blessings, as Ram Yazad presides over marriage union and joy.

In the evening the game of Ukardi is played, wherein the eatable offered in Varadh have to be playfully ‘stolen’ by the family and friends of the bride versus the groom. Generally only youngsters participate in this game. The opposite parties can throw water on the teams so as to discourage them from ‘stealing’ the eatables.

The significance of this custom is to increase the bonding and friendship between the guests, especially the youngsters, so that it may result in more matches resulting into more weddings.

3. Third Day : Khichdi ni rit/ khichdi no divas – This day is a sort of rest day in marriage festivities. Khichdi is prepared for meals as it is light and easy to digest. It is an easy day for rest before the main marriage ritual. Nothing significant is to be done on this day.

4. Fourth Day: In the morning the house is decorated with chalk patterns and floral decorations. The guests who have arrived, and sometimes some professional singers too, sing pleasant traditional songs about marriage, in-laws and how to win the hearts of people in the husband’s home.

Marriage ceremony generally takes place in the evening at the onset of the Aiwisruthrem geh, after sun-set. In olden times it was repeated before the following day sunrise. In present times, some people prefer to have the marriage ceremony in the morning and then again in the evening.

C. Marriage ritual proper

The marriage ceremony among the Shahenshahis can be divided into the following parts:

1) The Nahān “the sacred bath”: The Zoroastrian marriage ritual commences by giving a Nahan (purificatory bath) to the Zoroastrian bride and the groom. This is to cleanse the physical, astral and spiritual body of the bride and the groom and prepare them for the important ritual. If the groom is a priest he is not expected to take the Nahan.

2) Proceeding to the stage: After the Nahan, the bride and groom dress up in their finery. Both wear traditional dress. Groom in dagli and pagdi/fetā, with a shawl in hand (if he is a priest, he wears a jama and pichori) bride in white sari, head covered. Both have mark of kum kum (red vermillion) on their forehead and a garland round their neck.

The bride proceeds towards the place where the wedding is to take place and sits next to the stage. Nobody is supposed to touch her, till the marriage ritual proper commences. Then the groom, after taking the Nahān approaches the place where the main marriage ritual is to take place and sits next to it. The priest makes them fill up the marriage form. During this time the parents and elders of the bride and groom complete the formalities of exchanging shawls, watches, jewelry etc., if necessary.

The witnesses of the bride and the groom have to perform the Padyab kasti. Even the marrying couple have to perform the Padyab kasti once again, since the Nahan was given in the Uziran geh and the Ashirwad ritual is to be done in the Aiwisruthrem geh. The priests also perform the Padyab Kasti, recite the requisite prayers and go on the stage.

The groom is first brought on the stage. Before he ascends the stage, the mother of the bride or any other senior lady from the bride’s family does the ācchu michhu. The significance of this ritual is that it is supposed to ward off evil eye and negative energies. The groom sits on a chair on the stage facing the east. The witnesses hold a white piece of cloth (either a picchodi, that is, waistband of the priest, or a sari) before the groom for the ārā-antar.

Then, the father of the bride or a senior male member of the bride’s family leads her on to the stage. An elder lady from the groom’s family takes the ācchu michhu of the bride, takes her on the stage and makes her sit opposite the groom.

Before starting the marriage ceremony, the couple lights a divo or oil lamp together to signify their union. A Ses with new clothes is kept on the stage. Also kept along with it is the ‘ghia pia kasyo’ which is a small metallic cup with jaggery and ghee, and Akhyānu, that is rice and coconut, both of which are then given as a gift to the priest.

3) Ārāntar: Once the bride and the groom are on the stage, they are made to sit facing each other, separated by a white cloth. They are not allowed to see each other. Rice grains are given in their left hands, and the officiating priest makes them hold their right hands (as in a shake-hand) from below the ārā-antar cloth. Then the senior officiating priests commences the chori sārvāno ritual. In this, he takes a ball of cotton thread (G. sutar) seven times around them while praying Ba nāme yazade bakhsāyandeh bakshshāyazgar meherbān and then seven Yatha ahu vairyos. He passes around the cotton thread around the chairs of the bride and the groom in a clockwise direction. Ladies on the stage, who have their head covered, and their Sarees draped over their head, take the ball of thread in their hands and help in passing it around to the other priest who is standing at the other end.   Seven such rounds are taken with the cotton thread, when each priest recites seven Yathā ahu vairyos. In all 14 Yathā ahu vairyo are recited by the two priests. As soon as the recitation of the last Yathā ahu vairyo is over, the bride and the groom throw rice at each other which they were holding in their left hands. There is a popular belief that this is a game of love and whoever is able to throw the rice first wins the game of love.  Afterwards the white piece of ārā-antar cloth is removed. The bride and the groom pay homage to the fire which is kept nearby in a small fire-vase on one side of the stage. This concludes the chori sārvāno ritual.

The piece of ārā-antar cloth is symbolic of the separation between the bride and groom before the marriage. Afterwards, when the cloth is removed, it is symbolic of the union of the bride and groom.

4) Āshirwād: “blessings”: This is the main religious part of the marriage ritual. The prayers for Zoroastrian marriage ritual are referred to as Āshirwād as they mainly contain blessings, benedictions and advise for the marrying couple.  Now the marrying couple is made to sit next to each other with the groom on the right side of the bride. Whether the marriage ceremony is in the morning or evening, the marrying couple always sits facing the east and the priest always face the west. It is the prerogative of the groom’s family to select the priests to perform the wedding. The senior of the two priests stands facing the groom.

In the Āshirwād, the two officiating priests recite in unison Pazand prayers while showering a mixture of rice grains, coconut shreds, pomegranate seeds and rose petals on the couple. All these items are significant and they carry a meaning. Coconut is a symbol of utility and helpfulness to each other and society, rice is indicative of plenty and prosperity, pomegranate symbolizes fertility and abundance of children, and rose petals indicate fragrance of happiness in married life.

The Āshirwād ritual is divided into two parts.  In the first part, questions are asked by the senior priest to the parents, witnesses, bride and groom one after another, about their acceptance, readiness and willingness for the marriage, which they answer in the affirmative. This part is repeated thrice.

In the second part, both the priests recite a Pazand prayer of advice and blessings for the couple. In the later part, Airyaman Yazad, who presides over marriage, joy, peace, friendship and nobility (qualities necessary for a successful marriage) is invoked. Some priests also recite the benedictions in the Sanskrit language. This is followed by an Afrin and a special Tandarosti prayer. After the Āshirwād, the family members of the bride and groom present the Shawls, garlands and cash gifts to the priests. Then, the newly wedded couple go to a nearby fire-temple, and on their return, are greeted by the guests.

There is a custom where one of the sisters of the bride washes the feet of the groom and the groom gives a symbolic token of money to his wife’s sister. Sometimes, the shoe of the groom is hidden, and a small ransom is asked for to return the shoe, by the youngest sister of the bride. This is symbolic of the sister’s accepting their brother in law as an elder of the family, and the sister in law, with her prank establishes herself as a child who needs to be looked after and cared for.

The marriage and pre-marriage customs, ceremonies and rituals are full of meaning and significance and are meant to enhance the importance of the main Marriage ritual for the participants as well as for the guests. The above description is not a detailed description of the customs. Instructions regarding the socio-religious customs are available in details in books written for the purpose by authors like late Ms. Perin Naval Hormasji and late Ms.Banubai Cawasji Driver.

What is the contribution of king Jamshed towards Mazdayasni religion and progress of civilisation? (TMY, JJ of 9 & 16-6-19)

Jamshed, the fourth King of the Peshdadian dynasty, was the son of Vivanghan. He was a very devoted worshipper of Mazda. He was a Saoshyant who added many good practices to the Mazdayasni system. Though he was offered the position of prophet by Ahura Mazda, he had politely declined.

2. On account of his many beneficial changes, his subjects were always healthy and happy. It was a Golden Age in the history of Iran. As a result of abundant prosperity, the population increased manifold, and the king thrice increased the boundaries of his kingdom, towards the south.

3. It was king Jamshed, who first divided his subjects into four professional groups: Athornans “priests,” Ratheshtars “warriors,” Vastriyosh “farmers” and Hutaokhsh “artisans.” This helped to enhance the work quality and increase efficiency. A few Athornans were required to reside on mountains, devote their time to prayers and invoke the blessings of God to ward off evil from the kingdom.

4. King Jamshed developed a gadget, known as the Jām-e-Jamshed, by which, he was able to know the past and predict the future. The jām, which literally means a goblet, was probably an astronomical device to see the heavenly bodies.

5. He was inspired by Sarosh Yazad to introduce the practice of wearing the Sadra and tying the Kasti. This was to protect the wearer against evil influences. 

6. To further the civilisation and enhance the comfort of his subjects, he introduced many arts, skills and trades like brick-making, clay-plastering and house building. He also introduced the art of swimming, diving, pearl-fishing and boat-making.

7. Mining started on a larger scale in King Jamshed’s time. Metals were made from ores, from which several implements like the plough and the hoe, as well as swords, spears, helmets, armours and horse-shoes were made.  Mining of precious metals like gold and silver, and precious stones like diamonds, was also done.

8. King Jamshed taught his people to extract perfumes from musk, amber and flowers.  He also introduced the practice of fumigation by the use of frankincense, amber, myrrh and camphor.

9. The art of making cloth and sewing of clothes was developed in King Jamshed’s reign. Spinning, weaving, warping and woofing were introduced. Clothes from zari (golden and silvern threads) and silk were made. The crafting of musical instruments and composing of music also started during his reign.

10. He introduced medicinal plants and herbs to relieve diseases. The practice of medicine as a profession started.  Wine was discovered and used in moderate quantities as a medicine and a rejuvenating drink.

11. King Jamshed was guided through Sarosh Yazad about the arrival of a terrible snow-storm which would destroy the world. He was advised to take a few pairs of each species and create a Vara “an enclosure.” Accordingly, he established a settlement which came to be known as Var-e-Jam-Kard.  In this enclosure, he was coronated on the day on which the sun enters the house of Aries. A  Jashan was performed and there were celebrations. This day came to be known as Jamshedi Navroz.

What is the most important virtue in the Zoroastrian religion? (TMY, JJ of 26-5 & 2-6-19)

1. Every religion has three aspects to it – Ethics, Teachings and Practices. While the teachings and practices may differ from religion to religion, based on its world view, the ethics of all religions are more or less the same. However, the emphasis on the ethics differ, and each religion has its own dominant ethic / virtue.

2. Asha “truth” is the most important virtue in the Zoroastrian religion. This word is translated in many different ways, like “truth, righteousness, honesty, holiness, orderliness, piety and purity.” It is easy to understand the underlying similarity amongst all these different meanings, if one looks at the literal meaning of the word Asha, which is “to go on the right path.”

3. There is no one individual word in the English language which can properly translate and reflect the spirit of the word Asha. There are words similar to Asha in other traditions too, like Rita among the Hindus and Tao among the Confucians. Broadly speaking, all these 3 words, Asha, Rita and Tao mean the same “to go on the right path.”

4. Other important virtues like honesty, sincerity and integrity are based on the virtue of truth. All these virtues are not possible without being truthful. Druj, that is lies, is the opposite of Asha. Druj is also the name of the demon who presides over falsehood.

5. The concept of Asha is connected to the larger concept of Asha Vahishta. Whereas Asha is the individual Truth at a personal level, Asha Vahishta is the Universal Truth at the cosmic level. It is also a reminder of the fact that personal truth alone can alone lead one to the Universal Truth. Asha Vahishta also means “the primordial cosmic law”, which includes the “law of cause and effect.”

6. The word Asha is the most often used word in the Avesta language. It is the only word that comes in all the three short prayers of Yathā ahu vairyo, Ashem vohu and Yenghe hātām. The term Asha is applied as an adjective to Ahura Mazda, Zarathushtra and all divine beings. This shows that this word is above the general translations and points to a cosmic and divine understanding. The line “ashavanem ashahe ratum yazamaide” is often repeated in Zoroastrians prayers.

7. The word Ardibahesht is the later form of the Avestan words Asha Vahishta. The co-workers or allies of Asha Vahishta are Airyaman (noble mind), Saoka (illumination), and also Adar, Sarosh and Behram Yazads. At a physical level fire and fiery energies are the embodiments of Asha Vahishta.

8. Asha Vahishta, at another level also means “the best truth.” This does not refer to ordinary worldly truth, but to the “Divine Truth” of Ahura Mazda which is His Divine Plan, which all humans need to know understand and follow. By living out Asha “the truth of our life”, or in other words, “our Life’s Purpose,” we can reach Asha Vahishta “the Divine Truth” of Ahura Mazda and get Ushta that is “inner happiness.”

9. The Ashem Vohu prayer is entirely about Asha and Asha Vahishta. In it, we are told, that Asha “Truth” helps one reach Asha Vahishta “The Best Truth.” It further states that it is realised through vohu that is “a good and evolved Mind.” Finally it says that practising Asha brings about Ushta “inner happiness” in our life. riority47 \lsdl

Why is the entire Kem na Mazda recited before untying the Kasti during the Kasti ritual? (TMY, JJ of 12 &19-5-19)

1. Kem Na Mazda is a powerful prayer to invoke Ahura Mazda’s protection. It is a prayer which can be recited separately by itself.  It is next only to the Yatha Ahu vairyo in efficacy, for protection. Almost one-third of it is from the Gathas, and the rest is taken from the Vendidad.

2. In the Kem na Mazda prayer, different types of protections are mentioned. First is the protection with divine energy, then with divine wisdom and divine intelligence. Thereafter protection from ignorance through the help of a teacher, and finally protection from Nasu, that is physical contagion and impurities. Protection is sought through Armaiti (Aspandad Ameshaspand), that is, mother earth, who absorbs all the organic impurities, and changes them to goodness. Just by reciting the Kem na Mazda prayer, a person is assured of protection from unseen evils.

3. Kem na Mazda is recited right at the beginning of the Kasti ritual. Only after reciting it can one untie the Kasti. Zoroastrians have the Sadra and Kasti on the body 24 hours of the day, which protects them from seen and unseen evils. However, while performing the Kasti ritual, when one has to untie the Kasti and remove it from the waist for a few minutes. It is at that time that the prayer of Kem na Mazda gives protection, when one is without the Kasti.

4. In present times, it is very beneficial to recite the Kem na Mazda before going to sleep and before going for bath, swimming, or whenever one has to be without the Sadra Kasti.

5. Kem Na Mazda is incorporated in larger prayers like the Sarosh Baj and Hoshbam. It is recited in the Baj taken before bath, the Bāj of Paydast, as well as in Bareshnum, Sackar, Geh-sarna and Vendidad rituals.

Since it is a potent protection against the deadliest Nasu, emanating from the corpse, even the Khandhias and Nase-salars recite it while handling the corpse and placing it in the Dakhma.

6. While reciting the words ‘Vohu Sarosho jantu Mananghā’ in the Kem na Mazda, the person is calling Sarosh Yazad and Bahman Ameshaspand for help.

7. The last line of this prayer, ‘Nemaschā yā Ārmaitish izāchā’ is from the Spentomad Gatha. It means “Homage unto Armaiti, who is giver of prosperity.” Here, by invoking Armaiti, that is Spandarmad Ameshaspand, we are thanking mother earth for her tolerance and beneficence on account of which we are able to live happily on this earth. That is why we bow down and pay homage to the earth while saying this line. Some people recite this line thrice, but it is not necessary to do so.

Are there any specific prayers linked to various needs, like seeking help in sickness, or remembrance of the departed ones? (TMY, JJ of 28-4 & 5-5-19)

1. The primary aim of prayer in any religion is to elevate the mind and awaken the soul. These purposes than automatically give rise to other beneficial effects like peace, health and happiness.

2. Zoroastrian prayers are also a great source of health and healing. In the Ardibahesht Yasht, where five types of healings are mentioned, healing by prayers is listed as the highest type of healing, since it heals from within. Apart from health and healing, prayers are helpful for other aspects of life too, for instance there are prayers for success, courage and confidence.

3. The following are some main prayers for specific purposes: Khorshed and Meher Nyash for intellect and spiritual energy, Māh Bakhtār Nyash for peace of mind, psychological problems, depression, lunacy, at the time of surgery and for recovery after surgery, Atash Nyash for seeking help from the sacred fire, Hormazd Yasht for positive energy and well-being, Haptan Yasht for any general planetary problems and afflictions, Ardibahesht Yasht for general health, well-being, immunity and recovery from fever and other general illnesses, Khordad Yasht for employment, job and career, Avan Ardvisur Nyash and Avan Yasht for issues related to conception, child birth, menstruation and urinary tract problems, Tir Yasht for eye strength and eye related problems, Gosh Yahst for protection and general well-being of children,  Meher Yasht for those who seek justice,  Behram Yasht for confidence, success and victory, Rām Yasht and Ā airyema ishyo prayer for seeking suitable marriage partner, Ashishwangh Yasht for wealth and prosperity, Hom Yasht for making medicines more potent, wound healing and overcoming poisoning, Vanant Yasht for countering black magic and other evil powers and spells, Hoshbam, Sarosh Yasht Hadokht and Din Yasht for spiritual development.

4. If one finds the Yashts too long and difficult to pray, the Yazads can be invoked individually by reciting a name 101 times, like Yā Behram Yazad. Alternately just the Avesta khshnuman (invocation) of the Yazad or the Setayash of the Yazad could also be recited.

5. For health and other issues, there is also a tradition of praying a particular name from the 101 names of God, a certain number of times, to seek help for specific purposes.

6. The above are not personal suggestions or recommendations, but are the time honoured traditions and practices of the religion.  Most of these have been recorded in old Khordeh Avestas, manuscripts and books, and some are transmitted orally. lsd