What do the ritual gestures in the Jashan ceremony convey? (TMY, JJ of 1,8 & 15-12-19)

1. The word Jashan is derived from the Avestan word Yasna which means a “ritual for veneration”. It is a ritual in which Ahura Mazda, Souls of the departed, Fravashis, Sarosh Yazad and other divine beings are invoked and venerated by the recitation of certain prayers accompanied by ritual gestures. All the seven creations – man, animals, plants, water, metal, earth, and fire – are represented in it.

2. Generally, Jashans are performed as thanksgiving for happy and auspicious occasions like birthdays and house-warming. They are also performed to commemorate important historical events, like Jashans of Navroz, Mehrgān, Tirgān and Sadeh, and also death anniversaries.

3. While a Jashan is in progress, certain ritual acts are performed along with the recitation of prayers, which convey important religious teachings. They are, in a way, a dramatic enactment of these key religious principles. These are:

a. Paevand “ritual connection”: This ritual act takes place several times in the Jashan. It is first done at the beginning of the Jashan. While reciting the Ātash Nyash, the Rāthwi/ Rāspi (assistant priest) touches the Afarganyu (fire censor) with a chamach (ladle) in his left hand and with the other hand, holds the hand of the Joti “chief priest.” If there are more priests in the Jashan, the Joti holds the hand of other priest/s and a chain of connection is formed. This ritual act symbolises that the Rāthwi is drawing energy from the fire and sharing it with the other priests. The fire gets its energy from the divine world.

This ritual act of Paevand is repeated by the Rāthwi several times during the Jashan, but in these later times, he does not hold the hands of other priests.

b. Flower ritual: Several times during the Jashan, the Joti arranges eight flowers in two rows of four flowers each, in the khumchā (metallic tray). The two flowers nearest to him are vertical, the others are horizontal. After some time, he lifts up two vertical flowers, and gives one of them to the Rāthwi. Afterwards he picks up, in a particular order, the rest of the six flowers arranged horizontally and gives them to the Rāthwi to hold. After some time the Rāthwi returns these flowers to the Joti, who then keeps it back in the khumchā. However, he does not mix them with the unused flowers, and every time he repeats this ritual gesture, he uses fresh flowers.

The arrangement of the flowers is to convey the religious injunctions about the material and spiritual worlds, as well as of the 7 Ameshaspands and the creations and virtues associated with them. The two vertical flowers represent Ahura Mazda and Zarathushtra, that is the spiritual world and the material world. The rest of the six flowers represent the other six Ameshaspands and symbolise the virtues they embody. The ritual enactment indicates Ahura Mazda giving the knowledge of the religion, including that of the Ameshaspands to Zarathushtra, and Zarathushtra then sharing that knowledge with the world. The final handing over of the flowers by the Rāthwi to the Joti, representing Ahura Mazda, indicates that the benefit accrued by practising the religious teachings is finally received by the person’s soul in the spiritual world.

c. Drawing of Karsha “furrow/fortification”: In this ritual act, a Karsha, that is, a symbolic fortification is created around the ritual space by touching the Chipyā (tong) or Chamach (ladle) to the four sides and four corners of one of the metallic vessels used in the Jashan, either a khumcha or a karasya (small water urn). This ritual act is like drawing of furrows, that is, lines of fortification, to protect the ritual area from surrounding impurity, and keep it pure. This ritual gesture also emphasises the omni-presence of Ahura Mazda, and His immanent presence in all four sides and four corners of the world.

d. Hamāzor “uniting in strength”: Hamāzor is a special hand-shake done between the participating priests in order to exchange spiritual energy. The literal meaning of the word Hamāzor is “uniting in strength”. It is done several times during the Jashan. The priests draw their spiritual energies through prayers and by being in paewand (connection) with the fire. They then periodically exchange this spiritual energy to strengthen each other.

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