9. QA about RITUALS

Why is it necessary to participate in rituals?

1. One benefits from the presence of divine beings, invoked at the time of performance of rituals.

2. One benefits from sharing the divine energy drawn by priests during the rituals

3. One benefits by sitting next to like minded people who are praying (Sat-sang)

4. Important religious principles can be understood by following the ritual gestures performed by the priests during the ritual. For instance, the ritual of lower exchanged conveys the connection between the material and spiritual worlds and the ethics essential for this connection.

5. Sitting and listening to the prayers, after doing one’s Kasti, at the time of performance of the ritual, soothes the mind.

Why should we not smell flowers and fruits before offering them in rituals?

1. In our rituals and ceremonies we present offerings to divine beings, departed souls and Fravashis.

These spiritual beings do not have a physical body and hence they do not physically partake the offerings.

2. Depending on whether the offerings are of cooked food, fruits or flowers, the spiritual beings enjoy the aroma, smell and fragrance of the offerings.

3. This is even true for the sandalwood that we offer to the sacred fire, the Atash Padshah Saheb. He too enjoys the sweet fragrance of the sandalwood, and the sandalwood also serves as food for the fire.

4. It is not right to first partake of something which we have decided to offer as a gift. Hence we should not smell the offerings that we want to make to the divine beings.

What is the difference between a Jashan and a Faresta?

1. Jashan and Fareshta are two outer rituals which are similar in many ways. Both are pre-dominantly thanksgiving rituals. However there are some differences too, as follows:

i. In Jashan only 3 or 4 yazads are individually invoked, in Fareshta all the 33 Yazads connected to the Zoroastrian calendar are invoked.

ii. For performing a Jashan 1,2,4 or more Mobeds are required on the mat. Fareshta requires 4 Mobeds on the mat.

iii. The performance of Baj ceremony is not essential along with the Jashan. However, The performance of individual Baj for each of the 33 Yazads has to be performed in Fire temple along with the Faresta. In these Baj, 33 boiled eggs and 33 bananas are used apart from the darans.

iv. Jashan is comparatively a shorter ritual, the Faresta is much longer owing to the more prayers to be recited.

v. A Jashan may be performed for the living as well as to commemorate the departed. The Faresta is predominantly done for the living.

Why do people have Jashans performed in the month of Dae?

1. The Jashan ritual is performed for purposes like invocation, commemoration and thanksgiving.

2. Dae is the month dedicated to Dadar Ahura Mazda, whom we need to thank for the blessings in our life. This is generally done by the performance of a Jashan in the house.

3. Four days in the month of Dae are considered Parabhs of this month – Hormazd, Dae-pa-Adar, Dae-pa-Meher and Dae-pa-din. These are considered more auspicious days for Jashans. However all days in the month of Dae are appropriate for performing a thanksgiving Jashan in hour of Ahura Mazda.

Why are Fala ni Machi and Fala nu Jashan (Contributory Machi and Jashan) beneficial? (1-12- 2013)

1. Fālā is a Gujarati word which means sharing, an essential component of Zoroastrian religion. Sharing evokes a feeling of unity, cohesiveness and camaraderie in a Community and hence it is encouraged in many activities.

2. Fālā nu jashan and Fālā ni Māchi were common in the past. Groups of people would contribute money towards the performance of a Jashan or offering a Machi. Such a practice could bring unity and harmony in the community. This practice does not mean that an individual, and institution or a Trust is unable to bear the costs of the ritual. It is just and exercise to encourage sharing.

3. The concept of sharing in Zoroastrian religion can also be seen in the Gahambar celebrations, which are festivities where the community is expected to come together.

4. The Muktad celebrated in the house is also meant to bring the family together. The word “Behru’ used for the Muktad vase, originally comes from the Persian words ham behreh which mean “sharing.” During these days the whole family pooled their resources and services to make these days special for the whole family and thus succeed in getting the blessings of the Asho Farohars who visit during Muktad.

Why is Malido necessary for a Jashan?

1. In Zoroastrian rituals, all the seven creations are represented. In a Jashan, the priest represents human beings, utensils represent metals, fruits represent the plant kingdom, the earth is where the priests sit, water and fire are also present.

3. The animal kingdom is generally represented by Malido in a Jashan, as it is made from ghee (clarified butter) which is made from milk.

4. It is not compulsory to have Malido in a Jashan. The animal kingdom can be represented by Rava (semolina), a sweet dish prepared from milk or by just having a glass of plain milk.

Why are flowers exchanged during the Jashan ritual?

1. All rituals have ritual gestures which have some meaning and convey some message.

2. The flower exchange ritual in the Jashan conveys the following: The two vertical flowers represent Ahura Mazda the lord of the spiritual world and Zarathushtra the spiritual lord of the material world. The six vertical flowers three each facing one another indicate the other six Ameshaspands and their virtues.

3. The sitting priest (chief priest) representing Ahura Mazda picks up one of the vertical flowers, keeps it with himself and gives the other flower to the assisting priest who is symbolizing the spiritual lord of the material world.

4. Then the chief priest picks up the three flowers of the right column in a descending order while reciting the words humatanām, hukhtanām and hvarshtanām and hands them over to the assisting priest. This is to dramatically enact the religious teaching that when a soul descends to this earth it has to practice good thoughts, words and deeds.

5. Next  the chief priest picks up the three flowers of the left column in an ascending order while reciting the words humatanām, hukhtanām and hvarshtanām and hands them over to the assisting priest, indicating the teaching that when a soul goes back to the spiritual world, only its good thoughts, words and deeds will go back with him.

6. After some time the assisting priest gives back all 7 flowers to the chief priest indicating that all the teachings will help him lead a worthy life enabling him to happily return back to the spiritual world.

7. This flower ritual is repeated thrice in a normal Jashan.

Is it okay to put loban after Khushalinu Jashan ?

1. Since about less than two decades, a practice seems to have started in our community, wherein family members are advised not to put loban on the Afarganyu after the Khushali Jashan, especially when the Jashan is performed in the house. Instead they are advised to do ovarnā with rice. Such a practice has no religious basis.

2. It has been a longstanding practice in many Parsi houses till recently of daily doing loban in the house, that is, taking around fire embers in a small afarganyu (fire-vase) around the house, at dusk or dawn, while putting some loban (incense) on it.

3. The religious purpose of putting incense on fire is to have a fragrant atmosphere in the house, which is conducive to good energies and the presence of beneficent divine beings – Ameshaspands, Yazads, asho ravāns and asho farohars in the house.

4. While putting loban after the Jashan ritual one is fulfilling a similar function, of inviting the divine beings into the house so that they may partake the offerings from the ritual and then bless the house.

The priests themselves too put loban on the fire during the khushali nu Jashan.

5. The erroneous practice mentioned above seems to have developed because among the Parsis, the term loban mukvu has become synonymous with rituals for the dead, and hence it has assumed an inauspicious connotation. On the other hand, ovarnā are done only on auspicious occasions has an auspicious overtone.

6. There is no religious restriction on putting loban on the fire after the Jashan ritual.

Why is a pomegranate necessary in most Zoroastrian rituals?

1. Pomegranate is an evergreen tree and its fruit is extensively used for religious and ritual purposes in Iran as well as India.

2. It is referred to as hadhanaepat in the Avesta and is mentioned in the Vendidad as well as other texts. 

3. Since the pomegranate is an evergreen tree, it is a symbol of immortality and hence of the soul. Therefore, it is mandatory to have any part of the tree of pomegranate, preferably the fruit, in our rituals, which are generally done for the souls and the Fravashis – either of the living ones or the departed ones.

4. Tender leaves of pomegranate are chewed during the Nahan ritual. Twigs of the tree are pounded along with twigs of Haoma in the Yasna, Visperad and Videvdad rituals. In the Jashan, Afringan and Farokhshi rituals, along with seasonal fruits, one invariably keeps a slice of pomegranate fruit.

Why are the names of departed and living persons mention in some of our prayers? (17 & 24-2-13)

1. Almost all Zoroastrian rituals can be performed for the living as well as dead.

2. In rituals, the souls of the living and departed ones are mentioned by name. The word nāmcheshti means “individually.”

3. The living person’s soul is referred to as Zindeh ravān and the departed person’s soul is referred to as anusheh (immortal)  ravān.

4. In this context the names are mentioned with their religious title (behdin, khud, osta, osti, ervad, mobed or dastur) as the prefix and the name of the father / husband as the suffix.

5. Another place where the name of a living person is mentioned with the religious title is the Farmāyasne, which is to indicate the person/s who has taken the responsibility or is bearing the cost of the ritual. In the past only the name of the head of the family was mentioned in Farmāyasne, but nowadays the names of almost the entire family is mentioned, which is not necessary.

6. The other place where names of living persons are recited is in the Doa Tandarosti prayer. Here too the name of the living person is mentioned with the religious title.

7. According to Zoroastrian customs and traditions the name of ladies in menstruation is not mentioned in prayers and rituals. When one is in doubt or is unaware, the mention of the name has to be avoided. The reason for this is that such ladies are not in a ritually pure state and are thus not able to absorb the divine energy and blessings which are asked for in the prayers and rituals.

8. Names of non-Zoroastrians are not mentioned in prayers and rituals, because their religious traditions does not require them to observe rules of ritual purity. Moreover, they do not even have a Zoroastrian religious title, which is necessary for mentioning names in Zoroastrian prayers. Good health can be wished for them by mentally remembering them after prayers.

Why do we observe two days of a person’s death day i.e. ‘deesi’ or ‘siroza’ along with ‘masiso’ ? Why not only the actual day of death?

1. In our texts we are asked to invoke the memory of dear departed ones especially the following days: charom, dahom, siroz, sal and roz –that is, the fourth day, the tenth day, the 30th day, the year and the day of death.

2. Rituals are thus performed on the siroza or the 30th day of death, which is also referred to as deesi, as well as on the actual roz of death which happens to be the 31st day.

3. On each of these days two days, Afringan, Farokhshi, Baj and Satum rituals are performed with different invocations (khshnumans).

Why are the Afringan, Farokshi, Stum and Baj rituals performed?

1. The set of four rituals – Afringan, Farokhshi, Stum and Baj – is performed on all occasions of death from the 4th day (Chahrom) after death. Of these, the first 3 are outer rituals and the last one is an inner ritual. They are especially meant to help the soul of the departed ones. Each has a different purpose and significance.

2. The Afringan is a ritual in which souls are remembered with the offerings of fruits etc. In this ritual all Asho Farohars are invoked, souls are remembered and blessings are sought for the living people.

3. The Farokhshi ritual is especially done to invoke the Asho Farohars and seek their help and guidance in the eventual progress of the soul of the deceased.

4. In the Stum ritual, food cooked by Zoroastrians is offered along with prayers to the souls of the departed. It is believed that the souls appreciate the aroma of the food. Generally Stum is performed thrice in the day, around the time of the three meals – breakfast, lunch and supper and food for that meal is placed in the Stum. The souls are happy that they are remembered in all aspects of life, including meals. If it is not possible to offer food cooked by a Zoroastrian in the Stum, even fruits and milk may be offered.

5. The Baj-dharna is an inner ritual where the soul of the departed ones are remembered by the specially consecrated offering of dron.

6. In present times, because of several reasons, if it is not possible to perform all these four rituals for the departed, at least one or two may be done. Moreover, at times like Muktad, where there is a heavy demand for performance of rituals, some or all of the rituals may be done collectively, that is, in Hama Anjuman.

Why is Farokhshi not prayed during in Muktad in most Agyaris?

Is it okay to do a Hamā Anjuman  Farokhshi?

1. In today’s day and age the demand for rituals is far greater than the supply of priests, especially during the Muktads.

2. Farokhshi is a ritual in which the Satum no kardo and the Farvardin Yasht are recited together in a particular manner, one after another.

3. The Farokhshi is a very long prayer and hence the priests have to recite it softly and swiftly. The difficult words in this prayer further reduce the speed of the priests. Since most clients (behdins) prefer to hear prayers in loud and sonorous voice of priests, the Afringan ritual is preferred over Farokhshi.

4. Moreover, in the Farokhshi ritual, the name of deceased are taken in baj and not loudly as in the Afringan prayer. Since most clients like to hear the names of the deceased mentioned in the rituals, once again the Afringan ritual is preferred over the Farokhshi prayer.

5. On account of paucity of priests, it is okay to pray a hama anjuman Farokhshi, that is in one Farokshi ritual, in which the names of several deceased can be remembered at a time.

6. The family members of the deceased, Behdins as well as Athornans, can also pray the Faorkhsi themselves at home after some practice, as this ritual does not involve a lot of ritual gestures.

Why should meals for Satum and other ritual offerings be cooked by Parsis and un-touched by non-Parsis?

1. Anything offered  in a ritual has to be clean and ritually pure. This includes the utensils, flowers, fruits and cooked food/offerings.

2. Utensils, flowers and fruits need to be washed in a proper manner by a Zoroastrian with pure and clean water before being used as a ritual offering.

3. Since cooked food / offerings cannot be washed, care is taken during their preparation. The person preparing them should observe rules of ritual purity as also the person/s handling the food before it is used in the ritual. That is why food / offerings should be cooked and handled by Parsis only.

4. After the fruits / flowers and food are offered in the ritual they become consecrated and then too care has to be taken as to how they are handled, consumed/utilized and disposed.

Why is the Barsom a very important ritual implement (ālāt)?

1. The Barsom is a ritual implement (ālāt) used in all inner rituals like the Yasna, the Visperad, the Vidēvdād and the Bāj-dharnā, since ancient times. It is mentioned in all our Avesta, Pahlavi and Persian texts and is often mentioned in the Shahnameh.

2. The barsom consists of a bundle of thin metallic wires, generally brass or silver. Each individual wire is called a tāe, which literally means “a twig.” Since ancient times barsom was made from twigs, especially the pomegranate and tamarisk (gaz) trees were preferred. By 9th century AC, metallic barsom came to be used.

3. Different rituals require different number of tāe in a barsom. The barsom is ritually tied by a thin metallic chain or date palm leaf. During the Bāj-dharnā the bundle of barsom is held in the left hand. In all other inner rituals, it is sometimes kept in the hand but most of the time it is kept on the māhrūy, which is a special crescent moon shaped three legged stand, and a connection is maintained with it by keeping fingers of the left hand on it.

What is daran ? (JJ Nov. 2015)

1. The word daran (also spelled darun or dron) is derived from Avesta word draonah- which means “a part or a portion” offered through consecration in a ritual to divine beings. In English, the word daran is translated as “sacred bread” or “sacred cake.” ren

2. The daran is a small flat, round chapati like preparation about 10 cm in diameter and 0.5mm in thickness, made of unleavened wheat flour, clarified butter (G. ghī) and water. The flour is first kneaded with clean water, made into small rounds which are flattened by a metallic rolling pin and then heated on a hot plate (tavā) till it is evenly cooked. Sometimes a special rolling pin with metallic beads is used. The clinging sound made by it is supposed to keep away evil while preparation is in progress.

3. The daran is an inevitable requisite in the inner rituals of Bāj-dharnā, Yasna, Visparad and Vendidad. Whereas only one daran is required for each performance of Yasna, Visparad and Vendidad, for the Bāj-dharnā four darans (six in case of Baj for Sarosh Yazad) are required.

3. Initially the term daran used to indicate the daran which had nine marks (referred to as names) on it. Such darans are referred to in Gujarati as nām pādelā or nām vālā daran. The term Frasast was used for darans which did not have any marks on it. Chityā are smaller marked and unmarked ‘drōn’ about 3 inches in diameter, which are used specifically for the Bāj-dharnā of Panj-tāe performed for acquiring ritual power. Nowadays the regular daran are used instead of chityā in the Panj-tāe performances at most places, especially in Bombay.

4. Nowadays, the daran does not have marks on it, and the term daran is used even for Frasast. However, for ritual purposes, the daran on the right hand side of the tray are considered frasast. In Iran, the daran is referred to as Luwog. It is bigger and sometimes sweetened. In the past such darans were used even in India for certain special Baj-dharna performances.

5. Just before the end of the Bāj-dharnā ritual, the priest partakes each of the four daran with ghi, pomegranate seeds and water by breaking a very small piece from the edge. This ritual tasting is called Chāshni. Thereafter, the family that had requested the ritual to be performed, do the ritual tasting. The people who eat the consecrated daran, have to be Zoroastrians.

Why and when do we perform Behram Yazad na Daran?

1. Berham Yazad na Daran is the name given for the baj-dharna ritual performed in honour of Behram Yazad.

2. It is generally done on the Behram roj, but it could be done on any other roj.

3. People generally have it done as a thanksgiving to Behram Yazad after success in any work that has been undertaken.  It is also done to seek help from Behram Yazad, prior to undertaking a work with the hope that the task undertaken may come to a successful fruition.

4. In ancient Iran during the Sasanian times, kings used to have fire temples consecrated in honour of Behram Yazad after significant victories or after setting up of new cities.

What is the significance of Chahrom ni Baj? Why is it considered so important?

1. All first three days post-death rituals are considered very important. They include the Sachkar, Sagdid, Geh-Sarna, Paydast, Sarosh no Kardo (also referred to as Sarosh nu Patru), 2 Uthamnas, Chahrom in Baj and Daham Yazad Afringan.

 2. From the point of view of the soul, the Chahrom Baj is considered very essential, as it is in preparations for the soul’s transition from the material to the spiritual dimension. It also facilitates the passage of the soul to the spiritual world, through the Chinvad Bridge (Av. Chinvato peretu) and helps in the Individual Judgement of the soul.

3. Presently, this Baj, includes the performances of four Dron yasht / Bāj-dharnā rituals with invocations to Rashn-Āshtād, Wāy ī Weh (also known as Mīnō Rām), Sarosh and Ardāfravash, performed in succession, one after another. While performing the Bāj of Ardāfravash, Siyāv is placed in a metallic tray, along with any other utensil to be consecrated. 

4. Rashna and Ashtad are Yazads preside over truth and they act as the judges of the soul during its Judgement. Way-Weh or Mino Ram Yazad preside over the spheres between the material and spiritual world through which the soul will have to pass, Ardafravash refers to the collective Fravashis which along with the Fravashi of the soul will now guide the soul of the deceased. Sarosh is the Guardian angel of the soul till it enters the spiritual dimensions. Thus the invocation of all the above Yazads in the Chahrom ni baj is apt as well as necessary in the soul’s journey from this world to the next.

What is the significance of Geh-sarna ritual?

1. The word Geh sarna comes from the words ‘Gatha srāishna’ which mean “singing of the Gathas.” In this important after death ritual, the 7 chapters of Yasna, Ha 28 to 34, that constitute Gatha Ahunavaiti, are recited with the invocation of Sarosh Yazad by two priests.

3. This ritual is also referred to as Paydast, which in actuality refers to the procession after the Geh-sarna ritual, leading to the Dakhma.

3. Traditionally it is believed that the manthras (Avestan words of prayers) of Ahunavad Gatha initiates the process of severing the connection between the physical and non-physical constituents of the body, thus expediting the progress of the soul.

4. It is for this reason that we have the tradition of discouraging pregnant ladies and very young children from attending the Geh-Sarna ritual, as a child in the womb and very young children are considered to have a very delicate connection between their physical and spiritual constituents, and a risk must have been deemed of having this connection severed. This is a classic example of the way in which modern practices corroborate the ancient unwritten oral wisdom.

What is the Nirang din ritual? Why is it the most important Zoroastrian ritual? (JJ 13-3-16)

1. Nirang-din is the loftiest Zoroastrian ritual in the present times. The word Nirang-din means “power of the religion.” It is an eighteen day ritual performed by two priests of the highest caliber in which the urine of the Varasyaji and other bulls is consecrated. This is then referred to as Nirang.

2. Two priests first undergo the 9 day, 9 night Bareshnum purification. On the eleventh day the two priests take the bigger khub by doing the Mino Navar Yasna and then do the Gevra for six days and do the ham-kalam on the 17th day. On the same day, a Varasyaji and about 8 to 10 bulls are brought to the premises where the Nirang- ritual is being performed. In the Uziran geh, the two priests collect the taro of Varasyaji and other bulls in a metallic pot and cover it with a small metallic plate.

3. On the 17th night the Vendidad is performed by the two priests in the Ushahin geh with the invocation to Sarosh Yazad, wherein the metallic pot filled with taro is kept. Another such pot filled with water is also kept. The chief priest, opens these pots at particular times during the performance of the Vendidad and looks into them. Small pebbles called sangreza are also dropped into the taro while reciting Yatha ahu vairyo.

4. The following day, after the ritual is complete, the metallic pots are closed by the muslin cloth folded in three layers. Then the sacred taro which is now referred to as Nirang, and the consecrated water are filled in glass bottles and specially closed with muslin cloth and secured with cotton chord tied like the Kasti.

5. The Nirang is considered the most important religious alat (ritual requirement), and is used in several other rituals. It has to be sipped it while undergoing Nahan purification before Navjotes and Weddings. The sipping of Nirang has physical and spiritual benefits.

6. The performance of the Nirang-din ritual is supposed to be of great merit for the soul of a person. Generally it is performed for the soul of deceased person a few years after death. There are a very few Parsi priests today who can perform this lofty ritual.

Why is Vendidad an important Zoroastrian scripture? (JJ 26-5-2013)

1. Vendidad is one of the most important and valuable among all Avestan scriptures as it has invaluable information about the laws, customs and practices of Zoroastrians. Today, Vendidad is our prized possession as it is the only one of the 21 Nasks (Volumes of scriptures given by prophet Zarathushtra) which has survived in entirety. The word Vendidad means “laws against daevas.” In Zoroastrianism, the word ‘daeva’ means all types of physical, mental, moral spiritual evils.

2. The text of the Vendidad is divided into 22 chapters called Pargarads. They cover topics on teachings,

observances and practices of the religion like information about Ahura Mazda, Ameshāspands and Yazads, Prophet Zarathushtra, Mazdayasni religion, qualifications of a priest,  ecology,  life after death, and Dakhma.

3. It is difficult to understand a few of the injunctions of the Vendidad and hence it had come under attack as a text composed in primitive times. However, if one studies the text of the Vendidad closely and dispassionately one realizes that the core teachings of the Gathas are consistent with the Vendidad.

4. The Vendidad ritual is performed during the Ushahin Gah (after midnight) in Agyaris and Atash Behrams. In it, the text of the Vendidad is recited interspersed with the texts of Yasna and Visperad. The ritual is meant to fight the dark forces in nature and is hence performed only after midnight when the forces of evil are at their zenith.

What is Varasyaji? How is Varasyaji consecrated?

1. The Varasyaji is a whi­­te, uncastrated, albino bull without deformity or any trace of black in the hair, hoof or on the body. Each priestly group has a consecrated Varasyaji of its own.

2. The Varasyaji is generally procured from interior villages as a very young bull, kept under observation for some time and consecrated after it reaches the age of two. By this time it is properly ascertained that it has no traces of any non-white hair or patch on its body.

3. The Varasyaji is consecrated by two priests over a period of 6 days in an elaborate ritual. Hair from its tail are taken and then given to priests in other fire temples where inner rituals are performed. Two to three consecrated hair are tied on a metallic ring, resembling a finger ring, which is an invariable requirement for all inner rituals.

4. No inner ritual can be performed after the consecrated Varasyaji dies, till another Varasyaji is consecrated. After a Varasyaji dies, he is bathed, a Sadra and Kasti is kept over its body. Two priests recite the Geh-sarna ritual, and then the Varasyaji is buried, preferably in the precincts of the Dungerwadi.

What is the Visparad? (JJ 5-2-17)

1. The Yasna, the Vsparad and the Vendidad are the names of three main texts in the Avestan language which have survived till the present times. Inner rituals (pāv-mahel ni kryā) in which these texts are recited are also known by the same names.

2. The text of Visparad has 23 chapters. In the ritual of Visparad, this text is recited along with the text of the 72 chapters of the Yasna. When the Vendidad ritual is performed, the text of Visparad is also recited in it along with the texts of Yasna and Vendidad.

3. The word Visparad is derived from the Avesta words vispe ratavo which means “All the lords”. These ‘lords’ are divine beings of a special class called Ratus, who especially preside over time and season.

4. The Visparad ritual is performed much less frequently compared to other inner rituals. It is not performed daily, but has to be performed only at specific occasions.

5. It can be performed either on behalf of the dead or for the living on the following occasions: a. On the last day of the Navar ceremony, b. On the last day of the Geti kharid ceremony, c. On the 6 Gahambars of the year, since Gahambars also pertain to time and seasons.

What is Shahen Baj? Why is it not performed anymore? (JJ 12-6-16)

1. Some Zoroastrian rituals are almost forgotten, and the Shahen baj is one such ritual. The word Shahen comes from Pahlavi word shāhān “kings.” As per its name, this Bāj was performed at the behest of kings to protect them and the kingdom from calamities, wars or famines. It was generally performed in open, secluded ritually clean places.

2. In eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in India, wealthy people had this Bāj performed when the ruler of the city, town, country or community faced momentous calamities. Its performance required the sanction and permission of the Community and its leaders.

3. In the past, the performer of this Baj would be disqualified from performing any other higher ritual for life because his Bareshnum would be permanently vitiated after the performance of this Baj. For this reason the Baj was rarely performed.

4. The reason for the priest being disqualified from doing higher rituals is a technical one. Technically the invocation of Sarosh Yazad is never compounded with invocation of other divine beings. However in this Baj there are other invocations combined and owing to this, the priest loses his ritual power.

5. Moreover it was believed that the priest took upon himself the calamity to befall on the nation. Hence, an aged and pious priest, who was willing to take upon himself the calamity performed this Bāj.

6. The Sanjana priests considered only the ritual power of one Bareshnum vitiated after this Bāj, and they advised the performance of a fresh Bareshnum for subsequent performances of inner rituals for the priest performing this Bāj.

What are Zindeh-ravān rituals? (JJ 31-7-16)

1. When rituals are performed for living people, they are referred to as Zindeh-ravān rituals.  The word Zindeh-ravān literally means “for the living souls.” Anusheh-ravān rituals are performed for departed ones. The word anusheh-ravān means “immortal souls” and not dead souls. Almost all rituals can be performed for the living as well as for departed people.

2. Over and above the general use of the term Zindeh-ravān, this term is also used to refer to the group of death rituals which are performed for a living person in anticipation that after death the death rituals may not be performed.

3. Such Zindeh-ravān rituals can be done for an individual or for a married couple (Joranu).  They include all after death rituals except Sachkar, Sagdid and Geh-sarna (Paydast). They may be done for 4 days, upto Chahrom, or for a year. The rituals within the Zindeh-ravān may be adjusted according to the person’s means.

The following rituals are done in the set of Zindeh-ravān rituals:

  1. 1 Sarosh Yazashne and 1 Sarosh Vendidad each at night for first three days (Option: Only 1 Yazashne and 1 Vendidad or 3 Yazashne and 1 Vendidad). The performance of at least one Yasna was considered necessary, whereas the performance of the Vendidad was considered optional.
  2. Baj of Sarosh in each of the five gehs for the first three days. This is also optional.
  3. Sarosh no kardo in Aiwisruthrem Geh for 3 days.
  4. Uthamna (Joranu, if for a couple) on 3rd day in Uziran Geh. This is optional.
  5. 4 Chahrom Baj (8 Baj if Joranu) on 3rd night, with Siyav and utensils to be consecrated in Ardafravash baj.
  6. Uthamna (Joranu, if for a couple) on 3rd night in Ushahin Geh. This is necessary.
  7. Dahm Yazad Afringan on dawn of fourth day.
  8. Afringan, Farokhshi, Baj and Stum on 4th day.

Afringan, Farokhshi, Baj on 10th day, 30th day (Siroza) and each month for 12 months (optional).

What is the Bareshnum? (JJ 16 & 23-10-16)

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

Why is it advisable to have Navjotes and Weddings in Agyari/Atash Behram?

1. Navjotes and weddings are very important and solemn life-cycle rituals. This is verified by the facts that the experienced priests are required to perform them and the person undergoing it has to be specially prepared by taking a nahan.

2. A ritual has certain requirements of “ritual purity” in order for them to have the optimum value. Agyari/Atash Behrams are places where these rules are best observed. Moreover, there is a high concentration of divine energy and presence of divine beings at such holy places, facilitating such a lofty ritual.

3. There is nothing wrong in performing Navjotes and Weddings outside Agyari/Atash Behrams if the place has requisite ritual purity. However, one may miss out on the benefits of performance of an essential ritual at a lofty and a sacred place, especially since nowadays it is very difficult to maintain the sanctity of the lofty rituals. The rules of ritual purity are automatically maintained in an Agyari/Atash Behram, and so one does not have to concern oneself about the ritual being vitiated by any type of ritual impurity there.

4. It needs to be mentioned that it is advisable to have a Navjote performed in the morning as early as possible, as it is the best time for seeking divine blessings for the child.

What is a Nahan? (JJ 9-10-16)

1. 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.

2. The Nahan is given by a priest, who in the past was expected to be the holder of the power (amal) of a Bareshnum.

3. 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.”

4. 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.

How does drinking nirang benefit at the time of Nahan? (JJ 12-5-13)

1. Nirang is consecrated urine of Varasyaji and other bulls over which the Nirang-din ritual has been performed.

2. Nirang acquires spiritual potency and has the power to clean and energise a person mentally and spiritually when a couple of drops are ingested during the Nahan ritual.

3. Nirang is used only for internal use and not for external application for which taro, that is, unconsecrated bull/cow’s urine is used.

4. Every child has to sip a couple of drops of Nirang when he takes the Nahan before the Navjote so as to cleanse and energise oneself and prepare for the very importance and lofty Navjote ritual.

5. For maximum effect of the Nirang on the child, the child was not allowed to eat anything before the Nahan. This is possible only when a navjote is done in the morning, as early as possible.

What is the significance of the Uthamna ritual (JJ 2-9-18)

1. The Uthamna ritual is performed twice on the third day after death, the first time in the Uziran geh at about 3.45 pm (IST) and the other towards the end of the Ushahin geh at around 4.15 am (IST).

2. The ritual can be performed either at the Doongerwadi, Agyari/Atash Behram or in any other ritually clean place. The derivation of the word Uthamnu is not very clear. It is believed that in the past, during Geh-sarna ritual, people had to sit down on mats on the floor and for subsequent rituals they could sit on chairs. Hence the word Uthamnu may have come from uthi javu “getting up.”

3. Uthamna can be considered a sort of a condolence meeting where friends and relatives of the deceased attend the ritual to console the family members of the departed. In a way, this is the last day of the soul in the material world, before the soul begins its heavenly journey on the dawn of the fourth day (Chahrum ni Bamdad).

4. In the past, announcement of charities in memory of the deceased was done by friends and family in the Uthamna. The benefit of this charity would accrue to the soul of the deceased, as its judgment has not yet taken place.

5. In the past, if the deceased did not have a child, then the appointment of a religious heir, the Gujarati word for which is pālak, was done after the Uthamna. It would be the duty and responsibility of this pālak, who would generally be a male, to see that the minimum religious rites are performed for the soul of the deceased at least for a year. The Head Priest would give a token amount in his hand and make him pledge accordingly. This was called sos bhanvi – in which the pālak would say “I will have bist o chahr darun done.” It is said that if the deceased did not have an heir, the priests did not get up from the mat after the Uthamna till the pālak was declared.

What is Jora nu Uthamnu ? (JJ 9-9-18)

1. If the death is of a spouse whose partner is still alive, either male or female, the person can opt for a Jorā nu Uthamnu, that is, the Uthamna in which the name of the living spouse is also taken. This is akin to doing the Jindeh-ravān done of the spouse. If a Jorā nu Uthamnu is done, then along with the the Chahrom ni Baj, other Jindeh-ravān Baj are also performed for the living spouse.

2. If the death is of a married man whose wife is alive, and the widow’s name is to be taken in the Uthamna (jorā nu Uthamnu), she is required to go through a Nāhan ritual and wear white clothes, new ones if possible. Following this, she may not be touched by anyone until the end of the Uthamna, and is assigned a special place close to the carpet on which the ritual is to take place.

3. For the performance of the Uthamna, a carpet is laid on the ground, with the ritual utensils beside it. These include a metallic tray (khumcho) with a Sadra, a second tray containing a sprinkler (pigāni), with rosewater (gulābjal), two little metallic cups one containing jasmine oil (mogrel) and another having spice water (ākho masālo). In another metallic tray sandalwood/babul wood pieces, sandalwood filings (tāchho) and aromatic powders (vaher, lobān) are kept. In the fourth metallic tray, rose petals are scattered over white flowers. Next to this is a fire-vase, an oil lamp and other related metallic implements.

4. In case of a Jorānu Uthamnu, there will be two fire-vases on the carpet. In recent years it has become customary for close relatives and friends to bring flowers and hand these to a family member. The flowers, which are often white, are arranged by family members in vases, to be placed on the carpet. Sometimes wreaths and flower arrangements are laid beside the carpet. When the participants arrive,  they bring sandalwood pieces with them and lay them on a metallic tray provided for the purpose.

How is the Uthamna ritual performed? (JJ 16-9-18)

1. Five, seven or nine priests participate in the ritual. They are mostly in odd numbers. A Dasturji may join in as a special mark of respect to the deceased. The priests first perform the Pādyāb-Kusti ritual, then go to the place where the ritual is to be performed, and assemble on the carpet in two rows.

2. In the afternoon Uthamna, priests stand on the mat (Shetranji) facing West. Nothing else is kept on the mat at that time. First they recite Khorshed and Meher Nyash for themselves. Then they repeat Khorshed and Meher Nyash for the deceased, followed by Doā Nām Setāyashne and Char dishāno namaskār.

3. Then priests arrange chādar (a white cloth), afarganyu and other requirements of the ritual on the mat, and sit down in two rows facing each other. They recite Uziran geh, Sarosh Yasht Hadokht and Doā Nām Setāyashne. One priest (two priests if Jorānu Uthamnu) stand up for Dhoop sārana part of the ritual, which is recited with the invocation of Sarosh Yazad, in which, at a particular point, the standing priest mentions the name of the deceased.

4. The Dasturji or the senior-most priest, facing west, starts Patet ravān-ni, rest of the priests join in from ‘okhe avākhsh pashemān’ and complete the recitation of Patet ravān-ni. At the end all priests recite the Doā Tandarostī.

5. In the Uthamna in the Ushahen geh, all priests are seated. They recite the Sarosh Baj, Ushahen geh, Sarosh Yasht Hadokht, Mah Bokhtar Nyash, Atash Nyash (Standing), Doā Nām Setāyashne, Patet Ravān-ni, Dhup Nirang prayer and Doā Tan-Darosti.

6. After either of the Uthamna, an attendant takes around a tray of flowers – white flowers and rose petals, in one hand and a rose-water sprinkler (gulābāz) in the other. The attendant moves about the attendees with the tray of flowers and the attendees hold their hands above the tray. Then the attendant sprinkles some rose water on the hands. At this point, the people may make a mental pledge to perform some charity or have some rituals performed in memory of the deceased.

Can rituals be performed for animals like a pet dog? (10-6-18)

1. In Zoroastrianism, animals are divided into two groups – the Gospand (benign) and the Khrafastar (harmful) on the basis of their instincts and basic nature. Cattle and most domestic animals belong to the former category, whereas wild animals, reptiles and insects belong to the latter category. Man is advised to protect the Gospands and guard against the Khrafastars. Though the Khrafastars may be helpful in a limited way, their worth to mankind is less than the danger they pose.

2. Zoroastrian religion considers several animals like the dog, cow, bull, rooster, camel and horse as beneficial and useful. However, there is no tradition to offer prayers for living or dead animals by taking their names. In all Zoroastrian prayers it is necessary to take the religious title of the person (like Behdin, Osta, Osti etc.) before the name. Animals do not have such religious titles.

4. The only known ritual for an animal is the Geh-sarna ritual for a Varasyaji (sacred albino bull) after its death. This is because the Varasyaji is consecrated during its lifetime so that a hair from its tail can be used as a ritual implement for inner rituals like the Yasna and Vendidad. But in this ritual too, the name of the sacred animal is not taken.

5. Prayers are done for the soul of a person. For the deceased, the prayers serve as a catalyst for the progress of their souls. In Zoroastrianism it is generally believed that animals do not have a soul (faculty to make conscious choices and decisions). They only have an elementary consciousness (Baodh) and a Fravashi. Animals operate mainly by instincts and not by conscious will.