What are the different usages of the term Baj in Avesta? (TMY, JJ of 23 & 30-12-18)

1. The origin of the word bāj is doubtful. There are two probable derivations. First, from vac “word, speech.” This derivation seems meaningful in some of the uses of the term. The other from Persian wāj, used in the sense of “tribute, tax” This derivation makes senses when the word bāj is used for the after-death ritual, and serves the sense of repaying debts to the ancestors.

2. In contemporary Parsi usage, the word bāj is used for several purposes:

i) Prayers which precede and follow an action, in other words ‘frame’ an action.  It is generally a daily act like eating, drinking, bathing or answering the call of nature. Once the initial portion of the bāj preceding the action has been recited, silence has to be maintained till the bāj is concluded by the recitation of the concluding portion. The initial portion of the bāj is referred to as ‘taking the bāj’ (G. bāj levi, bāj dharvi) and the concluding portion as ‘leaving the bāj’ (G. bāj chhodvi, bāj mukvi). These bāj are found in the Khordeh Avesta. These bāj protects the person when the act is being performed, as the act somehow breaches some boundary of religious appropriateness.

ii) The term bāj is also used for the prayer formulae before and after prayers like the Nyash, Yasht and certain Nirangs. These prayer formulae have a common invocation at the beginning and the end.

iii) In modern Parsi parlance, the term ‘praying in bāj’ refers to a particular suppressed tone of prayer, especially used to recite Pazand passage/s occurring between two Avestan texts.

iv) A Zoroastrian is not supposed to talk whilst reciting prayers. However, if he has to perforce talk, he is supposed to speak ‘silently’ or ‘inarticulately’ in a suppressed tone by pursing the lips together. Such a mode of conversation is referred to as ‘speaking in bāj.’

v) The Bāj-dharnā ritual is also referred by the shortened name bāj.  In the set of 4 after death rituals, this ritual is referred to as just the bāj. The other 3 are Afringan, Farokshi and Stum.

vi) Since the Bāj-dharnā ritual is generally performed in memory of departed ones, the days of monthly and annual commemorations are also referred to as ‘the person’s bāj.’

vii) One more unique use of the term bāj is in the short prayer Sarosh Bāj. Though this prayer is not a bāj in any sense of the word discussed above, and is a normal basic prayer, still it is called a bāj.

3. Thus, there are various understandings and connotations in which the word bāj is used by the Parsis.


What are the distinctive religious duties of a Zoroastrian according to texts? (TMY, JJ of 16-12-18)

1. The distinctive religious duties of a Zoroastrian are mainly outlined in two religious texts. One is the 17th century Persian book, Faraziyāt Nāmeh by Dastur Darab Pahlan of Navsari. The other is the Pazand Benedictions for Iranian Marriages. These duties are:

i. To wear the Sadra and Kasti, and regularly perform the Kasti ritual.

ii. Recite the Khorshed and Meher Nyāish three times in the day, or at least once.

iii. Recite the Māh Nyāish at least thrice a month, that is, on Amās (No moon day), Chāndrāt (New Moon day) and Poonam (Full Moon day).

iv. Perform regular worship of Sarosh Yazad. This can be done by reciting the Yasht for Sarosh Yazad or by reciting the Sarosh Baj at least once daily.

v. Observe the Farvardegan (Muktad) days by remembering all the Fravashis, and especially the Fravashis of the departed ones.

vi. Monthly and annually remember the souls of near and dear departed ones on the day of their passing away, one of the chief ways for this being the performance of rituals in their memory.

vii. Celebrate the six Gahambars, the seasonal festivals for thanksgiving of the six creations, or at least participate in their performance.

viii. Have the Rapithwin consecrated, or attend the performance of ceremonies to welcome it.

3. The above duties point out three distinctive Zoroastrian features : a. A person always has to be in touch with divine beings and the divine world. b. He has to show gratitude to divine beings and ancestors. c. A person has to live in harmony with the creations and nature.

4. One may notice that these duties deal more with rituals and not with virtues or ethics. However, the idea was that the regular performances of rituals inculcate the virtues of obedience to religion, gratitude to divine beings, respect to nature, a sense of obligation to the ancestors and acceptance of the sovereignty of Ahura Mazda. These duties also emphasise the Zoroastrian belief in the existence of the two worlds and two spirits.

What is the perception of stars in the Avesta? (TMY, JJ of 9-12-18)

1.Heavenly bodies like the stars, sun and moon are mentioned in the Avesta and also in Pahlavi books like Bundahishna and Zadsparam. The Pahlavi literature also mention constellations and planets.

2. In the Zoroastrian calendar, the 13th roj and the 4th māh are dedicated to Teshtar Tir or Tishtrya who is the leader among all stars. In Avestan times, Tishtrya was recognized as the brightest star in the Eastern sky and was given the position of “leader of all the stars.” It is identified with the star Sirius in the constellation of Canis Major. It’s rising coincided with the arrival of rains and hence it was considered the bringer of rains.

3. Whenever Tishtrya is remembered, the stars of the other three directions, who are his associates, are also remembered. In all, these 4 stars are the guardians of the four directions: Tishtriya (Sirius) of the East, Satavaesa (Anatares) of the South,  Haptoiring (Great Bear) of the North,  and Vanant (Wega) of the West. These are not only names of stars, but also names of Yazads who preside over the stars.

4. Vanant Yazad is identified with Wega, the brightest star in the constellation Lyra in the west. Vanant Yazad helps to overcome negative thoughts and protects against evil practices. He helps against moral and mental evil of all kinds like black magic, chants, sorcery and charms. He is victorious over evils and noxious creatures like rats, cats, snakes and wolves.

5. Haptoiring is identified with the Ursa Major or Great Bear constellation, which has seven main bright stars. The word Haptoiring means “having seven points”. It appears in the Northern sky. It is health and khoreh (energy) giving and helps keep away black magicians and sorcerors. It especially opposes Kewan (Saturn) and negates its ill effects.

6. Satavaesa is identified with the star Anatares in the South. In the Avesta it is further described as bright and having water content. Satavaesa as a Yazad is not invoked individually, but is always remembered along with Tishtrya.

Who was Shams-ul-Ulema Ervad Dr. Sir Jivanji Jamshedji Modi? (TMY, JJ of 25-11 & 2-12-18)

1. Jivanji Modi was born in 1854. He was the only son of a priest who served as the first Panthaki of Seth Jeejeebhoy Dadabhoy Agyari, Colaba. At the age of 11, he became Navar, and in 1871 he passed matriculation and underwent the Martab. In the same year, he succeeded his father as the Panthaki, where he formally served for 40 years till 1910.

2. Mr. K.R. Cama made him take up Iranian studies. He received a B.A. from Bombay University in 1876. He studied German and French in order to understand the works of  European scholars writing about Zoroastrian religion. He was elected a Fellow of Bombay University in 1887 and also a member of Bombay’s Anthropological Society and Royal Asiatic Society.

3. Jivanji was elected as Corporator of the Bombay Municipality in 1889. He was also appointed Justice of Peace in 1890. He received honorary doctorates from the Universities of Heidelberg and Bombay. The British government conferred on him the title Shams-ul-Ulema in 1893, and the Knighthood in 1930. The title Shams-ul-Ulemā literally means “Shining like the sun (shams) among the wise ones (ulemā).

4. In 1893 he was appointed secretary of the Bombay Parsi Punchayat (BPP), and served there for 37 years. He was associated with the K.R. Cama Oriental Institute for several years, in various capacities, like its President, secretary and editor of its journal. He was instrumental in having the ‘Sanjan Stambh (column) erected in 1917 at Sanjan to commemorate the landing of Parsis there.

5. Jivanji travelled extensively in the sub-continent, as well as in the United States, Asia (including Iran and Japan) and Europe. On some of his travels he attended international conferences such as the 7th International Congress of Orientalists at Stockholm (1889). He was the sole Zoroastrian at the Parliament of World’s Religions at Chicago in 1893, where Swami Vivekananda also gave his legendary address.  Jivanji was a dynamic speaker, and  delivered over 350 lectures in his life.

6. Jivanji was also a prolific writer. He has written more than two hundred research papers and essays in English and Gujarati. He has also authored more than 100 books, 50 each in English and Gujarati, and also two books in French. He also composed some Monajats (devotional songs in Gujarati) and translated parts of the Shahnameh in prose as well as in verse form into Gujarati. His best known work, used extensively even today, is The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees.

7. He passed away in 1933 at the age of 79. He shines as an illustrious star in the firmament of Zoroastrian studies. He was a multifaceted personality, who was active not only in the academic field but also in the Community and society. His contribution towards Zoroastrian academics in light of comparative religion, literature and science, is unparalleled.  He may be considered one of the most decorated Zoroastrian priests and the most prolific Parsi scholar of modern times.

What are the similarities between fire and man? (TMY, JJ of 11 & 18 -11-18)

1. Though it sounds very unusual, and at the first sight there seems to be no apparent connection between fire and man, at further scrutiny, one realises that there are so many similarities between the two, that at the end of the examination, they start appearing like twins.

2. Although priests are referred to as Āthravan, that is, “protectors of fire”, fire and humans depend on each other for their physical and spiritual sustenance and survival, and one is always incomplete without the other. There are several striking similarities between the two:

a) Both are living, breathing entities requiring oxygen for survival.

b) Both require food to survive. The food of fire is fuel, especially wood. Man can find his own food, but fire cannot, so the fire has to depend on man for its food.

b) Both have hierarchical status. There are different grades of fire like Dadgah, Adaran and Atash Behram, and there are several levels of humans from ignorant, to knowledgeable and evolved. However from the outside all look similar and it is not possible to know about the hierarchical status from outside, both of fire and of men.

c) Both have physical and spiritual constituents. Man has a body and soul. The fire too has a physical body and a spiritual consciousness.

d) Both are links between physical and spiritual worlds. Man takes prayers to the divine world, and fire gets divine energy (khoreh) from the spiritual realms.

e) No two are ever the same. Though any two may appear similar, no two human beings nor any two fires are ever the same.

f) Both are able to create another like them, which, though similar, is unique. A human can give birth to another human and a new fire can be ignited from an existing fire.

g) Both can be used for good or evil. A man can create, nurture and produce, and also destroy, annihilate and end. So can a fire be used to cook, create and give shape, but if not used carefully and wisely, it can destroy life and property.

h) Both are considered Ratheshtars, that is, fighters and warriors against evil.

i) Both are Ahura Mazda’s favourite creations as they have been assigned the special task of fighting evil and bringing about Frashokereti – the final renovation. 3. The above similarities show the close co-relation between fire and man, as both have been created as the favourite creations of Ahura Mazda. It is thus very meaningful, that in the Avesta fire is figuratively referred to as the “son (puthra) of Ahura Mazda” and Ahura Mazda is mentioned as the “father (pitar) of man.” fff

What is the position of rooster in Zoroastrian religion? (TMY, JJ of 4-11-18)

1. In the Avesta, the rooster is known as paro-darsh, which literally means “he who foresees the coming dawn.” Its main function is to crow at dawn to scare away Bushyãsta, the demon of sloth and laziness.

2. While the demon Bushyãsta makes people drowsy and puts them to sleep, the rooster wakes up people by crowing. While crowing at dawn it seems to say “Oh men! Wake up. Sleeping for long is not good for you.” However, lazy people do not appreciate the rooster waking them up. So they rebuke it by calling it Kahrkatas “a croaker.”

3. Being an opponent of an evil being, a rooster naturally becomes an ally of the good divine forces of the Universe. It has a special connection to Sarosh Yazad. It is said to be the keenest and most faithful follower of Sarosh Yazad, and is considered one of his closest allies.

4. It is believed that the rooster protects the world from the evils of Zohak, who is bound under the Demavand mountain and is waiting to unleash his evils on the world by trying to free himself. Tradition has it that throughout the night Zohak tries to free himself by licking at his chains making them thin, but as they are about to snap, dawn draws near, and the crowing of the rooster foils his attempts to escape and his chains resume their thickness. Actually the crowing of the rooster indicates the rising of the sun, and it is the good energy of the sun that neutralises the strength of evil collected during the night.

5. Another oral tradition associated with the rooster in Parsi culture is that one should not eat a rooster, the reason being that it is a representative of Sarosh Yazad and an opponent of Bushyāst dev.

6. The rooster is highly regarded at the Pier-e-Banu Pars in Yazd, Iran. When princess Banu Pars was fleeing the Arabs, night came on, and the exhausted princess went to sleep on the mountains. In the morning, the tired Banu Pars was not able to wake up and the pursuing Arabs came close to her. It was at that time that the rooster crowed and woke her up, and she was able to escape the clutches of the Arabs.

What is the significance of performing Vendidad for departed souls? Why is there a high cost for performing it? (TMY JJ of 28-10-18)

1. As to the significance of the Vendidad ritual, the meaning of the word Vendidad, is indicative of its purpose. The word Vendidad means “regulations against evil.” The performance of the Vendidad is expected to curb the power of all types of evils in the world, especially the spiritual. Thus, its performance renders great service to God and nature as it strengthens the good forces and weakens the evil. The benefit of the performance of the ritual goes to the soul in whose memory the ritual is performed. Hence it is very meritorious to have a Vendidad ritual performed in memory of a departed person.

2. The Vendidad ritual is performed for various purposes.  It is mainly performed in memory of the deceased. It is also performed as the culmination of the Nirang-din ritual, for the Maratab initiation and in several sets of rituals like consecration of Agyaris and Atash Behrams and performance of the Hama Yasht. 3. There are several reasons why the Vendidad ritual seems expensive. One is that it requires the services of two priests of the highest calibre.  Secondly, it takes 24 hours of the priests’ time. And lastly its actual performance takes almost six hours at an unusual time after midnight. h