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.

What is the proper way to attend the Pāy-dast? (TMY, JJ of 10 to 24 -11-19)

1. After a Zoroastrian passes away, the first major after-death-ritual is the Pāydast, which includes the Geh-sārnā and the walking to the Dokhma following the dead body. When the Geh-sārnā finishes and the Sezdo (paying respects by bowing down) is done, the corpse is prepared to be taken to the Dakhma. Its face is covered with the white shroud in which the body is covered, and it is taken out of the Bangli.

2. At this point of time, non-Zoroastrians sitting in the pavilion come and stand outside the Bangli, at least three paces away from the portico, waiting for the corpse-bearers to bring the corpse out. Then they pay their last homage from a distance to the body which is completely covered, including the face, in white cloth.

3. The Zoroastrian mourners, after doing the Sezdo collect outside the Bangli and stand in pairs holding paiwand (ritual connection) behind the two priests who have performed the Geh-sārnā ritual. The priests are connected with a pichori and the mourners are connected with a white handkerchief. Then the priests followed by mourners walk behind the corpse, which is carried by 4 or 6 nase-sālārs (corpse bearers). Those who do not wish to follow the corpse upto the Dakhma do the Kasti and leave.

4. Either before starting to walk, or while walking, the priests and the mourners have to recite the Baj of Sarosh upto the point astavaitish ashahe. This baj is completed from the point nemaschā yā, after the corpse is laid down in the Dakhma.

5. When the procession reaches the assembly area outside the Dakhma, it is kept on one of the rectangular stone platforms there. The nase-sālārs uncover the face of the deceased. The attendants, still maintaining the paiwand, come close to the corpse and perform the final sējdō, keeping a distance of about two to three steps. At this point, the final Sagdīd takes place. Then, the nase-sālārs cover the face, lift the bier and carry it into the dakhma.

6. The mourners who are waiting, after getting a signal from the nase-sālārs at the Dakhma, leave the paiwand of the handkerchief and complete the bāj of Sarosh. They then recite the Namaskār of mountains and Namaskār of Dokhmas.

7. The Bāj of Sarosh gives ritual protection from the Nasu to those following the corpse. Nowadays, though priests take the Bāj meticulously, most Zoroastrians who go for the Pāy-dast and follow the corpse, do not take the bāj, mostly out of ignorance. Most people, though, recite the full bāj after the procession is over, since they are given books at this point of time.

8. After this, a few drops of Taro, is given, which is applied by the mourners to the face and hands, and allowed to dry for a few seconds. Then they wash their hands and face, do the full Kasti, pay homage to the Dadgah fire at the Sagdi and return from the doonger-wadi.

9. The BĀJ OF SAROSH, to be taken by the mourner when they participate in the Pāy-dast procession is as follows. It has to be taken at the beginning when the procession is about to start. It could also be recited while walking in the procession towards the Dakhma:

Khshnaothra Ahurahe Mazdao Ashem vohu 1.Yatha ahu vairyo 5. Ashem vohu 3. Fravarāne Mazdayasno Zarathushtrish vidaevo Ahura-tkaesho (Recite the appropriate short Geh) Sraoshahe ashyehe, takhmahe, tanu mānthrahe, darshi-draosh, āhuiryehe, kshnaothra yasnāicha, vahmāicha, khshnaothrāicha, frasastayaecha, yathā ahu vairyo zaotā frā me mrute, athā ratush ashāt chit hacha frā ashava vidhvāo mraotu.  Ahunem vairim tanum pāiti, Ahunem vairim tanum pāiti, Ahunem vairim tanum pāiti.  Yathā ahu vairyo 1. Recite Kem-nā Mazdā  till Astavaitish ashahe.

After the nase-sālārs give the signal by clapping, indicating that the body is laid down in the Dakhma, the Bāj of Sarosh is to be concluded as follows:

Nemaschā yā ārmaitish izāchā (3 times) Yathā ahu vairyo 2. Yasnemcha vahmemcha aojascha zavarecha āfrinami Sraoshahe ashyehe, takhmahe tanu mānthrahe, darshi-draosh ahuiryehe.  Ashem vohu 1.

Hazanghrem  baeshazanam baevare baeshazanām, Hazanghrem  baeshazanam baevare baeshazanām, Hazanghrem  baeshazanam baevare baeshazanām.  Ashem vohu 1.

Jasa me avanghe Mazda!  Jasa me avanghe Mazda!  Jasa me avanghe Mazda!  Amahe hutāshtahe  huraodhahe, verethraghnahe ahura-dhātahe, vanaintyāoscha uparatāto, thwāshahe khvadhātahe, zravānahe akaranahe, zravānahe daregho-khadhātahe.  Ashem  vohu  1. After this, Taro is applied to the face and hands, and allowed to dry. Then the hands and face are to be washed and the full Kasti has to be done, followed by paying homage to the Dadgah fire at the Sagdi.

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.