According to Zoroastrianism, every human being is mortal, and death is destined for all. Death is a transformation for the soul and not total destruction. The physical body is just transmuted from one form of matter to another. The process of death is the ‘passing away’ of spiritual elements from the physical body, leading to the latter’s decomposition. It is to be disposed at the earliest with the least harm to the living.
Death is considered a temporary triumph of evil, as it decreases a soldier from the army of God. Unnatural and untimely death is the work of evil as it cuts short a life which may benefit the world. Though death in a narrow context is the work of evil, in the broader context it is not only necessary but also inevitable, as it is part of God’s plan for the world.
Divine Justice for the Soul:
A human being is made up of soul and body. As the soul is immortal, it outlives the physical body after death. The Zoroastrian after death rituals have been designed with the above in mind, since a dead body is the greatest source of contagion and putrefaction (Av. nasu) and hence has to be disposed in a way that causes least harm to humans and other creations.
After a man passes away, the soul remains in the material world for three days and nights in the care of the divine being Sraosha. During this period several rites and rituals are performed to ensure a safe passage of the soul into the spiritual world.
- Sachkār (final bath and preparation): It is the final ritual bath given to the deceased, usually by the doongerwadi staff or the relatives. Bull’s urine is applied to the body, the body is washed with cool or luke-warm water, dried and dressed in a sudreh. Kasti is tied reciting the appropriate prayers, preferably by a family member. Then the body is laid on three stone slabs within a pavi. Seven strips of cloth (bandh) are tied around at certain points and then the body is wrapped in a white sheet so as to leave only the face and ears uncovered. Once the body is clothed, no one other than the pall-bearers is allowed to touch it. Non-Zoroastrians are no longer allowed to see it, nor, from this point on, to remain in the bungli.
Sagdid : The word is made up of two parts – Sag “dog”and did “sight”. It is the practise in which a Doongerwadi attendant leads a dog on a leash to look at the body. It is done at the beginning of each geh until the disposal of the body in the dakhma. Dogs whose fur has two distinctive markings above the eyes (chathru chasma) are preferred for this purpose.
Bhoi agal nu Bhantar: Prayers from the Khordeh are recited by a priest, sitting on a mat, looking after fire. In absence of a priest, even a lay person may recite prayers from the Khordeh Avesta. The stum no Kardo should not be recited.
Gāh-sārna : The word Geh-sarna is derived from the words Gah (another form of the word Gatha) and srayishna “Chanting.” Geh-sarna is done by two priests. If two priests are not available one priest holding ritual connection with a lay person can do it. In absence of a priest, even two lay persons or a lay person ritually connected with a a dog may recite the prayers.
It has to be done during the daytime only. Two priests stand beside each other holding a pichhodi (prist’s waist-band) as the paiwand (ritual connection) and recite the prayers, standing at some distance away from the corpse.
After doing the Kasti, Sarosh Baj and relevant Geh, they start the prayers in unison which begin with a modification of Sarosh baj up to the word “Astavaitish ashahe.” Then the recitation of Ahunavad Gatha starts. Midway in Ha 31 there is a pause when the corpse is shifted from the marble/stone slabs to the metallic bier and the Sagdid is done. Then the Gatha and the Sarosh baj are completed.
Thereafter the family members and friends file past the corpse to do the Sezdo, and pay their respects.
Pāydast: After the Sezdo is completed the corpse is brought out to be taken to the Dakhma. The mourners follow two priests who walk with the paiwand behind the corpse. All those who follow have to be in pairs with the paewand of a handkerchief and should recite the Baj of Sarosh till Astavaitish ashahe. This baj is completed after the corpse is consigned to the Dakhma.
Kardeh of Srosh / Sarosh nu Patru: It is done in the Aiwisruthrem Geh for the first 3 days (2 days if the Geh-sarna is done on the 2nd day). It is done by two priests, who after doing the Kasti, Sarosh baj and Aiwisruthrem Geh sit on the mat and recite the Sarosh Yasht Vadi followed by Afringan of Sarosh with a special Karda and then recite Patet Ravan-ni.
Baj-dharna of Sarosh: Immediately after death the baj-dharna in honour of Sarosh, the guardian yazad for the newly deceased soul, is performed in every Geh in Agyari or Atash Behram till the Chahrom.
Afternnon Uthamnā: On the third day after death, the first of the Uthamnā rituals take place in the afternoon. Friends and relatives of the deceased meet together to offer their condolences. In the past this was also an occasion for the announcement of charities in memory of the deceased.
The third day after death is the last day of the soul in this world. One may pledge to do something good in the name of the deceased when roses and lily are passed around along with rose-water.
If the death has been that of a married man and the widow wishes to share in this ritual, she has to go through a Nāhan ceremony, following which she should not be touched by anyone until the end of the ceremony.
The priests in the Uthamna, generally five or seven, recite certain prayers first standing and then sitting on the mat.
(1) Sarosh baj
(2) Khorshed, Meher Nyash
(3) Khorshed, Meher Nyash for the deceased without Ahmai Raeshcha and leaving out the words from “ramno Khashtre to spentahe mainyeush in Jasa me Avanghe Mazda.”
(4) Doa Nam Sataeshne
(5) Char Disha no namaskar
(6) Uziren Gah
(7) Sarosh Yasht Hadokht
(8) Patet Ravan-ni (To be started by a Vada Dasturji or a senior priest)
(9) Dhup Sarna by a senior priest, two priests if the Uthamna is Joranu.
(10) Doa Tandarosti by all priests.
Night Uthamnā: It is performed in the latter part of the Ushahin geh, before the dawn of the fourth day when close family members and friends of the deceased are generally present. The priests, generally five or seven, recite the following prayers first standing and then sitting on the mat.
(1) Sarosh baj
(2) Ushahin geh
(3) Sarosh Yasht Hadokht
(4) Atash Niyash
(5) Doa Nam Sataeshne
(6) Patet Ravan ni (To be started by a Vada Dasturji or a senior priest).
(7) Dhup Sarna by a senior priest, two priests if the Uthamna is Joranu.
(8) Doa Tandarosti by all priests.
Four Bāj-dharnas: Four Bāj-dharna rituals are done in the Ushain Geh of the 3rd Day in an Agiary. They facilitate the passage of the soul to the spiritual world, through the Chinvad Bridge and help in the Individual Judgement of the soul.
Presently, this group includes the performances of Bāj-dharnas with invocations to Rashn-Āshtād, Wāy ī Weh (also known as Mīnō Rām), Ardāfravash and Srōsh, performed one after another. While performing the Bāj of Ardāfravash, Siyāv is placed in a metallic tray, along with any other utensil to be consecrated.
Afringan in honour of Dahm Yazad: This is a special Afringan ritual with the invocation of Dahm Yazad along with the Fravashis, followed by an invocation to Sarosh Yazad. It is recited only during the forst four day rituals for a departed person, on the morning of the fourth day after death.
Yasna and Vendidad: If possible on the 3rd day and night after death.
Machi: If possible to be done in the Havan geh of the fourth day at the Sagri or in an Agyari or Atash Behram..
At the dawn of the fourth day, the soul crosses over to the spiritual world through the Chinwad Puhl. Thereafter the soul appears before a heavenly tribunal for its judgment. Good souls go to heaven (Av. vahishta ahu, later Bahesht “the excellent abode.”) Souls of the evil ones are dragged to hell (Av. achishta ahu or dush ahu, later Dozakh “the worst/bad existence”).
Death is a reality for all those who are born. The moment and manner of death is not pre-destined, but the phenomenon of death is a certainty for all. Zoroastrianism promises that at the end of Time frashokereti“renovation” will take place when evil shall be permanently vanquished, all souls will pass through the Final Judgment and rise in a blissful, spiritual state.