The Bāj-dharnā holds a primary place in Zoroastrian religion. It is the colloquial Parsi Gujarati term for the ritual originally known as Drōn Yasht. It is primarily performed in the urwis gāh within the precincts of the fire-temple. However, it can be performed in any ritually pure place, within a pāvi (demarcated furrow) after fulfilling certain requirements. It is performed by a single priest and takes about twenty minutes to perform.
The performance of Bāj-dharnā is an essential pre-requisite for performance of other inner rituals as it bestows on the performer the ritual power to perform them. Hence, it enjoys a central position among Zoroastrian rituals. After performing the Bāj-dharnā for the self to acquire the ritual power, the priest performs it at the behest of the laity, especially to commemorate departed ones.
As a memorial prayer, it forms part of the set of rituals performed on various occasions after death, like the fourth day (Paz chāhrōm), tenth day (Paz dahōm, G. dasmā), thirtieth day (Paz sīrōzā), first month (G. māsisā; NP māhigān), monthly commemorations (G. rōzgār), sixth month (G. chhamsi), first death anniversary (G. varsi; NP sāligān), subsequent death anniversaries, as also on important days of the Zoroastrian calendar such as the Parabh, Gāhānbār, and Frawardegān.
The Bāj-dharnā is essentially performed for consecration of drōn and other edible ritual requisites, things and places connected with rituals, as also for commemorating and celebrating festivals and events. Whenever rituals are to be performed collectively, the Bāj-dharnā invariably forms a part of the group.
The way the Bāj-dharnā is performed now, dates back at least to the Sasanian times. Apart from the short Pahlavi text Cim ī Drōn, which exclusively deals with the Drōn Yasht, several Pahlavi texts like the Ardā Virāz Nāmag, the Pahlavi Rivāyat of Farnabag-Srōsh and Nērangestān have references to its performance.
The study of the Bāj-dharnā has been over-shadowed by the Yasna to the extent of being almost neglected, as there were many similarities in the text and rituals. The text of the Bāj-dharnā is borrowed from Yasna 3 to 8. This section of the Yasna is referred as Srōsh drōn. Indian Zoroastrian priests also use the word Bāj-dharnā as a technical term to denote the set of Avestan texts, which precede and follow the texts of Visperad and Vidēvdād as recited in rituals. When the word Bāj-dharnā is employed in this secondary sense, the entire word is used and never a single component.
Purposes and Functions
Before the performance of any inner rituals, a priest is expected to first perform a Bāj-dharnā either by taking own name in the Dibācheh or collectively remember all the souls. This gives the priest the ritual power of the nāni khub. Thus it is the foundation for all higher rituals.
The various purposes for which the Bāj-dharnā is performed, reveals its primary place among Zoroastrian rituals. A manuscript dating c.1750 C.E. enumerates 65 different purposes for which the Bāj-dharnā was performed then. There are six broad purposes and functions for the performance of this ritual. They are: i. Invocation of Divine Beings,
ii. Consecration, iii. Commemoration of persons and events, iv. Part of a Set of Bāj
v. Part of a group of rituals, vi. Special Purposes
In the Bāj-dharnāthe creations are represented as follows: Humans by the priest, animals by the gōshōdāg (clarified butter -ghee) metals by ritual utensils, earth by the demarcated furrowed area, plants by fruits and drōn. Water and fire too are present, completing the heptad of creation. Apart from these principle requisites, secondary requisites are also used. The special requirements for the performance of Bāj-dharnā are the metallic barsom and aiwyaonghan, generally referred to as tae-sankli. The other important ritual requisite for this ritual is the dron. It can be prepared in a ritually pure environment by any Parsi/Irani Zoroastrian in a ritually pure state.
Ritual Acts: The priest starts the ritual with washings and cleansing of ritual utensils and requisites, which include the kalashyā, kahārnu, fulyu, tāe and sānkli. There are three levels of ritual cleaning: a) Washing; b) Cleansing and c) Purifying.
Then two kalashyās are purified and filled with water and made ritually pure. The priest then places four drōn and with ghī and pomegranate seeds on it. The he cleanses his left hand with the five tāe and two sānkli and then ties the sānkli. During the performance of the bāj the priest glances at the requisites several times. He then exchanges the place of frasast and drōn and then does the partaking of the Chāshni (ritual tasting) five times with different combinations. Thereafter he takes a sip of water from the fulyu. After this, the priest places on fire the three pieces of wood and some incense, goes out of the pāvi and performs the Kashti without reciting the kem nA mazdA.After the ritual, members of the laity partake the chāshniof the consecrated items.
Meaning underlying the Structure
Before the commencement of the ritual all requisites are washed and cleansed to prepare them for the exalted purpose of being utilised for the divine. At the outset the priest ‘undertakes’ an act of ‘veneration’ as a personal desire. In the second chapter, the priest speaks out the ‘proclamation’ of the offerings to the divine beings. The third chapter symbolises the progression from speech to action along with his fellow-men whom he has succeeded in gathering and involving to perform the act of ‘veneration.’ In the fourth and last chapter of the text, the ultimate act of ‘dedication’ takes place. After performing the veneration of the divine beings each participant is fulfilled and complete in himself.
After reaching this state the performer partakes the ritual tasting. The climax of the ritual is reached when the performer ends the ritual with the personal affirmation “I am Zarathushtra” and the showering of benedictions. In the end the performer directly addresses Ahura Mazda indicating an establishment of a direct rapport with Him, just as Zarathushtra had done at the height of his divine quest. Before ending the ritual, the priest feeds the fire with fuel and incense which implies that the the power generated through the ritual, would be used towards strengthening Ahura Mazda, symbolised by the fire.