Vendidad is one of the most important and valuable Avesta scriptures. It has information about the laws, customs and traditions of ancient Zoroastrians. The Vendidad, divided into 22 Chapters called Fragards, is the only one of the 21 Nasks which has survived in entirety.
The Avesta word for Vendidad is vi-daēvo dāta, Pahlavi jud-dēv-dād which means “laws against daeva”. The Zoroastrian term daeva does not just mean a demon. Anything causing harm to man is considered evil and termed as daeva.
The Vendidad Ritual:
The term Vendidad is also applied to the ritual in which the text of the Vendidad is recited with texts of Yasna and Visperad interspersed, and accompanied by rituals. The ritual, which lasts for about 6 hours is performed after midnight in the last watch of the day (Ushahin gah) when the forces of evil are at their zenith. It is performed for the following main purposes:
1) In memory of a departed one, preferably on the dawn of the fourth day or if that is not possible, on any other day.
2) As part of other rituals for the consecration of atash-ādarān and atash-behrām.
3) For the Maratab initiation.
4) On the last day in the Nirang-din the ritual.
Vendidad–Sāde (Vendidad text without rituals) as a prayer:
The reciting of Vendidad as a prayer, without the performance of rituals, can be done in the Ushahin gah by a single priest. This is done with the khshnuman (invocation) of Sarosh Yazad and can be done in any ritually clean place, even a house, as it does not require pavis (special enclosed space) for its performance. It is generally done to remove evil entities, bad vibes or negative energy from a place.
Before such a Vendidad recital, the house, and particularly the room in which the recital has to be done, has to be thoroughly cleaned. The place where the priest sits is to preferably swabbed with bull’s urine (taro). The priest keeps a small fire burning. He starts the recitation in the Ushahin gah after doing the Kasti and Farazyat prayers.
Contents Of The Vendidad:
The 22 Chapters of the Vendidad are referred to as Fragards or Pargarads. They are of varying lengths and deal with diverse topics. It contains minute rules to safeguard the health of mankind.
- Sixteen well-known cities of Iran created by Ahura Mazda are enumerated, against each of which Ahriman created some sort of trouble or calamity.
- It is about king Jamshed and his times and the three-fold expansion of the world by him. This information is more detailed than the information in the Shahnameh.
- Happy and Unhappy land, benefits of agriculture, pollution of earth by dead bodies
- Contracts and promises, their breach and relative expiations, education, perjury and ordeal.
- Nasu (putrefaction), disposal of corpse including still born child, formation of rain
- Agriculture, ecology and hygiene.
- Infection by dead matter and how to undo the harm; disadvantages of burial; medicine
- Infection by dead matter and how to undo the harm; unnatural sex, Sagdid, Atash behram fires Death of a dog; Purification of the path on which a corpse or a dead animal has been taken; Punishment for putting cloth on a corpse; Punishment for rape; Description of a demon; Details regarding Nasu; Purification of a man who comes in contact with putrefaction; Sin of cooking Nasu on fire ; Details regarding ‘Bareshnum’.
- Bareshnum (ritual purification), laws of purification and disinfection
- Benefits of chanting prayers twice, thrice and four times for driving off evils (Gathic quotes).
- Chanting of prayers for specific purposes (Gathic quotes)
- Mourning for departed persons
13.Various types of dogs.
14.About Udra (water-dog/otter)
- Five types of sin; abortion.
- Observances during Menstruation.
17.Paring/cutting and disposal of hair and nail
- Qualifications of a priest; Rooster Parodarsh; dialogue between Druj and Sraosha.
- About prophet Zarathushtra’ s temptation and threat by Ahriman; heaven and hell
- Different types of healing: incantation, herbs and surgery.
- Formation and healing powers of rain.
- Healing by the divinity Airyaman
From the above, it can be surmised that the contents of the Vendidad can be divided into two broad groups: I Teachings about religion; II Religious observances and practices.
History of the Vendidad:
Due to the difficulties of understanding the Avesta language and the different idioms and needs of the times, perspective and circumstances under which this text was written, it is difficult to understand a few of its injunctions. Because of this, some Zoroastrians and non-Zoroastrians view it suspiciously, laugh it off, and are not ready to accept its subject matter, considering it to be a scripture composed for the primitive times. This is gross injustice to the great seers who composed it.
Due to few injunctions not properly understood, the Vendidad. became a favourite whipping horse by many people since the past 200 years. The rituals and purity prescriptions of the religion in the Vendidad had especially come under attack by the Scottish missionary Dr. John Wilson in 1833, who published a pamphlet to malign the Vendidad, stating that it ordered to commit murders, it talked too much about demons, some of the things it talked about were foolish and unbelievable and that it mostly mentions unsanitary and impure things, but there is no talk about morality. Needless to say all these were false allegations.
The above pamphlet resulted in two Parsi boys – Dhanji Naoroji & Hormasji Pestonji, who were poor and living in Mumbai with their relatives, to convert to Christianity in 1839. Such was the impact of the allegations of Dr. Wilson, that in 1840 the Bombay Parsi Panchayat deputed a learned Parsi priest to refute the attacks on Vendidad and Zoroastrian religion. The outcome of this was the book ‘Talim-i-Zartushti’, which was translated into English by Mr.T.R.Sethna of Karachi in 1970.
As a reaction to this, Prof. Martin Haug, a well meaning scholar, in the middle of the nineteenth century, propounded that the Gathas were the central texts of the Zoroastrians and that it recorded a fine ethic and had no reference to rituals. This myopic interpretation of the Gathas, reinforced in the psyche of many Zoroastrians, an easy way out to explain away the rituals and purity prescriptions in the Vendidad.
In essence the Gathas contain the seed of most of the extant Zoroastrian beliefs, which have been developed in other texts like he Vendidad, and later Pahlavi works. For instance the The idea of Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu, the virtue of purity , a simple and industrious life, the principle of charity. the institution of marriage, the state of the soul after death etc. are all mentioned in the Gathas and them elaborated in the Vendidad.
Thus the core Gathic beliefs have been integrated in other Avestan, Pazand and Pahlavi texts. Gathas are the foundations on which the practices of the Vendidad are based.
The Vendidad is the only complete Nask extant. It covers most essential aspects of the religion, like ethics, Navjote, Wedding, Manthra (prayers), rituals, Dokhma and Agyari-Atash Behram. If the Community stays steadfast to these, nothing can harm our religion or the community.
The Vendidad is intricately linked with our lives. The nirang that we drink before Navjot and Wedding is derived after the performance of the Vendidad ritual in the Nirang-din ceremony. The sacred fires, Agyaris and Atash Behrams are consecrated with the performance of the Vendidad ritual. The Vendidad also contains an account of worldly life, family life and religious life apart from the description of Ahura Mazda, Ameshaspands, Yazads and the spiritual world. An unbiased study can reveal the deep significance of this scripture.
FAQ about Vendidad:
- When can the Vendidad ceremony be performed after death?
Ans: It can be performed any time after Paydast. It may be performed before the chahrom or even after it, the sooner the better.
- How many times can a Vendidad ritual be performed for a person?
Ans: The Vendidad should ideally be done at least once. Otherwise there is no limit as to the number of times it could be performed.
- If it is not possible for people residing outside Mumbai to perform Vandidad for their departed ones, within a year, then what is the alternative?
Ans: It could be performed for a departed one even after the passage of several years.