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Volume IV No.10

December 2003-January 2004, Mah Dai, Fasal Sal 1372  

Homage to Ahura 

      Tat vê –nê hazaoshâońhô  O ye all, working with one will,

       vispâońhô daidyâi savô,  Let Truth, Good Thought and Right-mindedness,

      Ashem Vohû Manańhâ   Through which you progress to perfection, 

       Ukhdâ yâis áramaitis   Bring to you the wished-for happiness!

      Yazemâońhô nemańhâ`  O Mazda, awaiting this Bliss from Thee,

       Mazdâo rafedrem chagedô.  Our reverent homage we offer unto Thee!  

[Gatha Vohu-Khshathra 20, Ys.51.20:  Translation of D.J. Irani] 

“I have one ineradicable belief, viz., that all Founders of Great Religions speak with a fullness of Divine Wisdom, of which we ordinary mortals have but the very faintest conception.  To understand the Words of such Mighty Beings we have to follow Their Teachings.”  [I.J.S. Taraporewala} 


THE POWER OF PRAYER: by N.D. Khandalavala 

Prayer is the Soul’s sincere desire

Uttered or unexpressed,

The motion of a hidden fire

That trembles in the breast. 


HAT is the Soul to the materialist but a metaphysical fiction?  He views man merely as the product of material evolution.   To him the human mind is nothing more than the product of  chemical action in certain parts of the body.  Self-consciousness and the higher aspects of the mind, being---according to him---only attributes of the body, which come into existence at birth and disappears at the death of the body.  All progress is supposed to be confined to the short space of corporeal life.  It is not however, explained, what it is that progresses even during this short life on Earth.  No principle of life is allowed to have existence previous to birth, and none is said to survive after death.  Why then should man aspire to be better?  If he by practicing hypocrisy could obtain good things of this life, what need of him to follow the stern and inconvenient dictates of conscience?  Every action is said to produce reaction, and every cause an effect, but all this is limited to the material Universe only.  The materialist is unwilling or afraid to carry his law into the invisible world.  Hence he represents man as the product of blind laws that seem to have no aim, nor object in bringing him into existence. 

      Is it not more logical, and more scientific to hold in common with the belief and experience of untold generations of men, that there is in man a principle which governs or tries to govern him all through life, which has an existence of its own, and which survives after death?  We recognize within us a higher and a lower Self, and in proportion as we act according to the dictates of the Higher Self, we are able to purify our minds, elevate our whole nature, and put our selves in consonance with the harmony that prevails through the Universe.  Our lower Self which is but a reflection of the higher Ego, very often ignores the existence and suggestions of the higher or Spiritual Self, and its senseless cravings and desires, produce so many of the miseries of this life. 

      As man’s life forms a part of the scheme of the Universe, and as man is a self-conscious being who knows and feels, that in spite of doubts, misgivings and difficulties his true course lies in upward progress, there must be some means wherewith he could put himself in unison with the guiding principle of nature. 

      Our higher Self is the means whereby we can attract to our selves the light of Divine Universal Spirit that is diffused everywhere, and dwells as much within man, as in the rest of the Creation.  The rays of the Sun fall indiscriminately upon the Earth, and do not select any particular thing or form of life to impart warmth thereto.  If a plant is hidden beneath a thick shed, the Sun’s rays cannot be expected to penetrate through, and aid the growth of the plant.  Some one must either remove the shed, or place the plant under the life-giving rays.  It is the same with man.  We cannot hope to find out the true path of our upward progress until we seek by self-effort the light that shines within us.  

      The existence of Beings higher than man, and of a Mighty Being who is the Lord of the Universe, is a basic element of every religious faith.  When we speak of the Laws of Nature we must not forget that an all-powerful Divine will expresses itself through them and orders all things wisely.  The world ‘Religion’ covers man’s search for God, and God’s answer to the searching.  God’s answer is his Self-revelation to the searching Spirit, which is man.  As the atmosphere surrounds us and interpenetrates us, but we remain unconscious of its presence, although our very life depends upon it, so the Universal Spirit surrounds and interpenetrates the particularized spirit in man but the latter knows not Him on whom his life depends.  ‘To know God’ is then the essence of religion.  That ‘God is immanent in everything’ is the statement of the truth in nature, which makes such knowledge possible. 

      Speaking of God Goethe, the great German philosopher and poet writes: --“People treat Him as if the immeasurable, absolutely unimaginable, Highest Being were not much more than their equal and were they penetrated by His greatness they would not dare to name Him.” 

                              “Him who dare name

                               And who proclaim:

                               Who that can feel,

                               His heart can steel

                               To say---I believe Him not?” 

      The Spirit, Intuition and Higher Intelligence, form the true Ego of man, which is generally called the Soul, a somewhat vague expression. The Ego descending into the lower mental plane takes the lower mental body by which he thinks all his concrete thoughts, while by the Higher mental body of the Ego he thinks abstract thoughts.  Still further below, the Ego draws round himself a veil of astral matter which forms his astral body, and which is the instrument of his passions and desires, and in conjunction with the lower mental body it becomes the instrument of all such thoughts as are tinged by selfishness, and personal feeling.  Only after having assumed these intermediate vehicles can the Ego come into touch with a physical body and be born into our material world.  He lives through his earthly life gaining certain qualities as the result of his experiences.   

      Man is essentially a reasoning being.  His thoughts are expressed in different languages, which may be spoken at different times and places.  Language is merely a vehicle for the expression of thought, and to say that fragments of old religious writings written in an old language that has been dead for thousands of years, are the only prayers which a Zoroastrian should utter, and that he should not pray in the language he daily speaks is a dogmatism of a very curious kind.  The Median priests of old erroneously assumed that there is a Mighty Principle of Evil called Ahriman who wickedly thwarts all the creation of the Good God Ahura Mazda and that there is a numerous brood of malicious Daevas who assist in his work of destruction.  The priests therefore put together sentences and paragraphs from the relics of the Avestan writings, and proclaimed them as supposed as magical spells to drive away the noxious Daevas.  This faith in the mere recitation of so called Manthras that has descended from ancient times. While fully respecting such an old faith, it must be noted that every Zoroastrian devotee after uttering the Avesta stanzas which he does not understand, naturally gives expression at the end, to his inmost hopes and aspirations in the language which he daily uses, and calls for Divine help.  

      There is a vast difference between the mechanical recitation of words, which convey no sense to the mind and the fervent prayer, which a worshipper pours forth in the language, which he understands, and which touches his heart and impresses his brain.  Whatever the language used, the thoughts therein must be coherent, noble and impressive, and every word thereof must be clear to the mind.  In true prayer one must first regard most earnestly his own heart, expel all thoughts and feelings of hatred, selfishness and hypocrisy, and with a pure feeling and a calm mind, make one’s self receptive to higher influences.  To utter in prayer words of wrath and hatred against any one, or against imaginary demons is a great error, and would produce an unpleasant reaction against the devotee himself.  The lower nature in all respects must be calmed down so as to allow our higher nature to manifest itself; so that the lower mind and desires may be purified and the consciousness of the individual may expand and comprehend things more clearly.  

      As the hare pursued by the hound involuntarily utters a cry for assistance, so in the numerous difficulties, vexations, and struggle of life, there arises from the heart a silent cry--- Where shall I appeal for help? There is a considerable number of Angelic Beings called Yazatas mentioned in the Avesta each one of them is invoked to help under different circumstances.  There are Spiritual Intelligences of various grades who are always ready and willing to help humanity in the discharge of their normal functions, if human beings would lead a righteous life and use their will-power to do good.  However, difficult it may be for us steeped as we are unconsciously in material blindness--- to understand Spiritual forces and functions, true prayer offered even in blind ignorance, but in perfect good faith, is not wasted, but produces some effect. The Divine consciousness is wide enough to comprehend all appeals and it never fails to give response to every earnest effort.  The Divine Power works through numerous channels and in many ways.  Man has to make sincere effort to rise superior to his mental instincts, and increase his spiritual perception. 

      There is no time to wait.  Ask not for set and formal methods, cultivate best you can a habit of uttering simple prayer in your own language day by day and if possible at a fixed time.  Always seek for truth.  Do not deceive yourself or the others. Confess your errors, and avoid all hypocrisy. The Spiritual realm never tolerates moral turpitude.  That realm is within you and above you. We have to fight against the smallness and meanness of our ‘Small self’ to get in touch with the Spiritual atmosphere. 

      The Zoroastrian religion lays the greatest stress on Asha (purity) and Asha Vahista the great Ameshaspand is really speaking Divine compassion.  It is not an attribute but the Law of laws eternal.  Harmony is the very essence of Divinity, the light of ever lasting right and fitness of all things.  It is the Law of Love Eternal.  We have to come into accord with the shore-less Universal essence, before our intelligent prayers can produce beneficial results.   Discord, sin and cruelty, throw the Ashavahistic essence into confusion. 

      Atar the Universal Divine Fire is said to give knowledge so also Vohu Mano, the Universal Mind, but the soul of man must by self-effort rise to get within the influence of these great Powers.  Atheism and disbelief in God is born of intellectual self-conceit and ignorant pride, which wants to indulge in unrestrained liberty of enjoyment.  The pure in heart easily know God.  Laying aside useless questionings about the Existence of God and the Spiritual Powers, a reverent and obedient attitude towards the Great Unseen must be cultivated and there will flash a light in the heart that will still all doubts and show the path to upward progress. 

      Offer your sympathy, love and good--will in your prayer to those whom you know to be in pain and suffering and your good thoughts will easily glide towards the objects of your kindness and soothe them.  Think more of the benefit of others than of your own, and your prayer will gradually become a power and an instrument to waft happiness towards those in need of it.  

      The present world is one of the terrible hurry and pressure.  We live in an age in which there is intense self-seeking, and avaricious thoughts of gain disturb our meditation and prayer.  The selfish thoughts of a vast number of other men also impinge against us.  There is also great nervous strain, and everything as it were seems to tend to destroy the peace that is necessary to practice meditation.  The greater the difficulty, the more powerful must be the effort to make within us a circle of a calm and quietness. 

      The power of prayer is a blissful reality.  It should not be disregarded.  Children and youth must be taught in such a manner that they may learn to love prayer.  The wording of the prayer in the current language must appeal to their minds and gladden their hearts, and lead them to God.  Like all other knowledge, religious knowledge is progressive, but the accumulated knowledge of thousands of years has not been assimilated with the Avestan Religion, which became stereotyped in Sassanian times.  The Religion based on good thoughts, good words and good deeds would have become a Universal religion conquering many nations.  The Median priests who captured it in its infancy mixed up their ancient customs and crude religious ideas with it and made it a faith of mindless forms, acts and ceremonies, and strangled its true spirit.  Our constant prayer along with other prayers should therefore be: 

      “Lord help us to relive the true Religion from its encrustations, and make it a living power, simple and forceful and readily understood, appealing to and conquering the hearts of the young and the old.”  

      When we with a pure heart, and a fervid resolve strive to put ourselves into communion with the Almighty, by means of a prayer, we feel as if we were entering into a glorious and a fuller life. ■  

[Source: “RAHNUMA”] 

PATDAN (Restraint in Speech): by Dastur Khurshed S. Dabu 


HILE performing religious ceremonies, Zoroastrian priests attach a piece of cloth to their face hanging from nostrils downwards. This is called Patdan--- “holding back”. The ostensible purpose is to prevent the foul breath (or drops of saliva) from reaching the oblations and the fire placed before them, while offering certain prayers.  It is an essential part of a priest’s garb, while he enters in the inner sanctum for altar-service.  Even laymen, hold a handkerchief near their mouth (as a substitute for Patdan) with the same object.  It is thus a hygienic device.   

      There is however, another object, so far as the priests are concerned.  In the picture of ancient Magi, we find a flap attached to their hood, which completely covers their mouth.  It denotes the “vow of controlled speech” so that they do not waste the words that may prove superfluous.  Jain Munis, are under a similar vow of “silence” so as to guard against misuse of speech.  Speech is a power to be used with care, so that it may be sweet, true and useful. This then is one of their ways of Parhezgari, abstemious life, with self-control over all senses and organs. ■  

[Source: “Handbook of Information on Zoroastrianism” by the author] 

MANICHAEISM: by Dr. Irach J.S. Taraporewala 

“Wisdom and deeds have always come from time to time been brought to mankind by the messengers of God.  So in one age they have been brought by the messenger called Buddha to India, in another by Zarathushtra to Persia, in another by Jesus to the West. Thereupon this revelation has come down and this prophecy has appeared in the form of myself, Mani, the envoy of true God in the Land of Babylon”. 


HE SASSANIAN DYNASTY ruled over Iran for more than four centuries (226-642 A.D.) to all outward appearance with great splendor and glory.  Yet when Sassanian Empire came to grips with the desert Arabs, inspired with the new Gospel of Islam, the whole of this vast and splendid fabric crumbled to pieces within a short time.  There was something essentially wrong in the body-politic of Iran from the very commencement of Sassanian rule.  Hidden underneath the outward splendor and the vast military achievements of the Sassanians there lurked the germs of decay.  All through the four centuries of the Sassanian rule Zoroastrianism continued to be official state religion, but historians have also spoken of several heretic sects.  Apparently these were suppressed, but we lack here the material necessary for forming a judgment because the triumph of the orthodox doctrine doomed to oblivion most of the views that deviated from it.  In spite of this outward triumph of Zoroastrian orthodoxy, the fact remains that quite a number of heresies were formulated from time to time and two of them actually found a very considerable response among the masses.  One, such heresy was promulgated by Mani at the very beginning of the Sassanian era and another was the heresy preached by Mazdak almost at the end of the rule of the Sassanians.  It may be suggested that the simple fact of the existence of such heretical movements as Manichaeism and Mazdakism is an indication of the presence of those germs of decay, which foreshadowed the final downfall of the national faith in Persia. 

      The Sassanian Dynasty was established in the year 226 A.D. by Ardashir Papakan of the house of Sassan,  Ardashir headed the national revolt against the fratricidal struggles and the irreligious misrule of the Arsacid (Parthian) rulers of Iran. The Arsacid rulers were Zoroastrians in name, but they thought more of their own power and position than of their country or their religion.  Politically the nation had suffered in the eyes of all the world, for the national capital had been taken and sacked by the Romans no less three times within the course of one hundred years.  Added to this shame were the irreligious and unorthodox ways of the Arsacid rulers, which gave mortal offence to Ardashir and his zealous followers..  Ardashir headed the national movement against the Arsacids, who the people believed, had led the country to the brink of utter ruin.  The province of Pars (Persis) over which Ardashir had been ruling was the center and the rallying point of whatever was left alive of the ancient Zoroastrian Faith.  Ardashir and his followers believed that it was only by the restoration of the ancient religion that a stable rule could be established and the people made content.  Fired by this enthusiasm Ardashir led the double movement of the restoration of the ancient Faith of Zoroaster. And for the establishment of the pure Aryan form of government in the land.  Ardashir himself was a priest, and his priesthood had been inherited from a long line of ancestors.  The whole nation rose to his call, and Ardashir was wholly successful in both his objects.  And when he died in 242 A.D. he left his newly founded empire to his son Shapur I.  And with he left the following testament for his son to follow: 

                        “For they are mingled so that thou wouldst say :--

                        “ ‘They wear one cloak’. The Faith endureth not

                        “Without the throne nor can kingship stand

                        “Without the faith; two pieces of brocade

                        “Are they all intertwined set up

                        “Before the wise….

                        “Each needeth other, and we see the pair

                        “United in beneficence.”  * 

      Believing in this Ardashir had established a full-fledged theocracy in Iran.  Himself a priest, he followed strictly all the complicated ceremonial prescribed by his Faith, and like an enthusiastic and sincere believer he built up his empire upon the solid foundations of religion..  This is clearly depicted on his coins, as also on all the coins minted throughout the Sassanian period. On the reverse of each coin we see a fire-altar flanked on either side by a human figure fully armed.  One of these represented royalty, the secular power; and the other represented the Dasturan-Dastur (the High Priest of the Empire), representing the spiritual might. These two sides of the coin were like two brothers. 

      In this theocratic state established by Ardashir I there lurked already concealed the germs of decay.  Such a theocratic constitution would naturally give special weight to the priesthood of one particular religion, and give special importance to one particular set of beliefs and dogmas.  The Achaemenians had ruled over an empire much more extensive than that of the Sassanians, but their religious policy had been throughout one of tolerance toward all the various faiths of their subjects.  The Sassanians, on the other hand, sought to achieve solidarity and unity through uniformity of belief (at least for the majority of their subjects) and in definitely assigning a higher position in the state to one particular Faith and to one set of religious practices and dogmas.  This favored position granted to Zoroastrianism naturally led the Zoroastrian clergy to think themselves as a sect of chosen people of God and slowly but surely worked into them a spirit of intolerance for all other beliefs. 

      It is indeed quite significant that the very first announcement of the new eclectic Faith of Mani should have been made on the very day Shapur I, the son and successor of the founder of the Sassanian house was crowned at Ctesiphon (20th March, 242 A.D.)  

      In Mani’s own life time and in the country of its origin this new faith was combated and execrated as violently by orthodox Zoroastrianism as it was by orthodox Christianity when it spread westward into the imperial domains of Rome.  Until the beginning of the 20th century of Christ all the information we possessed about Mani and his teaching was from these two sources and we had nothing more. The Zoroastrian priesthood called him the fiend incarnate and the crippled devil (for he was lame), and the Christian writers were equally abusive.  

      In 1902-1903 the first expedition to the Turfan region in Central Asia was sent from Berlin, and it was led by Grunwedel and Huth.  This was followed by the second one in 1904 led by Le Cog, and a third one led by Le Cog and Grunwedel.  This last one carried on the work from 1905 to 1907 and it resulted in bringing “a veritable tresure trove” of Manichaen Fragments to Berlin.  These documents from Turfan include fragments from the original works of the Manichaean Faith, and considerable portions of a once extensive Manichaean literature.  These are in a dialect of Pahlavi, in Soghdian, in old Turkish and in Chinese.  All these have been deciphered and skillfully edited and translated, and they have shed considerable light on Mani’s life and teachings.  From these we can conclude that, Manichaesim was not only an offshoot of Zoroastrianism in a way, and the parent of various heretical movements in Christianity, but was also a factor for centuries in the religious life of Central and Eastern Asia,  

      Mani was a Persian by birth and was probably also brought up as a Zoroastrian.  His father was a well-to-do man of considerable learning and with distinctly eclectic tendencies in matters of religion. Mani was born about 216 A.D.  At the age of about twenty he had a spiritual vision and inspired by divine revelation he came forward as a new prophet.  His endeavor was to make  a synthesis of elements from various existing religions to form eclectic in character, and inspired by the fervor of his own idealistic enthusiasm, one that should not be confined by national borders but be universally adopted.  In other words, Mani’s aspiration was to bring the world, Orient and Occident, into closer union through a combined faith, based upon the creeds known in his day.  

      Mani’s teaching is designedly a synthesis.  He has specially acknowledged his indebtedness to Zoroaster, Buddha and Jesus, whom he regarded as pioneer revealers of truth which he came to fulfill.  From Zoroastrianism he took the doctrine of the fundamental struggle between Spirit and Matter as the basis for the solution of the problem of good and evil.  In the teachings of the Buddha he found the essential lessons for the conduct of life, which should be accepted by all men everywhere.  And in Jesus he recognized the verified ideal of Life.  He supplemented his teachings by incorporating the doctrines of Hinduism, and the old Babylonians beliefs, which had survived to his days.  And in his teachings we may also trace a strong admixture of Gnostic and Neo-platonic doctrines.  This eclectic character of Mani’s teaching made it easier to be adopted by any person professing any faith, for they would pass themselves off as a sect of their original creed.  Mani’s teaching was received kindly at first, and even King Shapur I became his friend and protector. 

      But this new teaching did not quite suit the orthodox and narrow-minded Zoroastrian priesthood.  Opposition to Mani’s views grew stronger daily and at last Shapur I had to advise Mani to leave the country and to go into exile.  Mani thereupon left Iran and for many years wandered about all over Central Asia, penetrating as far as China.  It was during these years of wandering that he gave final shape to his teachings, which were then committed to writing. His creed spread rapidly throughout Central Asia and he had a considerable number of followers among the Chinese.  His faith continued in the East till about the 17th century of Christ. 

      Mani remained in exile till the death of Shapur I in 272 A.D.  He came back to Iran and was well received by Shapur’s successor Hormazd I.  But when Hormazd I died after a very short reign (272-273 A. D.) his successor, Behram I showed his strong dislike for Mani by putting him to a horrible death.  His followers were cruelly persecuted and the Faith of Mani was banned throughout the whole Iranian Empire.   So his followers migrated westward and southward.  Passing through Egypt the religion spread all along the northern coast of Africa and from there it penetrated to Sicily and to Spain and thus spread all over Europe.  For several centuries it continued active all over Europe disguised as various heretical sects of Christianity.  One very notable Manichaean was St. Augustine, who was brought up in this Faith in his youth before he took up his active work for the Church of Christ.  In Bulgaria Manichaeism appears as the sect of the Bogomil (beloved of God), in Italy it appeared as the Cathari, another heretical sect.  The last record of this religion is found among the Albigensis in southern France, who were ruthlessly massacred by the orthodox Catholics there. 

      In the East the stronghold of the Manichaeans was the kingdom of the Uigurs and there they flourished in peace until Uigurs themselves lost their kingdom. In China they seem to have faded out gradually. 

      The main teaching of Mani concerned the struggle between Good and Evil.  This is due, according to him the existence of the Twin Principles from the beginning and the struggle is to go on to all eternity.  Mani taught that Light was Spirit and hence good and that Darkness was Matter and consequently evil.  Mani recognized three principal Ages.  The first Age was before this visible universe came into being, when the Two Principles were entirely separated. In the second Age our present age, Darkness burst through the dividing partition into the region of Light, and this resulted in universal conflict. The third Age, which will see the final consummation, will bring the final triumph of Truth and Light and the complete separation, as in the first Age, of the Realm of Light and the Realm of Darkness.  His cosmology is complex and highly imaginative.  When the powers of Darkness first broke through into the realm of Light, all our worldly ills began.  To repel this incursion of Darkness the Supreme Godhead evoked three great powers.  The third of these great Powers seems to possess the traits of Mithra.  He regarded the separation of sexes as being especially the work of Evil One.  His fiendish aim was by this means to incarcerate the light perpetually in the bonds of a carnal body.  And so he emphasized the need for complete chastity and celibacy. Only through a life of renunciation, ascetic in its rigor, can one attain perfection.  Mani taught that there is a spark of Light in every human being, and therein lay the hope of our ultimate salvation. 

      Mani arranged his followers into various graded Orders.  Women were admitted freely into these.  These orders were modeled upon the orders found in Buddhism.  Mani strove to arrange his followers in such a manner that they would be the representative of an un-walled monasticism.  He also gave out commandments for his followers. These were very familiar to those found in the Old Testament, in the Sermon on the Mount and in Buddhism.  The main commandments to be observed were love for the Supreme Godhead, reverence for the Divine element in every human being, and recognition of the Divine inspiration of the Great Teachers of Humanity.  Added to these Mani insisted on purity of thought, word and deed.  Mani categorically opposed all warfare.  A firm believer in perfectibility of man, he taught that by following the precepts all will steadily advance towards perfection and that all the imprisoned luminary particles, separated ultimately from dark matter, will at last be restored in the Realm of Light. 

      Manichaeism is now dead, but it was a veritable religion and exercised an influence for more than a thousand years, upon the lives of countless numbers of devoted followers, inspired by the ideals and high principles of its founder, whom they accounted as divine” ■  

[Source: “The Religion of Zarathushtra” by the author] 

*The Shahnameh has given this beautiful Persian verses. The English rendering is by

the brothers Warner (London 1912)



By Ervad Dr. Jehan Bagli


ITUAL is a term applied to any form of repetitive performances enacted to express human sentiments. Historically they are a form of activity, that has served both primitive tribal races as well as the highly evolved civilized society, to transmit the religious theme of a community. It is important to stress at the outset that these ritual practices by themselves are not beliefs or dogmas of the religion they reflect. They do however; serve as a powerful tool --an aid to a religious life.  Their performances in a prescribed manner symbolically convey the underlying principles of the concepts to the laity. They serve as a primary force permitting laity participation, and thus provide continuity to an organized religion.  

      These devotional acts, administered by the priesthood, are a medium of communication with the divinity, and as such follow a precise order.  While the tribal religions conducted these activities to propitiate their tribal gods; in civilized societies, ritual dedication presents an environment of unison with the spiritual. Understanding of the rituals plays a major catalytic role towards the comprehension of the prophetic message.

      GATHIC: Historically, it must be recognized, that the Gathic religion of Zarathushtra disseminated several highly spiritual concepts around which today’s Zoroastrianism has matured to shape a way of life. Ignorance of the implication of these concepts, transmitted through the ritual, often tends to obliterate the message of the kernel, and rituals then assume the form of a crust around the kernel, that burdens the laity rather then providing the spiritual experience.  In the era, when prophet Zarathushtra proclaimed his notions of concept of Asha and moral values of Ameshsa Spentas, we have no evidence of either the ritual practices, nor the priesthood as we know today. The Gathic hymns of the prophet are an algorithm of a righteous way of life.  The corpus of the words of the Prophet is a road map that points to the direction, to the path of rectitude. In these scriptures, the prophet communes with his god on a one to one bases in quest of that path of ideal existence, to proclaim it to the mankind. (See Ys. 28.10; 43.13; 51.20.)

      The closest semblance of the ritual act that one finds in the Gathas is in Ys. 53.5,6 -Vahishtoishti Gatha- where the prophet resonates his message to the men and women of the world while giving away his daughter Pouruchista in wedlock to Jamaspa Hvogva 

YOUNGER AVESTA: As the early Aryan society evolves into the Avestan society, settles down to the pastoral lifestyle and began reaping the fruits through their moral evolution, gradually they evolved modalities to thank the creator for the bounties.  History reveals that with the passage of time some of the pre-Zarathushtrian Indo-Iranian divinities such as Haoma, Mithra and Verethraghana reappeared in the Zarathushtrian sacraments.  The first evidence of congregational ritual comes to us from Yasna Haptanghâiti. In the Pahlavi era we reach a point when the Avestan language has ceased to exist as the mode of communication.   In the time of Shahpur II (309-379 C.E.), the study of the scriptures was spearheaded by the great Dastur Adurbad Mahraspand. This resulted in the many extant compositions that we have today, because of the change of the languages with time, many of the prayers are a mix of Pazand and Avestan compositions. 

      RITUALS: Zarathushtrian rituals invariably depict an expression of the doctrinal information embedded in the scriptures. For example the flower exchange ceremony that you have so frequently observed, during the afringan ceremony, has deep theological implications.


      The flowers arranged in two rows imply the concept of cosmic duality of the two existence: Mainyava (ph. menog) -the celestial or spiritual- and the Gaithaya (ph. getig) -the physical or terrestrial - world.  As the junior priest – raspi - rises announcing, the words ‘unto Ahura Mazda  brilliant and benevolent’ ahuremazdaao raevato khvarenanghato each priest takes a flower from the base of the arrangement. Symbolically the two priests now represent the presence of the two cosmic realities.  Both the priests recite a short prayer of blessings for long and peaceful life in both worlds. The prayer is terminated with the words ‘may it be so as I bless’. athe zamyad atha afriniami.  

      This point brings us to, the most climactic moment in the prayer of afringan.  At this stage the atrvakhsh---the junior clergy connects himself, through ladle--chamach, to fire vase that is the incarnation of the supreme divinity, and with the words of athe zamyat. the two priests exchange the flowers.  This gesture implies an interchange and interaction between the two spheres of existence.           

 The Humatanam prayer, that immediately follows is recited twice. During that recital, the principal priest picks up the row of three flowers first in the descending order from the right, and second time in the ascending order from the left row, and each time, hands them to the raspi. Remember; the raspi who is still in contact with the spiritual entity through the fire vase with one hand, and the two priests hold paiwand meaning hold hands as the flowers are given through the humatanam recital.  This is the point that is believed to complete the circuit of communion between the physical and the spiritual.  The descending and the ascending order of picking the flowers, is believed to portray, the two way transport from the spiritual to the material world, and back of these righteous souls, that conceived good thoughts, words and performed those good deeds that are glorified here. The Humatanam prayer implies, “good thoughts, good words, and good deeds here and elsewhere, that are being performed and that has been performed, we contemplate and glorify as we stand for all good.” 

      These three lines almost universally cover the benevolent thoughts, words and actions not just in this world for those who are here, but also in the spiritual domain for those who have been here, and announce the allegiance to the all good nature pronouncing a fundamental Zarathushtrian tenet  It is almost as if the two performers who depict the two existence - the zaotar for the spiritual and raspi for the material -they literally unite the two existence in communion through the divine fire –the incarnation of Mazda.  

      That is the moment that epitomizes the fulfillment of the communion and the realization of the harmony between the physical experience and the spiritual reality. It is the cosmic experience of haurvatat –perfection of oneness- that each human being must strive to achieve between the physical and the spiritual self. These are the intonations that emanate the divine brilliance to the participating congregation, pooling them into the sphere of reality of existential  spirituality .  


      In general, all Zarathushtrian rituals by definition are solemn and sublime acts invoking the supreme wisdom –Ahura Mazda – in communion. Theologically Ahura Mazda is the intangible force (SLS ch.15.1,2) that is absolute in purity, absolute in truth, absolute in goodness and benevolence. In contrast human beings are, the creatures of the creator, they are the less that comes from the more, the infinitesimal spark of that infinite EnlightenmentConsequently it is incumbent upon mankind to make every effort to attain the highest possible state of purity of mind and body for that sacred encounter of a communion. Purity in Zarathushtrian theology represents all that is good, focused on the basic principle of Asha.  For this reason I would like to stress that purificatory rituals have evolved with an objective to allow the participants to attain a level of religiosity ritual-purity needed to maintain the sacredness for the participation in a ritual.  

      Attainment of ritual purity is a reality, it is not an abstraction or an imaginary ideal, and it is not something that is attainable by the select few.  Each one of us has the divine immanence, which when acknowledged and awakened brings to life, the spirit of ritual purity within the realm of physical consciousness.



      Broadly Zarathushtrian rituals can be classed into two major groups: (a) participatory and (b) non-participatory as defined by direct involvement or otherwise of laity in these performances.  

      Participatory rituals may be further divided into (i) Socio-religious such as wedding and funerary and (ii) Confirmatory such as navjote, navar and murtab ceremonies. All the participatory rituals are traditionally preceded by purificatory rites to prepare the individual to attain the appropriate level of ritualistic purity.

      THEOLOGICAL BOND        


      In order to link the concept of ritualistic purity with the strand of Gathic theology we must recall, that the aim of the good religion daena vanghui  is to appreciate and hold sacred, the elements   of nature-- water, earth, plant, and animal kingdom.  To use them with  moderation and reverence. Never to abuse them with excess, or defile  them by  pollution or diminish  them with greed. Today the wide spread defilement of the earthly environment and the indiscriminate loss of human life in the name of religion, and freedom on this planet are perhaps the strongest attestations to the existence of pollution and impurity, that defiles the immanent divinity of life  in the world. 

       Zarathushtrian theology charges humanity (Ys. 29.10), which occupies a pivotal position in the creative progression, with the responsibility, to be the steward of the creation. To choose with rectitude to bring the getig world in closer proximity of purity to the spiritual domain. (Ys.29.10, 30.9, 34.14, 48.5, 53.2). Historically however, social environment and human nature strongly dominated the ritual practices.  With time, the purity rules became a dominant force in itself, rather than the doctrinal principles they symbolized, and as mentioned by professor Boyce, “The orthodox laity....look to their priests to observe purity with even greater rigor, to be ‘cleanest of the clean’  in order that their prayers may be more effective”.  

      The notion, that  laity can gain spiritual advantage through the prayers of the priest, rather than understanding the principals for themselves became pervasive among the community. Physical purity thus became controlling force, over comprehension of the doctrine embodied in fulfillment of ritual purity.  Theologically ritual purity is a norm of good life.  Any substance leaving the human body is dead matter, it is polluting and ritually impure. This came to be regulated by rules of spirituality and thus evolved the simplest form of purificatory ritual of padyab after the use of washroom,  to revive  ones  individual ritual purity.  The term padyab is derived from the Avestan root paiti-ap meaning sprinkling water. This involves rinsing the exposed parts of the body with water followed by the recital of the kusti prayers.  And the ritual ablution is therefore known as padyab-kusti.



      Nahn ritual is the second in the order of complexity that is administered to the individuals undergoing wedding and navjote ceremony.  During the Islamic era Zarathustrians in Iran adopted the Arabic term ghosel meaning bath for this ritual.  After migration to India the term nahn was adopted by the Zarathushtrians, a term derived from the Sanskrit root snan meaning ablution or bathing.  The ritual is traditionally initiated with the recital of the grace for meals prayer which is known among Parsi priests as jamvani baj. This also constitutes the opening verse of Ys.5 as well as of Ys.37 of Haptanghâiti.  A yasna, whose origin has been traced by very close to the time of the prophet.  

      The rationale for this recital is due to the fact that, the ritual traditionally involves chewing of urvaram (Dadestan-e-Dinik. Ch.48.16) pomegranate leaf and sipping of nirang -the consecrated bull’s urine- both these agents are believed to serve  symbolically to administer spiritual component of the religious-ritual purity.  Traditionally this is then followed up by cleansing with gaomez (unconsecrated bull’s urine), bhasm (consecrated ash), and finally with water all of which imparts the physical component of the ritual purity for the ceremony to follow.  The nahn ritual later came to be known as sade-nahn  or simple nahn and has undergone marked changes with time.



      The most complex of all the traditional purificatory ritual is that of barasnom-e no swa or the ablution of nine nights. The term bareshnu is derived from Avestan root berez meaning top or head indicating – according to Vd. 8.40 -- washing from head down.  This ritual differs from all the others of its class by an elaborate design of a preliminary ritual at the barasnom-gah (a place specifically prepared for barasnom) followed by a retreat for nine nights. During this period, the purificatory process is believed to continue through rigorous observance of religious discipline.  This ritual in the ancient times originated with the objective of cleansing and purifying a person that has been in contact with dead putrefying matter (Vd. 8.35-36; 9.1-2; 19.20-21).  As pointed out by Prof. Darmesteter in “le zend avesta” (vol. ii, p. 146-7) “le principe qui domine les ceremonies du premier ordre est la crainte de la contagion ou comme dit l’avesta, de la druj  nasu, la druj charogne”.  “The principle  which governs the ceremonies of the  first order; is the fear of contagion, or  as  Avesta says, of the druj of nasu, druj of carrion”.  He further points out, that in Zarathushtrian faith the axiom is not “cleanliness is next to godliness” rather it is, “Cleanliness is a form of Godliness”. 

      With the passage of time the lofty concept of preservation of the of environmental purity was  overshadowed by the broader scope of performance of the ritual for its own sake. Soon barasnom was administered to priests and laity alike to confer ritualistic purity.  It was deemed important for the yaozdathregar, the clergy who administered this ritual; to undergo the same periodically as a means revival of their own ritualistic purity.  As pointed out both by Prof. Boyce and Ervad Jivanji Modi that the ritual was even administered to an individual in proxy, by a priest undergoing the ritual, for the person to attain religious-ritual purity.   

      An extreme view of this is recorded in a later Zarathushtrian work quoted by Prof. Boyce says, “if a man has not been thus purified during his lifetime,  the divine beings cannot bring themselves to approach his departed spirit, and he must wait to go to the judgment  seat until his son or heir undergoes the cleansing for him or pays a priest to do so”.  

      It is thus clear that the basic objective of the ritual, was vastly obliterated with time.  By 14th century the digression was so profound, that Zarathushtrians in Iran founded an additional ritual calling it riman barasnum-i no sab to fulfill the ancient purpose of maintaining environmental purity.  By 18th century this elaborate ritual of barasnum became a mandatory prerequisite for those who were initiated as Zarathushtrian clergies.  The detailed mechanics of the procedure can be found in 8.35-72, 9.1-57, and 19.20-25.  In early times the site of barashnum-gah had to be sufficiently isolated from animal and human use as well as removed from the consecrated elements.  These measures were taken to minimize (a) any physical contamination to the living, and (b) to preserve the spiritual sanctity of the places of worship.  The fundamental principle observed in the design of the barashnum-gah is the symbolic containment of infection  that is being removed. 


      THE DESIGN  

      Nine pits were dug in the ground at specified distances (Vd. 9.6-9).  The priest then cordons these pits by furrows known in Avestan as karshas to limit the contact with the contagion.  Three furrows are drawn with a sharp object, to enclose the first three pits, followed by three more to enclose the first six pits and the next three to surround the nine pits. In addition three more furrows are marked out to enclose the pits 7, 8, and 9 (Vd.9.11).  The entire enclosure is then surrounded within a large furrow.  The candidate passing over these pits symbolically washes the contagion in there, with pajow or gaomez followed by water.   

      The candidate enters the place from north-- a direction of traditional notoriety for genesis of evil -–reciting the end of the portion of kem-na-mazda viz., nemuscha..... the Gathic words of veneration to aramaiti (Ys 49.10).  He then proceeds to the first pit, and undergoes the ablutionary ritual with gaomez from head to toe, recites kem-na-mazda prayer again this time up to Vandidadic words apa khedre apaneseyeh---gaetha astvaiti ashe (Vd.8.21) which expresses the dissipation of pollution to the north and retain purity in the creation, and proceeds to the next pit. This cleansing process (Vd.9.15-26) is repeated with gaomez over the first six pits, believed symbolically, to purify the person spiritually, as he moves away from north and towards the south.  At this point the candidate  pauses between the sixth and seventh position and is asked to rub on the body earth or sand, to dry the body, and then proceed to the 9th pit, where ablution is administered with water (Vd.9.31) and finally the individual is exposed to the smoke of fragrant myrtle wood such as sandal wood, benzoin, aloe, and pomegranate.  This follows the seclusion of nine nights during which a strict discipline of religiosity is maintained, with prayer recital,  (Vd.9.33-36).  The ritual terminates with a final bath on10th day and recital of prayers.           

      A major change introduced since the Zarathushtrian migration to India was in the orientation of the barasnum-gah.  Instead of setting up the path from north to south as in the early Iran the -gah was set up from west to east --moving the individual towards the direction of the rising sun.  The ancient custom of digging the pits was also modified to just setting up nine flat stones or nine groups of stones, perhaps with a view to separate the pollution from the earth rather than burying it in.  

      Traditionally the barashnum-gah was located in an isolated area.  However, since the time of Arab conquests, to maintain the sanctity and privacy of the ritual, special circular enclosures were built to perform this ritual.  Prof. Boyce in her Katrak lectures refers to mahalle-ye dasturan in Yazd, where no-swa was administered to all the Zarathoshties of the region.  The tradition of circular place was maintained after migration to India until the 19th century when a rectangular place was considered acceptable.  

      Non-participatory rituals are: (i) The consecrations of a place or implements to be used for worship,  (ii) The inner liturgies performed in memory of the departed souls, and (iii) The higher liturgies.  These ceremonies of higher liturgy include the Yasna or Yazashne, Visparad, Vandidad and Baj rituals.  The higher liturgical ceremonies  are generally regarded as pav-mahal ceremonies. the term pav refers to cleanliness and mahal meaning house or a place, and as such these are performed in a specially prepared sacred spaces or enclosures known as pavis to preserve the sacredness of the space within which the ritual is performed.   

      All the higher liturgical rituals are preceded by a ritual performance of paragna ceremony.  This ceremony by definition means that which precedes”.  The word is derived from a mix of Avestan  and  Sanskrit root para (before) and Skt. yagna (Av. yasna, worship).  By now it must be clear, that these complex accumulation of ritual practices demands an equally complex cadre of the order of priesthood. As mentioned before, in early days of Zarathshtrian faith we know of no organized priesthood.  The word Zaotar is mentioned once in the Gathas (Ys.33.6) is derived from the Skt. Hotar meaning to invoke.                

      However long after the time of the prophet we note the appearance of  an organized priestly class in Sasanian era which is described in detail in Vsp. 3.1, Nirangistan book II, ch.27, and also referred in Vd. 5.57.  Here we see zaotar depicted as the leading priest -leading invoker - with the assistance of the other six who has various functions. These are atravakhsh to tend the fire, fraberetar and asnatar, looking after and cleansing the implements, havanan and raethwishkara the pounder and mixer of haoma and sraoshavarez one who oversees the entire operation. This pantheon originated in the Sasanian era which was replete with priesthood. Today these rituals are performed by two priest ; the zaotar as the leading  priest and rathvi/raspi who performs most of the other functions.                       

      The mode of attaining religious-ritual purity has undergone significant modification with time. A historical incident worthy of mention in this connection is that described in Epistle of Manuschihr. Around late 9th century C.E. Zadspram the younger brother of Manuschihr was appointed high priest of Sirkan, southwest of Kerman.  He decreed to shorten the traditional procedure by discarding the washing with gaomez. To this Manuschihr reacted, saying, (Ep. I. Ch.4.12) “to change then their practice ...would be entirely an outcry....and a like violation of the unanimity of the spirit who are the heads and guardians of the religion”. Despite that the only aspect of ritual, that has remained constant over time, is the change  itself.  

      Similarly, the use of the various agents such as the consecrated bull’s urine -Nirang, the unconsecrated one- Gaomez, and the ashes of the consecrated fire- Bhasam, has all but dissipated with time, partly due to limited accessibility.  

      Prof. Boyce in “ Persian Stronghold of Zoroastrianism” (p. 93)  speaking of the last consecration of nirang in Yazd says, ‘‘the last time this elaborate service of consecration had been performed in  ghambar-khane in Yazd was in 1961.. and there was no hope of consecrating any more with due observance since there were no longer priests able to perform this ceremony”.  In contrast, according to Dastur Firoze Kotwal the ritual was performed several times a year in India following the detailed description of the service in Persian Rivayat  (Dhabher p. 347-357).


      It may be generally concluded, that both in Iran and in India the use of nirang and gaomez has been greatly reduced in the later half of the 20th century, and has been replaced by fruit juice.  

      In conclusion, it is important to emphasize that although the basic concepts that the rituals symbolize, through their practice, are preserved in general, the actual techniques have been significantly modified with time. These modifications have largely resulted due to the changes in the social, political and environmental circumstances since the Parthian and the Sasanian era.  

      The law of nature dictates that anything that does not change with time stagnates, and degenerates.  The only code immune to this, are the Gathic teachings of Zarathushtra as revealed by Ahura Mazda, for they are the laws of nature, - they are the laws of truth. Zarathushtrian rituals  are but a means to an end.  They are, and must remain one of the means for the transmission of the canonical message of the prophet. For that reason, if not for any other, the rituals must be preserved for an expressive perpetuation of the faith. ■  

[A talk presented at the NAMC Seminar in Mississauga, April 19 2003] 

Published for Informal Religious Meetings Trust Fund, Karachi


Virasp Mehta

4235 Saint James Place, Wichita KS 6722