Life of Ustad Behramshah N. Shroff

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Roj Ashishvangh Mah Tir, 1379 Yz.

The beginning of the observance of the Fasli Hingams by the Societies brought out one important question: what about the Muktad? Many queries regarding the Muktad and its observance were put to Ustad Saheb. Ustad Saheb revealed in quite some detail the way in which these observances were practiced both in ancient Iran as well as in Demavand.

In the times of the monarchy, Ustad Saheb explained, the entire functioning of the priestly order was entirely supervised by the King. The priests of those times were not attached to any Agiary or Daremeher but were in fact employees of the Zoroastrian monarchy which ruled Iran. There was a separate department of the Priesthood, which was headed by the Supreme Dastur, called the Sraoshavarez and an intricate hierarchy of priests right down to the family level. All the household expenses as well as living expenses of these priests were taken care of by the monarchy, and there was a gradual progression through many levels, which happened through exams conducted and supervised by senior priests. Entrance to the Priesthood was a very prestigious thing and there were competitive exams like we have for the civil services today, to gain a foothold into this class. Freed from the worry of earning a decent living, the priests could easily concentrate on their prayers and rituals, lead a life of truthfulness and piety and many of them reached great levels of spiritual wisdom and scholarship. Each family had its own personal priest who was the spiritual guide and counselor to all the family members. It was the sole duty of the priest to design the schedule of the family prayers – both for the living as well as the dead and then put the same into practice. An important part of this practice was the observance of the days of theFarvardegan.

Khshnoom has given a detailed exposition of this practice. Ustad Saheb explained that after death, the soul of every Parsi has to spend a certain amount of time in the higher realms of the Universe. On the fourth day after death (known as theChaharum), the soul leaves the physical earth and embarks on a long and dangerous journey to these higher realms, which are commonly and collectively known by the name of ‘Chinvat’. This flight of the soul is aided and made possible by four spiritual boosters – the Sachkar ceremony; the Geh Sarna; the process of putting the body inside the consecrated Dokhma (called Dokhmenashini); and the various four days ceremonies said in honour of Sarosh Yazad. If these four spiritual boosters are properly and completely observed, then and only then, does the soul of the departed rise up on the dawn of the fourth day, as the priests begin the Daham Yazadceremony and begin its flight towards Chinvat. This flight is through some very dangerous areas of the Cosmos which are filled with low level entities known as Jinand Pari, who try and ‘kidnap’ any such Zoroastrian soul whose spiritual boosters may not be strong enough to withstand these attacks. (The poor and abysmal state of souls whose relatives opt for methods other than Dokhmenashini, or whose ceremonies are not properly and completely done can be imagined from this fact.)

Depending on the lifestyle of the person and the kind of thoughts, words and deeds (both good and bad) accumulated during the lifetime of the person, the soul arrives at the very entrance of the region of Chinvat and then begins a slow and long process of toiling, where the results of the misdeeds of the current life are to be ‘paid back’ in a certain manner. This is the sole job of the Urvan of the deceased and in this long and very arduous process, the soul is given regular nourishment and sustenance through the performance of specific prayers by the relatives on earth. This is the real importance of our after death ceremonies. They do not wash away the sins of the deceased, but they give spiritual strength and sustenance to the soul to complete its allocated work in the shortest possible time. The process of this payback is long and takes many years, roughly a minimum of 57 years! This is the reason that ceremonies should NOT be stopped after the first year but at least an annual Baj on the death anniversary of the deceased should be performed by his spiritual heir or ’son’ as long as he is alive.

The work of the soul is supervised by its own spiritual ‘father’ and guide (known asKhuda or Khodae) and also by some very advanced and liberated Fravashis, who are collectively called the Ashaunam Fravashinam (the Holy Fravashis). In this long and arduous work of the soul, there comes a time, each year, when it is relieved of its duties for a short period. These days always occur at the end of the Zoroastrian year and are called the days of the Farvardegan (the days of the Fravashis) or Parvardegan(the days of nourishment). At this time, the souls who are working towards their individual goals are given a short rest and are grouped together and brought down once again to this earth, in the company of the Highly Advanced and LiberatedAshaunam FravashinamThese are the days of the Muktad (from Sanskrit ‘mukta’ +‘atma’, hence ‘liberated souls’). At this time, the souls of the deceased are eager to see whether their own relatives still remember them. They are hungry for spiritual nourishment and each soul is drawn to its place of residence and looks around for the comforting vibrations of Avesta prayers, the spiritual nourishment through specially cooked, ritually pure and totally vegetarian food and a place to rest in the special copper vessels (Karasya) filled with purified well water and fragrant roses.

My dear readers, I still remember the days of the Muktad in the villages where our grandfathers and grandmothers used to take so much time and effort to welcome our spiritual guests! Days before the commencement of the Muktad, the Parsi houses used to buzz with activity. The entire house would be cleaned, a fresh coat of lime applied to the special prayer room maintained in each house, provisions would be stocked up, special vessels would be made ready. On the day preceding the beginning of the Muktad, the prayer room would be cleaned and washed again and the Karasyas and Vases of the departed members of the families would be washed and cleaned and made ready. Much before dawn, the senior family members would get up, have a bath and then begin the proceedings. Fresh well water would be drawn, the vessels purified, Divas lit, flowers cut and nicely arranged, some embers would be taken from the house fire and placed in the Afarganyu and loaded with pure sandalwood and fragrant Loban. Every family member would then gather in the room and the first prayers of the season would begin. Soon the priests would arrive and begin the actual prayers. As youngsters, we would wait for the morning Stum to get over so that we could feast on the delicious ‘mithi vani’ or sweets which were lovingly prepared by the elder ladies of the house. The entire Parsi wad of so many villages where our forefathers lived would be full of the sweet scent of sandalwood and incense, and the gentle murmur of the priests saying their prayers. Non Parsis would maintain a respectable distance from the Parsi wad areas in those days, and in Navsari no one could dare to cross the Dastur wad with a cigarette or bidi in his mouth.

Today the Muktad are reduced to people having the prayers said in the Agiaries (considering the state of purity in Parsi houses today that is a good thing). In many such places there is too much of commerce and too little of devotion. And then of course today we have the disgraceful spectacle of some Parsis bringing idols of Hindu gods to their house for a few days and then immersing them in the sea! The media plays this up as a good thing! And many Parsis flock to these places! Just where are we going as a community?

Ustad Saheb explained that the total period of the Farvardegan was of 18 days. The first day, Roj Ashishvangh, is known as the day of Ijan or welcome, where the Karasya are merely placed in their places, but not filled with water or flowers. The normal prayers are done, so as to infuse the area with purity and strong vibrations, so that the Ruvan of the deceased are attracted there. Then come the five ’small days’ from Roj Ashtad to Aneran. Then come the five ‘big days’ of the Gathas, which are also the 5 days of the sixth and last Gahambar – Hamaspathmaidyem. The next seven days are the ‘days of the Amesha Spentas’ where the entire earth is given a spiritual Nahn or bath by the visiting Ashaunam Fravashinam group of souls. The night of Roj Amardad is the period of departure, when the Ruvans under the watchful protection of the Ashaunam Fravashinam begin their slow journey back to their respective stations at Chinvat. Finally on Roj Fravardin, Mah Fravardin, the Ruvans once again resume their allotted tasks at their designated places in Chinvat. This is the cycle which is played out at the end of every Zoroastrian year.

Based on this exposition, the members of the Societies requested Ustad Saheb to begin the observance of the Farvardegan days according to the Fasli calendar.

Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram

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