“Baj and Barsam” The lost custom of eating a ceremonial meal in Zoroastrian Tradition.
At the end of the ShahNameh of Ferdowsi, we have an episode in which the last Sassanian king, Yazdgerd, hides in a mill (Asiab) and events that leads assassins to discover and kill him. The episode of how they discover that this man must be the king tells much about the importance of a sacred objects and the art of eating a ritual meal of thanks giving among the Iranians.
To make the long story short, it tells how a miller goes into his humble mill one morning and sees a handsome man who is asleep in a corner there. He wakes the man up and asks him what he is doing there, and the man tells the miller that he has been fighting with the enemies (the Arabs) for many days and now he is hiding in this mill escaping them. The Iranian miller wants to help this handsome warrior, so he asks what he can do for him. The warrior tells him that it has been few days that he has not eaten and that he is very hungry. The miller tells him that he does not have much to eat in the mill except some bread and whey (Kashk) and the warrior says that it is good enough and to please bring it so that he can eat.
When the miller presents the food to the warrior, he notices that he is not touching it and becomes surprised by this as he knows that the man is extremely hungry. He asks for the reason of for this behavior, and the warrior tells him that he cannot eat his food because there is not a Barsam placed at the table. The miller has heard of ceremonial meals where a Barsam is placed on the table and guest observe Baj while eating, but he has never seen a very hungry person not eat some humble bread and whey without the presence of a Barsam. The miller tells the warrior that he has no Barsam in the mill, and the warrior asks him to go to the nearby village and ask the Mobed at the fire temple to lend him his Barsam and to bring it to him so that he may eat his food.
What is a Barsam, Barsum, or Barsom? A Barsam is a bundle of sticks tied together with a cord which is like a Koshti (the sacred cord Zoroastrians tie around their waist). This bundle of sticks symbolizes “Strength in Union” or “Hamazoori”. There are “Dark Barsams” such as what binds members of criminal gangs together very strongly. One of the aims of the “Good Religion” is to tie “Barsams of Light” among its members such that by mutual understanding and commitment, good persons are united together to better fight “Barsams of Darkness”. Having said this, we see that this symbolic bundle of twigs tied together is not an item of food or does not serve as an eating utensil, so why is our warrior lord not eating without having a Barsam next to his food?
More to follow, Parviz Varjavand