Significance of the sacred bull
The warasyaji commands a unique position in the ritual matrix of the faith
This extract is from the article “Consecration and Importance of the Sacred Bull warasyaji — A Religious Injunction,” published in a festschrift titled The Reward of the Righteous, Wiesbaden, 2022, to honor Almut Hintze, Professor of Zoroastrianism at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
The Bhagaria mobeds were the first priests to arrive on the islands of Bombay in the 17th century. Mobed Dada Chichana was the first recorded panthaky and served the Banaji Limji Agiary in the Fort area.
Bombay was then under the ecclesiastical authority of the Bhagarsath Anjuman of Navsari. The alat, i.e.waras from the warasyaji, required for the nirangdin (purificatory rites for consecrated bull’s urine) and the sacred ash (bhasam) from the Atash Behram of Sanjan were brought from Navsari. With the Sanjan fire having moved out of Navsari and residing in Udvada, the Navsari priests found it challenging to obtain the bhasam or fire ash for several years. After the Atash Behram was founded in Navsari in 1765 CE, the bhasam came from there and the alat was taken to Bombay from Navsari accompanied by two priests who were familiar with the roads and physically carried it. Travelling with them was a Parsi cook and two behdins (lay Parsis) who drove the bullock cart. They arrived in Bombay via Thana, where there was a sizeable Parsi settlement.
In Bombay, the alat was handed over to the panthaky of the Manekji Naoroji Seth Dar-i Mihr, headquarters of the Bhagaria priests, and later distributed among the fire temples of Bombay for their use. This allowed the priests to continue performing high rituals in their fire temples under the ecclesiastical authority of the Bhagarsath Anjuman.
As the Zoroastrian population in Bombay grew, the demand for high rituals increased and there was a surge in demand for alat from the Bhagarsath Anjuman. The akabars of Bombay requested the Navsari priests to permit them to consecrate a warasyaji and perform a nirangdin ceremony in the city. In 1776 CE the scarcity of waras for ritual use became an issue when a severe plague epidemic broke out in Bombay; during the same period the Pindara tribesmen raided Navsari. The situation was so tense that the Navsari Atash Behram’s fire was taken by the Bhagaria priests in the dark of night and moved to Surat for safety through underground tunnels built for use during such emergencies. The high priest, Dastur Sohrabji Rustomji Meherji-Rana, also took sanctuary in Surat. During the ensuing chaos and confusion, the warasyaji was either lost, captured or driven away, resulting in a significant delay in sending the alat to Bombay.
The akabars of Bombay requested the Bhagaria priests in Bombay to consecrate a warasyaji, but they declined saying, “This task cannot be undertaken without the permission of the Navsari Bhagarsath Anjuman.” This decision was taken by the leader of the Bhagarsath Anjuman, Khurshedji Tehmulji Desai (known popularly as Khurshedji Bapa), in concurrence with Dastur Meherjirana and members of the Navsari Bhagarsath Anjuman. After Desai’s death in 1779, the Parsi Punchayet once again requested the Navsari Bhagarsath Anjuman to permit the Bhagaria priests in Bombay to consecrate a warasyaji. As the warasyaji in Navsari had died there was once again a scarcity of nirang. Eventually, the Navsari Bhagarsath Anjuman authorized the akabars of Bombay to consecrate a warasyaji.
The trustees of the Punchayet convened a Samast Anjuman meeting in Bombay and decided to consecrate the first warasyaji. The first warasyaji was consecrated in Bombay in memory of Seth Dadibhai Nusserwanji Mody at the Manekji Seth Agiary. Mobeds Manekji Sohrabji Pavri and Jamshedji Rustamji Dabu performed the ceremony. The first nirangdin was in memory of Seth Bomanji Naoroji (Lovji) Wadia, father of Hormusji Seth, founder of the H. B. Wadia Atash Behram, and was performed by Mobeds Jamshedji Khurshedji Vatcha and Framji Rustamji Ranji.
As long as a warasyaji is alive, its waras is used while performing all high rituals. However, once the bull dies, all the high rituals come to a standstill until a new warasyaji is consecrated. All priests, including candidates being initiated who may have taken the barasnum using waras from the expired warasyaji, have to abandon that barasnum and re-take it after a new warasyaji is consecrated.
A warasyaji during the ijieshneh ritual Photo: Hormuz Dadachanji
Some Parsis of Surat belonging to the Shahanshahi sect adopted the Qadimi calendar and began reciting Qadimi ruz and mah in their prayers on June 17, 1743 under the guidance and leadership of Mobed Darab Sohrabji Kumana. They established the D. N. Dadyseth Atash Behram in Bombay (1783) using the indigenous Shahanshahi alat. But after this Atash Behram was consecrated, the Qadimi alat came into existence and the two other Qadimi Atash Behrams in India, viz, the P. K. Vakil Atash Behram (1823) in Surat and the F. C. Banaji Atash Behram (1845) in Bombay were established using the Qadimi alat from the Dadyseth Atash Behram.
According to the Persian Rivayats of Nariman Hoshang (1478 CE), the Iranian Zoroastrian priests continued to use the old waras consecrated in the first quarter of the 14th century since the priests who knew how to consecrate a new waras had died. However, in the Persian Rivayat of Kamdin Shapur (1559) it is noted that a new waras was prepared in Navsari by the Bhagaria priests during the lifetime of the first Dastur Meherji Rana (c.1510-1591 CE). This suggests that the ritual of making a new waras had continued in Navsari 100 years later and endures to this day.
Initially, the Qadimi priests in India used the old waras imported from Iran at an exorbitant price of 1,000 shahis (19th or 20th century Persian silver coin). This practice continued until the Banaji Atash Behram was consecrated in 1845 under the guidance and supervision of the learned Shahanshahi Dastur Jamshedji Edalji Jamaspasa, head priest of the Banaji Limji Agiary (1709 CE), the oldest fire temple in Bombay. Dastur Jamshedji asked the Qadimi priests to first consecrate a warasyaji and then complete the consecration of the Banaji Atash Behram. After two decades, another warasyaji was consecrated by Qadimi mobeds in the port of Mazgaon, Bombay, at the Faramji Nusserwanji Patel Qadimi Dar-i Mihr under the supervision of the learned Shahanshahi Dastur Jamaspji Minocheherji Jamaspasa. A third warasyaji was consecrated at the Dadyseth Atash Behram under the leadership of the Qadimi high priest Dastur Sohrabji Rustamji Mulla-Firoz.
Hair from the bull’s tail
According to the Vendidad, a young ungelded (not castrated) bull is chosen for this purpose. To determine whether the white bull is fit for consecration, experienced and able priests assist in selecting a healthy bull which has a glossy coat of white hair, a pink tongue with no spots, and is without blemishes. In the Nerangestan (Book of Ritual Code) it is stated that the waras can be taken either from the mane of a horse or a bull.
In the register listing the warasyajis consecrated in the precinct of the Vadi Dar-i Mihr in Navsari there is a 300-year-old note giving details about how to consecrate a warasyaji for ritual purposes. It describes how the bull is prepared for the consecration process and ends with the pots containing the consecrated nirang tied and secured with white muslin at the end of the ritual.
The selected white bull is taken into the holy precinct of the Dar-i Mihr where the consecration ceremony will be performed. While being bathed, the bull’s tail is washed with soap, and the hair inspected and combed. The warasyaji is then tied in a separate ritual precinct (pawi) where he is fed and looked after in preparation for the elaborate consecration ritual during which hair from his tail is cut and preserved for ritual use.
The consecration ritual lasts for six days, and on each day the bull’s hair is ceremonially cut; unwanted strands that cannot be used for rituals are disposed of. Once the ritual is over, even the waras or hair tied on the ring and used for the consecration of the warasyaji becomes nist-o-nabud, i.e. unusable. But after the new warasyaji is consecrated, three strands of his hair are taken for ritual use from the box containing the spare hair cut at the consecration. These three strands are ritually tied around a ring, and the newly consecrated ring is used for the yasna, visperad, vendidad and nirangdin ceremonies.
13th century CE Photo courtesy: Ervad Hormuz Dadachanji
In Zoroastrianism, the warasyaji is a sacred animal and befitting its status it is accorded special last rites when it dies. According to Zoroastrian cosmology, just as the human race descended from the first man Gayomard, the primeval man, domestic animals descended from the bull Gawyodad, the primeval ox. In the Pahlavi Bundahishn, which outlines the Zoroastrian myth of creation, when Ahriman, the evil spirit, killed the bull Gawyodad, Ahura Mazda entrusted a part of the bull’s seed to the moon, where it was purified. From this one seed, different species of cattle were born on earth. For this reason, the moon in Avestan is described as gao-chithra (one who holds the seed of the bull). According to legend, the remaining part of the seed of Gawyodad fell on the earth, and from it different species of grain and useful plants sprang to life.
In Zoroastrian theology, the carcasses of cattle and their hair are not deemed putrefied matter or evil, so burying a sacred bull with due precautions is proper. In the Persian Rivayats of Hormazyar Framarz, cattle are not regarded as nasa or dead matter when dead. Hence, the hair separated ritually from a living bull is not seen as “dead matter (Pahlavi hikhr, Pazend heher),” and can be used in rituals. This practice continues to be followed by the Zoroastrian community to this day.
The erroneous practice of performing the geh sarna ceremony for the deceased Bhagarsath warasyaji was introduced in Bombay a few decades ago, although this was not followed in Navsari. The appropriate manner of disposing of a warasyaji, followed by the Bhagaria priests, is to dig a big pit in an isolated place and tie a used, old but clean sudreh and kusti around the bull’s horns as a symbol of the religion. To quicken the process of disintegration, three or four bags of black salt are sprinkled around the carcass before covering it with earth. When the Bhagarsath warasyaji died in Bombay in 1937 some ignorant Bhagaria priests tried to perform the geh sarna; fortunately the late Dastur Minocher Kaikhushroo Jamaspasa intervened and prevented this. However, the practice was suddenly resurrected by some Bhagarsath priests when a warasyaji died some time after 1937. There was no high priest in the jurisdiction in Bombay at that time, as Dastur Minocher JamaspAsa had resigned, nor was any Bhagaria high priest in office to offer guidance. In 1977 this writer became high priest of the H. B. Wadia Atash Behram and Dastur Kaikhusroo Minocher JamaspAsa was High Priest of the Anjuman Atash Bahram. The Bombay warasyaji died while Dastur Kaikhusroo was a visiting lecturer in Germany. The issue of dealing with the corpse of the warasyaji was put before this writer who opined that as it came under Dastur Kaikhusroo JamaspAsa’s jurisdiction, and as he was not present in India, the matter should be dealt with as in the past. So the priests took the liberty of performing the geh sarna. Some time later, when another warasyaji died, this author spoke to Dastur Kaikhusroo JamaspAsa and informed him that it was bad practice to perform the geh sarna on the corpse of the warasyaji. Even though preparations had been made, the geh sarna was not done. Following the age-old tradition of the religion, the warasyaji was buried after a sudreh and kusti were tied around its horns and the pit was lined with black salt. Reciting a geh sarna for a warasyaji is backed neither by our traditions nor supported by the scriptures.
Some people, without adequate knowledge, may be tempted to perform the geh sarna for all creatures used in rituals. For example, Zoroastrian rituals require the use of the dog and the goat. The dog is used for the barasnum and sagdid ceremonies and goat’s milk is required in high rituals. Devout Zoroastrians also consider a crowing rooster as the holy messenger of Srosh Yazad who drives away the evil forces of Ahriman. The dead rooster is given an honorable burial after wrapping it in an old and clean sudreh (Avestan vastra, Pahlavi wastarag, Parsi Gujarati sadro or “sacred garment”). The same reverence is accorded to pet dogs, especially in devout Parsi families living in the Zoroastrian strongholds in Gujarat.
The custom of performing the geh sarna of the warasyaji does not befit the spirit of the Zoroastrian religion as it is not supported in the scriptural texts nor the long-cherished traditions preserved by the old Parsi centers of Navsari and Udvada. Had it been a tradition, the records of the Disa-Pothi (death registers maintained by fire temples) would have made mention of it just as the consecration and death dates of the warasyajis have been noted in the Vadi Dar-i Mihr at Navsari since 1680 and continue to be recorded to the present day.
Using the waras of a consecrated warasyaji and performing the nirangdin ritual are based on authoritative Avestan texts.
The immutable law of Asha which governs the universe’s workings gains renewed strength through the consecration of the warasyaji and is effective against the forces of evil.
The reinforcement of Asha (Sanskrit ṛta), right order, in the universe is brought about through:
* The rite of boiling the waras (nirang i waras pukhtan) with the holy ash of the Atash Behram fire which spiritually brings into the waras of the warasyaji a divinely charged force as long as he is alive.
* The ritual process of cutting and making the waras is begun by invoking the blessings of Ahura Mazda; while performing the Paragṇa ritual before the higher rituals, Zarathushtra’s blessings are sought. Thus the ritual recognizes and affirms Ahura Mazda as the creator of the animal kingdom and it is performed under the guidance and protection of the divine fravashi of the Prophet, Ahura Mazda’s chosen messenger. The ritual thereby establishes a link with Ahura Mazda and creates positive reinforcement for those participating in it.
* The water in the kundi (large metal container) is activated by the priest who intones the 101 names of Ahura Mazda 10 times. This indicates that in ancient times 1,001 names of Ahura Mazda must have been in existence, and an attempt has been made to preserve this memory in high rituals such as the nirangdin and the consecration of the warasyaji. This also gives us an idea of the power that lies within the sacred names of Ahura Mazda.
* During the the paw-mahal rituals, the leaves of the date palm (and not a metal chain, as used in other rituals) are wound around the barsom rods three times with the recitation of the khshnuman of Dadar Hormazd. In the same manner, the ritual power generated by the kusti which is wound around the waist three times with the recitation of the nirang of Hormazd Xwaday is very essential for the spiritual protection of a Zoroastrian. A pious Zoroastrian with the armor of the sudreh and kusti on his person is a living embodiment of the good religion.