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Zoroastrian Studies Seminar Series At University of Toronto

Zoroastrian Studies Seminar Series Winter-Spring 2023
University of Toronto
The Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Institute of Iranian Studies in
collaboration with the Encyclopaedia Iranica Foundation
& the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America present

Zoroastrian Studies Seminar Series
Winter-Spring 2023

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Friday, January 20, 1:00 PM Eastern Time
“Conception and representation of the Zoroastrian Rituals”
Professor Alberto Cantera
Freie Universität BerlinFriday, February 17, 1:00 PM Eastern Time
“On the Transmission of the Zoroastrian Texts”
Professor Almut Hintze
University of LondonFriday, April 14, 1:00 PM Eastern Time
“Zoroastrian Norms in Sasanian Law”
Professor Maria Macuch
Freie Universität BerlinFriday, May 12, 1:00 PM Eastern Time
“Happiness in the Zoroastrian Traditions of Iran and India”
Professor Jamsheed K. Choksy
Indiana University
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Adar Mahino Adar Roj

Adar Yazad is called ‚Äúthe Fire of Ahura Mazda‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúthe son of Ahura Mazda‚ÄĚ (Y.25.7:71.10) ‚Äď ‚ÄúAtarsh Puthra Ahurahe Mazdao‚ÄĚ.
Today is the Salgreh of Shreeji Pak Iranshah, as well as the Salgrehs of several Agiaries such as Banaji Limji Agiary at Fort Mumbai; Seth Maneckji Sett Agiary at Bazargate Street Fort; J.J. Mistry Adaran at Surat; P.A. Patel Daremehr at S.V. Road, Andheri, D.E. Mithaiwala Agiary at Grant Road Mumbai and several others…
Eternal glory be unto our Holy Fires! Blessings unto all humanity.May Adar Yazad smite the druj of the pandemic and restore health and happiness again.


Today is Ava Roj Ava Mah!
‚ÄėArdvi Sura‚Äô (Ava) is the Yazad (Angel) of the waters. She is described as ‚ÄėAnahita‚Äô, meaning undefiled, unpolluted or untainted. It is also the name of a mythological river in Iran, reports the Jam-e-Jamshed.
Ardvi Sura is of noble origin, courageous, strong, tall, fair, slender, pure, beautiful and glorious. Her duty on earth is to guard Ahura Mazda’s holy creations. Prophet Zarathushtra asked her to make king Vishtaspa his follower and think of, speak of and act for the religion.
Avan Ardvisur refuses to grant boons to wicked persons. Avan Ardvisur is displeased when anybody defiles the waters. It‚Äôs a sin to contaminate water with flowers, food items like ‚Äėdal ni pori‚Äô or offerings that rot and pollute the waters. Worse still is putting dead matter such as corpses into the waters.
May Ava Yazad’s healing grace bless humanity and restore health, happiness and harmony.
By Rustom C. Chothia

Our Environment from Zoroastrian Perspective

 A talk by Ervad Zarrir Bhandara representing FEZANA Рdelivered at the Parliament of World Religions on October 16th

There is nothing more important in life than life itself. This does not just refer to human lives but all life forms as the well-being & future of all living beings are intertwined. Today, what we know as ecology, was taught by our prophet Zarathushtra thousand of years ago.

In order to achieve success in preserving, healing, and sustaining our environment for the benefit of our current and future generations, we need to come together and use our good minds to form a collective consciousness.

In Zoroastrianism, there are 7 Amesha Spentas, bounteous immortals, each having a beneficient quality and a responsibility of overlooking each of the wonderful creations of God.

This heptad is also considered as the seven steps or commandments, when followed benefits individuals and collectively to bring about progress in improving ourselves and others in terms of physical and emotional health, to bring about prosperity and happiness.

The first Amesha Spenta is Spenta Mainyu, the beneficent spirit. The quality is innate Wisdom/God‚Äôs will and the creation looked after/represents is Human Beings. Hence, it is important that we realize God’s will by connecting ourselves with our superconscious through meditative prayers and caring for each other through wisdom.

The second Amesha Spenta is Vohu Manah – the good mind or the rational mind which helps us to make decisions in our daily life. The creation being looked after is Animals. It is important that we use our good minds to further goodness in this world and also take care of animals. According to Shahnameh, (Book of Kings), it is this tradition, which was introduced to the people first time ever in human history by ABLIS, A PERSONIFIED DEVIL “AHRIMAN” WHICH IS KILLING ANIMALS FOR FOOD.
Surely, we have followed this tradition until this day without realizing, whose tradition we are following? In addition, in what way it affects our environment and us.
The output is in direct proportion to the inputs “Garbage in garbage out” what food you eat affects our (mental and physical health) thinking and disposition to a very great extent.

God gave us dominion over animals to take care of them not harm them. Factory farming of animals creates more fossil fuels, pollutes our environment, and depletes natural resources more than any other industry. Hence, it is important that we transition to a healthy plant-based diet that is good for our health and our environment.

The third Amesha Spenta looks after/represents Fire, which is the purest form of energy that is present in all living beings and the physical manifestation of that energy is the holy fire that we can physically see and also represents the energy that is not visible to the human eye. Possessing the qualities of righteousness, truth, and order. It is important that we use renewable energy from natural and clean sources like Sun and Wind. It is also essential that we follow the path of righteousness by practicing truth and orderliness in our lives to bring about peace & happiness.

The fourth beneficent spirit is Kshthravairya which looks after the sky and metals. The quality possessed is of moral strength, power, and conviction. In this step, we have to take care of our birds who fly in the sky and make the best use of metal objects. A knife in a surgeon‚Äôs hands can save a life and in a murderer’s hands can end a life. Kshthravairya helps us not to give up; when you are treading the path of righteousness, you are bound to come across a lot of obstacles and distractions, you need to gather courage, moral strength, and conviction to overcome those obstacles and distractions.

The fifth archangel is Spenta Armaiti, she looks after Mother Earth and has the qualities of holy piety, devotion, and love. Hence, it is extremely important that we take care of our Mother Earth in the most loving way we can, be devoted to the cause of taking care of our environment, and also invest feelings of love in all our work that we do on a daily basis.

When we follow these 5 steps, we arrive at the 6th step Haurvatat or perfection, she looks after the waters. We need to conserve water by reducing our use of natural resources, which are becoming scarce.  Also, we must be mindful to not pollute water by using less plastic and more reusable items. Only about 10% of recyclable items around the world are actually recycled, the rest goes into landfills & eventually makes their way into bodies of water, which is extremely harmful to marine life.


The last one in the heptad is Ameretat, she looks after the Plant kingdom and possesses the quality of immortality or long life. And that what is righteous will be remembered for a long time. Thus, we become immortal through thinking good thoughts, speaking good words, and performing good deeds wherever we go. Our thoughts, words, and deeds affect not only ourselves of course, but the whole universe as well. We are as much a part of the universe as the universe is a part of us because God’s energy is present in all living beings and we all are made in the image of God.

Until about 2 years ago, many of us did not realize the importance of the air that we breathe and the fact that Plants give us this life-sustaining force throughout our lives. We took this for granted. Our lives depend on plants, hence we need to grow more plants (mainly trees). Furthermore, we must take care of our environment – with the 7 Ameshaspands in mind, as mentioned before – to revive our planet & secure the future for generations to come.

How about we make a pledge today to learn practice and imbibe the qualities of these Amesha Spentas in our lives namely the Wisdom the higher consciousness, the superintelligence, the righteousness and order, the moral strength, the holy piety/devotion/love, Perfection and good deeds that would be helpful for our future generations and also let us make a sincere effort to take better care of our environment and each other. Thus, we can create Heaven on Earth here and now.

Some Relevant questions and answers:
What is the importance of nature in Zoroastrianism?
Nature is an integral part of our Zoroastrian religion, we revere all the elements of our nature, and what we revere we may use it but we do not misuse it or abuse it. Today what we know as ecology was taught to us by our prophet Zarathushtra thousands of years ago to take care of our environment.

   Are there any prayers or ceremonies dedicated to the environment?

Yes, there are many prayers and rituals dedicated to nature and one of them is a Jashan ceremony. It strengthens that particular element of nature that is prayed upon and it also invokes the blessings of the divinity in charge of that particular element.


What is the Jashan ceremony?

Jashan is a Pahlavi (old Persian) word that comes from an Avestan word Yasna, which means religious service. There are many types of Jashans, some are performed on joyful occasions and some are performed on not so joyful occasions. For example, there are Thanksgiving Jashans which are performed six times a year seasonally as Thanksgiving Jashans which are called Gahambar Jashans.

What is the significance of each item placed in the Jashan ceremony?

In the Jashan ceremony, the Representatives of the seven Amesha Spentas the bounteous immortals, the deputies of Dadar Ahura Mazda are present, Spenta Mainyu, who looks after mankind is represented by the priests. Bahman Amshashpand or Vohu Manah the Good Mind who looks after the animal kingdom is represented by milk. Asha Vahishta or Ardibehesht Amshashpand looks after the fire and energy are represented by fire. Kshthra Vairya or Sherevar Amhashpand looks after the sky, and all the minerals and metals are represented by all the metal elements in the ceremony. Spenta Armaiti or Spandarmad Amshashpand who looks after the mother earth is represented by the earth on which we sit and perform the ceremony. Haurvatat or Khordad Amshashpand who looks after the waters is represented by the beaker of water placed in the ceremony. Ameretat or Amardad Amshashpand who looks after the Plant kingdom is represented by the fruits and flowers placed in the Jashan ceremony.


What is the importance of fire in Zoroastrianism?

God’s energy is present in all living beings and the physical manifestation of that energy is the holy fire. Fire is a very important element in Zoroastrian religion and it is present in all our ceremonies and rituals, the holy fire is also considered as a receiver and also a transmitter, who receives the energy from the spirit world and transmits to His devotees who are present.

MUKTAD (Ervad Dr. Ramiyar Parvez Karanjia)

MUKTAD (Ervad Dr. Ramiyar Parvez Karanjia)
Zoroastrians all over the world celebrate the last ten days of their religious calendar year, that is, from roj Ashtad mah Spandarmad to the Vahishtoisht Gatha, as the Muktad.
The word Muktad is also referred to as MuktńĀt, which is closer to the Sanskrit word ‚Äėatman‚Äô = soul from which it is derived ‚Äď mukt ńĀtmńĀn. It is the Sanskrit rendering of the Avestan word ashńĀunńĀm.
Muktad is a joyous occasion for remembering and welcoming the Fravashis. We need to show our love and gratitude to them, as they help us in many ways. We have to thank both the types of Fravashis – those helping Nature and those helping human souls (living as well as departed ones).
In the old books, among the list of duties of a Zoroastrian, the duty of celebrating the Muktad is foremost.
According to Saddar Bundahishn, during these days the souls of the departed come down to the earth. The Fravashis, who are the guardians of the soul, accompany them. All souls are liberated, from wherever they are, even from hell. The souls of the pious make merry as if a traveler has returned home. The souls of the evil do not experience much joy as they are in the dread of returning back.
Zoroastrians erroneously believe that Muktad are the days of remembering just their departed ones. In fact, Muktad are the days for the collective worship of all Fravashis, followed by the individual remembrance of souls and Fravashis of one’s dear departed ones.
During the days of Muktad, the Fravashis come collectively to this world and go to their respective houses. Whenever the Muktad are properly celebrated and the Fravashis are duly propitiated, the affairs of those people are successful, and there is all round prosperity. People are blessed with health, strength, happiness, protection and abundance of waters. The Fravashis even bless the city and nation in which they are remembered.
Preparation for Muktad:
In the past, especially when Muktad was mainly celebrated in the house, preparations were made in the house. The full house or a particular room was cleaned and white-washed. Provisions and fuel were stocked at least to last the days of Muktad and new Year. This was done so that one did not need to go shopping during these days. People, as far as possible do not go out of the house, as souls and Fravashis are at home, and it is not proper to leave them and go out.
Sometimes, a night-long vigil was also kept by people. Members of the house, especially women, were actively involved with preparations, and took a Nahan (ritual bath).
All family members used to contribute their share towards buying house-hold items. This sharing gave rise to the term Behru, a Persian word, which means ‚Äúshare‚ÄĚ.
Today, what we understand by the term Behru is the consecrated vase or karasya in which water and flowers are kept during the days of Muktad. The Behru is symbolic of the unity of the family and does not necessarily represent the departed person.
Muktad in the house:
It is advisable to observe the Muktad in the house. If not the prayers, at least some arrangement can be done to welcome the Fravashis home. The main requirements for observing Muktad in the house are fresh water, flowers, a metallic vase or a Karasyo, a metallic or stone table, fire, divo and chanting of prayers. Flowers can be arranged in a vase filled with water and kept in the prayer room or a secluded corner of the house. Water and flowers in the vase have to be changed daily. Flowers and water are the visible emblems and symbolic reminders of the invisible souls and Fravashis.
Water and flowers are representatives of Khordad and Amardad Ameshaspand. They are the carriers of reward for the soul of the deceased . They also uphold life and so do Fravashis. Moreover, all the three are also carriers of divine blessings. Hence water, plant and Fravashis are remembered together at several places (Yasna 26, Farvardin Yasht 23 etc.)
Duration – 10 or 18 days :
Today generally we celebrate 10 days of Muktad, starting from Roj Ashtad of Mah Spandarmad and ending at Vahishtoisht Gatha. Zoroastrian texts have references to 10 Farvardegan days. (dasa pairi khshafnao in Farvardin Yasht XIII, Phl Vd.VIII.22, Sdr Bnd, 52.1-3, Persian Revayats, Dhabhar).
For several centuries in India, Muktad was celebrated for 18 days. It started on Roj Ashishwangh of Mah Spandarmad and ended on the dawn of roj Amardad mah Fravarden. The earliest evidence of 18 days Muktad is through references in a book which relate such celebrations since the 15th century.
The reason Muktad were lengthened to 18 days was that the 7 days after Vahishtoisht Gatha are important since they belong to 7 Amshaspands.
Hormazd Roj is Navroz, Ardibahesht roj is Rapithwin consecration, Khordad roj is Khordad sal. Hence these six days were clubbed together to form 18 Muktad days.
In the early seventies, especially due to the initiative taken by Dasturji Khurshed Dabu and others, Muktad were once again gradually reverted back to 10 days.
Hamaspathmaedhem Gahambar: The later five days of the 10 day Muktad are also the days of. the sixth and the last Gahambar, Hamaspathmaedhem.
According to Zoroastrian religion, each of the 6 creations was created during one of the Gahambars. Mankind was created on the last Gahambar.
Purpose of Muktad :
In most religious traditions, the departed ones are specially invoked once a year. The Hindus refer these days as Shradh and the Christians as Lent (before Good Friday). According to Zoroastrian tradition the Fravashis descend at the end of the year.
During the Muktad, one should avoid routine work, and devote time to the remembrance of Fravashis and do works of charity and social service.
Fravashis come whenever they are invited. However, during the days of Muktad all the Fravashis descend. When they come to the house they should be welcomed and worshipped. If they are happy, they will give blessings of prosperity and happiness. They should not go back dissatisfied. Great rewards can be obtained by the observation of Muktad.
Muktad is a time of REPAYING the debt of gratitude to our ancestors Рthose whom we know and the countless others whom we don’t know, but who have made a difference to our lives.
These days also help us to renew the MEMORY of our dear departed ones. They also help us realise our RESPONSIBILITY for the future generations. Just as we reap the rewards of the actions done by our past ancestors, we should do something for the future generations.
Special prayers for Muktad, especially for laity:
1. For the first five days, Framraot HńĀ (commentary of Ashem Vohu)
2. For the five days of Gathas, each Gatha on the respective day has to be recited.
3. Muktad no namaskar.
4. LńĀkhi nu bhantar 570 Yatha + 210 Ashem + 120 Yenghe (total 900) in the khsnuman of Sarosh ‚Äď is to be recited daily for 10 days.
Customs for Muktad :
1) Not to cut hair and nails, so as not to create naso and impurity.
2) Not to stitch clothes or other such avoidable chores, so that one could devote time to prayers and remembrance of Fravashis.
Men should not engage in work except doing their duty and performing meritorious deeds, so that the Fravashis may return with delight and pronounce benedictions.
3) To keep fire in the house and offer fragrance to it, praise Fravashis, recite the Fravarden Yasht, perform Afringan and recite Avesta prayers so that the Fravashis experience comfort, joy and delight and confer blessings.
Some customs arose out of ignorance and were later discontinued. For instance, a Jama (long white robe) was hung on sugarcane sticks to remind of the presence of the souls of departed persons. There was also a custom of cleaning the corners of the house with a broom immediately after Muktad to make sure that all the souls and Fravashis depart, lest some may stay back and take back the soul of a living person as company.
Presently there is a practice of going from Agyari to Agyari to pay homage to Muktad. This practice is not in agreement with the spirit of Muktad, wherein we need to stay at home, pray and invite the Fravashis in our houses. Moreover, in the past Muktads were mostly celebrated at home and not in Agyaris.
Important days during Muktad :
1. Roj Marespand ‚Äď Din Beh Mino Marespand: On this day Asho Zarathosht was accepted as a prophet by King Vishtasp.
2. Hamaspathmaedhem Gahambar days: To consecrate Gahambar preferably on Ahunavad Gatha or any of the five Gathas.
4. Vahishtoisht Gatha is known as Pateti ‚Äď day of Repentance. On this day, preferably in the Ushahin Gah, Patet has to be recited to seek forgiveness for sins committed knowingly or unknowingly during the year.
The night of Vahishtoisht Gatha is also referred to as ValńĀvo, that is, send off (for the Fravashis).
Muktad are the days of heightened communication between the material and spiritual worlds‚Äď our need of health, happiness, peace and prosperity is fulfilled through the blessings of the souls and the Fravashis, and their need for our remembrance is fulfilled by our sincere prayers and invocations.

Mind Over Meat – Bahman Ameshaspand

In the pantheon of Zoroastrian divinities, Bahman Amshaspand¬†ranks next to¬†Ahura Mazda.¬†Bahman¬†is¬†an Amshaspand¬†or¬†Amesha Spenta¬†(variously translated as Bountiful Immortal or Arch Angel) and is doctrinally seen as the guardian of one of¬†Ahura Mazda‚Äôs¬†good creations, namely animals ‚Äď particularly¬†Goshpand¬†like cow, goat, sheep, etc. It is for this reason that devout Zoroastrians abstain from eating meat throughout the entire month of¬†Bahman. Although, on a lighter note, a Zoroastrian foodie recently retorted that by this logic, during the month of¬†Amardad,¬†one should not be eating vegetables because¬†Amardad Amshaspand¬†is the guardian of one of¬†Ahura Mazda‚Äôs¬†other good creations ‚Äď namely vegetation!

Observing The Month Of Bahman: 

In the Zoroastrian calendar of three hundred and sixty-five days, there is not a single day for total fasting from food. The only fast that is traditionally observed is the fast from eating meat through the Bahman Mahino. No special prayers or ceremonies are performed during this month. One is simply expected to switch to a simple vegetarian diet, as an act of religious discipline.

There is no¬†Yasht¬†(Hymn) or¬†Niyaesh¬†(Litany) dedicated to¬†Bahman. There probably was an Avestan¬†Vohu Manah¬†or¬†Bahman¬†Yasht,¬†but it is now lost to us over the vicissitudes of time. What we have is a Pahlavi commentary called, ‚ÄėZand-e-Vohu Manah Yasna‚Äô. However, unlike Avesta and¬†Pazand,¬†Pahlavi¬†is not¬†Manthravani¬†or the traditional language of prayer. Regardless, many do recite it.

Historically, Zoroastrians do not seem to have been a vegetarian community. In fact, one of the strongest arguments supporting the non-vegetarian theory is the observance of Bahman Mahino. It is often argued that if Zoroastrians are mandated by religious tradition to be vegetarian all year round, why does the community kick up all this fuss during the month of Bahman?

Understanding Bahman Or Vohu Manah: 

In the Zoroastrian calendar, the second day of every month as well as the eleventh month of every year is dedicated to¬†Bahman Amshaspand.¬†Bahman¬†is the Persian form of the¬†Pahlavi¬†word,¬†‚ÄėWahman‚Äô¬†and the original¬†Avestan¬†term¬†‚Äď Vohu Manah,¬†which most scholars translate as ‚ÄėGood Mind‚Äô.

In the¬†Gatha,¬†Asho¬†Zarathushtra asserts that the path leading to¬†Ahura Mazda¬†is through¬†Vohu Manah. In other words, propitiating¬†Bahman Amshaspand¬†takes one closer to Divinity. Interpreted at an ethical level, exercising the right moral choices with the help of the good mind alone can take one closer to¬†Ahura Mazda ‚Ästthe Lord or Master of all Wisdom.

In later texts, the Sudreh is referred to as Vohu Manah Vastra or the garment of Bahman; just the way the Kusti is referred to as the girdle of Sarosh Yazata. It is believed that wearing the Sudreh, which is the garment of Bahman Amshaspand, bestows the wearer with wisdom, while tying the Kusti over it, gives the wearer Sarosh Yazata’s divine protection and enhances the devotee’s higher consciousness.

So, Why Abstain From Eating Meat?

While at a moral and ethical level,¬†Bahman¬†represents the ‚Äėgood mind‚Äô, Zoroastrians abstain from eating meat on every¬†Bahman Roj¬†as also¬†Roj¬†Mohor, Gosh¬†and¬†Ram,¬†as a mark of respect to the four Guardian Divinities of all¬†Goshpands.¬†Abstaining from eating meat throughout the month of¬†Bahman¬†is considered an act of religious merit to acquire wisdom through internal cleansing and exercising non-violence towards the Good Creation of¬†Ahura Mazda. Even those who do not observe fasting from meat for the whole month try to avoid eating meat on¬†Bahman Roj¬†of¬†Bahman Mah¬†and the days dedicated to¬†Bahman‚Äôs Hamkara¬†(co-workers) ‚ÄstMohor, Gosh¬†and¬†Ram.

Strictly speaking, throughout the month of¬†Bahman,¬†a Zoroastrian is expected to live on a simple diet of grain, fruit and vegetable. However, most Zoroastrians find it challenging to survive on what they call ‚Äėghaas-phoos‚Äô¬†and therefore most consider eating eggs quite acceptable, while some go further to believe that eating fish or even fowl would be perfectly legitimate. Aquatic creatures with fins and two legged fowls are not¬†Goshpand, it is argued!

Abstain From Mental Violence: 

It is said that we are what we eat and a vegetarian diet is generally considered good for spiritual development. However, in our opinion, there is no point in being a vegetarian and observing the month of the ‚Äėgood mind‚Äô if it is observed only from the dietary point of view. It is not just a month to abstain from eating meat but a month to abstain from all forms of violence in thought, word or deed.

While observing a vegetarian diet for a month or for four days every month is a good and healthy change, there is no point abstaining from eating meat but making mincemeat of all rational thought, word and deed!

False Sense Of Superiority:

¬†We have observed that vegetarians usually carry a certain sense of ‚Äėfalse superiority‚Äô and treat non-vegetarians with a sense of contempt, mentally, and sometimes vocally with their ‚Äėholier than thou‚Äô attitude! Some even castigate meat-eaters as ‚Äėmurderers‚Äô!

What one chooses to eat or not eat is a personal choice and there is absolutely no need for those observing a vegetarian diet to harbour a false sense of superiority or piety. Historically, some of the most notorious serial killers across the world have been vegetarian! By contrast, the gentle and compassionate Dalai Lama is not vegetarian. Jesus Christ, the apostle of love and forgiveness drank wine and mostly ate and served his followers bread and fish, including, at the last supper.

Also, let us not forget that towards the end of his life, Adolf Hitler followed a vegetarian diet. It is not clear when or why he adopted it, since some accounts of his dietary habits prior to the Second World War indicate that he consumed meat as late as 1937. However, by 1938, Hitler’s public image as a vegetarian was already being fostered, and from 1942, he self-identified as a vegetarian. The point is, did Hitler’s change in diet make him a better human being, let alone a non-violent human being? If anything, his vegetarian diet made him aggressive in his thinking, violent in his speeches and culminated in brutal acts of atrocity. The irony is, Adolf Hitler, in his private conversations with dinner guests, used to refer to meat-eaters as murderers!

Focus On Wisdom:

The point we are trying to drive home is please refrain from making a virtue about what you eat or do not eat during this month or throughout the year. Focus on the mind because all thoughts begin in the mind leading later to words and finally, to actions. There is no point being a vegetarian without first exercising temperance of the mind!

In the¬†Gatha, Asho¬†Zarathushtra urges us to acquire happiness through wisdom, which in turn can be acquired by reflective thinking and exercising moral choices within an ethical framework. Much later, the Chinese philosopher, Confucius echoed the same thought, ‚ÄúBy three methods we may learn wisdom: First ‚Äď by reflection, which is noblest; Second ‚Äď by imitation, which is easiest; and Third ‚Äď by experience, which is the bitterest.‚ÄĚ

May Bahman Amshaspand Bless our community with Wisdom!

Courtesy : Parsi-Times

From A mobed’s heart to mobeds’ hearts


The following speech was delivered by Ervad Zarrir Bhandara at the Rippon Club Mumbai on Saturday November 2nd, 2019.  ‚ÄúMobed‚Äôs Heart to Mobeds‚Äô Hearts‚ÄĚ event. This event was organized by the Global Health Guru and the Holistic Health Coach Dr. Mickey Mehta. The young and dynamic BPP trustee Mr. Viraf Mehta was the chief guest and Dr. Ervad Ramiyar Karanjia principal of Dadar Athornan Madressa was the guest of honor. This event was attended by about 20 mobeds which included the ex principal of Cama Athornan Madressa Ervad Kersi Karanjia.
Dr. Mickey Mehta thanked everyone and requested Mr. Viraf Mehta to introduce the speaker Mobed Zarrir.
Zarrir started his presentation by asking all present to hold each other’s hands and requested Ramiyar to lead the Hum bandagi of 2 Yatha and 1 Ashem Vohu.
Zarrir thanked everyone present and asked the audience how are you feeling? Then asked them to shake hands with the person on their right and left saying ‚ÄúI am a great Mobed and so are you‚ÄĚ
He asked who are we. -Mobed which comes from the word Magu- Paiti, the word magic comes from the word the Magis- our ancestors who were able to perform super natural things due to the power of prayers combined with the knowledge of Astrology, Astronomy and Alchemy, we were  the teachers, leaders and role models of our Society what happened? What went wrong? How come the people who were once looked up to are looked down upon? How can we bring the faith of our community back into our own religion? We the priests are the back bone of our community.
 How do we shape the will of the community without shaking the spirit which will bring about the life time of transformation?
What is our role and responsibility? Before we examine our role, we need to start FEELING GOOD because when we feel good, we can do good. How do we feel good? He emphasized on the importance of mindfulness and the mental faculty as taught by our prophet Zarathushtra in the Gathas by quoting‚ÄĚFor the uncontrolled, there is no wisdom, nor is the power of concentration without concentration there is no peace of mind and without peace of mind how can there be happiness.‚ÄĚ- Zen in the Martial Arts, Bhadwad Geeta and Gathas
We have to realize that we are very privileged to be in this profession as this is the most noble profession ‚ÄúMobedi Pesho, A ek dam uttam pesho che‚ÄĚ. Provided it is practiced correctly. He asked many questions and fortunately or unfortunately it was only Dr. Ervad Ramiyar Karanjia was able to answer his questions. He asked which is the outer ritual in which, we enact the role of Ahura Mazda Himself, bringing about the blessings from the spirit world to the physical world. Namely, the Jashan/Afringan, what could be of more significance than this. (Thus boosting the self esteem of mobeds).
It is also a great responsibility as we are the mediator between the worlds by means of rituals.
Talking about ethics, he quoted ‚ÄúIf you are true to the art the art will be true to you” Hanshi Vispy Bahadur Kapadia- my Karate teacher. Here instead of art I would say profession. Instead of chasing money, be a true service provider and the money will chase you. It is necessary to pray with proper pronunciation to create desire effect and initiate communication with the spirit world by means of vibrations.
We priests need to be steadfastly dedicated to proper performance and pronunciation, show that we care about what we are doing by being caring and loving by investing our feelings in our prayers  and performing rituals, rather than just performing mechanically and yes, there are no shortcuts to it. Do it right or don’t do it at all.
Also it is important to acquire correct knowledge of performing rituals, especially the higher inner liturgies- PavMahal ni kriya  and here in India you are blessed to have stalwarts likes Dasturji Dr.Firoze Kotwal a living legend, a reservoir of knowledge, Dr. Ervad Ramiyar Karanjia, Dr. Ervad Roointon Pir, Dr. Ervad Parvez Bajan, Mobed Aspandiar Dadachanji more.
 Further equip yourself with scholarly and Esoteric knowledge by reading Kangajis/ Taraporewalla‚Äôs, Daboo‚Äôs, JamaspAsa‚Äôs, Kotwal‚Äôs and also books on Kshnoom which will make the rituals more meaningful  to yourself and you can explain the significance of the same to others. Take the example of performing a Kusti which you know it’s a purification ritual, you can compare it with running a Virus scan before downloading any program in the hard drive. Essentially, you are cleaning your astral body- aura- removing impurities thus making room and becoming receptive to receive blessings from the spirit world by first reciting the 101 names of Ahura Mazda, which are His qualities which we download in ourselves thus becoming like Him as we all are made in His image. Further, when we make two loops reciting Manashni, Gavashni and Kunashni, which signifies the two worlds namely the physical and spiritual with a bridge in between signifying that when we traverse through this bridge of separator, we take with and leave in this world only the thoughts, words and deeds that we performed. Hence, it is so important to lead an ethical life.
Think priestly duties as divine privilege, even if charging money, put your best effort into it, be disciplined, be dedicated, be devoted. Do it from your heart (etekad sathe) thus breaking this vicious cycle of carefree priests which influences the community to be careless about their religion.
 Also if you are in any other profession apply the good things from those professions into your priestly duties to compliment your priestly duties to make you a better priest. For example I being in the field of Martial Arts, every time we block or punch has to be a better than the previous one similarly, every time I perform ritual it has to be better than my previous one. Also, being an ex model I know how important it is to look good. Hence, as a mobed you should look presentable and pleasant, so that you can be willingly and easily approached. Also, having a background in alternative medicine- helps me to do spiritual healing- combining Mathra and Mithra. Being an electrician, I know how important the connection is, which helped me to make sure that I am connected with the ground ‚Äď Earthing and with the implements to be consecrated and at the same time also forming a connection between the laity-the physical world and their dear departed ones-the spirit world thus completing a circuit.
When you include ethics as the most important component in your priestly duties and in life, and live your prayers then you are the one more than anyone else, who is going to benefit the most by progressing in both worlds physical and spiritual.
He shared his success story and how his life was saved through power of prayers after a traumatic road accident and also his Journey as a priest giving credit to Athravan Education Trust.
Start educating people with simple yet important things like Sudreh and Kusti the golden tools as mentioned in Khorshed and Meher Niyaesh ‚ÄúZarvanem Surem Yazamaide‚ÄĚ
The key principle to follow is the principal of Asha- righteousness in all your endeavors to be full of Asha HOPE.
When you follow Asha for the sake of Asha Righteousness, you experience Ushta Happiness the Ashem Vohu prayer.
The physical entity or the creation that comes under Asha Vahishta is Fire son of Ahura Mazda. Fire is the manifestation of that energy which is present in all living beings, in other words God’s spark/ energy is present  in all living beings,  which gives us the notion of oneness  in the universe, which is unity in diversity in our community and in the world. Hence we celebrate our different calendars, sects beliefs even religions, as paths are many spirit is one.
 I am not saying it’s going to be a rosy path, you have to strive as you will still come across a lot of criticism and controversies, talking about criticism and controversies, the people who are often most criticized are the trustees who are performing a thankless job whether in US or in India, look at BPP trustees Noshir Dadrewalla, Kersi Randeria, Viraf Mehta Xerxes Dastur who are the most honest people yet they are challenged and criticized every day.  In such situation, you diffuse the issue with love and light rather than shove and light.
He asked what is common between past highly evolved souls like dasturji Kookadaru and many others of that status, Dasturji Daboo and our Mickey Mehta. It is the Ethical, responsible and compassionate eating which is very important for spiritual development, it is also good for you, the environment and animals.
We are the role models we have to practice extreme devotion and piety then we can expect at least a few, if not all, community members to be inspired by this.
He concluded the talk by expressing his gratitude to Xerxes Dastur, Viraf Mehta, Fr. Mickey Mehta, Dr. Ervad Ramiyar Karanjia and also his mentor and friend Dr. Huzan Kharas/Daver, his son Zerkxis Bhandara and his friend Meher Amalsad for helping him with this presentation.
Caption from left to right:
Ervad Kersi Karanjia ex principal of Cama Athornan Madressa, BPP Trustee Viraf Mehta, Ervad Dr. Ramiyar Karanjia principal Dadar Athornan Madressa, Dr. Mickey Mehta, Ervad Zarrir Bhandara

Teachings of Zarathushtra and current practice of the religion

The religion founded by Iranian Prophet Zarathushtra (Zoroaster as called by Greek philosophers like Plato) over five thousand years ago, as described in his five Gathas (songs), give us the basic guidelines that are mostly timeless.

His followers added rituals, prayers and traditions that serve as tools which can help to structure our lives according to the guidelines. Just as we constantly improve tools that we use with the latest technologies, these tools which help us to apply the general guidelines may be modified if and as needed to be relevant for the time and society in which we live. 

Understanding the connection of all creations of God, Zarathushtra proclaims that true happiness comes to them who create happiness for others (Y.43).When we are not content with our honestly obtained wealth, position, status, etc., we are tempted to resort to unethical means to gain more than we have. With this realization, Zarathushtra tells us that Contentment is the greatest virtue. 

Practice of Zarathushtra’s Teachings in the Present Times Ultra-Conservative PracticesLike in other religions, some individuals follow the teaching of the founder more closely than others, and there are groups like orthodox, reformists, and mainstream who follow their preferred practices in a group setting.As the focus of Zarathushtra’s teachings is on ethical living in this world that would promote peace and happiness for all creations on earth, we should examine if we are following and prioritizing his ethical guidelines in our practice of religion. 

Among the Zarathushtis from India and Pakistan, we have a small but vocal population of ultra-conservative and a much smaller group of ultra-reformist individuals. The majority of Zarathushtis are not rigid in their religious beliefs and observances.

Most ultra-conservatives, especially from India/Pakistan, emphasize racial and ritual purity and do not think it important or necessary to learn the meanings of the prayers.

They believe that prayers in Avesta and Pahalavi were composed in a special way and have intrinsic beneficial effects from the vibrations emanating during their recital, and that there are many different translations of the prayers resulting in difficulty to know which one if any, is the correct translation. Their focus is on performing the rituals according to traditional rule as suggested by their Guru, a nineteenth century Zarathushti who claimed to have been given the knowledge by spiritual masters who live in the mountains in Iran. 

Comparing this belief to Zarathushtra’s teachings, we can observe that it does not appear to be in agreement with his teaching that each person should use his/her good mind and freedom of choice gifted by Ahuramazda, to think and freely choose what is right. The ultra-conservative belief that Zarathushtra’s religion is restricted to the Persian race is also contrary to his Gatha verses in which he mentions the soul of the world asking God for a Savior and Ahuramazda choosing him for that role.

Most ultra-conservatives believe that women during their menstrual period should be isolated at home and should not enter prayer areas. They believe that even a male person who is bleeding cannot enter prayer areas. This belief is not supported by Gatha teachings leading us to think whether under the availability of current hygiene practice and products this rule is still necessary.

The ultra-conservative belief in a rigid class system (similar to the Hindu caste system) separating priest class (Athravans) from non-priest class (Behdins), and not allowing Behdins to serve as priests (called Mobedyars), is also against Zarathushtra’s teachings of equality of all human beings. While the Iranian community is not against Mobedyars, the Parsi priests resisted training of Mobedyars until some open-minded priests were convinced of the need to break the roadblock for Behdins, considering the growing shortage of practicing priests. 

Not accepting people who voluntarily choose to learn and adopt the teachings of Zarathushtra, without evaluating each case, is another practice of ultra-conservatives, that is against Zarathushtra’s teachings of equality.  

Ultra-Reformist Practices

Most ultra-reformists claim to restrict their prayers and beliefs to the Gathas only, but even some of them interpret what is written in the Gathas without questioning, thinking independently, and understanding in the proper context.Some ultra-reformists justify their choice without thinking about the rightness of their choice, claiming that there is no specific restriction related to their choice in the Gathas.

For example, choosing not to cover the head and remove shoes in the prayer room of a community center in violation of posted rules would be wrong in the spirit of the Gathas, if done without questioning and understanding that the rule helps retain cleanliness by preventing loose hair falling and dirt from shoes worn outside. 

Mainstream Practices

The largest populations of Zarathushtis are generally flexible and more open-minded about racial and ritual purity. However, not having adequate knowledge about Zarathusthtra’s teachings in the Gathas, historical practices of the religion in Iran, they often tend to go along in public, with the opinions of the vocal ultra-conservatives or ultra-reformists in order to avoid controversy and ostracism.

Even those from priestly families who were trained in ritual performances as children (due to the wishes of the parents), and decide to practice priesthood, usually tend to go along with the preferences of whoever is in power socially or of giving compensation for their services. Due to poor compensation and lack of benefits for most priests, only those who lack adequate education and opportunity to pursue lucrative careers become practicing priests and that too part-time with a second job outside. Last year, two new Daremehers were inaugurated, and Mobedyars were not invited to sit with the Ervads (from priest families) to perform Groundbreaking Jashan and Inauguration Jashan rituals, and the mainstream community kept quiet about it.

This is against the teachings of Zarathushtra about speaking up against injustice and blind faith. Training of priests in India/Pakistan has been limited to some basic religious education and memorization and recital of ritual prayers without understanding the meanings of the prayers. Most recently there has been some additional information being offered to priests called EmpoweringMobeds in the form of seminars. There are only a handful of priests who have learned Avesta and Pahlavi languages and appointed as High Priests of Atashbehrams in India/Pakistan. Not knowing the meaning of what one is reciting in prayers goes against Zarathushtra’s teachings of gaining a thorough understanding of his teachings. 

Zarathushtis have generally retained basic ethics of honesty and charity that have earned them high respect and trust from the people in India, Pakistan and Iran. There is a general belief in good thoughts, good words, and good deeds that is carried forward to the children, and a continued observance of festival days like Nowruz, Ghahambars, etc. that brings the community together on those occasions. Involvement in interfaith organizations and events is helping educate other communities about our faith. 

In order to motivate our youth to continue the practice of the Zarathushti religion, we need to teach our history, so that they know that we are not some small cult but inheritors of one of the world’s oldest monotheistic faiths that once was the majority religion of Iran. We also need to welcome Mobedyars (Behdin Pasbans as known in India) and encourage anyone (man or woman) who wishes to serve the community as priests. We need to develop scholars who study Avesta, Pahlavi, and share their knowledge with the community via periodic lectures. We need to develop pastoral service by priests who can provide religion based counseling to individuals experiencing high stress situations.

And, we need to accept non-Zarathushtis who come to us and wish to learn about our religion and wish to practice our religion, after some screening. 

¬†Maneck Bhujwala was born in Bombay, India, to Navroji and Meherbai. He got his Bachelor in Engineering from India, and M.S. and M.B.A. in USA. He co-founded the Zoroastrian Association of California in Los Angeles in 1974, and Zarthushti Anjuman of Northern California in 1980. He currently works as a licensed real estate consultant, serves the community as a priest, and is President of the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council.Maneck has contributed articles in FEZANA Journal and WZO’s Hamazor magazine, and coordinated religion classes for adults. He also transliterates and translates the Shahnameh to English poetry form and distributes a page a month on the internet with Persian, Gujerati and English versions. Maneck lives in Huntington Beach.¬†

Posted 8th December 2018 by California Zoroastrian Center

Published in Chehrehnama 188

Farokh Fravardin ‚Äď A month of Good Fortune and Happiness dedicated to the Holy Spirit

Parsi Times¬†brings you our monthly¬†‚ÄėReligion Special: PT Parab Series‚Äô, by our¬†religious scholar and cultural expert, the erudite Noshir Dadrawala. Every Month, we share with you a deeper understanding of the auspicious day of the month- The Parab- when the Mah (month) and the Roj (day) coincide. Here‚Äôs celebrating this month‚Äôs Parab ‚Äst‚ÄėFarokh Fravardin‚Äô which falls on Monday 4th¬†September, 2017.

Fravardin¬†is the first month of the Zoroastrian calendar and very appropriately so because the month is dedicated to the¬†Fravashi¬†or¬†Farohar,¬†which is the prototype of all creation. In the Zoroastrian tradition while invoking¬†Fravardin, we use the epitaph¬†Farokh¬†which means fortunate and happy. In our prayers we recite, ‚ÄúMah Farokh Fravardin‚ÄĚ meaning the happy and fortunate month of¬†Fravardin. Indeed, what a wonderfully appropriate epitaph for the very first month of the year. A month of good fortune, happiness and dedicated to Holy¬†Fravashis, often described as the guardian spirit.

Fravashi¬†is somewhat similar to the¬†Pitri¬†of the Hindus or the Manes of the Romans and Greeks ‚Äď the Beneficent Spirit. Zoroastrians view¬†Fravashi¬†or¬†Farohar¬†as a Divine Essence, which is wholly pure and good. It is not to be confused with the¬†Ruwan¬†or soul. The¬†Avestan¬†word¬†Fravashi¬†comes from the word ‚ÄúFra‚ÄĚ (to take forward) and ‚Äúvaksh‚Ä̬†(to grow). In other words,¬†Fravashi¬†is that spiritual essence or power that takes every good creation of¬†Ahura Mazda¬†forward¬†and helps it to¬†grow.

Fravashi is also a prototype, which is believed to have existed before the material creation. Even Ahura Mazda and His Divine Energies, the Amesha Spentas and the Yazatas, are said to have their own fravashi. Plants, animals, mountains and rivers also have their own fravashi. They are guardian spirits of the souls of the dead and protect and guide the souls of the living, as well.

The Parab of Fravardin

Roj Fravardin¬†of¬†Mah Fravardin¬†marks the day when devout Zoroastrians head for the¬†Dokhma¬†or¬†Aramgah¬†in their city, town or village to offer prayers to the¬†Fravashi¬†of their dear departed. One could say it is observed as the Zoroastrian ‚ÄúAll Souls‚Äô Day‚ÄĚ or more appropriately the day dedicated to the collective ‚ÄėHoly Spirit‚Äô of all creation.

Prayers Offered: Usually a Jashan is performed where members of the community participate, often in very large numbers. This is usually followed by a Hum Bandagi or a mass congregational prayer to propitiate the Holy Fravashis. Individually, devotees usually pray the Stum no Kardooffering fruits and food items to the Fravashi of their dear departed. Many also pray the Fravardin Yasht or hymn to the Holy and Righteous Fravashis.

In the very first week of the month of Fravardin there are several significant days:

  • Mah Fravardin Roj Hormuzd¬†(New Year)
  • Mah Fravardin Roj Ardibehesht¬†(Day to consecrate¬†Rapithwan)
  • Mah Fravardin Roj Khordad¬†(Khordadsaal¬†and traditionally¬†Asho¬†Zarathushtra‚Äôs Birthday)
  • Mah Fravardin Roj Amardad¬†(Amardadsaal¬†to celebrate eternity of the¬†Fravashis)

Consecrating Rapithwan

In the Zoroastrian religious tradition, the day of twenty-four hours is divided into five watches called Gah. The first watch of the day from sunrise to noon for example is the Havan Gah. The second watch of the day from noon to early evening is Rapithwan Gah and so on. Rapithwan is the second watch of the day. However, it is observed only from the first day of the New Year (Roj Hormuzd of Mah Fravardin) to the last day of the seventh month (i.e. up to Roj Aneran of Mah Meher). From Roj Horuzd of the eighth month of Avan to the day of the last Gatha we observe the second Havaninstead of Rapithwan. In other words, we observe the Rapithwan Gah for only seven out of the twelve months of the Zoroastrian calendar.

It is an old tradition from the time when we lived way up north and the days were shorter and hence we prayed the ‚ÄėSecond¬†Havan‚Äô¬†or¬†Havan¬†extended right through¬†Rapithwan.¬†Currently with our calendars gone haywire and our living in various Zones, North to South, all this would seem out of context. However, traditionally, starting from the month of¬†Fravardin¬†we can pray¬†Rapithvin Gah¬†till the month of¬†Avan¬†which earlier in history was autumn and¬†Rapithwi¬†(The energy of warmth) symbolically went underground to protect roots and life through the cold winter.

Also, although we observe the¬†Rapithwan Gah¬†from New Year‚Äôs Day, the consecration (Eejavanu)ceremony of this¬†Gah¬†is generally performed on the third day of the New Year, (or¬†Roj Ardibehest¬†of¬†Mah Fravardin). The ceremony involves the regular¬†Ijashne¬†(or ‚ÄėYasna‚Äô of 72 chapters) with emphasis on the Lord/Divinity of¬†Rapithwan¬†and omission of certain phrases invoking the Lords/Divinities of the other¬†Gahs.

One of the reasons why this ceremony is performed on¬†Roj Ardibehest¬†is because the¬†Khshnuman¬†(dedicatory formula) of¬†Rapithwan¬†is quite similar to the¬†Khshnuman¬†of the day of¬†Ardibehesht.However, the¬†Boiwala¬†Priests of¬†Atash Behram¬†consecrate the¬†Rapithwan¬†on¬†Roj Hormuzd¬†itself to acquire¬†amal¬†(ritual power) for performing¬†Boi¬†during the full seven months in the¬†Rapithwan Gah.¬†Consecrating the ‚ÄėRapithwan‚Äô is considered an important religious duty.

Fravardin Yasht

Among Zoroastrian¬†Yashts¬†(hymns)¬†Fravardin¬†is the longest with 158 verses. It mainly propitiates the Righteous¬†Fravashis.¬†Throughout the¬†Yasht¬†we pray: ‚ÄúAshaaunaam vanguhish suraao spentaao fravashayao yazamaid√©‚ÄĚ which means:¬†‚ÄúWe remember with reverence the holy, good, brave, prosperity giving Fravashis of the Holy‚ÄĚ

In the¬†Fravardin Yasht,¬†Fravashi¬†is described as a purifier and a powerful helper of Ahura Mazda in protecting all good creations. In the¬†Fravardin Yasht¬†we also pray:¬†‚ÄúWe worship the good, strong, beneficent Fravashis of the faithful; whose friendship is good, and who know how to benefit; whose friendship lasts long; who like to stay in the abode where they are not harmed by its dwellers; who are good, beautiful, afar, health-giving, of high renown, conquering in battle, and who never do harm.‚ÄĚ

Cosmically,¬†Fravashis are divided into three groups ‚ÄĒ the living, the dead, and the yet unborn. They are the force upon which Ahura MazdńĀ depends to maintain the cosmos against demonic forces. They protect all sacred fires and symbolically keep darkness imprisoned in the world.

We would conclude with a verse from the¬†Fravardin Yasht¬†which affirms:¬†‚ÄúMay (they) who (are) the Fravashis of the righteous keep love over us here (i.e. in this world) quickly and verily! (And) may they come to our help! (Also) may those (Fravashis) save us,¬†the living ones with (their) powerful help at the time of calamity! (Besides, may those Fravashis be) (our) helpers through Ahura Mazda, through the brave righteous Sraosha Yazata, and through the learned MńĀnthra Spenta! Which (MńĀnthra Spenta) is opposed to the doctrines of daevas and the messenger of Ahura Mazda, whom (the Prophet) Zarathushtra saw with the sincerest vision in the corporeal world.‚ÄĚ


by Noshir Dadrawalla

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