What is ALAT

By Mrs. Pervin Mistry

The article "Alat _ and the Calendar Adjustment" by Jehan Bagli (FEZANA Journal, May 1993, pp. 25-26), reads: "Historically speaking, there is no record of consecration of Alat in Iran. This was a ritual that was initiated after the migration of Zarthushtis to India. It was part of the elaborate system of rituals that was created by the clergy in India, and used as a vehicle to impress upon the laity of the time, the importance of purification and religiosity of the rituals, and in the course of it, make more work and remuneration for the priests....".

The Truth and the correct historical fact is that the consecration of Alat WAS NOT INVENTED IN INDIA by priests intoning mumbo-jumbo to "make more work and remuneration" to hoodwink the laity, BUT, these rites of consecrating Alat were actually and factually BROUGHT by our Priests FROM IRAN when they migrated to India in century 7 A.C. Also, as can be proven from Pahlavi texts, these rites and consecrated Alat WERE IN USE IN IRAN till recently but unfortunately, with the westernization of Iran, many religious practises have only recently fallen into disuse among our Irani Zarthushti brethren. However, in India, the scenario is reverse and our Priests have CONTINUED to perpetuate our ancient rites with faith, devotion and knowledge till today.

Alat is a material or living object in which spiritual energies are awakened through kinetics accompanied by the sounds (vibrations) of the holy manthra.

"The term `rite' translates the Skt., Guj, kriya, Phl. nirang. Ms. F23 ... contains in Persian, among other subjects, details of the Paragna rites as practised in Iran....The rites of the Paragna as listed in ms. F23 are:

1. The rite of cutting the barsom (nirang-e barsom chidan);

2. The rite of washing the barsom (nirang-e barsom shustan);

3. The rite of tying the barsom (nirang-e barsom bastan);

4. The rite of cutting/gathering/collecting the hom twigs (nirang-e hom chidan);

5. The rite of cutting/gathering/collecting the date palm leaf (urwaram chidan);

6. The rite of taking (goat's or cow's) milk nirang-e jam giriftan);

7. The rite of taking zohr (nirang-e zur giriftan);

8. The rite of taking parahom (nirang-e farahom giriftan);

9. The rite of preparing the hair (nirang-e wars pukhtan);

(Abstract taken from Studia Iranica, Cahier 8, A Persian Offering, The Yasna: A Zoroastrian High Liturgy, by Dastur Firoze M. Kotwal and James W. Boyd, p. 62, footnote 3). (Emphases have been added.) This footnote clarifies that these Paragna rites WERE practised in Iran.

Further, on p. 63, footnote 7 states that even in 1710 A.C., an Irani Zarthushti by the name of Rustom Gushtasp Ardashir wrote about these Paragna rites. "Paragna" means preparatory rites (of consecrating) before the liturgy of Yasna proper. We also learn from this footnote that: "The short rites performed in the Paragna are called in Pahlavi "rituals pertaining to the urwis-gah" (nirangiha i urwisgah)". (Emphases added).

On page 65, footnote 13 states: "The Nirangistan uses the word asishn or sazishn for the sacred utensils". If these "sacred utensils" are not consecrated Alat, what are they? Was the Nirangistan written and invented in India by priests "to make more work and remuneration" or is the Nirangistan a Zarthushti legacy from Iran?

Ibid., footnote 17 reveals further positive proof of consecrating Alat in Ancient Iran by stating, "In Avestan times a "hair sieve" was used for "straining the hom juice" (varasai haomo-angharezanai; cf. Visperad 10.2). (Emphases added). Note the word "varasai". This hair-sieve was used in Avestan times and not fabricated in India. It is an inference to the highest liturgy: the Nirang-e Din, wherein the "ab-e zar" or nirang of the "waras" is consecrated after elaborate purificatory and paragna rites which precede the performance of the Yasna ritual for nine consecutive days. The word "warasyaji" (white bull) comes from Pahlavi "waras". The ritual of hom (Yasna) is also from the Avestan times and not "fabricated" later. Hom was pounded in the Yasna ritual by Vivanghan (Jamshid), Athavyan (Faridun), Thrita (father of Urvaksh and Kersasp), Pourushasp and Asho Zarathushtra. The rite of consecrating the hom juice is as old as the Mazdayasni Zarthushti Religion itself.

While it may be very unusual to quote from the footnotes of any particular book, the chances being very slim for those footnotes to be verified here in North America due to limited religious resources and scholars, the intention is to show the community that there is sufficient evidence to prove that Alat was consecrated in Iran and that the Paragna is a customary ritual from very ancient times. Not only are the Paragna and Yasna rituals imported from Iran but even the Alat itself was brought from Iran to India by land when the first Yasna was performed to consecrate the first Iranshah in India.

It is a great misfortune for our community in N. America that such fictional statements are published in a so-called reputed Journal wherein the religiously uneducated are led to believe half-truths and falsehoods. Before writing such opinions, it would have been indeed scholarly to study some of our Pahlavi treatises. Here we do not have the resource material which the libraries in India have on religious issues. Besides, some of our Priests in India are practicing "mobedi" full time, and have studied Avestan and Pahlavi languages, dedicating their entire lives to the study of our religion. Why do we not consult them and follow their advice regarding religious issues which they know best? Had the author of the article in question tried to do some research, he would have, no doubt, found that ms. F23 contains in Persian, details of the Paragna rites (of consecrating Alat) as practised in Iran.

We should ask the learned Priests in India about Nirang (consecrated bull's urine) and Bhasam (consecrated ash) as these two alat are not specifically mentioned in these few footnotes but the explanation of their being consecrated in Iran may be infered in the Paragna rites or noted in some other valuable resource materials. The bull is an alat since we already know that the word "Varasai" appears from Avestan times for the consecrated "hair sieve" and there is a special "baj" (rite) dedicated to the "waras". Since the "waras" (consecrated bull) is an alat, the consecrated nirang (ab-e zar) is also an alat. Bhasam (consecrated ash) comes from the consecrated Fire, considered the most important and fundamental alat. All rituals are performed in the presence of Fire, called Ahura Mazda's Own Son; His Divine Manifestation on Earth. Therefore, "bhasam" is also an alat.

To give one more proof of the antiquity of the Yasna and other Higher Liturgical rituals (e.g., Nirangdin), footnote 2, on p. 61 of the same book (every Zarthushti owes it to himself/herself to read it), states: "The division of the Yasna into sections follows the order in the facsimile edition of the manuscript (= ms.) D90 (designated as Mf4 by Geldner). The name of the scribe of ms. D90 is not known, but the copied colophon of the parent ms. indicates that D90 was copied from the ms. of Hooshang Siyavakhsh written in about 1478 A.C. In the Persian Rivayat of Nariman Hooshang, dated 1478 A.C. Hooshang Siyavakhsh's signature is appended together with other Irani Dasturs of Turkabad and Sharifabad. The ms. D90 seems to have its roots in the ms. of Mah-Windad Nareman, whose colophon to the Denkard is dated about 1020 A.C. (cf. Geldner, Prolegomena: xxv, xxxiv)". (Emphases added). The Zarthushti Priests in Iran were certainly knowledgeable with the Yasna ritual - including the importance of Alat. Consecrating Alat is not a phenomena invented in India! In 1478 A.C. the Irani Dasturs of Turkabad and Sharifabad performed the Yasna with the preparatory Paragna rites and they followed what was practised by Irani Dasturs in 1020 A.C. However, mention of the "hair sieve" which is an Alat used for the hom juice in the Yasna ritual is from Avestan times which predate these recorded dates by millennia.

Lest Zarthushtis start to believe that our Priests started sitting cross-legged only in India due to Hindu influences, it will be worth noting that the stone seat on which the priest sits (cross-legged), to perform the liturgy is called "zodgah" in Pahlavi. ("Zot" means priest.) Sitting cross-legged is not a recent Hindu rite copied by our Priests in India but a rite which was followed and preserved in Iran by Zarthushti Priests even after the Muslim conquest - a rite preserved and followed from Avestan times only to be discarded recently in the name of "change" and modernization. Ludicrous views are expressed by some that priests sat crossed-legged on the stone seats in ancient times because "chair" was not invented! On the contrary, the ancient reliefs at Persepolis display the Achaemenian Kings sitting solemnly on regal thrones ("chairs")! As in every aspect of all rituals, sitting crossed-legged on a stone seat has specific reasons and meaning.

It is a pity that this explanation and protest regarding consecrated Alat being invented in India has to come from a lay Zarthushti from India. Had the Irani Zarthushtis and particularly the Irani mobeds studied their own Pahlavi texts and had preserved their ancient rituals and rites, they would have significantly pointed out the error in Dr. Bagli's statement. This is a classic example of how religious rites and rituals, if not practised and strictly adhered to, can be totally forgotten within one or two generations.

Here in North America, in the name of Calendar Reform, our youth and laity are actually told to rebel, to disobey our Priests! Should we encourage our youth to consciously choose a destructive, rebellious attitude rather than promote an attitude of faith and respect in the wisdom of our elders, ancestors and religion? Asho Zarathushtra has taught OBEDIENCE as the first precept. Are we attempting to follow our religion through AFFIRMATION and PRESERVATION or destroying it by DENIAL of its rules, laws, and rituals?

May 28, 1993 Pervin J. Mistry

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