For a Zoroastrian, there is no alternative but to go the dokhma way
by Ervad Marzban Hathiram
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Dear TZML members,
This is my first posting to the TZML and it is on a subject very close to all our hearts and that is the topic of Dokmenashini. After reading last Sunday's Jame, I had written a reply and sent it off to Noshir Dadrawala, as Associate Editor. We now know that Noshir has resigned, hence I shall be sending the letter separately to the paper. I thought the same might be of interest to fellow Zoroastrians hence I am posting the letter here.
I have been following with interest the ongoing debate about Dokhmenashini in your paper. As one who has done a little study on the subject, I feel it necessary and in public interest to share with your readers some basic facts about the Dokhmenashini system.
The system of Dokhmenashini has several facets. The least important of these is the speedy disposal of the physical body, with the minimal amount of pollution. It is pertinent to note that the Avesta refers to the system as "hvare-daresana", Pahlavi "khurshed nigarashni", i.e., exposure to the sun. The Vendidad does mention the agency of the "kaharkasas", i.e. meat eating bird [vulture], but only as secondary. The entire issue being raked up here is the paucity of birds - but these were never considered as an essential prerequisite for the efficient working of this system.
The larger issue, however, and one which has been consistently ignored by all and sundry is that the dokhma and Dokhmenashini is NOT merely a system for disposing off a dead body. Were it so then, theoretically, we should have no objection to a member of any other community desiring to consign his body in this manner. But it is not so.
It is pertinent to mention that the Avesta says that a human body is composed of nine parts: - three physical - tanu, gaetha and azde; three semi-physical - keherp, ushtan, tevishi; and three spiritual/immortal - ruvan, baodangh and fravashi. Any system of disposal of the dead has to ensure that ALL THESE NINE PARTS are efficiently dealt with - not only any one group.
The dokhma is first and foremost an alat, an instrumentality of the Zoroastrian religion, much as an Atash Behram or an agiary. The dokhma is an important part of a four part system that ensures that not only is the physical body disposed off, but also that the spiritual aspect of the soul's onward journey is facilitated in a most efficient manner. Thus the Dokhma is one of the four wheels of the car that drive the soul on its onward journey - remove a single wheel, and you can imagine what happens. The other three wheels of this car are:
1. The sachkar ceremony
2. The geh-sarna ceremony
3. The dokhma
4. The four days prayers for the departed soul.
Concentrating on the dokhma, it is apparent from its method of construction and consecration that it is not merely a receptacle for putting a dead body - were it that way then we could have used an open hill top too. I would request readers to go through the same Dr Jivanji Mody's book on Zoroastrian ceremonies to get an idea of the immense time and effort it takes to construct and consecrate a single dokhma. Without going into details [which are sufficient to merit a complete book in their own right], we can summarise:
1. The physical construction of the dokhma is such that it takes care of the physical aspect of the disposal of a body. - the tanu, gaetha and azda are dealt with
2. The ceremony of "tana" which is done prior to the construction of the dakhma, in its foundation pit, ensures that the semi-physical bodies are properly dealt with - keherp, ushtan and tevishi
3. The consecration ceremonies and the various bajs performed prior to opening the dakhma ensure the onward journey of the immortal parts - ruvan, baodangh and fravashi.
For a Zoroastrian, there is no alternative but to go the dokhma way - for his own good.
I would be only too glad were the Jame to give an opportunity to me to write in detail on this topic and end this controversy once and for all.
Ervad Marzban Hathiram.
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