Dear TZML (Traditional Zarathushtris Mailing List) friends,
Attached please read the speech delivered by Vada Dasturji Dr. Firoze M. Kotwal, delivered on 21st April 2001 at the Framjee Cawasjee Hall in Mumbai. Dasturji Kotwal, is also a senior faculty member of no less than 5 major universities throughout the world!
Respected Dastur Sahebs, Mobed Sahebs, respected Trustees of the Parsee Punchayet, Bombay, ladies and gentlemen. This meeting of the Vada Dasturs has been called today because a disgraceful attempt has been made to shake the foundation of the Zoroastrian religion. The Parsi community has many learned men in its midst who are professionals in their respective fields. When they work within the limits of their own professions they earn respect from the community. However, they are doing something terribly wrong when they go beyond the scope of their professional expertise, do not respect the religious views of the High Priests, and with their wealth and power, try to pressurise the Trustees with their false views.
The Athornan tola (group of priests) of Udwada, has passed a resolution boycotting any priest who goes against the rules of the Udwada Athornan tola, and performs any such religious rites and rituals which go against the constitution of their Anjuman. The resolution empowers the Athronan tola of Udwada to deny such priests the right to give the bui ceremony to the sacred Iranshah fire. The Udwada Athornan has recommended that such resolutions should also be passed by other Athornan mandals to discipline mobeds working under their respective jurisdiction.
A Zoroastrian is religiously duty bound to preserve natures' elements in their pure form. According to the Zoroastrian religion druj nasu the demon of pollution, putrefaction, contamination, decay, by whatever name you might chose to call it, attacks in five different ways. Thus, the attack of druj nasu is at its height when a person dies. The other four levels of pollution are; 1) the forty day period after a woman has delivered a baby, 2) when a woman is menstruating, 3) after a man and woman have intercourse - (when both the partners are religiously duty bound to have bath and purify themselves), and 4) after answering nature's call when a Zoroastrian is once again enjoined to do his padyab-kusti.
The strongest attack is when a person dies. Just before the breath leaves the body, an Ashem Vohu is recited in the person's ears. The corpse is then given a bath with gaomez or bull's urine.
The use of hot water for this purpose is not correct, as hot water also has inherent fire in it and also because water cannot be brought in contact with nasa. According to the laws of the religion therefore, bathing a corpse with hot water is wrong. This has been stated by the Dasturs of Iran, some four hundred years go. Nasa is categorized into suko (dry) naso and leelo (wet) naso. Hair, nails fall in the first category and puss, blood, spit are some of the forms of wet nasa.
The Sasanians have stated that hair, nails, blood and other forms of nasa coming out of the body of a living Zoroastrian is termed as bodily refuse, but if the same comes out of a corpse, it is termed as nasa. It was during the reign of the Sasanians, that the great King Noshirwan-Adil (531-79 A.C.) gave certain admonitions to his subject peoples, which can be found even to-day in extant Pahlavi literature. "...For this is that body which yesterday for those people who were very close within three paces to the body, at every place and time, there was increase in righteousness and worldly possessions for them. To-day because of pollution, everyone who lays hands upon it, then he must cleanse himself with bareshnum, or he will not be let into the company of the good for the worship of Yazdan; that body which yesterday gave its hand to no one, because of the awe of kingship, which today because of pollution no one lays hands upon it." (Reference: Andarz-i Khusrav-i Kawadan- Pahlavi Book of Admonitions.)
All our after-life rituals are done to control pollution. The drawing of the kash around the body, the drawing of the kash around the gehan, the geh sarana ceremony, all these are done to contain pollution. The rituals have a close connection with the system of disposal viz. dokhmenashini. Therefore, when a body is cremated, the performance of these important after-life rituals becomes totally meaningless. If a person loses a hand or a leg while at war, or in any other manner, then sachkar and sagdid are done even for the lost limb. Without a proper sachkar, the geh sarana prayers cannot be done and without this, the body cannot be placed in a dakhma. The dakhmas are a resting place for the dead. When you yourself cannot maintain the dignity of the dead, and you go in and take pictures, - how can you talk of dignity? At least give some respect to the dead. Would you dig out bodies that are buried? Our Parsi community is supposed to be highly enlightened, but I think it does acts of folly all the time.
The nasasalar, which is a word commonly used in Persian and Pahlavi, means one who is the salar or keeper of the nasa. Only he has the right to enter the dakhma. The nasasalar recites the Dasturi, which actually involves taking permission of the higher spiritual authorities before placing the body on the ground. He says in the Dasturi: "I perform this act after seeking the permission of Dadar Hormuzd, Aderbad Mahrespand and the Dasturs....". So once you do the sachkar and make the body ready for the dakhma, you cannot take it anywhere else but to a dakhma.
According to the Zoroastrian religion, burning nasa in fire is such a big sin that there is no atonement for it. (Vendidad Faragard 1.17). In Denkard Book VI, which is a ninth century compilation, Adar Farnbag Farrokhzad states that if someone issues an edict which goes against the very will of Ahura Mazda and if you overrule that particular edict and follow the rule of Ahura Mazda, then you are actually doing an act of merit. So, if the deceased has stated in his or her will or taken an oath or a promise from the next of kin, that he or she should be cremated after death, then one is perfectly justified in ignoring such an irreligious promise. By following dokhmenashini for such a person, in spite of the promise made to the contrary, the Religion considers this to be an act of merit. The commandment of God is ten thousand times more important than the irreligious sentiments and desires expressed by mortal man, and therefore, to ignore such acts which are harmful to the Good Religion and to maintain and preserve its laws, is not a sin but once again a meritorious act. It is in your self-interest and in the interest of the deceased that you follow the command of Ahura Mazda in this respect, even when you are faced with the unpleasant and irreligious task of cremating the deceased. Even the next of kin are not bound by such a promise.
Another argument that is all the time thrown at us is, where is it stated in the Gathas? Has any one ever known or heard of a paigambar who has not performed rituals in one way or the other? In the Gathas, Zarathushtra is known as the Zaotar, which means the Chief Officiating Priest! There are very terse references about this in the Gathas. The development in theological thought, based on what the prophet states in the Gathas, happened later, and this then formed the kernel of the Religion. The entire Vendidad has been compiled on the principles of purity, which are of prime importance for a Zoroastrian in his or her daily life. Gathas are special hymns; they contain abstract thoughts so how can the rules about purity and impurity be outlined in the Gathas?
The Vendidad is the only surviving nask in a complete form. The Avesta once consisted of 21 nasks, each dealing with a particular subject matter. The Vendidad is considered to be the Leviticus of the Parsis and is our authority as far as dokhmenashini is concerned. Leviticus is the 3rd Book of the Old Testament, which is connected to purity laws.
Let us examine another fallacy that is being propounded viz. that no matter what impurities are placed on the fire, fire can never become impure. According to the Zoroastrian religion, one can only place dry well-inspected kathi on the fire. According to the Behram Yasht, a Zoroastrian who places wet wood on the fire, is a worshiper of the water fiend, vyambur dev. If there is such a strict injunction against placing wet wood on fire, how much more sinful it is to burn rubbish on fire! In the Atash Niyayesh, which is a litany in praise of the fire, there is a clear reference about the kind of offering, which the fire expects from its worshipper, esm, which is fuel, baoidhi, which is incense, pithwi, which is food, and upasayana, which is nourishment. So this is what one places on the fire. Fire is a yazata to whom one offers dry wood and other fragrant material as stated above.
According to the Zoroastrian religion, the corpse is disposed of as per natural laws in a natural manner. In this regard, the Vendidad clearly mentions khurshed nigarishni, i.e. exposing the dead body to the cleansing rays of the sun, and vayo va kerefsh kharo - i.e. corpse devouring birds as the main natural agents to help the process of disposal of the dead. The rays of the sun that fall on the corpse in a natural manner are important here, man cannot interfere in this process by generating artificial heat. Baking bodies in this artificial manner is not khurshed nigarishini, in my view it gives an indication of a solar crematorium. It is important that man should not interfere in this natural process. The Good Religion is based so strongly on Nature and its laws, that nasa carried hither and thither by animals like the dog, or wolf or by scavenger birds or through the actions of the wind, does not pollute someone who might accidentally come in contact with that nasa. If these agents of nature happen to drag the nasa elsewhere, this does not make one riman - impure, because this is out of man's control. In the Vendidad Ahura Mazda states that if a person became riman in this manner, then the world would become riman; no one and no place on earth would remain pure. A religious man who wishes to perform acts of the religion would then feel disappointed as it would not be possible for him to do religious acts, partake in religious rituals and at the same time, observe the laws of purity.
Even in the ninth and tenth centuries there is evidence of dakhmas being present in places like Samarkand (present day Uzbekistan); there were pockets of Zoroastrians living there and we have material to back this in the form of questions and answers.
There may have been changes in the construction of the dakhmas but Zoroastrians have been following the same method of exposure for disposal of their dead since thousands of years. The corpse devouring birds have played a very important role in accelerating this process right from the beginning.
If the system has somewhat weakened what needs to be done is to strengthen it. Those who have the love of the community at heart will not create disharmony and disunity within the community. To give even a small portion of the Doongerwadi lands to these gentlemen is out of the question. You (the DDD-AG), are men of influence, you are men of wealth. Buy a piece of land for yourselves and you can employ a pair of priests who with the lure of lucre will be ever ready to do your bidding. Such rogue mobeds are a slur on the good name of the Parsi community. Using your wealth and influence to exert undue pressure on the powers that be, is as good as assaulting the honesty and integrity of a devout and faithful Anjuman. Today, unfortunately, the Dasturs do not have the authority and the power that their Iranian counterparts had, a few centuries ago. I would like to give you an example of the power that the Dasturs of those years wielded over the community.
To give you an example, to take part in a religious Gahambar is one of the religious obligations that a Zoroastrian is required to fulfill. If an irreligious Zarathusti refuses to attend such a gahambar, the Dasturs would try to make him see reason. However, if the person concerned, still refused, he would be humiliated and sent out of the mijles (assembly). In order to set an example to others, the extreme punishment for such offenders would be excommunication. Today the situation is so bad, that when Dasturs write letters, they are not even given the courtesy of a reply. This is to show you the contrast between the past and the present. All that the Trustees of the Puchayet have to say is ask the learned Dasturs and the priests, this would solve this entire problem. Today’s meeting is ample proof of the sentiments of the Dasturs, the priests and the community, therefore there is no need for the Trustees to even pose such a question.
To consecrate a dakhma is not a simple task. It requires elaborate preparations and technical expertise in matters of religious rituals. The kodali marvani kriya i.e the ritual of digging the ground is done first. This is done with the recitation of 21 Yatha Ahu Vairyos. With each stroke of the spade, a Yatha Ahu Vairyo is recited. After this, the tano purvani kriya or the foundation laying ceremony is done. Hundred and one strands of cotton thread are woven round nails, which are fixed in the ground in a particular manner. There are 301 nails around which the thread is taken with the recitation of appropriate prayers. The thread is woven round thrice. I have merely touched upon the bare essentials of ritual, which takes a considerable length of time and is done with great care and devotion. After the foundation laying ceremony is over and the consecration of the dakhma is complete, the dakhma is locked up. The first body to be laid in a new dakhma must be that of a very pious man or of an innocent child. As soon as the first corpse is laid in the dakhma, it becomes riman i.e. doctrinally impure. I remember a few years ago, when I was lecturing in Ahmedabad and a member of the Anjuman asked whether anyone could go into the dakhma... and my answer to him in front of a large audience, was, “the sacred precincts of the dakhmas are not your personal property where anyone can come and go as they please.”
The dakhmas are institutions through which we preserve our traditions. I will give you an example to show how important it is for a small community like ours to preserve our traditions. The first Meherji Rana, the Dasturan Dastur of Navsari, was gifted two hundred acres of land by Emperor Akbar, at Gelkhari, a small village near Navsari. Bit by bit this precious land was sold by the descendants of the Mehereji Rana family, till now only six acres remain. There is a well on this small piece of land, which is nearly 425 years old. The well was dug and constructed by the first Meherji Rana. I met the present owner of this well and explained to him the interesting history behind this well and that it was a very important part of the Zoroastrian heritage. The owner was impressed and agreed to repair and restore the well. A little distance away from here stands another old well. Taking the example of the first well, this well was also cleaned and restored. While they were cleaning the well, they found a karasyo, (a water beaker) on which were inscribed the words: “Aatash Behram Saheb”. When the Pindharas led an assault on Navsari in Samvat 1873, the Atash Behram fire was shifted to Meherji Rana's wadi (orchard) in Gelkhari.
Erachji Meherji Rana notes the fact that the Aatash Behram fire was thus shifted, in his manuscript F53 on pg. 6. The manuscript is housed at the Meherji Rana library in Navsari. He also gives the names of the two priests who shifted the fire as Rustomji Khurshedji Dastur and Hormuzji Minocheherji Dhabhar. This example clearly shows how important it is to preserve our sacred precincts, whether it is a well, a scared fire or a dakhma. These are treasures more precious than gold and are truly priceless.
We Dasturs have always looked upon the Trustees of the Punchayet with respect, our request to them is please do not involve yourselves in matters of religion, which is the domain of the Dasturs and the priests.
VADA DASTURJI SAHEB DR. FIROZE M. KOTWAL
Traditional Zoroastrianism Home Page
Chapters of the Saga
Saga of the Aryans Home Page
How to get the Saga in book form