Young keepers of the flame

The road to Parsi priesthood is arduous indeed. So while their pals indulge in games of cricket, football and other boyish pastimes…

The road to Parsi priesthood is arduous indeed. So while their pals indulge in games of cricket, football and other boyish pastimes, our lads spend time with senior priests learning prayers and rituals.

After the navjote (initiation) ceremony is performed, a child born to priestly families is taken under the wing of elderly priests of an agiary (fire temple) to be ordained navar. This title however does not permit all ceremonies to be performed. For that there is a higher step called martab.

Twenty-four days are required to achieve the first milestone. Initially nine days are spent at the agiary in a state of semi-isolation. Families are allowed to visit but not allowed to touch them as they have had ritual purification baths called bareshnuum given by two priests on the first day itself. This bathing routine has a gap of a couple of days when there is no bath at all and then, on the fourth day, another bath with a short ceremony is given. Brushing of teeth is not allowed and only salt water gargles are permitted.

The youngsters are clad in white gloves and socks at all times. Short prayers are recited before and after meals and after using the toilet. Meals are with cutlery and gloves on; clothes have to be changed after using the toilet to ensure purity. This routine continues for 10 days and then the child bathes as usual and is free to mingle with his parents and friends inside the temple. After this, there is yet another bareshnuum bath for the salvation of the soul of a departed one.

The youngsters perform the yejeshne ceremony which is performed for three consecutive days and on the last day a visparaad ceremony is performed. They are then ordained navars. They can wear the priestly garb which is the jaamaa, a white robe usually made of muslin worn over white pyjamas and a pichhori which is a broad band at the waist and a white turban called paagri. When they leave the agiary, a red shawl is draped around their shoulders by the head priest and a symbolic guruj (mace) is held in the hand.

The total expenditure is between Rs. 40,000 to Rs. 45,000 and for those who cannot afford it there are benevolent donors. For the title of martab the young navar undergoes a further nine ceremonial baths and on the tenth day performs a ‘yejeshne’ ceremony. The vendidad is performed at night with a senior priest from 0100hrs-0800hrs without a break! The family garland their little priest. Thereafter a visit to Udwada for thanksgiving is arranged.