Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Life After Death: Concepts in Zoroastrianism

The following is an article on “Life After Death as in Zoroastrianism” by Ervad Pervez D. Mithaiwala, revealed to us by Behesti Minocher N. Pundol Saheb as per teachings of Magav Sahebs of Demaavand Koh, Iran. The article although lengthy, vividly describes a Zerthosti Rawaan’s journey to this world from Hasti and its return to the Eternal world after passing away.

It describes how a Rawaan takes birth as a Zerthosti, – how death occurs, – details of ceremonies starting with Sachkaar, – how Rawaan is freed from worldly attachments, – with an insight on system of Dokhmeneshini. It also gives an idea on construction and consecration of a Dokhma and the importance of Dokhmeneshini in Zoroastrianism, as compared to burial and cremation. This is to thwart unjustified massive propoganda let loose from reformist camp, against our time tested custom of Dokhmenashini, – the finest mode of disposal.

No words of gratitude are enough for beneficence of PAAK DAADAAR AHURAMAZDA having given us birth in Zoroastrianism – the superstructure resting on good thoughts, good words and good deeds. Inspired by the divine discourses, through Pak Magav Sahebs of Demaavand Koh – Iran, Beheshti Minocher N. Pundol Saheb endeavoured enthusiatically to throw some light on rituals, customs and ceremonies concerning a Rawaan’s progress towards eternity, as life comes to an end.

Prime purpose of our birth in this world was streamlined through article “RAWAAN BOKHTAGI – SOLE AIM OF LIFE” published in Jame-Jamshed dated 22-08-1993. It revealed as to how a soul (Aatmaa) on reaching the top notch-cadre is conferred with divine inheritances, viz. six kinds of fires, Fravashi, Farohar to achieve status of Rawaan – thus gaining power of dissolving “Bud Kerdaar” viz. quantum of bad deeds during previous births.

Passage of life, comprises of events – ecstatic or otherwise, and Zerthosti who whilst undergoing catastrophic circumstances, combats vigorously in every possible manner to fulfil commitments as per teachings of Asho Zarthushtra Saheb forges ahead his / her Rawaan at a tremendous pace. As the sole motive of a Rawaan is merging unto eternity, it expresses desire to Daham Yazad of taking birth here and none other than AHURAMAZDA proclaims its destiny.

It necessitates to brief the process of birth as same bears relevance in event of death. Rawaan, on its way to be born on earth, whilst passing through one end of ‘Chinvat’ (towards ‘Hasti’ i.e. eternal world) gains Aura (Khoreh) of AHURAMAZDA, namely Ahunavante-Ruaa that serves sort of divine Sudreh. On its gradual lower plane, moving through other end of Chinvat i.e. towards Nisti being mortal world, it further achieves Aura of “Vakshure Vakshuraan” (Prophet of Prophets) namely Abbe-Ruaa, which serves as Kusti, thus, ‘Minoi Navjote’ of Rawaan (and not that of child) is performed before being born here.At the topmost sphere of Nisti there exists ‘Burjis Aasmaan’, where a Zerthosti Rawaan segregates in two parts, say A and B. Part A – a set of three and B comprising of nine, are better known as Rawaan of KSHNAOTHRA AHURAHE MAZADAAO and SPENTA ARMAITY respectively. On its yet downward trend, Rawaan of Part A involves itself in constant utterance of “KSHNAOTHRA AHURAHE MAZADAAO”, meaning Glory be Yours, AHURAMAZDA. The moment recitation of this prolific prayer ceases, forces of evil attempt vehement attack but at this juncture, Rawaan of other part B, Spentaa Armaity rushes to its rescue and absorbs the brunt. Whereas the Rawaan of part A enters body of a child in male form, that of B in female physique (Part B). On releasing itself from influence of Burjis Aasmaan, i.e.on achieving state of adolescence, the ugly aura absorbed at instance of bearing brunt, is unleashed in form of menses.

Right from the moment life enters body of a child, yet conceived by mother, it gains proctive shelter of Sarosh Yazad that governs not only throughout one’s existenence, but extends even beyond – till Rawaan bidding final goodbye to this mortal world. Rawaan and mind are two different entities functioning at varied circumstances. At instance of birth, Rawaan is in somewhat awakened state – The mind is yet to take over complete control of the body. Rawaan of a just born child, not yet totally detached from Minoi Jahan influence, on experiencing faint glimpse of repercussions here, weeps. Once the mind induces to wordly attachment, its sensitivity grows with Rawaan leaning towards almost unconscionable state. Now with full sense at his / her command, an ardent devotee firmly adhering to doctrine of Zoroastrian spiritual system, and reciting powerful prayers regularly, can build up a massive force against any eventuality and finally meet death with a smile on his / her face. As the test of gold is fire, one with implicit faith in Zoroastrianism alone proves his / her worth.

At sunrise hour on a destined day, Rawaan begins to derive out of Zerthosti’s body through ‘Herberus’ (bald), ‘Kone Chasham’ (two sides of eyes), ‘Bande Atash’ (navel) and completes the process meticulously at death. Having left human body, Rawaan is in somewhat state of being roused from deep sleep, yet to settle down. Normally, when death occurs at home, close attendant after performing Kusti ceremony, places fire or lights a Diwa (containing no water) and recites prayers near the corpse. This is imperative to prevent attack of “Drooj” (force of angremino) on the dead body that declines to state of impurity (Naso) in due course. Till such time the body undergoes ablution, i.e. bath for ‘Sachkar’, person of any caste or creed is permitted to see the face and offer his / her last respect. Once religious proceedings commence, with Sachkar ceremony, a non-Zoroastrian is forbidden to see the face of departed one.

Question that often props up is, why a non-Zoroastrian is deprived to see the face of deceased, once the concerned ceremonies commence? Correct answer could only emerge if the religious cum scientific aspect is genuinely observed. Science has proved that every object, irrespective of inanimate or radiant, owns its aura of varied nature. On similar lines, the translucent light of an individual’s aura, varies as per his / her caste or creed, and this serves as a great hinderance in marathon ceremonies performed for detachment of worldly ties. Let it be acknowledged that a non-Zoroastrian honouring our sentiments with sobriety, does not insist to see the face of deceased, once the body undergoes solemn ceremonies.

Ceremonies of Sachkar, Geh-Sarnu and Dohkmenashini play pivotal roles in matter of relieving the Rawaan from worldly attachments to clear its path towards heavenly abode. When the body is laid on the stone for performance of Sachkar crermony, close attendants should observe that the nail gyrated around the body is not lifted from the ground for perfect fortification against attack of evil forces. The close attendants should simultaneously recite Yatha Ahu Vario. Sachkar ceremony results in detaching one-third “Ture-Tuaa”, i.e. worldly attachments. Iron nail used in Sachkar ceremony is of purified state, after being washed with Nirang, water and duly dried.

Mobed Saheb, thereafter, recites Avesta prayers continuously in all Gehs, facing Fire in Afarganya near the body. No efforts be spared to see that the “Diwa” lighted continues to burn for four consecutive days, i.e. even after disposal of the dead body upto Cheharum, so as to render great assistance to Rawaan. If this is not feasible, another diwa be lighted through the original flame. In absence of a Mobed saheb, a family member can recite prayers near the body till commencement of Gehsarna ceremony.

The prevalent custom emphasises that one who bows to dead body after Sachkar ceremony is performed, must undergo bath, head to heel, ensuring that the clothes are washed. Zerthosti at the instance of bowing to dead body, comes under influence of invisible evil forces around, and to regain purity, this is absolutely a must. While on the matter, one is ineligible to attend “Saroshnu Paatru” ceremony, without taking a bath after Sachkar and Paaydast ceremonies.

One may have quite often witnessed bringing a dog near dead body intermittently for Sagdeed ceremony.(sag = dog; deed = eyes). It is an established truth that eyes of dog are blessed with divine power of AHURAMAZDA to thwart away, rather destroy evil forces, making vain attempts to attack the corpse.

Since time immemorial, momentous stress is laid upon significance of Gehsaarnaa ceremony to aid departing Rawaan. Without prejudice, it must be stated that even the heterodox class, which conveniently ignores the most scientific and hygienic custom of Dokhmenashini, to opt for crematorium, graveyard or any other means, emphatically insists on Gehsaarnaa. The powerful prayers of Ahunavad Gatha recited by Mobed Sahebs in this ceremony, cast tremendous impact to effectively detach another one third worldly attachment.

As per the custom, it is not advisable for a woman in state of pregnancy to attend Gehsaarnaa ceremony, only because the “Maanthra” as stated above works for detachment of worldly connection whereas the baby conceived by mother is to be born and bear attachment with this world, thus it works in opposite manner. Cases of children born in mentally retarded condition have been reported of mothers having attended this ceremony during pregency.At a particular stage of Gehsaarnaa, when the body is lifted out of fortified “Kas” and placed in ceremonised “Gheaan”, (a) the ceremony performers, i.e. Mobed Sahebs who faced the corpse all throughout, turn their back for a while, and (b) a dog is again brought to the spot for the purpose of Sagdeed. The reason being, evil forces unable to attack corpse within boundaries drawn through Avesta prayers make a vain attempt when the cordonned corpse comes out of ‘Kas’. Here the Sagdeed ceremony foils the same. as the Mobed Sahebs turn their back the attack of evil forces commence, the “Girdo” on the back of Sudreh worn by Mobed Sahebs serves as rearguard to prevent any harm from attack by evil forces.

It would be of interest to note that “Gheaan” also undergoes procedural formalities – being washed by Nirang and the same, after getting dried, is cleaned by means of water for ceremonial “Baaj” of Sarosh.

Ultimately, when the body is consigned to Dokhma (Tower of Silence), the third and the last detachment occurs, resulting in complete deliverance of Rawaan.

Custom of Dokhmenashini has been in practice down the ages right from the time of our beloved Vakshure-Vakshuraan (Prophet of Prophets) Asho Zarthushtra Saheb. It has been authoratively acclaimed by philologists to be most hygenic method of disposal of dead body. Despite the fact, that land, water or fire was plentiful in those bygone days, why then Zerthostis opted for Dokhmenashini? When a body is consigned to graveyard, it takes years for decomposition and the land turns putrefactive due to bacterium influence, leaving it good for nothing thereafter. Water, on the other hand, contaminates and , if cremated, not only air but the entire environment is polluted.

It is a great sin to put corpse on fire. Fire being symbol of highest worship, only Sandalwood or Loban could be offered. What an irony of fate, that whose ancestors never lagged behind to sacrifice for the preservance of Son of AHURAMAZDA, a waferthin minority of their descendants today offer dead bodies.

Do graveyards or crematoriums undergo religious rituals or customs at the time of construction? In fact due to marathon religious ceremonies performed at the time of conseration of a Dokhmaa, a Zerthosti Rawaan never falls prey to ghosts or witches. Let us therefore view Dokhmenashini in its true significance.

In ancient Iran, construction of Dokhmaa commenced after setting of Fasli Fravardin Mah, i.e. advent of Jamshedi Nowroze which marked beginning of summer. The place selected for Dokhmaa is elevated ground, far from crowds, preferably of isolated state suitable for dwelling of vultures. While on the matter, this bird is gifted by Nature with divine power, which serves to smell and see the corpse from miles away – its massive potential of consumption enables to devour flesh within a few minutes and found to be ever hungry.

Secondly, “Khurshed Negirashni”, i.e. sun rays play key role in disposal of dead bodies. The super power of solar energy dries up body in expeditious manner leaving no odour behind. It is with this reasoning that our Dakhmaa remains open from above.

The land initially gains sort of three kinds of Nahan at interval of nine days. When the ground is cleaned and wastage burnt, – it gets “Atashi” i.e. fiery Nahan. It then gets purificatory bath in form of sprinkling of “Taro”. After the soil totally dries up, it gets thorough wash which serves as ritual cleaning in form of watery Nahan.

The purified area is then completely cordoned with curtains for commencement of ceremonies within the enclosure, thereby preventing a non-Zerthosti’s presence.

Mobed Saheb having undergone Barshnum Nahan, thereafter performs ceremonies of “Paanch Taae ni Khoob” and Baaj of Sarosh Yazad, DAADAAR AHURAMAZDA, Ardaafravash and Hafta Ameshaaspand and the same again in memory of departed Rawaan for whose benefit the Dokhmaa is being consecrated. The ground is then dug up to move ahead with Tana ceremony, which plays a vital role. Installation of iron nails purified by means of water, Nirang, the encirclement of cotton threads (Tano) around the same and the ceremonial prayers recited therein, is a brief description of Tana ceremony. After cementation done thereon, the well and Paavis are prepared (separate Paavis for males females and children). Here again extreme care is taken in preparation of passage ensuring that flowing liquid in no manner affects the adjacent Paavi. Finally after completion of construction, it gets thoroughly purified by means of Nirang and water. In its sanctification, ceremonies of Yazashne, Vandidaad, Baaj, Jashan etc are performed. Yes the magnanimous vibrations of “Maanthravani” (prayers) recited reverberate within the perimeter of Dokhamaa over the years that detaches the final one third attachment of the Rawaan with this world. The Rawaan is now relieved from its worldly belonging for its onward journey.

It would be in fitness of things to highlight briefly the status of Sarosh Yazad. Right in the beginning, through AHURAMAZDA HIMSELF, derived prolific word “Ahu” full of absolute ‘Ashoi’, i.e. purity which had to be contained into similar purificated emblem and this is how Sarosh Yazad came into being, acclaimed as “Ashoi na Sardar” (Sarosh Asho) with exceptional command on Hasti and Nisti as well.

Its divine formation consists of nothing but “Khoreh” (Aura). Amongst thirty-three Fareshtaas, (Hormuzd to Aneran = 30 plus Berejo, Hom and Daham Yazad), Sarosh Yazad is appropriately positioned in the centre as 17th Roj, bearing the ‘guard’ of 16 Yazad – Ameshashpands on either sides. In authentic narration of Pak Saheb, this has been stated that because of the extraordinary embodiment comprising full of Ashoi, the title of Asho is exceptionally conferred on Sarosh Yazad only. (Sarosh Asho Tagi Tan Farmaan). During the phase of night, this Yazad not less than seven times casts overall watch on entire earth for total eradication of evil spells from its surface. Amidst duration of three days after death, i.e. upto Chehaarum Baamdaad, Rawaan is under special care of this Yazad, who together with Behman Ameshashpand constantly endeavour for progress of Rawaan which is all set to bid final goodbye. As mark of respect to Behman Ameshaspand, being protector of Gospand i.e. animals, consumption of meat is spared for three days. But on fourth (Cheharoom) day, it is customary that meat should be consumed even if it happens to be Fasli Behman Ameshashpand Parabh as the Rawaan moves ahead from influence of Behman Ameshashpand.

Zoroastrians reciting Sarosh Yasht Vadi achieves constant protection of this Yazad, but on the other hand if he / she indulges in anti-religious activities, is denied protection throughout lifetime and even after death. Amongst ceremonies performed in aid of Rawaan, Baaj of Sarosh, “Sarosh-nu-Paatroo”, Yazashne and Vandidaad of Sarosh, play vital role in the Rawaan’s progress.

“Uthamnoo” means ceremony performed for elevating the status of Rawaan. In fact, under exceptional circumstances, performance of this ceremony in evening can be waived but the Uthamnoo ceremony of late third night i.e. before the dawn of “Chehaaroom” is obligatory. We shall, at a later stage, deal with Afringaan performed in concluding phase of four days’ ceremony.

Then glides incipient light of long awaited ‘Cheharoom Baamdaad’, i.e. the fourth day marking as a momentous event for a Rawaan to usher into “life after death” era. With transient appearance of Mino Ram Yazad at dawn, a Rawaan’s joy knows no bounds and instantaneously unfolds “Girde-Shoomaa” – the radiant path emerging out of aura left behind by Vakshure Vakshuraan Asho Zarthushtra Saheb(Persian word”Girde” specifies path, “Shooma” stating yours, meaning “Your Path”). Rawaan, now set free to zoom towards eternity, i.e. “Minoi Jehaan”, gleefully advancing ahead, least concerned with worldly attachments. Before entering into Chinvat, that serves as connecting media of Nisti and Hasti, Rawaan at Burjis Aasmaan, releases its “Oor”, being output of its unfair deeds on earth.

Chinvat diverges into nine varied “Tabra” i.e. tracks:

1. The first and foremost is “Tabre-Khaas”. It is meant exclusively for Vakshure Vakshuraan Saheb to proceed towards “Hasti”.
2. Next is “Tabre-Avval”, for Magav Sahebs, Abed Sahebs and Asho Rawaans.
3. Next to follow is “Tabre Aam” for Advanced Rawaans.
4. Follows thereafter is : “Tabre-Nim” – covering ordinary Rawaans like us.
5. “Tabre-Sim” is particularly meant for great sinners.

Tabre numbers 6 to 9 being “Tabre-Chehaaroom” exists for other four “Jirams”- Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, whose souls (“Aatmaas”) only after achieving pinnacle of supreme purity, qualify to achieve the celestral gift of “Mino Karko” fire through a Raaenidaar Saheb of Zoroastrian religion. Only after gaining celestial Mino Karko, a soul for the first time passes through relevant Tabre to reach Hasti – “Minoi Jehan”. Until then an Aatmaa remains on respective “Dahkyoo” in Nisti. (Ref. Meher Niyayesh – Oopairi Dakhyu, Adhairi Dakhyu, Pairi Dakhyu and Aipi Dakhyu). Rawaan passing through Chinvat, now enters Hasti for resuscitation at Daham Yazad’s barrier.

It is at this juncture, Daham Yazad in association with Meher, Rashne and Aastad Yazad decide a Rawaan’s fate.

Meher Yazad, being caretaker of Zerthosti Atashs contained within our body,bears supremacy on faithfulness, integrity and straightforwardness. Recital of Meher Niyayesh, Yasht followed by performing ceremonies of Baaj and Aafringaan in memory of the Rawaan is most beneficial.

Rashne Raast Yazad reigning over justice and righteousness is kind enough to minimise sufferings of Rawaan.

Aastad Yazad, governing over Alburz range of mountains – remind us of its highest peak Kuhe Demaavand and Magav Saheb. This Yazad ruling over moral excellence and virtue of truth, assists a Rawaan through Chinvat.

Last but not the least, Daham Yazad is the great guardian and reliever who helps Rawaan to enter “Behest”. It is therefore, on fourth day morning (Cheharoom), Baaj and Afringaan of Daham Yazad is performed to aid Rawaan’s further progress.

These four Yazads (Meher, Rashne, Aastaad and Daham), decide duration of “Seshab” referred to in Patet Pashemani and Rawaan-ni. Though actual state of Seshab (i.e. penitence of misdeeds committed) ranges between Cheharoom and Dashmu (being tenth day), a Rawaan forebears the effects of solely depending on strength of its good and evil acts. Greater the magnitude of evil deeds, much prolonged the duration of Seshab. (Rawaan on consuming Maidyojarem at Daham’s barrier, is totally relieved from attachments of world.) Where the proportion of good and evil deeds are equal, Rawaan restrains at “Hamastegan” for a maximum period of thirteen months. It is therefore advisable that ceremony of Nirangdin be performed thirteen months after death.

Rawaan is now qualified to reach its respective heaven. Most often asked question is, as to what duration ceremonies be performed in memory of departed Rawaan? At the outset, just as bare minimum necessities of life are a must for every living being, role of ceremonies for departed Rawaan is similar. This may prop up some intricacies. For example, if one has lived through the age as a sober Zerthosti, with implicit faith on his sublime religion, strictly adhering to rituals, customs but passes away under poor financial conditions, and no ceremonies are performed, would this hamper progress of Rawaan? On the other hand, a Zerthosti blessed with best superfluities of life, leaves behind a fabulous sum for performance of ceremonies will his / her Rawaan progress on strength of financial stronghold?

In realm of AHURAMAZDA,justice unquestionably reigns supreme and so scrupulous is established system, that none is deprived of a fair deal. Basically, performing of ceremonies upto “Cheha-room”-4th day, “Dahum”-10th day, “Siroj”, i.e. Maasiso and “Saal-roj”-Warsi (Ref. Satum-no-Kardo) is obligatory. Rest depending on condition of near and dear ones. Ceremonies may although continue for a number of years in aid of one who can afford. None should incur debt and perform ceremonies in memory of departed ones. With the exeption of Nirang Din ceremony, fruit of every ceremony accumulates in “Gunj-e-Daadaar”. It is a sort of World Bank for ultimate distribution. Rawaan of first Aasmaan, i.e. (Aasmaan of Mah Bokhtar) gains maximum benefit from the ceremonies. This is followed by Rawaan of second Aasmaan (Aasmaan of Khordaad) who benefits in a little lesser proportion. This is followed by Rawaan of third Aasmaan (Aasmaan of Tir). Since Rawaan of first Aasmaan has a long way to eternity, it gains a fairly large share. Rawaan entering fourth Aasmaan of Khurshed having absolved total “Bud-Kerdaar”, needs no ceremonies but progresses in communion with Sarosh Yazad. Rarely, a Rawaan of fourth Aasmaan and above takes birth in this world to perform exceptionally great role.

On gaining Minostigar power at fifth Aasmaan under care of Sherevar Ameshaspand and Behram Yazad, Rawan is well versed with meanings of Avesta prayers. Further up, on gaining power of Stot Yasna, a Rawaan is capable of performing miracles. Divine changes occur unto Rawaan at fifth Aasmaan. Through sphere of Sherevar Ameshaspand, it turns “Aabi” i.e. watery and under Behram Yazad’s care, transforms to “Hawaai” i.e. gaseous form. Behram Yazad rules supreme on Atash – particularly of lightning and passing through its influence, Rawan gains fiery touch.

At sixth Aasmaan, – better known as Garothman Behest, under care of “Vakshure Vakshuraan” (Prophet of Prophets) Asho Zarthustra Saheb, a dazzling light comes out of Rawaan and inherits Ashoi of Sarosh Yazad.

Every Aasmaan consists of four levels and each has 180 steps. A Rawaan on reaching higher echelons, its fiery form glows in full radiance – all set towards eternity. Of course with aid and assistance of Asho Zarthushtra Saheb only, Rawaan finally merges into AHURAMAZDA.

With no underestimation towards any, and due respect to every religion, let it be stated with full emphasis that a Zerthosti is born in this world with sole mission of its Rawaan’s progress. By drifting towards other paths (alien beliefs), it retrogrades, repents thereafter. Our stay here is ephemeral and beautiful is life after death for those who endeavour throughout for true love of AHURAMAZDA. Rightly it has been said, “Man should not be made to love AHURAMAZDA for threat of hell, one should hate hell for the love of AHURAMAZDA”.