Funeral procedures for Parsis Deceased Abroad.

By Ervad (Dr.) Hoshang J. Bhadha

The following funeral procedure for shipping the mortal remains to India is prepared for the Zoroastrian community in the United States. The given procedure and ceremonies are applicable only to those who belong to the Zoroastrian fold (both parents are Zoroastrians and practicing the Zoroastrian religion); who has not renounced his religion by marrying outside the Zoroastrian fold.

I. IMMEDIATELY AFTER DEATH:

CONTACT:

A. The Mobeds (Priests) of our Association.

1. ____________ _______ Tel. #

2. ____________ _______Tel. #

B. The attending physician (usually the family doctor) and notify him of the death.

C. The Director of the Funeral Home.

II. CONTACT YOUR ASSOCIATION:

The following persons should be informed concerning the time and place of funeral or any other concerns related to the event occured.

1. The President, Trustee

2. Funeral Service Representative

3. Authorized representative in your home town.

[This person may be a Priest or trustees of the Agiary who is authorized by the managing committee of your Association to ensure that the required ceremonies for the deceased person is done on time.

4. Any volunteers from your association.

[I recommend every association to publish a note in their monthly newsletter inviting more people to volunteer for such an unprecedented event.]

III. TRADITIONAL ZOROASTRIAN CUSTOMS AND REQUIREMENTS:

A. The dying person should be made to recite as many Ashem Vohu as possible, or any member of the family should recite Patet Pashemani or Ashem Vohu, next to dying or deceased person.

B. After death, an oil lamp, water and flowers are usually kept in the room of the deceased continuously for 10 days.

C. Once the body of the deceased is released by the hospital or doctor (under natural death) it will be send for embalming.  Mortuary will receive the body on the next day.  As per our traditional custom the family and friends of the deceased should go to the Funeral Home to complete the following procedure in order to enable the Priests to perform prayers.

1. Two members of the family should do padyab-kusti and Srosh Baj to complete the following procedure.

2. Take two white towels, a white sheet, Sudreh and Kusti, a white scarf (mathubanu) or cap, some old Sudrehs which can be torn into strips, and clean used wearing apparel to dress the body.  A white pyjama for men, or a petticoat and blouse for women.  It is not a Zoroastrian custom to dress the body in a suit or dress.

3. Sponge the body (with `taro’ if available).

4. With strips of cloth torn from old Sudrehs, tie one knot at the neck, fold the hands and tie a knot at the wrists. Tie one knot at the waist.  Join the knees and tie a knot at the knees and lastly join the two big toes and tie a knot. Every time you tie a knot, recite the Yatha Ahu Vairyo.

5. Dress the body with the Sudreh and Kusti whilst saying the Kusti prayers.

6. Dress the body with loose fitting clothing and cover it with a white sheet (Do not cover the face).

7. Cover the head with a mathubanu, white cloth or cap.

8. The body is then placed on the stone slabs (if available) .

9. GEHSARNA Ceremony by Priests.

10. In the middle of the GEHSARNA Ceremony (Ahunavaiti Gatha XXXI,4) the corpse-bearers (Family preferable) will lift the corpse from the stone slabs and place it into the casket in which it will be finally shipped to India.

11. The Zoroastrian funeral can only take place during daylight hours.  So, in the extra-ordinary circumstances the mobed or a relative will recite prayers at home.  If the prayers are not known or cannot be recited for any reason, then continue reciting Ashem Vohu.

12. It is a Zoroastrian custom for a family member, friend or a mobed to recite as many Avesta Kalams as possible preferably next to the body.  The following prayers should not be recited – the Atash Nyaish and the Tundorosti.  Generally, if it is after sunset, the Khorsed, Meher and Ava Nyaish are not recited.

13. After Sachkar no one should touch the body, and maintain a distance when paying your respects.  Placing of wreaths and flowers is not a Zoroastrian tradition.  There should be nothing except a Divo and an Atash near the body before the Geh-Serna.  The Atash is removed during the Geh-Sarna ceremony, and only Divo is left.  It is also a Zoroastrian tradition to have a simple funeral service.

IV. CEREMONIES FOR THE DEPARTED SOUL:

Following the funeral, a number of ceremonies are traditionally performed here and are done wherever facilities are available to the family in India or Pakistan. According to our scriptures and religious traditions, performance of the following ceremonies is the requirements in case of death of a Zoroastrian. (In reference to these ceremonies please read the enclosed notes)

1. Gehsarna ceremony in presence of the deceased body.

2. Afringan of Sarosh will be performed in Aevishuthrum Geh for three days after the day a person is pronounced dead.

3. Oothamna ceremony will be performed in the Uziran Gah of the third day.

4. Oothamna ceremony will be performed in Ushen Gah of the third day (just before dawn of the fourth day)

5. Afringan of Dahm will be performed at the dawn of the fourth day.

6. Afringan of Ardafravash, Baj and Stum ceremonies will be performed on the fourth day.

7. Afringan, Baj and Stum on the tenth day of his/ her death.

8. Afringan, Farokhshi, Baj and Stum ceremonies will be performed after one month on the day of his/ her death.

9. Afringan of Siroja, Siroja ni Baj, Farokhshi, Stum ceremonies on the one day before the death anniversary of the deceased.

10. Afringan, Baj and Stum ceremonies on the death anniversary of the deceased.

11. Afringan, Farokhshi, Baj and Stum ceremonies during 10 Muktad days.

Please Note:-

a) Three Yazasne’s of Sarosh Yazd during first four days of the death. [This can be done only if, the Yozdathregars’ (Priests who perform high liturgical ceremonies) are available].

b) The Costs of above ceremonies may vary from $500 to $1000 dollars, depending upon the type of ceremony requested and number of priests involved in each ceremony.

c) In reference to the above concerns, the family is kindly requested to contact any one of the above Priests.

V. ATTENDING PHYSICIAN AND COUNTY CORONER:

If death occurs at home, the family doctor should be notified immediately. In the event your family doctor is not available, then you should call the nearest local hospital and report the death. If the death takes place under the natural circumstances (Heart-attack, Blood pressure, Old-age etc) the family doctor or physician will release the deceased body to the Mortuary. The family doctor or the attending physician may decide to notify a Coroner if there is a reason to believe that death has occurred under the circumstances set out in the Coroner’s Act. Thus, usually in the case of Homicide, Accident or Suicide cases, the body will remain under the custody of Coroner (and not a physician); and only after the Coroner’s approval the body will be released to the Mortuary.

VI. FUNERAL HOME:

The Director will:

1. Make an appointment with the family at the earliest convenient time to secure the information necessary for Statement of Death form. This form will include the deceased’s date and place of birth, marital status, occupation, social service number, Father’s full name, mother’s maiden name, types of services required etc. The director will also provide various alternative funeral packages and prices of different caskets so that, the family can decide on their preferences.

2. Attend to all the paper work necessary for shipping the body to India, which includes getting proper endorsement of the Indian Consulate on the deceased passport, filing Letter of embalming and Death Certificate for getting final approval of the Consulate to ship out the deceased body.

3. Make arrangements for embalming the deceased body. [I am still working on getting waiver for this requirement. Meantime, I recommend your association as a registered non-profit community organization to approach the Consulate of India with an appeal for consideration on the religious grounds.]

4. During your appointment with him, you should mention about the place and time required for completing the final ceremonies before the body is shipped out.  This is because, putting on Sudreh-kusti on the deceased body and Gehsarna ceremony will be performed here, after the body has been embalmed and released by the concerned authority (Physician or Coroner).  If no Priests are available in your area, you must request this ceremony along with Sarosh-nu- Patru to be done in India/ Pakistan, giving the name of the deceased to your relatives to perform these ceremonies in any Agiary or Atash/ Behram.  Please do not forget this crucial step immediately upon the death and prior to shipping of the deceased body.

[According to our traditions, Gehsarna ceremony should be performed within 24 hours.  If the family wish to follow this tradition, they must inform the Priests, and the mortuary director, to make necessary arrangement as the prayers has to be performed before embalming.  This arrangement can be possible only if, the person is deceased by a natural death.]

5. Make arrangements with the Airlines for transportation.  [Please note that, if somebody from the family wish to travel along with the deceased body, the director should be informed at the time of arranging the funeral package.

VII. SHIPPING REGULATIONS in CALIFORNIA:

The attending physician or coroner must sign the death certificate. This must be filed with the County Registrar and they issue a permit. Along with this permit, copies of the death certificate, the passport, and a letter signed by the mortuary must be mailed or express mailed to the India Consulate office in San Francisco for authorization. Only after these papers are authorized and send back to the mortuary, the deceased body will be allowed to be shipped to India.

VIII. Shipping Regulations to India:

1. Body must be embalmed.

2. Certain communicable diseases are prohibited.

3. Certified Death Certificate( s) required.

4. Letter of non-contagious disease is required.

5. Notification to the Health Officer at the port of entry in India at least 48 hours prior to arrival.

6. Either the casket or the outer packing crate must be hermetically sealed.

7. The body must be placed in a metal shell with all joints soldered to seal- in all gasses and odors, etc. (Ziegler Case – a metal inner liner that fits inside the casket.)

8. The metal shell (Ziegler Case) must be placed in hardwood casket.

9. The casket must be placed in a zinc or tin lined wooden outer packing case that is filled with sawdust that has been soaked with carbolic acid.

IX. FUNERAL COSTS:

The cost of Funeral services will vary with area (County, State) and the types of services required by the family.  The cost of air transportation may vary as in certain cases, the deceased body will be first shipped from LAX Airport to New York, where it will be held for minimum 24 hours and then, it will be shipped to India through another Airlines. Since there are many Funeral Homes with competitive cost packages, you may select anyone in your neighborhood and use their services.  While going through my research on this subject, I have come across the following Mortuary service and its price list.  I would like to inform the reader that I do not endorse anything about this Mortuary.

PIERCE BROTHERS MORTUARIES AND CEMETERIES

(Branches throughout United States)

DOKHMENASHENI IN INDIA

If you need counseling about any of your concern in relation to below given costs package, you may refer my name to speak with the counselor at (714) 826-6440.  The below prices may vary depending on the time and place of departure.

Charges for forwarding deceased to India:

Professional Services $ 754.00

+ Sealing Casket (Required by Airline) $ 895.00 (Start at $ 895.00 up to $ 9800.00)

+ Air Transportation Container $ 623.00

+ Permit fee for Orange County Deaths $ 14.00

+ 3 Certificate copies of the death certificate $ 30.00

+ India Consulate Fee $ 10.00

+ Overnight express mail $ 10.00

Total Approx without Airline Charges = $ 2,314.00

X. AIRLINES CHARGES:

Singapore Airline

Charges per Kilogram  (these charges could change)

LAX to Bombay – 10.96 per Kilo. (For 500 lbs.- $ 2485.67)

LAX to Calcutta – 10.00 per Kilo.

LAX to Delhi – 10.96 per Kilo.

LAX to Madras – 11.17 per Kilo.

Lufthansa German Airlines

(Air Cargo – Tel.# (714) 646-3873)

$ 569.00 per 100 lbs (For 500 lbs.- $ 2845.00)

$ 65.00 Surcharge

P.N. Restriction on time of arrival for human remains.

Air-India

LAX to New York – $ 4.85 per pound

For 500 pounds – $ 2425.00

North-West Airlines

LAX to Bombay – $ 5.32 per pound

For 500 pounds – $ 2660.00

Total Air Shipment Cost = $ 2,500.00 – $ 3,000.00

XI. WORDS OF WISDOM:

In order to consign the deceased body for Dokhmenashini certain religious restrictions applies, according to our High Priest Dasturji Dr. Firoze M. Kotwal of Wadiaji Atash Behram, Bombay.  In his letter to the trustees of Bombay Parsee Panchayat, he stated, Dokhmenashini ceremony is based on religion and not Law.  Hence, only the religious view has to be taken and the legal view has to be ignored. In reference to use of the Doongerwadi facilities for the interment of Parsi Zoroastrian men or women married to non- Parsee he said, "the religious view demands that a Zoroastrian lady (or man) married to a non-Zoroastrian ceases to be a Zoroastrian upon marriage and, therefore, she (or he) is not entitled to the after-death ceremonies as per the doctrine of Dokhmenashini, hence, her mortal remains cannot be consigned to the Tower of Silence." He further stated, "if a Zoroastrian male marries a non-Zoroastrian under the Special Act (or under any Laws of Land), the marriage has no religious sanctity.

In reference to ceremonies performed by the priests, he stated that the priestly class represented by the Athornan Mandal, has rightly taken the view that a Zoroastrian woman married to a non-Zoroastrian (or Zoroastrian male married to a non-Zoroastrian) is not entitled to the after-death ceremonies as per the tenets of Dokhmenashini and, therefore, no priest should perform such a ceremonies.  His opinion was seconded by Dasturji Dr. Hormazdyar K. Mirza, (High Priest of Udwada) and Dasturji Dr. Kaikhusroo M. JamaspAsa, (High Priest of the Anjuman Atash Behram).