Parsi Memories : Daily Loban Ritual

By Rusi Sorabjee

One of the daily ritual in a Parsi/Irani homes in India of the early 20th Century, that brings back happy memories of our childhood, of a bygone era, when the days had morehours, families had more members, dinning tables had more chairs, we were more religious and the community felt like being a large close knit happy and contented family, always in concert with each other, always helpful.

Reminiscing of those days, in my minds eye, I caught glimpses of mom or grand mother glide by at sun-down with the silver or German-Silver afargan through each room as did the grayish-blue smoke, fragrant with sukhar (sandal wood), loban (incense), agar that when mixed with the sent of tube-roses, or jasmine or ‘motia.’ (Arabian jasmine) from the cut flowers on the prayer table or in the rooms was a heavenly experience . With one small hand we, brothers, sister, aunts and uncles, would cover our heads and with the other add a pinch of "whair" , loban or agar, then hurriedly putting both hands together, say an Ashem Vohu. Then with both hands, we would pull the smoke towards us. At the end of the round of the house, the Afargan was place at the "prayer table" and before the charcoal embers died they’d be transferred to the coal burning "choohlow" ( stove ).

In the 1930 there was no gas or electric stoves except in parts of Bombay or Karachi. The LOBAN did the round of the rooms in the morning also, but we were then well on the way to school.

The prayer table was where mom or dad , who so ever got ‘ready’ first in the morning, would light the "Divo". The kids got their turns on their birthdays. The divo used to be a short glass partly filled with water topped with either, pure ghee, cooking oil or special oil-lamp media with a long ‘kakrow”,( i.e. wick) held by a metallic clip or a floating ‘kakrow”on a cork float or even a candle that were kept alit perpetually. As pure ghee became expensive, ghee was only used on festive occasions or on birthdays.

In our uncle’s house in Bombay the ‘divo" was suspended from the ceilings in all the main rooms, in an old fashioned chandelier, like you find in some of the Atash Behrams.

Maybe it was something left over from the pre-electricity days and these were the lights that the BATTIWALLA’s as a profession lit.

What is nostalgia but an attempt to preserve that which was good in the past? The past has served us well.

The above is a first in a series on Memories of the Parsi Past. More will follow in the days to come. If you would like to add to it, please write to us and we would love to publish it on the site.

  • Siloo Kapadia

    What a lovely article you have written. I too remember this custom and enjoyed the aroma in the house. This is something we have our boys will experience when we take them back to Mumbai on visits.

    Yes, we had good days back then. These are truly memories worth cherishing.

  • kfkeravala
  • Delnavaz

    it was nice article. Though I don’t belong to the generation of a large joint family, I can easily visualize a Parsi family consisting of grandparents, uncles, aunts & siblings, all crowding round the prayer table.

    Waiting more such articles.

  • It felt good to read your article as it definitely brought back beautiful memories of the same ceremony performed in almost all parsi homes of old. Sadly we are guilty of not keeping up these traditions in our lifetime. Though I have all the necessary implements at home and maybe one day I too shall start this ritual in my home. The smell of the loban has already pervaded my nostrils.

  • Yes this has brought back memories, this sacred ritual was performed every day in our house in Aden for over fifty years until we were kicked out, and this ritual was followed in our new home in Bombay,unfortunately our move to Canada put a stop to it.May be it’s time to bring it back