Our tenth author in the Everyday Parsi 2014 series
Behroze A. Clubwala writes
The Muktads – traditions in India and an adaptation over the years in my home.
I grew up in Madras, known today as Chennai, in the early fifties and sixties. There was a very small Parsi community, barely 100 families, tightly knit and well connected and always there for each other. I lived there till I married at 23 and came to New York in 1975. As the youngest child of four girls in the family, I grew up in an environment where Dad’s authority was ultimate, although Mum made all the decisions! As such going to the Agiyari, saying our kusti was a routine and praying during the 5 Gathas/Muktad days – was not to be questioned.
Our social lives in Madras were linked very closely to the Parsi community. We went to picnics, Jamshedi Navroze, Pateti and Khordadsal celebrations. We had religious classes, fashion shows, nataks, fancy dress competitions, whist and housie (bingo) gatherings, swimming competitions. We learnt from our toddler days to enter the Agiyari only with our topis on, with the seam at the back, to distinguish Jamshedi Navroze from the Pateti, Navroze and Khordadsal periods and to be as traditional as a Parsi child could be in Madras. Although I travelled to Bombay, now know as Mumbai, as a child, I was never heavily influenced by the traditional views and religious habits from Mumbai.
As a child, there was a great emphasis on going to the Agiyari on Hormuzd and Behram Roj every month, attending the community Jashans on Meher Roj and Meher Mahino and all the traditions that one could think of….even Ghambars. The Agiyari in Madras was at the middle of all our religious influences, our religious customs and traditions, especially since we were away from “Bombay” the seat of all Parsi traditions and customs.
I recall as a child that the 5 days of the Muktad prayers was a very “extraordinary” time of the year. I had to go to the Agiyari every day for 5 days. Traditionally, the Muktad prayers are planned for 10 days – known as the “Farvardegan” – means the days of nourishment for the souls. In the past, it is my understanding that the Muktad prayers lasted another 7 days to allow the souls to journey back to their destinations. I understood that the Gathas were the “words” of Zarathushtra and hence had a very important significance to us as Zarthustis. In Madras, we have jasmine flower garlands which adorned all the photographs in the Agiyari and their sweet unique fragrance was a part of the holiness of the Muktad days. The fragrance of the ‘sukhad” and “loban” filled the air. The Agiyari looked beautiful during the Muktads…. there were flowers in the “muktad na vases” traditionally only available in Bombay. All the doors of the Agiyari were opened on the 1st Gatha day…. The beautiful stained glass above the doors took on a special shine and light filtered into the big room where the majority of the community congregated for the prayers. I felt as a child, that the Agiyari was an even more endearing place, as all the grandmas and grandpas, and aunties and uncles had come down to visit us and were talking to us. I thought then that they only came to the Agiyari. As a child, I loved seeing the Dhansak and food put out for the second part of the prayers, as I called it.
Today I know that the “ruvans” or “souls” of our dearly departed visit us during the Muktad days. We ask in our prayers for “Ruvan Garothmani baad.” May their “souls find peace and heaven”. It is our duty as the living kin to welcome and honor them. I felt that the prayers that the Dasturjis did during the Gatha days were even more reverent and louder than normal – as they prayed the “Afringan, the Farrokshi and the Baj” and finally the “Satoom” prayers which offered food to the dearly departed souls. It was a “high” religious time – a joyous yet pious time.
In 1975, I was married and arrived in New York in the first week in August. I deeply missed the sanctity and holiness of the Muktad days experienced in Chennai and felt a huge void in my mind and heart. For the first few years I went on with the routines of work and home, did a “big” oil diva on all the days, but as soon as I had my first daughter, and then my son, I realized that I had to create and share those sentiments that I felt as a child during the Muktad time with my children.
So, I did the best I could – I began the tradition during the 5 Gatha days to display all the pictures of our dearly departed in a prominent place in our home – about 20 frames of photographs. We do a special “oil” diva among all their pictures, we put fresh flowers from the garden each day and I read a translation of the Gathas – as much and as many as I can, aloud. I like Dinshaw J. Irani’s simple and easy to read translation, which I have read since I was 15. (Dinshaw Irani is Professor Kaikhushru D. Irani’s father. Prof. Irani has been a strong intellectual leader here in NY on the Zarthusthi faith and religion.) We welcome the souls of our dearly departed into our home, recall fondly the time we shared with them, we ask for their blessings and guidance. It is a time to cherish their memories and their value systems, to talk about them, to raise consciousness of our Zoroastrian faith, their legacy, their generosity to the Zoroastrian community and to talk about the importance of living a true Zoroastrian life. The tradition continues in my house till today. While I thought this could be done only in Agiyaris and Atash Behrams, I have adapted to bringing the tradition into our home.
And, it was only a few years ago that I saw the Muktad days in Bombay, in all their glory and splendor. I was filled with a sense of awe – a sense of how blessed I was to feel and recreate these sentiments and how blessed I was to be able to share them with my children. Our Zoroastrian Association of Greater New York, (ZAGNY) now conducts the Muktad prayers o the 5 Gatha days at various locations, with one day at its Darbe Mehr, so I have finally come close to re-living the “piousness” that this time represents.
Behroze has lived and worked in the New York/New Jersey area since 1975. She recently retired from the United Nations Development Programme as a Human Resources Advisor.