Everyday Parsi: Firoze Jungalwala

Our third author in the Everyday Parsi 2015 series is Dr. Firoze B. Jungalwala

­­My recollection of Muktad in Surat during the Late 1940s

firoze-jungalwalaI vividly remember the Muktad days at my grand father’s home in Surat during the late 1940s, as a young boy. In those days, the muktad days were celebrated for 18 days, but later reduced to 15 days and now mostly for the last 5 days of Gathas. In my grandfather’s house a special room is assigned, only for performing religious ceremonies, such as Jeshan, Feresta, Baj (death anniversary) and muktad. Just before the muktad days are approaching the entire room is cleaned and white washed for the occasion. All the religious utensils, such as, german silver Khumchas, piggani, kerasias, divas etc. are cleaned and polished for the occasion. Each of the shiny vase or kerasia is assigned for the family member who had passed away, with their name, date of birth and date of passing; mostly in Gujarati according to Zoroastrian and English calendar. They are then set up on a marble table. During the days of muktad, each of these are decorated with fresh flowers, mostly colorful roses, delivered that morning by the malli (gardner). They are then washed with home-installed well water to make them “pure”, as they were touched by the juddin malli.

Everyone in the house are woken up by about 5 a.m., including us kids, in anticipation of the prayers. As the time approached, mostly early morning, everyone is waiting for the arrival of the Dastoorjis, generally two. The ladies of the house are madly running about to prepare the Kumchas with delicious malido, papri, daran, fruits of different kinds, suukkoo mevo (dried fruits) and other delicious foods, ravo, save, homemade methai etc. The other ladies are hurriedly assembling a special kumcha with sandal wood tachho, loban, ghee-no-divo, silver chipioo and chamach. All these are already set up on the floor over a white chadder. The real excitement comes when the doorbell rings and everyone in the house run to the front door to welcome the dastoorjis. After the traditional welcoming greetings, the dastoorjis stroll over to the prayer room, wash their hands and feet with well water, and perform the initial padyab kusti prayers, facing east. We kids are awed with the the dastoorji’s white and crispy jama and laeghoo and their impressive silver beard and white Paghadi and kamarbundh, similar to that of Asho Zarathustra, depicted in the pictures.

The dastoorjis then start the fire on the special shining “Afarghanu” with sandalwood and loban and the sweet aroma and smoke fill the room. During the harmonious chanting of prayers by the priests, everyone remains quiet. In spite of only a few understanding what was being said, we as children get excited with reverence when we heard the familiar names of our departed dear ones and also acknowledged by the audience. The ceremony usually lasted for about 45 min to an hour and the kids are eagerly waiting for the “chasni” to be shared. For the kids that was the best part of the Muktad. The chasni then is shared by the immediate family members and some of which is sent over to other members the family who could not attend the prayers.

It is believed by the Zoroastrians that the souls of the departed are invited specially during these days to come down and celebrate and share the Muktad festivities. It is a way of remembering and cherishing the lives of the passed family members, a sort of memorial. Symbolically, a diva is lit every evening and placed at the entrance of the house to “guide” them home.

In recent years, the elaborate celebration of the muktad prayers at home are rarely performed. Instead, they are established for the individual family of the community in Agiyari or Atashbehram, as a part of the Anjuman. Although, the sights of a large number of vases with colorful flowers and chanting of several dastoorjis praying in unison are awesome, it is rather a shame that the excitement and the religious fervor generated at home are diminished with this so called progressive life style. It is our hope that in any form this beautiful and inspiring religious tradition which has lasted for thousands of years would survive for the next generations.

Firoze Jungalwala obtained his Master’s Degree in Organic Chemistry from Gujarat University and his Ph. D. degree in Biochemistry from Indian Institute of Science, Banglore. After his post-doctoral training at University of Wisconsin, Washington University Medical School and University of Cambridge in England, he joined Harvard University Medical School as Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology. He was a Principal Investigator of National Institute of Health, conducting research in Neuroscience. He has now retired from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, as a Professor of Biochemistry and Pharmacology.

Firoze, along with his late wife Khorshed and others, started the Zoroastrian Association of Greater Boston Area (ZAGBA) and was its first President. He has two children, Ferzin Patel of New York and Jehangir vice-president of Athena Health in Boston.

Correction: An earlier version of the article had errenously mentioned “5 days of Gahambars”. It has been corrected to refer to “5 days of Gathas”.