Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Everyday Parsi: Shernaz Petigara

 

Our twelfth and final author in this year’s Everyday Parsi series

Shernaz Petigara writes

What do the Muktad days mean to me?

When Parsi Khabar asked me to write on this topic, I just did not know how to react to it. With so many articles being written by scholars of our community, I could not understand where to begin this article from.

Understanding what he was looking for, this is what I decided to pen down as my memories of Muktad Days as a child and what they mean to me as a grown up today.

ssp_ Having grown up in a family where Dad has been a Kadmi Zoroastrian and Mum a Shahenshahi , I got an opportunity to go through the Muktad days twice a year. Come, Asfandarmard Mahino and mum used to get very busy with cleaning the whole house thoroughly, washing doors and windows, changing the upholstery etc. etc. I often asked her as a five year old as to what and why was she doing all this and she used to tell me lovingly – Beta, the Muktad days are approaching and we soon will have to go for prayers of granny / grandpa, so and so aunty and on and on. I used to wonder and smile. Then as we grew up and after, being initiated into the Zoroastrian faith, she made it a point to take me first and then my brothers to various agiaries in Mumbai city. We used to go on a daily basis because we were very fortunate to live close by an Agiary in Mumbai.

Our home used to smell of the lovely food that she made every morning and offered in front of pictures of our ancestors. She did beautiful rangoli every morning and when asked, she would explain me lovingly that this way we invite the spirits or fravarshis of all our deceased ancestors and family members to our house during these days and seek their blessings. She made sure that we had our nails cut before the Muktad days started. We children were taught to have a shower before going to the agiary, wear clean clothes kept aside in a separate cupboard and she made sure that we did not touch the bed at home after the shower.

At the agiary, she taught me to buy bunches of flowers / roses from outside and then give it to the designated person in the agiary to put it in the vase of our beloved one. When I asked mum as to why she did that, she explained me with love that it is Ashoi or purity. My brothers and myself never argued with her and simply followed her footsteps. All I can remember is the ten days were full of fun for us. Dad used to accompany us occasionally to the Agiary.

However, as I started growing into a young lady, my Dad told me that he was pleased to see me accompany mum to all the agiaries and that he was very happy seeing me asking so many questions about behaving well at all the ceremonies during these days. He then asked me if I would like to understand more about what are Muktad or Farvardegan days and why do people follow the rituals.

Let me share with my readers that Dad had a very unusual way of praying during the Gathas. He used to go to the Doongervadi or the Tower of Silence in Mumbai early morning and pray the Farvardin Yast and recite the Gatha prayers in solitude facing the Towers. He taught me to pray the ‘Faramahar no Haa’ before the pictures of our beloved departed souls in the five days prior to the Gathas and also explained me what it meant. He did not spend money on flowers and chose to feed the poor instead. This touched my heart as a child and I asked him one day if I could accompany him too. He said ‘Yes, ofcourse’ and saw no reason why I could not. Even today I carry with me fond memories of praying together then walking down to the Irani Restaurant on Babulnath and having Chai and Maska – Pav for breakfast after that. It used to be a great bonding time for both of us because those days we were not able to afford the luxuries of today and used to go walking quite a few kilometers. I have never looked back since then and accompanied him year after year in the Kadmi Muktad days and those days it used to rain heavily. Other family members and friends did find it very strange when we used to tell them about it. It was during these times that he explained to me as to what is the significance of the last ten days in the year.

Continued doing both the Muktads even after getting married into a Shahenshahi family for it gave me a very peaceful feeling of being looked after by all our departed souls. My understanding as an adult of Muktad is explained in brief below.

Muktad is a time of REPAYING the debt of gratitude to our ancestors , those whom we know and to countless others whom we don’t know but without whom life would not have been possible. It is celebrated during the last ten days of the Shahenshahi or Kadmi Calendar. They begin from Roj Ashtad , and Mah  Asfandarmard  which is the 26th day of the 12th month and continues till the 5th Gatha day. (The five gatha days are supplementary days and therefore no month is ascribed to them). It is believed that during this 10-day festival the spirits (farohars or fravarshis) of the departed souls visit their near and dear ones in the physical world.

To explain a little more, the priest or the Dasturji as we address them set asides an area within the fire temple where all the tables and vases are lined up. They also perform special rituals over cooked food, fruits and fresh flowers during which the spirits of the departed are invoked by chanting special prayers in different gah’s of the day and thereby seek their protection and blessings, in this world. Some families have separate tables and some put the vases on one big table which is called the Anjuman table. At some big agiaries there are more than a hundred vases. In the foreground there is a tray containing coconut, sandalwood sticks, an oil lamp and a muslin cloth which is consecrated in memory of the departed soul and later donated to a needy person or used by the male members of the family. Some offer prayers for one deceased member or soul of their family and some choose to offer prayers for all the departed souls of their family for many years from one to twenty and thirty years even after the soul has long departed. It is said, that the Muktad prayers should be offered for at least one generation, that is for 16 to 30 years. On the 10th day, or the 5th Gatha also known as the Vahistoish Gatha a special Afrinagan  ceremony in honour of the fravarshis is performed in the Ushehen Geh, (dawn of Hormazd roz), which in a way is a gesture to bid the spirits a final farewell from this world. It is highly recommended for the living to keep their homes extra clean and be in a state of heightened consciousness to experience the presence of the spiritual world.

It has always been a lovely, colourful sight to be observed in all our agiaries and atashbehrams where I grew up and lived for 38 years in Mumbai, India before chosing to move to New Zealand.

It was my very own personal choice to move to New Zealand and very proud to say that I continue following all the rituals to be observed during the Muktad days and also do the prayers that a Behdin has to recite at my home. Thank you dear Mum and Dad. I could not attend the funeral ceremony of my darling mother and other close relatives because of the distance. Though Dad has always convinced me that remembering your loved ones does not require any special day and time, t The Muktad days became even more special to me and I have personally experienced mum and my mamaiji (granny) visiting my family and blessing us very closely.

I was given the opportunity of taking prayer classes for the little Zoroastrian children for six years and have shared this knowledge to the best of my ability.

On a personal level, I have to reiterate and confirm that prayers on a daily basis and following the path of Ashoi has taken me a long way in life and has also made me fight back Leukaemia which I was diagnosed in 2009.

Lastly, I take this opportunity to wish all my Zoroastrian community a Saal Mubarak filled with good health, peace of mind and prosperity in the coming year and many more.

Ushta-Te’

 

Born and brought up in Mumbai, India Shernaz Petigara currently living in Auckland, New Zealand. Currently working at the Kidz First Community Health Office, a division of the Counties Manukau District Health Board.

Shernaz am a lover of peace and like helping as many people in as many ways I can. Worked alongside my husband, Sarosh Petigara who continues developing and designing his website www.ahuramazda.com. Have written a book called ‘Two Steps to a New Life’ which is my story on how I fought back Anti Myleod Leukaemia and is available online as a hard copy for people living abroad and as a pdf file in India with all proceeds going to the Leukaemia Foundation and Cancer Society in respective countries. Also a proud mother of Perzen Patel, fondly known as www.bawibride.com