A complex issue of womanhood
The entire 16th pargarad/chapter of the Vendidad is dedicated to the matter of menstruation, and later Pahlavi texts comment on this subject extensively. For those who believed this was an adopted Hindu practice from India please realize this is an integral component of the Mazdayasni Zarathosti religion.
As a side note, please realize that practices followed well into the twentieth century entailed sleeping on an iron bed (Vd.15.1.6) and avoiding touching wood. This is because metal conducts the auric energy off its surface whereas wood and rubber are insulators. Once again the mandates of the Vendidad have shone that Zoroastrian scientific knowledge was beyond its time in its understanding of electricity and energy. Our scriptures are very relevant to modernity if viewed objectively.
It is to be understood that the woman is not impure when menstruating but that she is in an altered state of being. Her body is going through a natural process of removing dead matter (naso), which are the unfertilized eggs. When a priest has a wound he too is unable to perform rituals unless the wound is cleaned and it stops releasing blood—due to the role platelets plays in blood coagulation. If you read the Bundahishn, it very clearly describes how fertilization takes place, depicting the knowledge the ancients possessed on the reproductive system (Gr. Bd. 15.1-8). Menses is not a wound it is the body’s way of releasing dead matter. In this state the women’s khoreh (aura of divine energy) is temporarily in an altered state—it is busy doing something else—which conflicts with the vibrational frequencies of our prayers and liturgies. In the Bundahishn (the beginning of creation), Ahuramazda says the following to women “Thou helpest My seed; for man is born of thee therefrom; thou surpassest Me too, who am Ohrmazd” (Gr.Bd. 14A.1). Hearing this Ahereman rushes forward and inflicted women with menses. In the Bundahishn menses is identified as the outcome of Jahi’s—Ahereman’s daughter’s—vow to wreak havoc on mankind (Gr.Bd. 4.4-5).
As per the Vendidad ritual infringement is not conducted by a menstrual woman coming in contact or touching individuals or implements, but by her nazar or gaze falling upon them. Therefore, contact with a menstruating woman, direct or indirect, is not advised. This is how powerful this force of nature is. Nazar is also exchanged when priests recite certain verses of Avestan in the afargan to increase the Zor or ritual power. Also in the yazashne when the zoti finally imbibes the homa water he maintains strong eye-contact with the rathvi. There have been a few scientific studies on energy emanating from the eyes if one wishes to read up on the subject. You will also notice Atash Behram boiwallas, wear gloves to restrict the transfer of the unseen energy flowing from their fingertips onto the khoreh of the holy fire.
Menses must be understood as a very powerful force of nature, women are aware of the mystifying natural process they are a part of. Out of humility and conscientiousness of the supernatural power flowing out of them, women are encouraged to avoid attending religious events, coming to the temple, or touching sacred objects. We must alter our understanding of the fundamentals of the faith and not the fundamentals. Our religion has an expansive metaphysical understanding and should not be simplified to surface levels answers.
If you want to practice/pray privately that’s fine as long as the Khordeh Avesta is not touched. However if you think about going to a temple or Jashan just keep in mind other people are sharing the sacred space with you. Out of respect for their beliefs and the tenets of the religion it is best to avoid the clash of khoreh. As mature and reflective human beings who are strong, educated, and independent women this is what the religion asks you to consider.
Ervad Dr. Ramiyar Karanjia, principle of Dadar Athornan Institute:
Why are women debarred during the menstrual period from attending fire temples, sacred places and religious ceremonies?
1. Menstruation is a very natural process among ladies after puberty which is integral to the divine process of conception and childbirth.
2. However, in almost all religions and cultures, a lady during the menstrual period is regarded as having physical, emotional and psychological limitations which creates an imbalance in the unseen etheric body.
3. This imbalance in the auric body (Av. Kehrpa) of a lady during menstruation is detrimental to spiritual or divine purposes as it interferes with the exchange of good energies (Av. khvarena). Hence religion and tradition advises against such ladies participating in religious rituals.
4. Since the auric body (Kehrpa) of menstruating ladies is imbalanced they are not able to receive the divine blessings that result from, as they are collected in the auric body, hence these divine blessings are wasted in a way. That is why their names are not taken in Tandarosti or in farmāyasne in other rituals like Afringān, Jashan and Machi.
5. In the past there were stringent rules and regulations to be observed by a Zoroastrian lady during menstruation, mainly based on the 16th chapter of the Vendidad.
6. In the very olden times, there was a separate out house where menstruating ladies had to stay. Thereafter there was a separate room at the back of all Zoroastrian houses where such ladies used to stay. They had to have a separate set of clothes, a separate bed, vessels etc. and had to live in total seclusion. They were not allowed to touch anybody or anything in the house and expected to stay away from ritual objects and places. Till about 5 to 6 decades back girls were not even allowed to go to schools and colleges during the menstrual periods, as then it would not be possible to follow these rules. According to Indian traditions a lady during menstruation wears the Sadra, a separate kasti and can say the Yatha ahu vairyo and ashem vohu prayers only. The present generations do not follow these rules so stringently.
7. In the post-modern times the ritual seclusion during menstruation was erroneously viewed as ignorance about a scientific biological phenomena and the practice of seclusion was seen as a relic of an ignorant, superstitious people.
8. In present times, the seclusion has became minimal, partly on account of crammed living conditions in cities. However even today, almost every Zoroastrian woman observes rules during menstruation when it comes to doing prayers, participation in or preparation of rituals and entry into fire temples. In the present days and times one must make efforts to observe this practice as much as possible.
About Zerkxis Bhandara
Zerkxis Z. Bhandara is a 25 year old ordained navar (2006) and martab (2007). He is well versed in the practice of all Zoroastrian outer liturgies and additionally performs the baj ritual regularly. His life’s passion has always been the study and understanding of religion. Other than mobedi he has perused an education in the field of religion and completed his BA in Religious Studies from UC Santa Barbara in 2018. As part of which he wrote an ethnography for his honors thesis titled the “Unsevered Thread”, a study into the correlation between the Yazashne liturgy and the daily religious practices of Zoroastrians. He was awarded the W. Richard Comstock Award in the study of religion and culture for his excellence in the field. Currently he is part of the Anthropology masters program at CSU Long Beach, where his research focuses on the religious socialization of Parsi youth in the diaspora.