How to cover our heads as Zoroastrians


May 30, 2020

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Some people have asked why we cover our heads as Zoroastrians. I was perturbed to hear a Parsi grandmother telling her grandkids that it was a symbolic act of submission and humility, thus appropriating our religion to Jewish and Hindu ideas. Our religion professes active practice over passive symbolism. The main reason for head coverings is to avoid hair from falling in a ritually clean area, as it is dead matter or naso. There has been a recent trend of covering the head with rectangular dupattas, this is not permissible As it does not cover all hair with two layers. Furthermore, Zoroastrian women had the practice of typing a bun (amboro) to keep the hair tightly fastened. Having long, untied hair and simply wearing a topee is an irresponsible choice and counterproductive to the priests’ efforts of maintaining a high level of purity. Both ladies and gentlemen must see to it that their head covering covers, the majority, if not all their hair and that it be double-ply.

This is the first of a new series of articles by Zerkxis Bhandara, a young ordained moved from Southern California.

Dasturji Kotwal provided the following explanation to my query on the issue.:

Is there a proper fashion to cover the head in our religion? E.g. a certain number of layers or to cover the hair completely? Is there any textual/ scriptural backing for covering the head? I see many Humdins who barely cover the top of their head during prayers and chasni which does not seem correct to me. What are your learned thoughts on the matter?
According to our religious tradition, the prayer cap which is worn by a lay-person or the white-cap made of cotton cloth which is worn by a priest, prior to tying the turban, has a double lining to insulate the wearer from bodily pollution of any kind. Similarly when a yaozdathregar mobed has to perform high rituals, a fitted or tight shalwar [ijār] is worn over the pajama [legho] by the priest.

This double layering of the cloth is to protect the outer garments which may come in contact with ritual implements, from bodily pollution of any kind, as this layering allows the outer layer to remain clean and pure. Thus when a scarf or māthābānu (head protector) or even a padān is worn it is folded or made in such a way that it is double-layered or lined to make it religiously proper to use. The scarf should be worn in such a way that the head is fully covered and minimum hair is exposed. This is to ensure that no hair falls within the ritual precinct or in the agiary premises as hair which has fallen on the ground is viewed as hikhr (bodily refuse).

-Dasturji Dr. Firoze M. Kotwal

Zerkxis bhandaraQ&A by Zerkxis:

What if I have a beard?

For this reason I grew a beard for some 6 months in 2016. If I were to pull my head hair right now I might end up with a few hairs on my hand, but that doesn’t happen with beard hair. It’s much thicker and doesn’t fall as easily. Yet it does shed periodically, and for this reason priests with long beards keep a comb and brush in the bathroom, prior to bathing the beard is combed through to ensure any stray hairs fall when brushing it over. Then the priest proceeds to bathe.

What if I’m bald?

This needs an esoteric explanation. Our religion implies that there are 16 energy centers on the human body. When we pray or attend prayers there is a divine energy flow through the crown energy center. At the same time unwanted energies can also flow in. For this reason the headcover acts as a filter because it will only allow divine energy through as that is what your khoreh is pulling. This is also why a divo is placed near the head of the corpse, because the ruvan is released upon death and the light of the divo gives it comfort while Sarosh Yazad protects it. During the geh sarnu or paidust the connection of the soul to the body is cut and moves into the receptacle of water close to the divo.

What about Asho Zarathushtra’s long and flowing hair?

The image of Zarathushtra is based on a Sassanian era relief at Taq e Bostan, it is an artistic rendition of an imagined portrait of the Prophet. Sadly, there are no truly historic images of Asho Zarathushtra. Sassanian era reliefs depict royalty and the prophet in the divine act, yet social setting, of receiving the ring of authority upon coronation.  Not in a state of prayer. There is little to no evidence of what happened during the times of Zarathushtra, the expanse of time between his life and ours is simply too vast. Rules of practice are an integral part of any belief system, differentiating religion from philosophy. 

What about young girls who wear a topee on their navjote with long untied hair? 

From early nineteenth and twentieth-century photographs we see that many young girls used to wear a bun hairstyle which would be snuggly secured under a proper fitting topee, this is permissible. Furthermore, in regards to the navjote—the girl is seen as coming to the ritual area as a young and innocent child. After vestment of the sudreh and kusti she is understood to be a mindful and conscientious individual, responsible for her good and bad deeds. For this reason, as part of the vaagho, or new clothes there should be a square scarf which she wears folded in half along with her new clothes.

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.