After Death Rituals of Parsees

Their Origin and Explanation.

Though a long period, of at least three thousand years has elapsed since the time when most of the religious commandments of the Parsis were first issued, and though the community has, during that interval, seen many vicissitudes of fortune, they have adhered well-nigh faithfully to many of their ancient religious customs. Among these, is their custom of the disposal of the dead, which, however peculiar it may appear to the followers of other religions, appears to them to he the most natural and acceptable, supported as it is, even now, by the best scientific test of advanced sanitary science. At the bottom of their custom of disposing of the dead, and at the bottom of all the strict religious ceremonies enjoined therewith, lies the one main principle, viz., that preserving all possible respect for the dead, the body, after its separation from the immortal soul, should be disposed of in a way the least harmful and the least injurious to the living. The object of this paper is to give a brief description of the funeral ceremonies of the Parsis, a description that may interest not only the ordinary seekers after oriental knowledge, but also the students, who strive to find, for most of the present customs, an origin in the commandments of the original Avesta Scriptures. The ceremonies an observances can be divided into two parts:
I. Those that relate to the disposal of the body.
II. Those that relate to the good of the soul.
For a proper appreciation of the ceremonies of the first kind, one has to look to the Zoroastrian or Parsi ideas of sanitation, segregation, purification, and cleanliness, as expressed in the Vendidad, one of their Avesta Scriptures.[1] To these must be added the idea of simplicity observed in these ceremonies which inculcates a lesson in the mind of the survivors, that, as the Persian poet sings:--
"Death levels everybody, whether he dies as a king on the throne or as a poor man without a bed on the ground."
To understand clearly the funeral ceremonies pertaining to the soul, one must look to the notions of the Zoroastrian belief about the future of the soul. These ideas and notions will be explained in this paper at their proper places. We will first speak of the ceremonies and observances that relate to the disposal of the body.
I.From the moment that a man's case is given up as hopeless, and he is found to be on the point of death, preparations are made for the disposal of the body. The apartment in the house, where it is intended to place the body before its removal to its last resting place, is washed clean with water. The shroud or the dress in which the body is to be clothed is also washed beforehand in the house.
When a man is on the point of death his relations send for two or more priests, who assemble round the sick bed of the dying person and say for his benefit the Patet [2], which a prayer for the repentance of one's sins. The priests are paid in money and corn for their attendance. If the person dying is able to join the priest in saying his last repentance-prayer, or if he is able to say it himself alone, so much the better. A person who has said his repentance prayers a short time before his death is considered happier in his death than one who has not been so able. If not the whole Patet, at least, the recital of the short formula of 'Ashem Vohu' [3] a short time before death, is considered very meritorious. The Hadokht Nask (I, 14-15) says: "Which is the one recital of Ashem, which in greatness, goodness, and excellence is equal in value to the whole of the region of Khanirath with its cattle and its leading men? Ahura Mazda replied to him, O Holy Zarathushtra, truly that Ashem; which a man recites at the very end of his life, praising good thoughts, good words, and good deeds and condemning bad thoughts, bad words and bad deeds."
In the Vendidad (Chapter 12, 1-19), a longer period of mourning is enjoined to the surviving relations of a "Tanu-peretha" (i.e., the sinful) than to those of a "Dahma" (i.e., the righteous). According to tradition, the Tanu-peretha in this case is one who has not, at the time of his death, said his Patet or repentance-prayer or has not recited the Ashem Vohu. The Dahma is one who has said his repentance-prayer or recited the Ashem Vohu.
A short time before death, the dying person is sometimes made to drink a few drops of the consecrated Haoma water. Haoma being a plant emblematic of immortality, a few drops of the water prepared with its juice by the priests performing the Haoma ceremony in the Fire-temples, are gently thrown into the mouth of the dying person.[4] Sometimes the juice of a few grains of pomegranate, which is considered essential in some of the Parsi ceremonies, is dropped into the mouth of the dying person. [5] A short time after death, the body of the deceased is washed whole throughout with water, and a white clean suit of cotton clothes is put over him.
This suit of clothes is not washed by the washerman, but is, as we said above, generally, washed beforehand at home by some members of the family, when it is seen that death is imminent, It is afterwards destroyed and never used again for any other purpose. The "Kusti" or sacred thread is then girded round the body by some relative reciting the "Ahura-Mazda Khodâi" prayer. The deceased is then placed on a white clean sheet of cotton cloth spread over the ground. Then two persons keeping themselves in touch with him sit by his side and somebody recites an Ashem Vohu very close to his ear. The relations of the deceased now meet him for the last time.
After this time, nobody is allowed to touch or come into contact with the body, which, it is supposed, now begins to fall under the influence of the "Druj-i Nasu," i.e., the evil influence of decomposition. It is considered unsafe to touch the body which now begins to be decomposed, lest the touch may spread contagion and disease among the living. Only those who put on the clothes over the body and the corpse-bearers are allowed to come into contact with the body. If somebody happens to touch by mistake the dead body, he is, lest he spread contagion; prohibited from touching other person; before he purifies himself by the process of "Rimani," which consists in washing himself by a particular method.
The body is then entrusted to two persons who are generally trained to this work. They have, at first washed themselves, put on clean suits of clothes, performed the Kusti [6] and said the "Srosh Baj" prayer up to the word "Ashahê". Then holding a "paywand" [7] between them they enter into the house. The two relations who are sitting by the side of the body now leave their places and entrust it to these two persons who now place the corpse on the ground on a white sheet of cloth and proceed to cover the whole body with cloth. The only portion kept uncovered is the face. In some parts of Gujarat, even the face is covered with a "padan". [8] The body is then lifted from its place by these two persons and put on slabs of stone placed in a corner of the room. The hands are arranged upon the chest crosswise. The body is never placed with its head towards the North [9] In some towns of Gujarat, the old Avestan method of placing the dead body on the ground is still in practice. The ground is dug out a few inches in depth and a layer of sand is spread over it. The dead body is then placed on the spot thus prepared. (Vendidad 5.11; 8.8.)

After placing the body on the slabs of stone or on the ground dug and prepared as above, one of the two persons draws with a metallic bar or nail three "kashas" or deep circles. This is intended to show that the ground within the circle is the ground temporarily set apart for the dead body and that nobody was to go to that part of the ground lest he catch infection. [10]
After having thus placed the body on one side of the room [11] the two persons leave the house still holding the "paywand" and finish the rest of the "Srosh Baj".
The next process is that of making the "sagdid" (lit., the seeing of the dog). This consists of making a "sag" or a dog see the dead body. A four-eyed dog is spoken of in the Avesta in connection with the ceremonies of the dead. By the four-eyed dog is meant a dog with two eyes-like spots just above the two eyes. [12] The sagdid is repeated is every "Gah" [13] as long as the body is in the house. It is performed just as the new "Gah" begins. [14] It is enjoined that in case a dog is not procurable, the "sagdid" of flesh-devouring birds like the crows and vultures should be allowed, that is to say, it will do, if a flesh-eating bird happens to pass and see the corpse from above, "Or the flesh-eating birds fly in the direction." (Vend. 7.3.)
After the "sagdid," fire is brought into the room and is kept burning in a vase with fragrant sandal and frankincense. It is believed that the burning of fragrant wood over the fire destroys the invisible germs of disease in the direction in which the wind carries the fragrance.
"O Holy Zarathushtra! If one carries with purity (for the fire) the Aêsma (i.e., the wood) of the plant Urvâsana or Vohugaôna or Vohukereti or Hadhânaepata [15] or any other fragrant tree, the fire of Ahura-Mazda goes to fight a thousand times against the invisible evil Daevas [16] in all the directions in which the wind spreads the fragrance of the fire." (Vend. 8.79-80.)
A priest sits before the fire and recites the Avesta till the time of the removal of the body to the Tower of Silence. It is enjoined that the priest and all persons should sit at a distance of at least three paces from the dead body. This is to ensure the health and safety of the living survivors in case the deceased had died of an infectious disease.
"O Creator of the material world, at what distance from the holy man (should the place for the dead body be)?"
Ahura Mazda replied: "Three paces from the holy man." (Vend. 8.6-7.)
The body is removed to the Tower of Silence any time during the day. As it is essential that the body should be exposed to the sun; it is strictly forbidden to carry it at night.
"The Mazdayasnians should expose the body to the sun". (Vend. 5.13)
If death takes place early at night the body is removed the next morning, but if it takes place late at night or early in the morning it is removed in the evening. In the case of an accidental death, a long interval is generally allowed. The Vendidad says that in such a case the decomposition commences after one Gah (Vd7.4-5), and therefore it is not detrimental to the health of the living to keep the body some time longer.
About an hour before the time fixed for the removal of the body to the tower, two Nasâsâlârs, i.e. corpse-bearers, [17] clothed in perfect white, enter into the house, having performed the kusti beforehand. They have all parts of their body well covered; on their hands also, they put on what is called dastânâ, i.e., a cover for the hand. The only part of their body left uncovered is their face. This is to ensure their safety against catching any infection, through the uncovered part of their body, should the deceased have died of an infectious disease. They enter into the house holding a "paywand" between them, and carry an iron bier called "gehân" on which the body is removed. Wood being porous, and therefore likely to carry and spread germs of disease and infection, its use is strictly prohibited in the funeral ceremonies. The corpse-bearers must be at least two, even if the deceased were a mere infant that could be carried by one man. It is strictly prohibited that the body be removed by one. The body must be carried by two, four, six, or any such even number according to the weight of the deceased. "Nobody should carry the dead alone." (Vend. 3.14.)

A pair or the number two plays a prominent part in all the ceremonies for the disposal of the dead body; and that pair always holds a "paywand" between them. After death, the body must never be left alone or in the company of only one person. After washing it, there must be always two persons sitting by its side. Again, the persons who put on the clothes and place it on the slabs of stone must be two. The corpse-bearers must be two. We will see further on that the priests who say the last funeral prayers are also two in number. The persons who attend the funeral procession to the Tower also go in pairs holding a "paywand" in the form of a handkerchief between them. A single individual can never attend the funeral procession. The injunction of having pairs in all these funeral ceremonies is intended to create a view of sympathy and mutual assistance.
The corpse-bearers place the bier by the side of the dead body and take the Baj. [18] They then recite the following in a suppressed tone:
'Be dasturi-i Dâdâr Ahura Mazda, be dasturi-i Amshaspandân, be dasturi-i Sraosh asho, be dasturi-i Âderbâd Mahraspand, be dasturi-i Dasturi-i in Zamân,' i.e., "(We do this) according to the dictates of Ahura Mazda, the dictates of the Amahraspands, of the holy Srosh, of Adarbad Mahraspandan, and the dictates of the dastur of the age."
Then they sit silent by the side of the dead body. If they have at all any occasion to speak, they speak with a kind of suppressed tone without opening the lips, which is said to be speaking in Baj.

Then follows the "geh-sarnu" ceremony, i.e., the recital of Gathas which is intended to give moral courage to the survivors to bear up with fortitude the misfortune of the loss of the deceased.
"Zarathushtra asked Ahura Mazda: 'O Ahura Mazda! Most beneficent Spirit! Holy Creator of the material world! How are we to stand against the druj (evil influence), which runs from the dead to the living? How are we to stand against the nasu (evil influence) which carries infection from the dead to the living?'

"Then Ahura- Mazda replied: 'Recite those words which are spoken twice in the Gathas'" (Vend. 10.1-2)
The passage referred to is a passage in the beginning of the Ahunawad Gatha.
Two priests perform the kusti and after reciting the prayers for the particular Gah go to the chamber where the dead body is placed, and standing at the door or at some distance from the body and holding a paywand between them, put on the padan over their face, take the Baj and recite the Ahunawad Gatha (Yasna 28-34) which treats of Ahura Mazda, His Amesha Spentas or immortal archangels, the future life, resurrection, and similar other subjects. When they recite nearly half of the Gatha up to Ha 31.4, they cease reciting for some time. Then the Nasâsâlârs lift the body from the slabs of stone and place it over the iron bier. Then the two priests turn to the bier and commence to recite the remaining half of the Gatha.

When the recital of the Gatha is finished, a sagdid is performed once more, and then the relations and friends of the deceased, who have by this time assembled at the house, have a last look at the deceased. They, out of respect, bow before the body, which process is called sijda. When all have had their last look and paid their respects, the corpse-bearers cover up with a piece of cloth the face of the deceased which was up to now open, and with a few straps of cloth secure the body to the bier so that it may not fall down while being lifted or carried. Then they lift up the bier and getting out of house entrust it to other corpse-bearers who wait outside the house. The number of these carriers vary according to the weight of the body to be lifted up. Before lifting up the body, the carriers also take the "Baj" and arrange themselves in pairs of two, holding the "paywand" between them. Immediately after the body is removed from the house, "Nirang," or the urine of the cow, is besprinkled over the slabs of stone on which the body was placed and over the way by which the corpse-bearers carried the body out of the house. It is believed that the "Nirang" possesses some disinfecting properties, and that therefore it destroys the germs of impurity and disease, if any, at the place where the decomposing body was placed so long. [19] For this reason "Nirang" plays a prominent part in cleaning impurities attached to things that have come into contact with the decomposing body of men and animals. These things are asked to be first purified or washed with the "Nirang" and then with water (Vend. 7.74-75). Utensils or articles of furniture made of wood, clay, or porcelain, that have come into contact with a decomposing body, are condemned altogether. Being porous they are held to have caught the germs of impurity or infection from the dead body and are therefore unsafe for domestic purpose. (Vend. 7.75.)

When the bier leaves the house, out of respect for the deceased, the whole assembly or generally the elders follow the bier for some distance from the house or up to the end of the street. There they make a last bow to the deceased and stand by the side of the road. Those relatives and friends who wish to accompany the funeral procession to the "Tower of Silence" follow the bier at a distance of at least thirty paces, and the rest return to the house. Immediately, the family priest and other priests and sometimes the head of the family make salutations to the assembly by way of thanking them for their presence. The assembly then disperses.All those who follow the bier to the Tower are clothed in white full-dress They arrange themselves in pairs of two, hold a paywand between them, take "Baj "and silently march to the Tower. The procession is headed by two priests.
"Oh Holy Creator of the material world, how does the road from which a dead man or a dead dog is carried become passable for cattle, etc.?" . . . "First the athrawan (i.e., the priest) should pass by the road reciting the victorious words (of Yatha Ahu Vairyo and Kem na Mazda) "(Vend. 7.14, 19-21.)

When the bier reaches the Tower, it is put on the ground and the Nasâsâlârs uncover the face of the body. Those who have accompanied the funeral procession pay their last respects and have a last look from a distance of at least three paces. Then the Sag-did is once more performed. In the meantime, the gate of the Tower, which. is closed with an iron lock, is opened. The two Nasâsâlârs, who had at first brought out the bier from the house, now lift up the bier and carry it into the Tower. They remove the body from the bier and place it on one of the "pavis". [20] They then remove the clothes from the body of the deceased and leave the body there.

"Two powerful persons may carry him and place him naked without any clothes on this earth, on clay, bricks, stone and mortar." (Vend. 8.10.)The body must be exposed and left without clothes as to draw towards it the eye of the flesh-devouring birds and may fall an easy prey to them, so that, the sooner it is devoured the lesser the chance of further decomposition and the greater the sanitary good and safety. The clothes thus removed are never used for any purpose whatever, but are thrown in a pit outside the Tower where they are destroyed by continued action of heat, air and rain. In Bombay they are also destroyed by sulfuric acid. The corpse-bearers are not allowed to remove the clothes from the body of the deceased with their hands, lest they may catch contagion from the decomposing body and he the means of spreading it in the town. They are enjoined to do so by means of metallic hooks and instruments with which they are provided.
We may us well say here that the Nasâsâlârs, who come into contact with the dead body and carry it into the Tower, are generally provided with separate buildings to stay in. (Vend. 3.19.) They do not go to the Atash Bahrams, i.e., the chief Fire-temples, which are frequented by a large number, until they purify themselves by a "barashnom," which requires several washings and segregation and retreat for nine days and nights. In public feasts they generally do not take their meals with the rest.

When the Nasâsâlârs have done their work in the Tower they get out and lock the gate which is always made of iron. On a notice being given to all those, who have accompanied the funeral procession, and who have by this time taken their seats at some distance from the Tower, that the Nasâsâlârs have finished their work, all get up from their seats and finish the "Baj," i.e., recite the rest of the Srosh Baj," which, while taking the "Baj," they had recited only up to the word "Ashahê". The pairs now leave off the "paywands" and recite a short prayer which says:--

"We repent of all our sins. Our respects to you (the souls of the departed). We remember here the souls of the dead who have the spirits of the holy."They then take the "Nirang," wash their faces and the exposed portion of their body, perform the "Kusti "and say the "Patet" or the repentance prayer; mentioning the name of the deceased in the last portion of the prayer and thus ask the forgiveness of God upon the deceased. This being done, all return home and take a bath before following their ordinary avocations.

The Towers of Silence are generally built on tops of hills or on an elevated ground.
"O Holy Creator of the material world! where are we to carry the bodies of the dead? O Ahura Mazda! where are we to place them?' Ahura Mazda replied 'O Spitama Zarathushtra, on the most elevated place.'" (Vend. 7.44-45)
On such an elevated place a spot apart from human dwellings is chosen for the Tower.
A short description of the Tower will not be out of place here. Its construction all along is just in accord with the view held in the performance of the ceremonies for the disposal of the dead, viz., the sanitary view, which enjoins, that while disposal of the dead body with all respect due to the deceased, no injury or harm should be done to the living, The Tower is a round massive structure built throughout of solid stone. A few steps from the ground lead to an iron gate which opens on a circular platform of solid stone with a circular well in the center. The following is a short description of the tower with a plan as given by Mr. Nusserwanjee Byrawjee, the late energetic Secretary of the public charity funds and properties of the Parsi community.
"The circular platform inside the Tower, about three hundred feet in circumference, is entirely paved with large stone slabs well cemented, and divided into three rows of shallow open receptacles, corresponding with the three moral precepts of the Zoroastrian Religion -- 'good deeds,' 'good words,' 'good thoughts'. (Vide plan attached.)

The clothes wrapped round the corpses are removed and destroyed immediately after they are placed in the Tower -- 'Naked we came into this world and naked we ought to leave it.'"Footpaths for corpse-bearers to move about (marked D). A deep central well in the Tower, 150 feet in circumference (the sides and bottom of which are also paved with stone slabs), is used for depositing the dry bones. The corpse is completely stripped of its flesh by vultures within an hour or two, and the bones of the denuded skeleton, when perfectly dried up by atmospheric influences and the powerful heat of the tropical sun, are thrown into this well, where they gradually crumble to dust, chiefly consisting of lime and phosphorus; -- thus the rich and the poor meet together on one level of equality after death.
"There are holes in the inner sides of the well through which the rain water is carried into four underground drains (marked F), at the base of the Tower, These drains are connected with four underground wells (marked G), the bottoms of which are covered with a thick layer of sand. Pieces of charcoal and sandstone are also placed at the end of each drain, which are renewed from time to time. These double sets of filters are provided for purifying the rain water passing over the bones, before it enters the ground thus observing one of the tenets of the Zoroastrian religion that 'The Mother Earth shall not be defiled.'
"The vultures (nature's scavengers) do their work much more expeditiously than millions of insects would do, if dead bodies were buried in the ground. By this rapid process, putrefaction with all its concomitant evils, is most effectually prevented. According to the Zoroastrian religion, Earth, Fire, and Water are sacred and very useful to mankind, and in order to avoid their pollution by contact with putrefying flesh, the Zoroastrian religion strictly enjoins that the dead bodies should not be buried in the ground, or burnt, or thrown into seas, rivers, etc.

"In accordance with their religious injunctions, the Parsis build their Towers of Silence on the tops of hills if available. No expense is spared in constructing them of the hardest and the best materials, with a view that they may last for centuries without the possibility of polluting the earth or contaminating any living beings dwelling thereon.

"However distant may be the home of a deceased person, whether rich or poor, high or low in rank, he has always a walking funeral -- his body is carried to the Tower of Silence on an iron bier by official corpse-bearers and is followed in procession by the mourners, relatives and friends, dressed in white flowing full-dress robes, walking behind in pairs and each couple joined hand in hand by holding a white handkerchief between them in token of sympathetic grief."

The construction of a Tower is accompanied by religious ceremonies which are performed at different times during the progress of the structure and are therefore divided into three classes:--

1. The ceremony of digging the ground.

2. The "tana" ceremony, or the ceremony of laying the foundation.

3. The consecration ceremony, after which the Tower is laid open for public use.

1. In the center of the spot chosen for a Tower, a priest encloses a certain place with a "pavi" [21] and thereon performs the "Baj" ceremonies in honor of Srosh, the guardian angel guiding the souls of the deceased, of Ahura Mazda, of Spenta Armaiti, -- the Archangel presiding over land, a portion of which is now being enclosed for the construction of the Tower, -- of "Ardafrawash," i.e., all the departed souls, and of Haft Amahraspands, i.e., the seven archangels. Having performed the prayers and ceremonies the priest digs with his own hand a part of the ground required for the Tower.

2. A few days after, when the whole of the necessary spot of ground is excavated by the laborers, two priests perform in the morning the "Tana" ceremony for laying the foundation of the Tower. The ceremony is so called from the fact of "Tana" or a very fine thread being used to mark out the circumference of the Tower for the laying of the foundation. One hundred and one [22] threads are woven into one strong thread or string. The thread so prepared should be as long as would suffice to go round the circumference three times. [23] Some time before its use this thread is made "pâv," [24], i.e., washed, purified, and dried.

To hold this thread, the priests have to fix in the excavated ground three hundred and one nails of different sizes. After saying the "Srosh-Baj" prayer up to "Ashahê," they proceed to fix the three hundred and one nails, reciting the "Yatha Ahu Vairyo" while fixing each nail. These nails are placed in different directions and lines pointing the position of the underground drains and wells of the Tower referred to in the construction of the Tower. The thread is then passed round these nails and is not allowed to touch the ground. All this is intended to mark out the ground for the Tower and for the different parts of its structure.

3. The consecration ceremony lasts for four days. The Tower is surrounded by a "Pâvi," and in the central well of the Tower, called the "Bhandâr," two priests perform the Yasna ceremonies during the day in the "Hawan Gah," and the Vendidad ceremonies at night in the "Ushahin Gah" for three consecutive days. These ceremonies are in honor of the angel Srosh, who is guiding the soul of the deceased person for three days and nights after death. On the morning of the fourth day or the opening day of the Tower, a Yasna ceremony is performed in honor of Ahura Mazda.

Then the "Baj" and "Afrinagan" ceremonies are performed in honor of Ahura Mazda, of "Ardafrawash," i.e., the departed souls, of Spandarmad, i.e., the Yazad presiding over mother-earth, a portion of which is now occupied for laying the dead upon, and of Srosh. In the Afrinagan ceremony, known as the Jashan [25] ceremony, which is performed in the presence of a large number of the community assembled to witness it, the name of the donor at whose expense the Tower is built is mentioned and the blessings of God invoked upon him. If the Tower is constructed by the donor in honor of, or to commemorate the memory of, a deceased relative, the name of that relative is publicly mentioned. When the ceremony is over, the Parsis assembled go into the Tower to see it and throw into the central well, gold, silver or copper coins as their mite in the expenses of the construction of the Tower. Some throw even their rings and ornaments. These go to make up the sum necessary for building the Tower, if it is built at the expense of the anjoman or the whole community. If it is built at the expense of a generous donor, the amount thus collected goes to the head priest of the district in whose ecclesiastical jurisdiction the Tower lies.

We have described at great length the funeral ceremonies of the Parsis up to the time of the disposal of the body in the Tower. We have also described at length the construction of the Tower and the ceremonies accompanying it. It appears that at the bottom of a good many of them lies a great solicitude, on the part of the great law-giver who framed the rules and dictated the ceremonies, to attend to the sanitary good of the survivors. At first sight, the details may appeal irksome, but from the standpoint of sanitation and health, most of them, though enjoined about 3,000 years ago, appear essential and indispensable. Every precaution is enjoined, so that, in disposing of the dead body, no contamination or injury may result to the living. After a certain time after death, no man, except the official corpse-bearers, is allowed to touch the dead body or to come into any contact with it. If somebody accidentally or unavoidably does touch the body he is enjoined to keep himself aloof from others and not to touch them before he bathes and undergoes a prescribed ceremonial of different washings. Not only should a man not come into contact with the dead body, but even utensils and other articles of furniture should be kept away from the corpse. If wearing clothes have been defiled by the sweat, vomit, etc., of the dead, they should be altogether rejected and destroyed. (Vend. 7.13.) If not defiled, they may be purified by the "gomez" [26] and water. If the clothes are made of leather they must be washed thrice with "gomez," rubbed with dry earth thrice, washed with water thrice, and exposed for three months in the air before being used again. If they are made of woven cloth, which is more porous than leather and therefore likely to carry more germs of disease and infection, the above process of cleaning and washing must be repeated six times, and they must be exposed to the air for a period of six months. (Vend. 7.14-15.) Even the clothes thus purified cannot be used again for religious purposes or for ordinary domestic purposes, but they can be used for other petty purposes. (Vend. 7.18-19.)
Utensils for domestic purposes, if they have come into contact with a dead body, require to be washed several times according to the specific gravity of the metal of which they are made. If the utensil is made of gold it requires one washing with "gomez" and water and a rubbing with dry earth. An utensil of silver, which is more porous than gold and therefore likely to carry more contagion, requires two similar cleanings and washings. An iron one requires three, a zinc one four, and a stone six washings. An utensil of porcelain, wood or clay is to be condemned altogether. (Vendidad 7.73-75.) In the same way, if accidentally a dead body happens to come into contact with stores of grain (Vendidad 7.32-35) or of drinking water (Vendidad 6.26-41), it is enjoined to reject and condemn a certain quantity in the approximate vicinity of the body.

Thus at the bottom of all religious injunctions and restrictions in connection with the funeral ceremonies and the disposal of the dead body, lies the sanitary principle of segregation, prevention of contamination and infection, sad the idea of observing simplicity and equality.

We will now speak of some of the observances attended to in the house even after the removal of the corpse. They also point to the same end. After the removal of the body to the Tower all the members of the family are required to bathe. Fire is generally kept burning for three days at the spot where the body was placed before removal. Fragrant sandal and incense are burnt over it. We have spoken above about the good attributed to the fire in destroying the germs of the disease lurking at the spot where the decomposing body was placed.

Again, the spot where the body was placed before removal is generally set apart and not used for some time. Nobody is allowed to go on the spot for a period of ten days if the season at the time be winter, and for a period of thirty days, if the season be summer, when the decomposition and contamination are generally more rapid.

Near the spot where the body was placed, a lamp is kept burning for a period of nine days or thirty days, according as it is winter or summer. In a small pot full of water fresh flowers are kept and changed every morning and evening. On the expiry of the above period the chamber is washed throughout.

For three days after death the family abstains from meat, and takes food chiefly consisting of vegetable and fish, which is called "parhîzî" (abstinence). Not only do the family, but even nearest and dearest friends abstain from meat diet. The abstinence is observed as a sign of mourning. Up to recently in Bombay, and even now in some of the mofussil towns, no food is cooked in the house where death has taken place. The nearest relations of the family prepare the food for the bereaved family and send it over to the place.


We will now speak of the funeral ceremonies performed for the good of the soul after the disposal of the body. According to Parsi scriptures, the soul of a dead person remains within the precincts of this world for three days. In this state it sees before itself a picture of its past deeds. If it is the soul of a pious person, it sees a beautiful picture of its deeds in the past life and feels happy and joyful. If it is the soul of a wicked person, it sees a horrible picture of its past deeds and shudders and feels unhappy at the sight and feels at a loss where to go.
"Zarathushtra asked Ahura Mazda, 'O Ahura Mazda, Beneficent Spirit, Holy Creator of the material world! when a pious man dies where dwells his soul for that night? ..... Where for the second night? ..... Where for the third night?'" (Yasht Fragment 22. Hadokht Nask 1, 2 and 5). "Then Ahura Mazda replied, 'It remains at the place of his body, singing the Ushtavaiti Gatha (song of congratulation), asking for blessedness thus: Blessedness to him to whom Ahura Mazda of His own will grants blessedness.'" (Hadokht Nask, 2, 4 and 6.)

If it is the soul of a wicked man it remains within the precincts of this world for three nights, remembering all the wickedness of its past life and feeling at a loss where to go.

"Oh Ahura Mazda! To what land shall I turn? Where shall I go?" (Had. Nask, 20).

The soul of a man thus remains within the precincts of this world for three days. The number three is a sacred number, because it reminds one of the three principal precepts of the Mazdayasnian religion upon which the whole of its moral structure rests. Humata, Hukhta, and Hvarshta, i.e., good thoughts, good words, and good deeds, form as it were a pivot upon which the moral philosophy of the Zoroastrian religion turns. Think of nothing but the truth, speak nothing but the truth, and do nothing but what is right, and you are saved. Your good thoughts, good words, and good deeds will be your saviors in the next world. Therefore, it is, that, three days after death, the soul of a man directs itself towards the paradise with three steps of Humata, Hukhta, and Hvarshta. On the other hand, the soul of a wicked man directs itself to hell with three steps of Dushmata, Duzhukhta, and Duzhvarshta, i.e., evil thoughts, evil words, and evil actions.

"The first step which the soul of the pious man advanced, be placed in Humata (good thoughts). The second step which the soul of the pious man advanced, he placed in Hukhta (good words). The third step which the soul of the pious man advanced, he placed in Hvarshta (good deeds)." (Had. Nask, 15)

Now for the three days and nights that a soul is believed to remain within the precincts of this world, it is under the special protection of Srosh Yazad. The angel Srosh is a guardian deity over the souls of men. He is a guardian angel whom the Almighty has appointed to guide the souls of men while living and even when dead.

"O beautiful, holy Srosh! protect us here in these two lives, in these two worlds, in this world which is material, in that which is spiritual." (Yasna 57.25.)

As Srosh is the protector of the soul in this world, all the prayers of a Zoroastrian begin with a Srosh Baj, which is a prayer for the Khshnuman of Srosh. It is for this reason that Srosh Yasht (Yasna 57) is generally recited by a Parsi at night before going to bed, praying that his soul be under the protection of the angel when he is asleep.

As the soul is under the protection of Srosh for three days after death, when it is still within the precincts of this world, the religious ceremonies for the soul of the dead during the first three days are performed in honor of or for the Khshnuman of Srosh. This angel is specially implored by the relations of the deceased to protect his soul. We will now describe these ceremonies in honor of Srosh, performed for the first three days.

At the commencement of every Gah two or more priests and the relatives of the dead say the Sraosh Baj and the prayer of the particular Gah, and in the end the Patet or the repentance prayer which is also with the Khshnuman of Srosh, asking the forgiveness of God upon the shortcomings of the deceased. At night, at the commencement of the Aiwisruthrem Gah, two priests perform the Afrinagan ceremony in honor of Srosh. They sit on a carpet face to face with a vase of fire and a metallic tray between them. The senior priest who has the tray before him is called "Zaoti" or performer of ceremonies. The other who has a vase of fire before him is called the Atravakhshi, or the fire-priest. The metallic tray contains a pot of pure water and a few flowers, eight of which are arranged in a particular order. Two of them point to the fire and the remaining six are arranged in two rows of three each, pointing to one another and in a line at right angles to the line in which the first two are arranged.

The Zaota begins the Afrinagan with what is called a "Dibache," i.e., introduction, which is a prayer in the Pazand language, wherein he invokes the protection of the angel Srosh upon the soul of the deceased, whom he names in the prayer. When the "Dibache" is recited both the priests recite together the seventh Kardah or section of the Srosh Yasht (Yasna 57.15-18), which sings the praise of the angel for the protection it affords.

Besides these prayers and ceremonies, which are performed for three days and nights at the house of the deceased, the Yasna prayers, and sometimes the Vendidad with the Khshnuman of Srosh, are recited at the adjoining Fire-temples for three successive mornings and nights. These Yasna prayers and the Baj ceremonies with the Khshnuman of Srosh, can be performed only at the Fire temples. In the Uzerin Gah of the third day, a ceremony is performed which is called the "uthamnu". The friends and relatives of the deceased and a few priests meet together in an assembly. The particular prayers of the Gah, the Sraosh Hadokht (Yasht 11) and the Patet are recited. A Pazand prayer with the Khshnuman of Srosh is recited, wherein the name of the deceased is announced and the protection of Srosh is implored for him. This ceremony and this assembly are very important, because at the end of the ceremony the relations and friends of the deceased generally announce liberal donations to charity funds in the "naiyat" or memory of the deceased and to commemorate his name.

The Parsis have another custom of commemorating the name of a deceased person if he be a great public benefactor. At the conclusion of the above "Uthamnu" ceremony on the third day, the head priest generally, or in his absence an "akâbar" i.e., a leader of the community, proposes before the assembled Anjoman, i.e., the public assembly, that the name of the deceased public benefactor, whose benefaction or good deeds he enumerates, be commemorated by the community consenting to remember the name of the deceased in all the public religious ceremonies. This proposal is sometimes seconded by somebody,. or very often it is just placed before the assembly without any formal seconding. When nobody opposes that proposal, silence is taken as consent and thenceforth the name of the deceased is recited and his soul is remembered in all public religious ceremonies. If the deceased public benefactor has done benevolent acts for the good of the whole Parsi community, in whatever part of the world they be, his name is recited and remembered by the whole community. If the deceased has done good and benevolent acts for the good of the community of his own particular town or district, the Anjoman of that town or district alone begins to invoke his name in the religious ceremonies. For example, the name of Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, the first Parsi Baronet, who rose from very poor circumstances to be a merchant prince of India, and who give large sums of money in charity, not only for his own coreligionists but for all sections of the mixed community of India, is remembered in the religious ceremonies by the whole Parsi community in India.

This custom [27] is a very old one. It had its origin in the old Avesta times. The Fravardin Yasht contains a long list of the departed worthies of old Iran who had, before the time that the Yasht was written, done some benevolent acts for the good of the Mazdayasnian community. The Afrin-i Rapithwin, written later on in the Pazand language, contains a few names of such illustrious departed worthies. The formulae used for this purpose have varied at different times. The formula used in the Frawardin Yasht is in this form:

"We invoke the Fravashi of the holy Yima of Vivanghana."

The formula used in the Pazand Afrin-i Rapithwin is in a form like this:

"May the holy spirit of the Emperor Kay-Vishtasp be one with us in ceremony."

The formula used now in the Pazand Dibache of the Afrinagan is in a form like this:

"May behdin [28] Jamshed Behdin Rustam [29] of pious soul be remembered here."

The honor of thus remembering the name of a deceased person in public religious ceremonies was considered the greatest honor that a grateful community could bestow upon a person after his death for the good he had conferred upon his fellow-brothers.

If the deceased is of the age of fifteen and has left no son, it is necessary that a son should be given to him in adoption. The adopted son generally belongs to a nearly related family. The name of the son thus adopted is declared publicly before the assembly.

The dawn after the third night after death is considered a great and solemn occasion. As we said above, the soul of a man remains within the precincts of this world for three days. On the dawn after the third night it goes to the other world. The soul passes over a bridge called Chinwad. [30]

"(The soul) goes to the holy Chinwad Bridge created by Mazda, which is an old path of times immemorial, and which is for the wicked as well as for the holy. There they ask the soul (to account) for its deeds done in this material world." (Vend. 19.29.)

The bridge is guarded by the angel Mithra.

"(When) the third night ends and the dawn shines the well-armed Mithra appears at the sufficiently happy mountain." (Vend. 19.28.)

This angel who is known in the later books as Mihr Dâvar, i.e., Mihr the Judge, is assisted by Rashn, the angel of Justice, and Ashtad, the angel of Truth. They judge the actions of the man done in the past life. If his good deeds overweigh even by a small particle his misdeeds, his soul is allowed to pass over the bridge to paradise. If his good deeds are equal to his misdeeds, the soul goes to a place called hamistagan. [31] (Vend. 19.36.) If his misdeeds outweigh his good deeds, even by a particle, he is cast down into hell.

Thus, the dawn after the third night after death is the occasion when the soul of the man is judged by Mihr Dâvar, the Judge, assisted by Rashn Rast, the angel of Justice, and Ashtad, the angel of Truth. Therefore, it is considered a very important and solemn occasion for the performance of religions ceremonies for the good of the soul of the deceased. The ceremonies performed in the Uzerin Gah on the previous day are repeated, and the Afrinagan and Baj prayers and ceremonies are performed in addition. This being the time of the judgment of the man's deeds, his relations and friends pray for God's mercy on the soul of the deceased. Man is liable to err, and therefore they implore the blessing and mercy of the Almighty on this particular occasion, when his deeds are judged by the angel Mihr assisted by Rashn and Ashtad.

The Baj ceremonies on this occasion are recited in honor of the angels who have an important share in connection with this occasion. The first Baj is in honor of the angels Rashn and Ashtad together, who help the angel Mihr. The second is in honor of Ram-Khvastra, who is the angel presiding on the rarefied atmosphere or ether. This is because when a man dies the soul of a good pious man passes away to the higher regions in the form of, or with the help of, this Râm-Khvâstra. The third Baj is in honor of Ardafrawash, i.e., in honor of the spirits of all the departed souls whose rank, the particular deceased for whom the ceremony is performed, has joined. The fourth Baj is in honor of Srosh who has guided and guarded the soul of the deceased in its sojourn to the other world after death. When the Baj of Ardafrawash is recited, a suit of white clothes, together with the sacred bread and other sacrificial articles, is placed before the priest. This suit of clothes is called "Shiâv". It is the Vastra in the word Vastravata of the Frawardin Yasht.

("Who will praise us ... with clothes in hand?" Frav. Yasht 13.50.)

This suit of clothes is generally given to the priest or to the poor.

The other principal occasions on which the Afrinagan and Baj ceremonies are enjoined to be performed in honor of the dead, are the"Chehârum," "Dehum," "Siroz," "Salroz," i.e., the fourth day, the tenth day, the thirtieth day and a year after death.

According to the Zoroastrian belief, the relation between a pious deceased and his surviving relations does not altogether cease after death. His holy spirit continues to take some interest in his living dear ones. If the surviving relatives cherish his memory, remember him with gratefulness, try to please him with pious thoughts, pious words and pious deeds, it is likely that these invisible departed spirits will take an interest in their welfare, and assist them with an invisible helping hand. The most essential requisite by which a surviving relative can please the holy spirits of his departed dear ones is this that he should be pious in thoughts, words and deeds, and that he should perform meritorious charitable deeds. We read in Yasna (Ha 16.7):

"We praise the brilliant deeds of piety in which the souls of the deceased delight."

For this reason, it is not unusual among the Parsis, that on the above-mentioned occasions, of the third, fourth, tenth, and thirtieth day, and on the anniversaries after death, they give food and clothing to the poor of their community, and sometimes give various sums in charity. These occasions are further the occasions on which the surviving relatives remember the deceased with feelings of gratitude, respect and love, and pray to God that his soul may rest in peace and tranquillity.

It appears from all this description, that the funeral ceremonies of the Parsis produce in the minds of the survivors a great solicitude for the health of the living, respect for the dead, feelings of gratitude and love towards the deceased, and ideas of morality and virtue inculcated by the thoughts that death levels everybody, and that one should always be prepared for death which may overtake him at any moment.