Roj Ardibehesht Mah Sherevar, 1379 Yz.
A question commonly arises in most Parsi homes – how to deal with old items of a religious nature which are no longer in a usable condition. These include old, torn Sudreh; worn out or broken Kustis; tattered Khordeh Avesta or prayer books or other religious literature; photographs or illustrations of the Prophet or other religious symbols usually (and unfortunately) printed on invitation or greeting cards; old metal Karasyas or vases consecrated for the Muktad ceremonies of relatives whose prayers have now been stopped. Another important, but totally ignored item includes the fruit peels or remains of consecrated fruit or eatables received as Chasni from various prayers and generally consigned to the dustbin.
What is the guiding principle which should be kept in mind while dealing with these items? Firstly, although they are ordinary items made out of commonly available and used commodities, due to their particular religious function and use, these objects have exalted themselves in some way, thereby differentiating themselves from the common. For example, a Sudreh is made out of cotton mulmul, which in itself is not sacred. However when this piece of cotton is ritually sewed, by a qualified and practicing Parsi, following certain rules and Tarikats, it gets vested with certain spiritual characteristics. For example, the triangular seam on the right hand side of the Sudreh (for males, for females it should be on the left hand side) and the parallel seam on the left hand side (on the right hand side for the female Sudreh), along with the Gireban near the heart and the Girdo on the back change the structure of a simple cotton cloth and enhance it with certain properties which enable the catching and receiving of specific spiritual vibrations.
The second principle to be remembered is that these uncommon articles (because of their religious function) cannot and should not be disposed off in the way common items are. The act of disposing them along with other pollutants commonly thrown out in any house causes grave spiritual disorder. The aim in disposing these items should be to somehow preserve and protect their exalted nature, despite their utility having being outlived. This is why when we refer to disposing these items in Gujarati we do not use the common word (‘feki levu’) but rather use the term ‘vadhavi levo’, lit. ‘increase it’. The meaning of this term is that the item should be cleared in such a way that it goes back to nature in an unpolluted and unharmed manner, and hence ‘increases’ its intrinsic worth. Dear readers, just this difference in terminology will show that there is great depth and complexity in our religion, and there is a reason for each and every phrase, act and ritual. We just need to be spiritually aware and question why.
Bearing in mind these points we can now describe how each religious item should be properly returned to nature.
In the years gone by, when things were simple and uncomplicated, and man had not yet completely destroyed the pristine environment around him as we have today, the easiest way of disposing these religious items was to simply give them to the waters of the sea or a large lake or river. The natural inhabitants of the water, along with the cleansing properties of water itself, would adequately take care of the small offerings of the community. The act of disposing such articles also caused the spiritual progress of the aquatic life. This is why, even today, the elders of the family still advise us to ‘dariye vadhavi levo’, i.e. offer the items to the sea. But that method has a very big problem today. Over the years, our tremendous progress in science and technology has given us the arrogance of trying to lord it over other creations. Thus a majority of the refuse, sewage and human excreta is now pumped into the sea. This has caused the pollution of the sea (specially near the coastlines of major cities) to a horrendous extent and completely erased the cleansing properties of water. In such a condition, it is improper to offer the religious items to the sea near the shore. Even in the high seas, the pollution caused by the illegal cleaning of tanks of super ships and tankers and major oil spills and other varied pollutants have caused some irreversible changes in the character and nature of the oceans. So even that method is now unavailable. In short, the cleansing power of the seas and water is now unavailable to us to dispose religious items and therefore this method should be avoided at all costs. It may also be remembered that local laws in most cities now consider it an illegal act to throw anything in the water. (Which is hilarious after all the damage that has been done and continues to be done.)
Let us start with the Sudreh first. For residents of Mumbai, there is a very easy and charitable method. The Sudreh should be washed and cleaned completely (even if torn). After drying, the Sudreh should be kept aside in a separate bag. When a sufficient quantity has been collected, the same should be taken to the Dungerwadi and handed to the Nasseh-salaars or the manager there. There is a great shortage of old and torn Sudreh which are used for ritually cleaning the dead body and also to cover up any part of the body where the skin may have erupted or where blood is flowing out. There is no better use for old and torn Sudreh than this purpose. Till a few years ago, every household would keep aside old and torn Sudreh and when an unfortunate event occurred, the bag containing the old Sudreh would be taken along on the journey to Dungerwadi. For some reason, this practice has almost completely stopped and very often relatives have to run around for old Sudreh when asked for by the Nasseh-salaars. Thus for Parsis of Mumbai or other towns where Dokhmenashini is practised, this is an ideal way to use the old Sudreh. It is important to reiterate that the Sudreh, before being packed away for disposal in this manner MUST be washed and cleaned properly and only then stowed away for later use. Never give a dirty, worn or unclean Sudreh for this purpose. Even if the Sudreh is partly torn, it can be gently rinsed in soapy water by hand and then dried for use.
In places where the Towers of Silence are not present, the following alternative methods are suggested. After washing and drying the Sudreh, the seams of the same should be carefully torn away, i.e. the Gireban, the Girdo, the sleeves and the Tiris should be cut off and kept aside. The plain cloth that remains can be used either to clean the place where the family Divo or photographs are generally placed. The cloth can also be used to wrap up the Khordeh Avesta or any old religious book. Preferably this cloth should not be used for household cleaning. What should be done with the cut off seams? A method used earlier was to tie these bits around a stone and then drop it in the water where it would sink to the bottom and slowly disintegrate. Since this method is now not advisable, it is better to burn these bits and seams in the Dadgah fire lit at home for doing the Loban ceremony every day. After the Loban has been passed around the house, the seams can be put on the smouldering coals and allowed to slowly burn away.
Similarly, old and broken or worn out Kustis should be disposed in the same way on the house Dadgah. However, the separate Kustis and the cut off seams of the Sudreh kept by women to wear during their periods should not be burnt on the house Dadgah. These should be collected and then buried in the ground in an area where there is no danger of the hole being opened up by dogs or other animals. Another method used till about a few years ago in Parsi populated villages was to tie the broken bits of the Kusti on tree branches, where they would slowly disintegrate with the effect of the sun and rains. (to be continued)
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram