Parsis, crowing cocks and sleepless nights

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Roj Aneran Mah Dae, 1382 Yz.

A recent newspaper item drew my attention, not only for its slightly amusing nature, (in the midst of all the doom, gloom and senseless politicking) but also for the fact that one of the protagonists of the item was a Zoroastrian. The report described how the peaceful slumber of the residents of a building in Colaba was being disturbed by the indiscriminate crowing of a rooster and a hen. Not only was the rooster crowing at dawn, as is his habit, but perhaps due to the city lights or the presence of mobile towers, his inner biological clock had gone awry, with the result that it chose to crow at all times of the night, not just dawn. This haphazard habit of an over-enthusiastic rooster was giving sleepless nights to the neighbours, one of whom, an Irani Zoroastrian, had complained to the police about the nuisance.

The police, overburdened as they are by actors turned cricketers, cricketers turned gamblers, and gamblers turned politicians, all under the benign gaze of overseas gangsters, promptly directed him to the BMC, our city’s most efficient corruptaration, sorry corporation. The wise mandarins at the BMC sent the complainant on a city tour and merry-go-round of its various offices and myriad departments, each more busy than the other in sucking the city dry. The sleep-deprived citizen finally complained to the area MLA and the local corporator who both tried to persuade the owner to get rid of his vocal rooster. But they met with no success, the owner if fact claiming that he had no rooster or any other pet at all!  In desperation, the complainant had approached the press, hence the report.

But what has all this got to do with Frashogard?

Some of my readers may know that the rooster has been given a very important place in our religion.

The Majestic Rooster

The Majestic Rooster

It is identified as the bird of the Yazata Sarosh, who is the Prime Minister of the earth. Most Parsis can’t do without their daily chicken dish, but many will never eat a cock. In earlier days, when Parsis lived in the villages of Gujarat and houses were big and land ample, most families had a large assortment of cocks and hens in their backyard, not only providing daily eggs (another Parsi staple) but also the occasional chicken. I remember during my childhood days, our family home in Valsad had plenty of hens and cocks moving around the yard and even going out to forage during the day. As dusk fell, they would all troop into the house and then be herded into a nice henhouse (pinjru) where they would spend the night, safe from the occasional fox who would come hunting.

The henhouse (Pinjru)

The henhouse (Pinjru)

But why is the rooster accorded importance in our religion? Sitting at the feet of my granny or walking around with my grandfather, Nariman pappa, I first heard the story of Zohak. In a distant time of history, there was a golden age in Iran, where the righteous King Jamshid ruled. So enlightened was his reign and such was his spiritual prowess, that it is said there was no sickness, no unhappiness, no death in his empire. But after a long ideal rule, something went wrong. King Jamshid was overthrown and his place was taken by Zohak. Now Zohak had been a nice young man, till he was tempted by the Evil One. Promising him untold riches and a vast Kingdom, the Evil One first misguided Zohak into killing his own father. Soon after this terrible crime, Zohak became the King of Iran.

Now the Evil One appeared before the King in the guise of a cook and requested a job. Zohak gave him the royal kitchen. Now the Evil One began to use the flesh of the most horrible animals and other rotten items, disguised with a magical mix of spices and condiments. The dishes were served to the King who loved them. In return the King rewarded the Chef with a boon. The humble Chef, merely asked that he be allowed to kiss the King on his shoulders. Zohak agreed, and ere the Chef kissed his shoulders, a huge hole opened up in the ground and the Chef disappeared in front of the court. At the place where the Evil One had kissed Zohak, two fierce, black serpents arose and began tormenting the King. As the soldiers rushed to cut them off, new ones would spring in their place. There was no respite for the King and his life became a nightmare.

Now the Evil One appeared in front of Zohak, disguised as a doctor. He examined the serpents and announced he had a cure. Were the King to feed each of the two serpents, the brain of a young, pure Iranian boy every day, they would be in control and not harass the King. The King tried the remedy and found that indeed once the serpents had eaten the foul dish, they seemed to go quiet till the next day, when they would become active once again, till another two young, innocent boys would be rounded up by the soldiers and killed and their brains fed to the serpents. This horrendous act was repeated every day and so the plan of the Evil One, to completely destroy Iran by killing off an entire generation of young men, fell into place. It is said the reign of Zohak lasted for one day less than one thousand years.

Soon the population of Iran rose against the King, tired of sacrificing their children for his nefarious deeds. But who could oppose him? There lived in Iran a simple blacksmith called Kaveh, who had 17 sons. One by one, 16 of his sons were taken away by the soldiers to kill and feed their brains to the serpents. But when they came to take away his last son, Kaveh arose in protest. He stormed the palace of Zohak and demanded justice. Zohak agreed to let him go if he were to sign a declaration saying that Zohak was a just and righteous King. Kaveh took the declaration and tore it into shreds and stormed out of the court, took off his leather apron, put it atop his spear and held it aloft. As the people gathered around him he shouted: ‘Enough of this vile king and his evil rule! Let us find the boy Faridun, who is destined to slay this monster, and end his horrible reign forever!”

Now there was a legend that a young boy called Faridun had been born in secret and was being coached by the Holy Men of the religion in a hidden sanctuary. The legend said that he had been brought up my a magical cow, called Purmai, who had watched after him and then handed him over to the Magavs. Indeed the legend was true and Faridun had been born and kept in secret, reared by the magical cow Purmai. When the time became dangerous, his mother fled with him to the Elburz mountains and handed over his custody to the Holy Abeds, who trained him and built his spiritual powers. Now when the time was ripe, Faridun appeared in public and aided by Kaveh and the entire population, Faridun stormed the palace of Zohak and dealt him a severe blow with a Goraz, a mace specially made by Kaveh, in the shape of a cow’s head, in memory of the magical cow Purmai.

Faridun smites Zohak with the Goraz

Faridun smites Zohak with the Goraz [source: Wikipedia]

But as Faridun was about to slay Zohak, the Yazata Sarosh appeared to him in his mind and stopped him: ‘Do not kill him, his time has not come yet. Take him up to Mount Demavand, and tie him up there with strong chains of iron.’ Faridun did as he was commanded and dragged the evil Zohak to Mt. Demavand. There in the valley, he chose a spot and tied up Zohak in heavy chains, nailing his hands and feet to the ground. But Zohak was not finished. Soon Faridun and his party left, leaving Zohak alone, along with a few hens and a rooster foraging around. Now the evil one and the serpents on his shoulders got active and began to lick the heavy chains and fetters with their abrasive tongues. As they licked, the metal on the chains began to wear down. They licked and they licked, through the whole day and the night, till, just before dawn, the chains had been worn down to a fine hair-breadth. Soon Zohak would be free and he would kill Faridun.

But as the dawn was about to break, and Zohak stirred to break his fetters and become free, a magical thing happened. The rooster, sitting there in the valley of Demavand, crowed: ‘Cock-a-doodle-do!’ As the rooster crowed, the iron chains around Zohak, that had become thin as a hair, regained their strength and became thick and heavy again. Zohak could not escape. Zohak began to lick the chains again, with great fervour. As he licked they grew thin till finally on the dawn of the next day they had become thin as a hair. As Zohak stirred to set the fetters aside, the cock crowed, and once again the chains became magically thick and heavy. And so till this day, the legend says, day and night the evil Zohak, sits in his dreary cave in Mt. Demavand, licking the chains and waiting for a day when the rooster will not crow, and he can be free and destroy the world. And hence the belief in the rooster gave rise to the practice of not eating a cock amongst the Parsis.

But is this story real? Can we believe it? Why did Yazata Sarosh ask Faridun not to kill Zohak? Wouldn’t Zohak have died after all these thousands of years after the story? All our devout Parsis, going to Iran in those lovely tours, performing Jashans at Mt. Demavand, have they seen Zohak over there? Or even a rooster? What’s going on? What is the hidden meaning behind the legend? Where are the answers?

[to be continued…]

Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram

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Comments

  1. Mohnaz  June 13, 2013

    Very interesting.. just waiting to read the mysterious continuation of this legend, and do feel that this is not a story but some deep truth for us to really understand & practice in our life.

    Dasturji, thanks a lot for enlightening us as always.

  2. Stella H Howell  June 14, 2013

    I always thought Parsis are vegans.

  3. rita  June 14, 2013

    Can’t wait to read further……thanks to the article in the paper that we got to know this interesting story…..thank u Ervad saheb……..

  4. Percy  June 19, 2013

    Could it be possible that, this complainant (in his new birth) is that zohak and Sarosh yazata is still behind him? Are there any such chains in Colaba found recently?

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