Roj Din Mah Sherevar, 1379 Yz.
When it became public knowledge that Ustad Saheb had chosen 1st April 1923 as the day for breaking the ground for the new Fasli Dadgah at Behram Baug, there was some consternation amongst his followers. An old friend of Ustad Saheb and an accomplished astrologer, Dr. Kavasji Golwalla pointed out to some friends that this was a strange choice since it happened to be an Amaas (no moon) night. But Behramshah insisted that from a religious angle it was an opportune day and hence the negative influence of the no moon night would be insignificant. Many days before the event, Ustad Saheb had selected two of his close students – Mr. Tehmurasp Davar and Mr. Dinshaw Masani, to undergo a series of prayer recitals which would cause certain changes within their bodies and make them eligible to help Ustad Saheb in his onerous task. After some delay, even these preparations were completed. A few days before the date, Ustad Saheb himself arrived at Andheri and began his own personal preparations to undertake his mission.
My readers might wonder as to what was so significant that Ustad Saheb had to take these intricate steps merely to break the ground for a building, since the actual religious ceremonies relating to consecrating the Atash would be done only after the physical building had been constructed. But Ustad Saheb’s plan was very different. To some very close friends Ustad Saheb revealed that in ancient Iran there was an elaborate procedure for consecrating the ground for making a religious institution. With the passage of time, this knowledge – which may be described roughly as Zoroastrian Vastu-shastra was gradually lost. The only remnant till today is the intricate ceremony known as the Tana, which is carried out when a new Dokhma is made. In this process, 301 nails of various sizes and shapes are hammered into the foundation block of the proposed Dokhma and then connected to each other by passing a thread made of 101 strands (like the 72 strands used in making a Kusti) three times. This very detailed and back breaking ceremony is the core of the Talisman which is the Dokhma. In a similar way, there were elaborate ceremonies for building Agiaries and Atash Behrams, some knowledge of which had been imparted to Ustad Saheb during his stay in Demavand. It was the noble aim of Ustad Saheb to replicate in some manner, these elaborate ceremonies while preparing the ground for the Fasli Dadgah at Behram Baug.
This being the case, Ustad Saheb was very cautious and extremely fastidious about certain rules and procedures which had to be followed on the day of the ground breaking ceremony. He had explained all these intricacies in great detail to his close students and those entrusted with the logistics of the entire mission. A few days before the appointed day, Ustad Saheb came to stay in a bungalow near Chakala at Andheri which was originally owned by Sir Jivanji Mody and began his preparations for the event. Within the Khshnoom circle there was great excitement and expectations that something very significant was about to take place.
The fateful day arrived. A large portion of the Behram Baug estate had been demarcated as the area where the Dadgah would be constructed. This ground had been cleaned before hand and a small shed made for the purpose of carrying out the rituals. Early in the morning, at the Patel Daremeher at Andheri, 15 Bajs in the honour of specific entities chosen by Ustad Saheb were consecrated. At the same time, a special 15 Karda Afringan was performed at the Behram Baug site by two Athornan members of the Khshnoom circle. The time for performing the ground breaking ceremony was fixed so as to finish before 11am. The north east end of the proposed Agiary building was fixed as the spot for breaking the ground. The implements for this purpose had been brought earlier to the spot and put on a copper Khumcha which was placed on three stones arranged in a triangle on the ground. The implements were: A silver pick axe with which the ground would be dug; a small quantity of goat milk; some flowers; some pomegranate seeds and fresh water from a nearby well.
As the Afringan ceremony started, Ustad Saheb began his own prayers and proceeded to the spot where the ground was to be broken and took his seat a few steps away towards the north west. At the same time, a designated person was requested to walk around the spot chosen to break the ground, in such a manner that he would walk to the north, then west, then east and finally the south encircling the area. As he walked on each end of the perimeter he would pray a certain phrase given to him by Ustad Saheb a specific number of times and then turn to the next direction. At the same time, another person sat a few feet away from the designated ground, facing south and kept on repeating a certain phrase given to him by Ustad Saheb till the entire duration of the Afringan ceremony.
The Afringan ceremony concluded at about 10 am. As soon the as the ceremony got over, Ustad Saheb arose from his seat and walked to the spot marked for breaking the ground. He took the pick axe from the Khumcha and held it in his hands, reciting some Manthras all the time. From time to time, Ustad Saheb bent down and offered Sukhad and Loban to the fire vase placed near where he stood, seeking benedictions from Nature for the task he was about to perform. All this time the two students continued their prayers and the walking around the site. A group of nearly 150 Parsis had gathered at the site by this time to witness this unique event and they all stood around in a circle around the area. After some time, Ustad Saheb requested the disciple to cease his walking and to approach him. Then Ustad Saheb requested him to purify the ground which was to be broken first by pouring the goat’s milk and then with the well water. After that the ground was blessed by showering the flowers and pomegranate seeds. Once again, Ustad Saheb began his silent prayers, holding the axe in his hands. He then requested the entire Anjuman to hold hands and recite ten Yatha Ahu Vairyo prayers with full concentration. As the recitation ended, Ustad Saheb once again began his own silent prayers. He then requested the Anjuman to recite 10 more Yatha prayers, which was done. At the end of that recitation, Ustad Saheb said his own silent prayer and requested the Anjuman to recite a further 10 Yatha prayers which was done. As the Hambandagi ended, people noticed that there were tears flowing down the handsome face of the Master. Then with eyes filled with tears and face full of emotion, Ustad Saheb bent down and in his gentle but powerful voice, recited three Yatha Ahu Vairyo prayers. Reaching the word Shyaothenanam in each Yatha, Ustad Saheb gave three blows to the ground with the pick axe, thereby breaking the ground for the Fasli Dadgah.
Overcome with emotion and weeping silently, Ustad Saheb sat down and other members of the Anjuman took their turns to break the ground further, each reciting the Yatha prayer.
After this ceremony the group sat down for a simple lunch which was served underneath the boughs of a massive mango tree which stood nearby. An enthusiastic member sang some verses from the Shah Nameh and Ustad Saheb briefly explained the deeper meaning behind those verses. A subscription notice was passed around at that time and members contributed whatever they could for defraying the expenses for the event. Two lady members of the Society were so overcome with emotion at what they had witnessed that they took off their golden bangles and earrings and offered it as their personal contribution towards this spiritual event. Through all this, Ustad Saheb sat quietly in one corner and wept. To repeated queries he offered no reply, but to say: ‘I have hit this silver axe not on the ground, but on my very own neck.’
Many years later, the mystery behind this day’s events was revealed by Ustad Saheb to his close disciples.
As noted earlier, Ustad Saheb had given very specific instructions for the procedures to be followed on the day of the event and had delegated the responsibility of this to the two persons who had been selected to help him with his prayers. The best laid plans of man are no match for the strength of time. Despite his best intentions and specific directions, Ustad Saheb found to his horror that things were not at all done in the manner he had requested. This first stumbling block was further worsened by many more mistakes during the day on the part of his disciples (who it must be remembered, were but mere pawns in the grand game of nature). But the worse blow was to follow later. As he bent down to strike the axe on the ground, the senior Abed Khudamurad Saheb of Demavand appeared in front of Ustad Saheb’s eyes and simply said ‘Be Adab’ (disobedient! disrespectful!) and disappeared.
As I have explained earlier, Ustad Saheb had taken upon himself the task of showing to his Master that he could do something on his own, as a means to repay the deep debt he owed the Sahebs and as his personal contribution to the community. But in his overarching desire to do something, Ustad Saheb disregarded the warnings that had been given to him for many years and also missed all the warning signs which kept on coming up. The great blunder which he was forecasted to do, had happened. The task of creating the new Fasli Alat and to enable the community to reap the benefits of the Fasli calendar was one of the significant functions of the coming saviour Shah Behram Varzavand. Despite knowing this, Ustad Saheb was eager to lay some foundation steps which would help the Saviour in this respect. However, to use his own famous words – Mataa nathi! – the time, circumstances and people around him were simply not conducive to Ustad Saheb being able to complete his mission successfully.
This great failure broke Ustad Saheb’s heart because in this he lost his greatest gift – the ability to converse with his Master, the Sraoshavarez Marzbanji Saheb. Despite his many pleas, the Sraoshavarez never again appeared to Ustad Saheb and this was what caused Ustad Saheb great grief and despair in his last days. A terrible chapter in the life of Ustad Saheb and the Khshnoom movement ended on that day. It is a sad occurrence but it needs to be written so that we can all realize that even the greatest of men are susceptible to make the greatest of mistakes. Residents of Behram Baug should remember this as they walk pass the memorial created at the south west end of the colony, which is where this fateful event occurred. Let us bow down our heads and recite one Ashem Vohu in silent memory of our dear Ustad Saheb who sacrificed all he had so that he could help future generations of Parsis. May his Ruvan progress ahead!
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram