Roj Aneran Mah Sherevar, 1386 Yz.
The recent events in Navsari have once again shifted the focus of the community to death and its aftermath. As before, the community is sharply divided into two factions – those for the traditional method of Dokhmenashini and those virulently against it. Once again, attempts have been made to offend the sensibilities of normal Parsis by the illegal, immoral and unethical practice of video shooting the insides of some Dakhma and widely sharing the clip on social media, along with inflammatory statements. According to the proponents of change, the existing system of Dokhmenashini has ‘failed’ and hence alternative methods must be considered.
Despite the grave spiritual implications, the Orthodox section of the community let the liberals choose whatever method they may want to use, but there is a catch – the liberals want to set up these alternative systems on the very same land which was established under Trust by our forefathers for the express purpose of Dokhmenashini. It is patently clear, even to a non-legal person that such a step is tantamount to violating the Objects of the Trust and goes against the aims and intents of those who bequeathed these valuable assets to the community. No ‘Resolution’ passed by any sham meeting such as the one conducted recently can overturn the Objects of the Trust.
The scriptures are very clear as to what should be done after death. They are also very clear that the objective behind the method of disposal of the body is twofold – to return the physical atoms of the body to their original form without polluting any sacred element, and secondly and more importantly, to ensure the onward journey of the soul – the Ruvan to its appointed destination in Nature. The practice of Dokhmenashini is not new or introduced by Prophet Zarathushtra. Dakhmas existed even before his advent as is amply evidenced in the Shah Nameh. The Prophet further refined the process of constructing and consecrating the Dakhmas and added rituals and prayers which hastened the spiritual progress of the deceased.
In all the emotion and drama which is being played out in Navsari, the second and more fundamental premise of Dokhmenashini is being totally forgotten – that the system of disposal must not only reduce the physical body to dust, but also that the spiritual constituents within the physical body – the Ruvan, the Fravashi and the Baodangh – have to be safely escorted and sent off on their journey at the dawn of the fourth day (Chaharum). The four stages of the Zoroastrian method of disposal – the Sachkar & Sagdid, the Geh Sarna, the Dakhma and the 4-day ceremonies in honour of Sarosh Yazad – all act as spiritual boosters to enable the Ruvan to break the shackles of gravity and physical attraction of this world and fly off to the regions of Chinvat to begin its spiritual journey there towards redemption and Frashogard. No other system, or any change in each of these four fundamental pillars will enable this objective to be realized.
Many Parsis have been deeply shocked and disgusted after seeing the video of the insides of the Dakhma at Navsari. ‘How can we treat our dear departed in this fashion?’ they may think. But the fundamental fact that we must all face and accept is this: death is messy, gory and sickening – whatever method you may use. Those who have watched the video clip and then gone ‘off’ Dokhmenashini should first watch a corpse exhumed after being buried for a few days or weeks or even months and then decided what is better. Watching a live cremation – whether electric or wood-fired is anything but peaceful. Removing a body that has drowned in the sea can put off the strongest among us. Even the documentaries on National Geographic and Discovery channels show death in its full and sickening unbearableness.
Exposing the body to the sun and flesh eating birds is definitely not the prettiest, but is surely the simplest, fastest and cleanest method of disposal. Period. It is precisely for this reason that no religion allows its members to see the state of the body once it is consigned. It is not supposed to be pretty and cosmetic. It is supposed to be gory, but it is not supposed to be filmed, shared and looked upon in some morbidly sick fascination. Those who have indulged in this act have committed a serious religious offense.
Our community is highly educated, refined and forward thinking. Sometimes it is this very egalitarian nature which is a disadvantage. Every second Parsi, reading a book or surfing the net becomes a scholar and pontificates on the intricacies of religion, without having ever seen the original script of Avesta or even knowing whether it is read from left to right or vice versa. Of the many fallacies plaguing our community because of this excess of easy-chair scholarship, perhaps the most pressing and ridiculous is the Gathas-only cult. These enlightened individuals have only one refrain – where is it written in the Gathas?
The Gathas are the poetical compositions of the Prophet. Today they comprise only 17 chapters and some 5700 words. Is it possible that in his entire lifetime, the Prophet had only so much to say, that too all in verse? The entire Avesta, encompassing 21 volumes or Nasks, exceeded some 2 million words. This mass of scripture was divided into three parts of 7 volumes each – Gathic (ethical and philosophical), Datic (legal and canonical) and Hadha–Manthric (devotional and ritual). The existing Gathas are only 17 chapters which are themselves part of the 72 chapters of the Yasna – which is a ritual (Hadha-Manthric) text. The only reason the 17 chapters of the Gathas survived the mass destruction of Zoroastrian scripture during the ages was because the Yasna is an essential ritual which was memorised by all priests. Were the Yasna (or Yazashne) not done on a daily basis by Priests, even these chapters would have disappeared. The Gatha only ‘scholars’ say Zarathushtra removed all rituals and the later-day priests reintroduced it. But the irony is that it is because of the ritual that the Gathas survived!
Those who claim to follow the ‘pure’ teachings of the Gathas should realize that the Gathas have no mention of those three most often used words of our religion – Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta! The Gathas mention nothing of Sudreh-Kusti and Navjote. Yet our Gatha lovers want the Navjote done for all and sundry! The Gathas say nothing about the essential daily practices – prayer, covering the head, Atash, Agiaries and Atash Behrams, the many Yazatas… And of course the Gathas say nothing about Dokhmenashini – so, the scholars say we should bury or cremate – but hold on, even those are not mentioned! And if we negate Dokhmenashini by basing that on the Gathas then we should negate everything else which is not mentioned there!
This misusing of the Gathas and the twisting of Zoroastrian doctrine to serve nefarious purposes is precisely what is very severely objected to by Prophet Zarathushtra in the Gathas where he sternly admonishes such fake teachers and those who twist the word of God and asks Ahura Mazda to destroy such evil beings. (Yasna 32.9 & 10)
My ancient forefather, Er. Hom Bahmaniar first arrived in Navsari in 1271 AD and along with his colleague Zarthosht Mobed, established the Bhagarsath Panth centred around the Vadi Daremeher. Over the years, the population of Navsari grew and the Bhagarsath priesthood became the watchdog of Zoroastrian doctrine and scholarship. The appointment of Vada Dasturji Meherjirana in 1579 as the Supreme Leader of all Parsis further enhanced the Bhagarsath. The current Vada Dasturji Kaikhushroo Meherjirana is the 17th descendant of that illustrious Gaadi.
The Navsari I remember and cherish is the one where three great Parsis lived, within 200 metres of each other. The first was the most humble man I have ever met and one who taught more than half of Navsari – Dosabhai Desai – affectionately called Master Saheb. His mastery of Persian, his deep study of Sufi and Zoroastrian mysticism and his spotless life made him an outstanding personality.
The second was a priest whose command over Avesta and ritual was as formidable as his temper and strict discipline, an excellent astrologer and the teacher of many of today’s leading priests – Ervad Eruchshah Karkaria, whose very name and presence would make the whole Atash Behram go quiet as he entered its portals. And the third was the leader of the Bhagarsath, another outstanding scholar, totally unassuming, eager to share whatever he had learned and accumulated in many years of deep study – Dastur Meherji Dastur Kaikobad – the 16th Meherjirana.
On my visits to Navsari, it was the thought of meeting this holy trinity of outstanding gentlemen that made my pulse race with excitement. Arriving at Dosabhai’s humble house in Desaiwad, after Kusti and prayers and a cup of tea made with his own hands, we would go to Dasturji’s house in Dasturwad where he would graciously receive us in his grand library, overflowing with books on Zoroastrianism, always at the computer, typing out some unpublished text. After a short time there we would proceed to Eruchshah’s house, opposite the Atash Behram and hear him recount some intricate fact of Zoroastrian ritual, always accompanied by the precise reference to the page number and paragraph of some book, or Parsi Avaz issue or Frashogard magazine. It was always after paying homage to these three great souls that I would enter the Atash Behram, marvelling at the portraits of the many priests and Seths who had given so much to our religion. And of course the magnificent Atash Behram Saheb, burning resplendently in its gleaming pure silver Afarganyu.
This is the Navsari I knew and the Navsari I loved. Today’s Navsari seems very different. The three stalwarts are long gone, their places vacant forever. Our current Dasturji Meherjirana is a faint shadow of his fiery self, age having taken its toll on him. What can be said of the office bearers and secretaries of the various Trusts today? Would they have dared to even dream of what they have done had the three stalwarts been still alive? Their behaviour in the meeting is itself a reflection of their religious knowledge or lack thereof, public standing and love for our community. Looking at the manner in which events have occurred in Navsari, it is amply clear that the same group of individuals who stoked the flames in Mumbai with Dhun Baria and others have now shifted their attention to Navsari.
Having failed in their attempts in Mumbai, even after the so-called prayer hall, they have now shifted base to a place where they hold much influence and sway. It is this group which have sworn to destroy the traditional fabric of the community. Despite their many futile attempts, they have faced defeat after humiliating defeat, each such loss further infuriating them and powering them to greater frenzy.
What these individuals don’t seem to realize is that there are forces greater than humans who are looking after the welfare and future of the community. Given the times we live in, it is inevitable that some damage is wreaked by the machinations of these misguided persons, but the ultimate victory can only be ours. Remarking on the sad and sorry state of his country at the beginning of the 20th century, Iran’s patriotic poet Mirzadeh Eshghi, well known as Ishqi, wrote in his memorable work ‘Rastakhiz Iran’: “In kharaba Iran-e-maa nist; Iran-e man kuja ast?” This desolate abode is not Iran! Oh, where is my Iran?” The events in Navsari are a reflection of the state of affairs of the community, due to which today I can only say: “In kharaba Navsari-e-maa nist, Navsari-e-man kuja ast?” This irreligous place is not Navsari, where is the Navsari I cherished?
Ervad Marzban J. HathiramShare