The Wondrous Circle of Life – part 3

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Roj Dae-pa-Din Mah Meher, 1380 Yz.

After the Padruz Uthamna gets over the priests take a break, waiting for the exact time when the Zoroastrian day changes, 36 minutes before sunrise. As soon as this time is reached, the priests perform a fresh Kusti, recite the Sarosh Baj and Havan Gah and then begin the very important ceremony, generally called the Daham Yazad Jashan or Afringan. Not many Parsis are aware of this very essential Zoroastrian Divinity called Daham Yazad, since his name is not part of the 30 days calendar. However, priests are on familiar terms with Daham Yazad, since every Afringan ceremony performed must contain one Karta (chapter) dedicated to him. Who is Daham Yazad and why is he so important?

To understand the role and importance of Daham Yazad it is necessary to understand the composition of the human body and its ultimate destiny. Just as the physical body is composed of many billions of atoms and molecules, all manifesting themselves in various permutations and combinations, so also the basic building block of the physical atoms owes its origins to what is called as ‘Anasers’. Anasers can be called the spiritual DNA, which are unseen. The Anasers are derived from even more ethereal components which are manufactured in certain spiritual factories in a distinct part of the Cosmos. These ethereal components are transported down to the earth in a particular manner by various divine entities. As they descend on earth they become less ethereal and more ultra-physical. Finally they manifest as Anasers and then are mixed with earthly matter to form the physical DNA, atoms and molecules and other elementary particles which are being discovered by science today. The Anasers are categorized into four groups: Atash (Fiery) Baad (airy) Aab (watery) and Khak (earthly).

When we die, the physical body begins to disintegrate. However, as Zoroastrians, it is our moral duty to not defile any element. At the same time, the Anasers, which are entwined within the human body must be disengaged from their physical confines and liberated. If this is not done, the flight of the Urvan to the higher regions cannot take place. This is where the great Talisman of the Dakhma comes in. Many Parsis believe that the Dakhma is merely a receptacle for the dead bodies. This is incorrect. The Dakhma is a spiritual institution whose importance is on the same level as an Atash Behram!

Before the Dakhma can be built a very intricate ceremony called the Tana ceremony is carried out. This ceremony is so intricate and backbreaking that very few priests can do it, and even they have to be guided constantly by a council of priests who gather at the spot for this momentous occasion. The ground where the physical structure of the Dakhma is to be created is first dug up to the foundation level. Then 301 nails of various weights, shapes and sizes are made out of copper. On the appointed day, the specially prepared priests descend into the foundation level and with the accompaniment of specific prayers, begin the process of hammering these 301 nails to the ground in a particular circular manner. The largest of the nails weighs a massive 20 kilos and is hammered right in the centre of the foundation. Then four nails, each weighing 5 kilos and each having three holes are hammered into the four directions. After that 36 nails are hammered in a circular fashion around the inner perimeter. Then 256 (32 x 2 x 4) nails are hammered in the spot where the gutters leading from the central Bhandar well of the Dakhma to the underground wells will be constructed. These are in two rows of 32 nails each. Finally 4 nails are hammered at the entrance of the four gutters. In this way (1+4+36+256+4) 301 nails are hammered into the ground. Each nail is to be fixed into the ground using specific prayers. To help the priests get this done properly, guidelines are drawn on the ground using chalk powder by the priests themselves. As the hammering progresses the council of priests watching from above supervises the entire process, ensuring that no mistake is made.

Then on the appointed day, the Tana ceremony is performed. Many weeks before this ceremony, pious Zoroastrian ladies belonging to the priestly class begin weaving the woollen thread which will be used in the Tana ceremony. The procedure followed is the same as is used while extracting the thread from which the Kusti is woven. With the accompaniment of prayers, the ladies of the priestly family take a ball of wool and slowly begin drawing out one thin thread from the it, using the small spindle (chaatri). This painstaking and time consuming process must be done till a sufficient length of thread is extracted. Then, two balls of this thread are taken and again, with the accompaniment of prayers, the two threads are woven together to make one strong thread. Then 101 such stands are taken to weave into a thick thread, about the thickness of a normal Kusti. [In the Kusti weaving process, 72 strands are used, but for the Dakhma 101 strands are used.] This thread is then carefully wound up to make a big ball of thread.

How much is required? Enough to go around the entire circumference and the inner parts of the Dakhma foundation three times. If the circumference of the Dakhma is say 300 feet, then more than 1800 feet (or about 545 metres) of thread is required to be kept ready. Just to give readers an idea of how difficult this is, the normal Kusti of say 5 Gaj is about 135 inches long (about 3.5 metres), we are talking about the equivalent of more than 150 such Kustis! The ball of thread is then handed over to the priests, who ritually wash and dry the thread and then fumigate it using the Dadgah fire.

On the day of the Tana ceremony, the two priests, who are in a ritually exalted state (Moti Khub), under the watchful eye of the High Priests, the chosen Council of Priests and a large number of assembled Parsi laypersons, begin the process. The main priest takes the end of the thread and to the accompaniment of specific prayers, ties the end to the central nail in the centre of the Dakhma foundation. The second priest walks behind him, carrying the big ball of thread in a large Langri, or pan. It is his job to ensure that at no point the thread touches the ground or gets entangled in any way, since that would ruin the whole ceremony. From the central nail, the priest walk to the nail in the south west corner and giving a twist there, walk to the nails in the other three corners, making a whole circle of the Dakhma foundation. They then pass the thread through one of the holes in the nails with three holes and then pass the thread over the 36 nails arranged in two rows around the circumference. This whole process is repeated two more times, passing the thread through the other two holes of the three holed nails, and twisting a turn over each of the other nails.

After the third round around the perimeter, the thread is taken to the 32 nails on each side of each of the four gutters and passed over each nail, giving a twist. Finally the thread is brought back to the centre nail and joined with the end from which the whole process was started. Any excess thread is also wrapped around the head of the nail. This back breaking and exacting process must be finished within the Havan Gah, to the accompaniment of specific prayers and without a single break or error. The Tana ceremony is the pinnacle of a priest’s life and one in thousands gets an opportunity to perform this exalted ceremony. It is my great privilege to present to readers of Frashogard two extremely rare photographs showing the Tana ceremony for the Dakhma at Bangalore. These are perhaps the only extant photos of this ceremony.

Bangalore Tana ceremony2

I apologize for the poor quality since these are photos taken from old photos by me. This second photograph shows the priests climbing back to the ground after finishing the ceremony. Note the row of 32 nails in each line. This is where the gutter leading to the underground wells of the Dakhma would be contructed.

Bangalore Tana ceremony1

One can clearly see the exactness with which the Tana has been wrapped around the nails in the ground. Also clearly seen is the Council of Priests sitting on the top, along with Head Priests and the large number of Parsis.

The following diagram also shows the positioning of the nails around the foundation and the process of wrapping the Tana thread around the nails.
Tana plan1

We shall understand the esoteric meaning behind this ceremony in our next post.

Ervad Mrzban J. Hathiram

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Comments

  1. freny mohta  March 10, 2011

    Excellent narration. thanks. waiting for the concluding part.

  2. Adil Motafram  March 10, 2011

    Ervard Marazban Saheb, Very informative article .I was totally un aware of this,and I am sure manymore woulld be enlightened by it. Onl;y if the diagram was more legible it would have been very explanatory. Many thanks for the educative information

  3. Behram Wadia  May 5, 2011

    Good article. But I would like to ask a question in reference to the beginning of the article, you say priest always pray one karda for Dahm Yazad in every jashan, i thought it was the karda of Dahman that is prayed. Dahman, in my understanding, means all co-workers of the specific roj on which the jashan is being perfromed, and its khshnooman is “Dahmaiyao vipaiyao afritoish ugrai damoish upmanai” compared to Dahm yazad’s which is “Dahm yazad vispaesha ardafravash beresad”. I am aware that most preist pray the karda of Dahm yazad and would like to clarify why the karda of Dahman exists. Thank you!

  4. Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram  May 9, 2011

    @Behram Wadia
    The Khshnuman of Dahm Yazad is “Dahmaiyao vanghuyao afritoish ugrai damoish upmanai” . the Khshnuman of Daham Vispaesha is “ahurahe mazdao raevato khvarenanghuhato ameshanam spentanam, Dahmaiyao vanghuyao afritoish ugrai damoish upmanai, vispaesham yazatanam..”

    The difference is between the Panths. However, as per the teachings of Ustad Saheb, all Anusheh Ruvan Afringans should be prayed with Daham Yazad, with Tao Ahmi Nmane. Daham Yazad Jashan on the fourth day should have two Kardas of Daham Yazad (Yatha 2) and 1 of Sarosh. All Jindeh Ruvan Afringans should have the Karda of Daham Vispaesha (Yatha 7).

    Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram

  5. rohinton  June 18, 2011

    Dear Marazban just another query since i read as above in regards with Dahman yazad and the vispecha karda . Now in all Agiaries and even at doongerwadi on the 4th day of charum we all pray Dahaman yazad vispecha karda followed by sarosh .
    Now when i pray if iam the jyoti i pray 3 kardas that is Dahman yazad vispecha karda than Dahman yazad (2) and last Sarosh followed by 3 afrins .

    If its joranu uthamna than i pray Dahamn yazad vispecha karda (7) this karda i pray twice . When i pray the first time i take the name of the deceased only . When i pray this karda second time i take the name of the living person zinderavan . and lastly sarosh.

    Sir many dont even do the Atash nyaish but i do the nyaish before starting these afringhan because its a Jashan and not just a afringhan .
    Sir please correct me if iam wrong anywhere and need ur personal advise if possible . Thank you as always

  6. Gustad Panthaki  October 13, 2012

    Dear Marzban,
    While searching for a meaning of Dakhma, I came across your wonderful articles about Circle of Life. Vendidad 8:1-3 state that if a man or dog dies in a house of wood or a thachat roof, search for a dakhma. “Dakhma” in Av Ddictionary is tomb, grave etc. and the Vendidad is very much against such disposal methods. Hence this instruction seems to contravane the Vendidad itself! I have also come across an argument that “Dakhma” over times meant a structure. Although reading “Rististan” by SD Baharucha and an article from “Athravan no Dini Prakash” K Dabu stress that Dakhma is nothing but a grave or a tomb.

    Could you please provide explanation about Vd. 8:1-2 and the word “Dakhma” to clear misunderstanding.
    Thanking you,
    Gustad

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