Zoroastrian purity: Finer than a hair

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Roj Adar Mah Khordad, 1379 Yz.

Fasli Ava Parab

 

Our religion lays great stress not only on ritual purity but also on physical purity in daily life. There is a proverb amongst Parsis: ‘Bawa, aapro Dharam to baal kartaa baarik!’, i.e. ‘Our religion is finer than a hair’. This seems to be a contradiction, since hair is dead matter and hence impure. There are specific instructions in our religion regarding how cut hair and nails should be disposed and why it is necessary to have a bath after cutting hair or nails. However the saying can be traced to a miraculous incident that took place nearly one thousand years ago, in the reign of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni (971-1030 AD), the fierce Afghan ruler notorious for looting various temples of India. Although a strict Muslim, the Sultan was also a lover of ancient Iranian history and it was he who commissioned the poet Firdausi to write the epic Shah Nameh. Here is a drawing of this Sultan in his court.

 

Mahmud Ghazni

 

The fact that the king was enamoured by the stories of the ancient Zoroastrian kings of Iran did not go down well with the more extremist elements of his court. They poisoned the ears of the Sultan, pointing out that in his Islamic state there were still some Zoroastrians who refused to give up the old faith. This was an affront to the strict Muslim king, who believed he was ruling by the will of God. The Sultan summoned the

Zoroastrians of Ghazni to his court and ordered them to convert to the new faith or face death. The Zoroastrians of those days were real devotees of Ahura Mazda and did not fear anything. One of the Zoroastrians stepped in front of the king, handed him his own dagger and asked the King to kill him there and then, saying they would rather die immediately than give up the miraculous faith that the Prophet Zarathushtra had revealed in the court of King Gushtasp.

 

This act of bravado unnerved the king and he was now at a loss as to what to do. The uncle of the Sultan was a Sufi mystic and had great respect for the Zoroastrian faith. He suggested that the King should demand that the Zoroastrians perform a miracle and demonstrate that their religion was God-given too. If they succeded, the Zoroastrians would be allowed to practice their own religion, else they would have to convert to Islam. The King agreed to this plan and instructed the Zoroastrians to either display a miracle or convert.

 

The Zoroastrians met together and decided that they should take the help of a pious Dastur who lived in Kerman. They immediately despatched two men to the city of Kerman several hundred miles away, where this priest, called Dastur Ardeshir Kermani resided. Meanwhile the rest of the population began praying to God, asking Him to help them in their hour of need. In his prayers, the advanced Dastur caught the plaintive thoughts of the Ghaznavis and blessed the horse riders and their animals with superhuman strength so that they reached Kerman at an amazing speed. As the messengers reached Kerman, they were surprised to see Dastur Kermani waiting for them with other priests.

 

From Kerman, the riders returned with the pious Dastur and some more priests and proceeded to the court of the Sultan. When Dastur Kermani walked into the court of the Sultan there was a hush – for it was plain to all those present in the court that the saintly Dastur’s feet were several inches above the ground, even as he walked! After blessing the king, the Dastur explained that they would indeed perform a miracle, in the local Fire Temple. However, since no non-Zoroastrian could enter the Fire Temple, two of the King’s courtiers would stand in the garden attached to the temple, holding a white sheet of cloth that would act as a screen and relay the happenings inside to the King. The Dastur gently requested the King to ensure that the courtiers were bathed and dressed in clean clothes, since they would be standing in the garden outside the Fire Temple!

 

The King agreed and the next day the priests began the performance of the Yasna ritual while the King and his courtiers and army officers stood outside. Soon a sweet smell wafted in the air around the temple complex. As the ceremony progressed inside, several shapes began to appear on the white screen outside, and soon the King saw to his amazement an army of holy personages all dressed in green, riding green horses. The whole atmosphere was surcharged with divine energy and the King felt as though he had been transported to heaven itself. Even as the Sultan acknowledged that he had indeed witnessed an out of the ordinary event, Dastur Kermani told the Sultan that the miracle was not over, and requested him to return the next day.

 

On the second day, another Yasna ceremony was performed and magnificent personages of a brilliant white colour were seen. The Sultan was further impressed, but Dastur Kermani asked him to return the next day too.

 

On the third day, the final Yasna ceremony started, but things were going wrong. A dreadful stench permeated the area, and dark, hideous shapes were seen on the screen. The panic stricken King demanded an explanation. The ceremony was stopped and the priests began a check. Soon the culprit was found. A hair from a priest’s beard had fallen down and had become intertwined with one of the ritual implements. Since hair is dead matter, it had affected the supreme purity required during the ritual, and instead of blessings, the evil forces had been attracted.

 

A fresh set of implements was procured and the ceremony restarted. Soon the atmosphere changed again and the screen outside was suffused with the images of divine beings dressed in red. The Sultan was overwhelmed with devotion at this display of the power of the Zoroastrian faith and showered rich praises on the learned Dastur and his band of devout Zoroastrians. ‘Truly you Zoroastrians are the jewel in my Kingdom. May you ever prosper and follow your faith, which is finer than a hair and is surely sent by God and revealed by the Prophet Zarathushtra.’

 

Thus started the saying that the Zoroastrian religion is finer than a hair. In today’s so-called rational times, when people debunk rituals and feel religion is only an ethical proposition, the episode of the brave Zoroastrians of Ghazni and their holy Dastur serves to remind us that ritual is indeed the bulwark of religion, and physical purity is as important as emotional and spiritual purity. We Parsis should learn from this miracle that there are deep reasons behind every little instruction of our religion – from the way we dress to the way we need to live within society, without causing any spiritual damage. The disposal of hair and nails is an important part of these instructions and they need to be taken seriously and not merely laughed off.

 

May the soul of the pious Dastur Ardeshir Kermani bless our troubled community.

 

Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram

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Comments

  1. N  October 29, 2009

    Great story. Nice to read such tales about the great Zoroastrian religion.

  2. Nawaz Merchant  October 29, 2009

    This delightful story is a testament to the creativity of the Zoroastrian community and the perseverance of those practitioners living in medieval times. However, as with other medieval stories, we should not beleive every last detail as a proof of ‘miracles’ and magic. Most Greek and Roman miracles have been found to be feats of engineering, and are not in fact miracles. So, likely are stories like this.

    While hygene and sanitation was developed ahead of its time in these preactises, we need to acknowledge these historical elements of the past, without becoming slavishly blind adherrents to any supremist ideas about “purity”. The last thing that a ‘reason’ focused religionist should do, is blindly accept a story from medieval history as fact, or proof of the power of the religion.

    The religion’s power is derived from the religionists honesty, adaptability and forward thinking. Blind faith produces dogma, not spiritual enlightenment.

  3. n  November 1, 2009

    If I may have the privilege, I’d like to comment in reply to Mrs. Nawaz Merchant’s point of concern, which cautiously puts into perspective the dangers of false beliefs and blind faith.
    Maybe it is blind-faith which is the first step towards faith and if one is blind enough not to accept ‘every last detail’ then there wouldn’t be spiritual progress. It would only amount to weighing the balance with the same old weights. What if the need is to balance a heavier object?
    Although, I feel it is not a matter of choice to accept or reject any particular thing as per free-will but instead a higher responsibility to will an acceptance and to ‘reason’ how our mysteries and ignorance can see the light imbibed in it. It is quite natural to be in awe and amazement, if not in veneration, of the supernatural but how far it applies to us is a question worth asking.
    Lastly, if people of science could construct and cause to effect, a physical phenomenon which can be commonly verified, isn’t it also possible that people of the arts could create something which also similarly affects the immediate reality, though this is a personal observation. So in the same understanding, are not out-of-the-ordinary experience/experiences quite possible from those whose capacity prompts them towards it? All because it is uncommon shouldn’t make it any less true.
    The belief one has, creates a certain reality and if one feels it ‘right’ to caution people about the validity of a certain episode in reality, why couldn’t someone feel equally ‘right’ to bring about a strong conviction for the same?

  4. Nazneen P.G. / H.K.  November 1, 2009

    In context to post of Nawaz Merchant –

    Is it necessary to be prejudice & doubtful of every thing? This indicates nothing but lack of trust/faith.

    The ones who believe this story wholeheartedly are not blind faiths. Its just that we are more receptive and respectful towards the deeds of God as well as humans.

    Just because something comes from medieval time period, it need not be medieval in its achievements.

    Our modern times so called adaptability and forward thinking has led our religion to where it is now, where more parsis believe in other Gods than their own, where our lineage is getting washed off due to inter marriages. Where people have forgotten the importance of Sudreh Kusti, where no youngster know even the basic prayers.

    This is not to ridicule your remarks but to say that everything is not Black (blind faith) and White (modernization). See the Grey side of things too.

  5. Mehernosh  November 1, 2009

    In the Light of the Above debate; I would like to add that it is NOT blind faith that is asked from us to follow our religion and its tarikats.

    Every action or ritual is meticulously explained with scientific reason and judgement so that we may understand what is it that we are doing.

    If we have interest and take out the time; I am sure our Dasturji Saheb will be more than happy to enlighten us on the mystic truths of our Religion.

    We should never forget that our Religion in its entirety is based on TRUTH and Righteousness and there is no place for doubt or blind faith.

    Each Fact has been proved as the Truth; even when some are beyond our understanding;

    Humble apologies if I have hurt anyone’s sentiments;

    Hamazor.

  6. homi farokh mistry  November 2, 2009

    Actually speaking miracles do not occur everytime.
    If one has the will and is willing to give a conscious thought on the transcript ,there will be only one reply.Yes, this is what Zorastrians are all about.
    Nothing new,we are special and there should be no doubt about it in any intellect mind.
    Therefore, without any hesitation I believe in the above story and request if any special arrangements needed for disposing off the cut nails ?
    Kindly advise/suggest the way in which nails are to be disposed off as and when cut.

    Regards,
    Homi.

  7. Delnavaz  November 5, 2009

    Hi,

    I have heard of this story as well, but loved reading it again. Can we please have more such stories ? I really do believe this story is real & not a fairy tale.

  8. Roshni R. Shroff  November 11, 2009

    Pls advise the correct was in which ahirs and nails are to be disposed off as and when cut. What about the hair that we have it cut at the saloon?

    Best regards,

    Roshni

  9. Neville Irani from Pune  November 12, 2009

    The article is too good, kudos

    & Cheers!!

  10. Ruby  November 23, 2009

    About faith, I had the opportunity to read Ervad. Karkhanawalla’s discourses. In one of them he had discusss about FAITH. Why do we say we will do this tomorrow?It is because of faith that we will still be alive. When we sit in the bus, why do we not keep a watch on the driver how he drives a bus? again FAITH. If we can have faith in this mere mortal then why not in the supreme power who watches our every move and pick us up when we fall. FAITH IS WHAT KEEP US ALIVE. Believe in our religion.

  11. Delnaz T  November 28, 2009

    This story helps us to understand that it is our prime duty to follow all the tarikats as per our Zoroastrian religion without asking too many questions about the same. Our Zoroastrian religion requires certain things to be done in a particular manner only and being born as a Zoroastrian, one has to have full faith in these practices and should follow the same religiously. Would like Dasturji to throw more light on the correct manner of disposing cut hair and nails and for women who go to saloon for cutting hair, what are the things to be taken care of before and after visiting the saloon. Thanks Dasturji.

  12. perVyyn rOhyintOn kaVarana  January 26, 2013

    ERVAD SAHEB YOU HAVE TAKEN SO MUCH TROUBLE COMPILING AND PUTTING TOGETHER REAMS OF ZOROASTRIAN JEWELS OF WISDOM FOR US …. ONLY A FEW OF US APPRECIATE YOUR HARD WORK AND SELFLESS ACTS, APROPOS ….

    DO WE HAVE TO BURDEN SHAH VARZAVAND SAHEB TO CORRECT THE ATTITUDES OF ZOROASTRIANS ?

    DO WE HAVE TO BURDEN SHAH VARZAVAND SAHEB TO CHANGE OUR CALENDAR TO THE FASLI MODE ?

    WHY CANNOT WE INITIATE THESE CHANGES FOR THE BETTERMENT OF THE ZOROASTRIAN COMMUNITY IN LIEU OF WAITING FOR SHAH VARZAVAND SAHEB TO DO SO AND PILE ON TO THIS OVERLOADED PLATE OF DUTIES TO BETTER US IN THIS DAY AND AGE ?

    WHY CANNOT WE BECOME MORE RESPONSIBLE AS ZOROASTRIANS ?

    ABED SAHEBS PLEASE BEAM YOUR POWERFUL RAYS OF KNOWLEDGE, WISDOM, LIFE, ETCETERA ON ZOROASTRIANS (not the half-baked parsis who label themselves Zoroastrians) AND MAKE US WORTHY OF BEING ZOROASTRIANS AND ABLE TO BE OF ASSISTANCE TO SHAH VARZAVAND SAHEB … THEREBY LESSENING SOME OF THIS BURDENS; IN LIEU OF standing around in kindergarten knickers imploring SHAH VARZAVAND SAHEB to help us do WHAT WE OURSELVES ARE CAPABLE OF DOING … CHANGING OURSELVES AND OUR ATTITUDES FIRST …. INSTEAD OF “ACTING” HELPLESS ET AL ….

    THIS IS NOT DIFFICULT TO PRACTICE …..
    JUST A KICK START IS REQUIRED AND OUR
    ZOROASTRIAN BIKES TO PROGRESS WILL VROOOOOOOOM AHEAD WITH JOY ….. 🙂

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