Roj Marespand Mah Tir, 1379 Yz.
Ustad Saheb explained that in the absence of the Fasli calendar and the Fasli Alat, it was not correct or even possible to do the complete Fasli Muktad. He also cautioned that the act of inviting the Ashaunam Fravashinam along with the Ruvan of our deceased relatives was no easy matter and should not be taken lightly at all. These spiritually advanced entities do not and cannot come down in an area where strict rules of purity and piety are not maintained. Hence Ustad Saheb insisted that the first grade Fasli Muktad ceremonies could only be done in places where the Fasli Alat was still intact – i.e. in the secluded areas of Demavand and other such Zoroastrian sanctuaries, where the pollution of the modern world could not reach.
The disciples of Ustad Saheb requested the Master to suggest some other method whereby the sanctity of these pious and extremely important days of the Zoroastrian calendar could be remembered and commemorated. Ustad Saheb revealed that in the times of the Zoroastrian monarchy, there were many years when the entire nation would be at war with the numerous enemies of Iran. At these difficult times, when the attention and resources of the whole country were concentrated on defeating the enemy, it was just not possible to perform the entire Muktad ceremonies for each and every departed soul. Ustad Saheb further explained that the prayers during the days of the Farvardegan in the times of the Zoroastrian monarchy were much more intense than those done today. In those days, along with the normal Baj, Afringan, Farokshi and Stum prayers (all of which were done in every Gah and not just in the Havan, as done today!), the higher Pav Mahel ceremonies of Yazashne and Vandidad too were done every day for each deceased soul, separately! My dear readers, we are talking of a time when the total Zoroastrian population in the entire extended empire of Iran was in millions! One can imagine the strength of the priesthood, as well as the gigantic resources the Zoroastrian monarchs were spending for the spiritual welfare of their Zoroastrian citizens!
Ustad Saheb revealed that in these times of emergencies, when it was not possible to do the individual prayers for every Zoroastrian in the empire due to the acute resource problem and also because a major part of the population would be involved in some way or the other in the war (including the priesthood, which in addition to undertaking spiritual prayer campaigns for the success of the army would also be tending to the sick and injured and also performing the ceremonies for those who would lay down their lives for their King and country), a second level of prayers would be held during the Farvardegan days. This was known as the second-grade Takchian. The word Takchian refers to the separate courtyard like structure which was present in most houses in ancient Iran, where a small but beautiful garden would be maintained. On the days of the Farvardegan, this courtyard would be converted to a prayer area and a marble slab would be placed a few inches above the ground on the flower beds itself. The Karasya of the departed were then placed on this marble platform and the ceremonies and prayers done nearby. It is interesting to note that in several old Parsi houses in the villages, this practice of having a central courtyard or garden was prevalent till about 100 years ago. A small room was maintained next to this garden or courtyard which was called ‘Agiary’, thereby denoting it as a place for prayers and ritual.
Thus Ustad Saheb explained that when it was not possible for the intensive individual prayers to be done in times of war or natural calamities, villages or towns would get together and choose one central place and in this courtyard, the collective Muktad prayers would be done for the deceased souls of the entire village or town, thereby lessening to a great extent the workload and expense for the 18 day period. To show that these were the lower level of ceremonies, the individual Karasya of each member was NOT placed. In its place, 27 clear white glasses were arranged in three large copper plates and flowers were put in these glasses. These were supposed to represent the collective nature of the prayers and the offerings for the deceased Ruvan of all members of that particular village or town. The prayers would be done collectively for all these souls, taking the name of ‘Hama Anjuman’. This was known as the ‘duyyam-martaba Takchian’ – (second level Takchian). As and when the war stopped or the conditions improved, the whole village or town would go back to observing the first grade Takchian where individual prayers for each departed soul would be said separately.
Based on this explanation, the members of the society requested Ustad Saheb to reveal to them the method of conducting the lower level Takchian ceremonies during the days of the Fasli Muktad. The first question arose as to where could all this be done? The process of instituting the Takchian required a quiet open space where no non-Parsis could enter and yet be close enough in the city for all members to attend. Immediately, one enthusiastic member, Mr. Sorabji Faramji Captain and his wife, Tehmina offered the use of their grand bungalow situated in Kurla. This bungalow had a huge compound with a nice garden which was perfectly suited for the job. Accordingly, the first Takchian ceremonies were performed in March 1917, under the personal supervision of Ustad Saheb, aided by the main members of the Society, Ervad Phiroze Masani, Mr. Dinshaw Masani and Ervad Sorab Panthaki, who despite being in very poor health for over a year now, played a leading and enthusiastic part. Based on the guidance given by Ustad Saheb, a special plot about 40 feet by 40 feet was selected and after cleaning and watering, some wheat was planted, interspersed with potted plants of specific flowers. In the middle of this plot a small pathway was made and in the centre, a long marble slab was placed on four small conical stones, about four inches off the ground. On this marble slab, three big khumchas of copper were arranged and in each khumcha nine clear white glasses were setup. Next to the khumcha a large Divo made of pure cow’s ghee was placed. On all sides of the plot, beautiful designs with flowers were made, including the names ‘Hormazd’ and ‘Sarosh’.
Nearby, a large tent was setup for visitors and members of the Society who were to stay for the entire 18 day period. In another part of the ground, some distance away, arrangements were made for Parsi cooks to cater to the members of the Camp. In the Bungalow itself, special Pavis were made with consecrated sand for the performance of the Baj, Afringan, Farokshi and Stum ceremonies. Nearly 10 priests were selected and given a fresh Bareshnum Nahn and put up in a separate area of the bungalow. On the day of the Ijan, or welcome, a special Humbandagi was held under the leadership of Ustad Saheb himself where he recited the special Pazend Manthras to invoke the blessings of the Divine Beings on this new venture and to entreat the Ashaunam Fravashinam and the Ruvan of the deceased to visit this special area. Then the actual prayers started with specific attention being given to the various Kardas or chapters of Avesta to be recited in the Afringans. All this was closely supervised by Ustad Saheb and Ervad Sorab Panthaki, who was playing the major role in actually performing the ceremonies.
This was a unique event in the history of the Parsi community in India and a large number of Parsis came to visit the camp and have a view of this very different method of conducting the Muktad prayers. An atmosphere of piety, mingled with enthusiasm and curiosity pervaded the camp and event the priests were unaccustomed to the large number of prayers in almost every Gah. Every evening as well as at dawn, special Humbandagi prayers were recited by all present and then the individual members would sit down for their own exhaustive prayers. As the day of Jamshedi Navroze approached, the prayers grew in intensity and more people came visiting. In the midst of all this activity, the job of conducting everything smoothly and taking care of the various logistics took a heavy toll on the health of Ervad Sorab Panthaki, who fell very ill on Navroze day. He was shifted to another house nearby and given medical treatment, but his health deteriorated and on 24th March, 1917, in the presence of his close friends, Ervad Sorab Panthaki passed away. He was just 34 years old. The passing away of Ervad Sorab was a big blow to Ustad Saheb who treated him like a son and a true disciple. Ustad Saheb had great hopes of raising the spiritual caliber of this brilliant Athravan to even greater levels so that he could play an important part in the plans which the Master had for the future. As usual, the Parsi press went to town, saying that the death of Ervad Sorab was solely due to Ustad Saheb ‘starting some new ceremonies’. Like I said earlier, some things just don’t change, do they!
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram