What is prayer – part 1

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Roj Dae-pa-Adar Mah Bahman, 1378 Yz.

Of the many gifts given to Parsis by their Prophet Zarathushtra, that of the Manthras is one of the most significant. Manthras are the divine words of the Prophet and His appointed disciples which form what we loosely call today the ‘Avesta’. Over the thousands of years that have passed since the time of the advent of Zarathushtra, the great majority of the Manthras have been, unfortunately, lost. What we have left is not more than 5% of the original, which are used for daily prayers as well as the rituals which form the core of the faith. The question is often asked: What is the use of praying in a language we do not understand? Cannot the same prayers be translated in to a common language like English and the same said with more concentration and meaning? Would it not be better if some newer and shorter prayers were introduced? In order to answer these and related queries, it is necessary to firstly understand who man is, what is his role in nature, what is prayer, why does man need to pray and what benefits accrue from praying.

The fundamental characteristic which differentiates man from animals is his brain and the power of reasoning and logic, along with the ability to verbalize his thoughts and articulate them in an orderly manner. These reasoning, cognitive and verbal skills are controlled by the brain, or more popularly, the mind. The functioning of the mind gives rise to thoughts. Thoughts give rise to emotions. Every human is, at all times, involved in a complex mix of thoughts and emotions, which govern his behavior and responses with external stimuli. These interactions determine his overall character and temperament. Unlike animals, whose primary instinct is survival, man’s thoughts and emotions are more complex. His thoughts are shaped and formed by the sensory perceptions which reach his mind through the five senses. These senses, being physical in nature, cause man’s mind to be more involved in the physical phenomena around him. Thus our thoughts are constantly analyzing the physical surroundings and governing our responses to them. Thus the nature of man’s thoughts is, predominantly, short sighted, and more towards instant gratification. In such circumstances, the overall emotion is of taking more from the environment than is necessary for the self, or as is commonly called, selfishness. Since man is a social animal, his thoughts towards his immediate relatives and close associates may be more considerate and compassionate, but overall the material temperament in the most pronounced. It would be therefore, fair to say that our mind is a jumble of thoughts and emotions which are more about self-preservation and selfishness, where the ‘I, me, myself’ factor is predominant.

It is therefore logical to expect that even when thinking of God, man’s mind is constantly in a state of wanting. Even when we bow our heads before the Holy Fire, the mind keeps ready a list of demands and requests, which subconsciously and without even our knowing, keep pouring out. In other words, it would be fair to say that man is a prisoner of his own thoughts, which keep him in a state of permanent longing – of one thing or the other. This is the reason why the ancients coined the Persian word for prayer as ‘Bandagi’, which is derived from ‘bandag’ – slave! Thus even a prayer to God, were it to be composed by man, would include some element of want or desire. But religions and its Prophets have always taught us that the real goal of man is salvation, the merging of the self with the Lord. Thus the end result of our prayers should not be a material goal or a list of requests, but rather the single minded pursuit of salvation of the soul, known as ‘Ruvan bokhtagi’. Given the state of man’s mind as described above, it can be said that it is impossible for man to compose a ‘prayer’ with the salvation of the soul as its ultimate goal.

What is the reason for this? Why is man’s mind so structured as to be incapable of looking at the ultimate goal? The Zarathushtrian religion has answered this beautifully, and we shall analyze this in our next post.

Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram



  1. Nazneen  June 23, 2009

    Eagerly await Part 2 ….

  2. Ruby  November 23, 2009

    Dear Ervad Saheb,
    I would like to have a clear understanding regarding our prayer Hoshbam. We are supposed to pray this prayer before sunrise. 72mins proir to sunrise we pray this in Ushahin gah and 36 mins prior we pray this in Havan gah. What I would like to know is, if we are staying in Mumbai, which sunrire time to follow? Mumbai or Calcutta. Please let me know about the same. I follow Mumbai time as i stay in Mumbai, but I was given to understand by a priest that they follow Calcutta time. If so then why Calcutta time?. Tandarosti.

  3. Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram  November 24, 2009

    Hi Ruby

    For all our prayers we MUST use the LOCAL time, not the standard time. Local time in Mumbai is 39 minutes behind IST. That is why in Mumbai, Rapithwin changes at 12:39 and not at 12 noon, and Uzirin changes at 3:39 and not at 3. The priest obviously does not know much.

    Trust the matter is clear. To the time in the papers add 39 minutes to arrive at Mumbai time.

    Best regards,
    Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram

  4. Ruby  November 25, 2009

    Thankyou for your prompt reply. One more clarification please sir,In Hoshbam, we do our padyaab kusti, pray Saraosh Baj, Haavan Gah and HoshBaam. Is this sequence correct?or is it just Kusti, Saraosh Baj and Hoshbaam?

  5. Hootokshi Thanawalla  November 25, 2009

    Dear Ervad Saheb,
    Thank you very much for your prompt reply which I appreciate.


  6. RUBY  February 5, 2010

    Can we have a write up about the Hoshbam prayer please.

  7. Delnavaz  February 11, 2010

    I too want to know more about Hoshbam prayer. What is the sequence of the prayer. I believe one can pray Hoshbam till 8 am & not after. What is the significance of this prayer.

  8. Darius Bharucha  June 15, 2011

    Thank you very much for this excellent explanation. I have often wondered about the topics you brought up. Thank you!
    Take care,
    God Bless,

  9. Silloo  July 17, 2013

    Dear Ervad Saheb,
    Can we have a write up for Hoshbam prayer please. I do pray Hormuj Yasht Adibesht Yast & Sarosh Hadokht. Is it ok. Do I pray Hoshbam, & Ushein Geh also? I am confused. Pleast let me know.
    Thank you very much. May God Bless You/ Take care.