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.
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