As the Parsi-Zoroastrian calender draws to it's year-end, leading to the Parsi New Year (somewhere around 21 August), the final days of remembering of our departed loved ones, popularly called as Muktad, have started. I am going to give you a very layman description of what this is all about. Neither am I am priest nor do I possess any exceptional knowledge of my religion that almost every second Parsi these days claims s/he has. I cannot give you an ultimate guide to what the Muktad prayers are all about. But nonetheless, all this is my observation.
The final 10 days of the Parsi calender year are the most colourful days, literally if not metamorphically, of the year. Muktad is a tradition in our community where prayers are held over a period of 10 days (the last five days are called the Gathas) in prayers and jashan prayer ceremonies in the memory of our dead and the departed. Why do I say it is colourful? Because each departed loved one has to be dedicated a vaz made of silver or German silver. These vases are to be filled up with flowers.
Every day these flowers are to be changed. The Agiary (Fire-Temple) puts some flowers in them every day and we too can buy more flowers available in plenty outside the Agiaries and have them deposited in the vase. It's a very colourful sight inside our Agiaries. Flowers of various types and colours can be seen in abundance everywhere neatly arranged in their respective vases all across in the Agiary. Vases is kept on tables with a marble top. Each table has the name of the departed written underneath it. There is also a map hung somewhere in the corner of the Muktad hall; a large room in every Agiary dedicated to the Muktad tables and prayers.
On the first day that we go, the priests (dasturs) or the helper boys help us locate our loved one's table. We are not supposed to touch the table or the vases or the flowers that are already kept inside other people's vases. The flowers that we buy from outside are to be given to either of them, who then dip them in water and then put them inside our vases. Simultaneously, a priest is assigned to us and we handover our sukhad (sandalwood stick). An individual's prayer can last to anything between half an hour to one hour, but the overall Muktad prayers start as early as 6 am in the morning at the dawn of the day and lasts through the evenings, with a small break in the afternoon.
In a Parsi priest's life, these are one of the toughest days. They have to start very early and get into the prayer ceremonies. As soon as they finish one person's prayers, they move onto to the other departed. This goes on almost non-stop till about 10 or 11 when they break. Then, in the evening, the other set of rituals and prayers start and go on for about 2-3 hours. It's a tough life for them, as well as the helper boys who go about with their tasks of helping the priests and Agiary authorities jostling the continuously pouring crowds throughout the day and performing chores. In reality the day starts very early for all Agiaries though. Action starts from as early as 3 am in the morning when the Agiary and/or prayer hall has to be cleaned, flowers need to be shopped and picked up from the flower market and brought to the Agiary and kept in the vases and the place need to be in tip-top shape, ready for prayers, all by the time it's 6 in the morning.
The best flower arrangement I have ever seen in any Agiary is the one at Delhi Parsi Anjuman Agiary, Delhi. The caretaker family of this Agiary led by a dynamic- but (now) very old lady- Mrs Dhun Bugli, her son (the priest) and his wife, take great care of this Agiary. We are not allowed to bring our own flowers; a rule that I have seen only in this Agiary. But not without good reason. Mrs Bugli is a champion at flower arrangements and all vases have uniform flower arrangement, on any given day, with the same colour combination. Every day, she changes the flower arrangements. It's absolutely beautiful. Neither the flowers nor the colours are loud, but they make a magnificent impact. This is what I call a Kodak moment.