Sunday, October 31, 2010

Spirituality in Surat

We Parsis often underestimate the efforts that our dastursjis (priests) take in their day to day work, offering prayers. Many of us believe that reciting prayers on a day to day basis- repeatedly almost the same prayers for years and years- becomes a very easy feat over a period of time and therefore no effort is required. All I would say to them is to please attend the Nirangdin ceremony. I had the privilege to attend a Nirangdin ceremony at the Surat Shenshai Atash-Behram last week. I am not an expert at this, so I won't go into details of what this ceremony is all about, but I can offer a simple explanation.

In Zoroastrianism, a bull's urine plays a very crucial role in important events such as weddings and navjotes (thread ceremony to induct young Zoroastrians into the effect; much like a Hindu's thread ceremony). But this is no ordinary bull; this is supposed to be a bull that does not have a single black hair on it. It's sacred and presently there are few such bulls in Indian, mainly in Mumbai and Gujarat. These bulls' urine has been tested in scientific laboratories to verify their bacteria-free status. We are supposed to consume small portion of this urine at key milestone events such as our navjotes and weddings. But not just any batch is meant for consumption; only the batch that is sanctified through the Nirangdin ceremony is worthy of being consumed. Hence, the Nirangdin ceremony is very important; it takes the Zoroastrian faith forward. The ceremony lasts for about 15 to 20 days, I am not quite sure, but the one that I attended, did start almost as many days before and culminated on the morning of 28 October in Surat.

The grand finale is an all-night affair. We were made to report to the at the Atash Behram at 15 minutes past midnight. Fire temples look serene and so peaceful after sunset. It's pitch dark inside with only the Holy Fire burning bright. It's pin drop silence; you can only hear the crackles of the fire burning. The Dusturji recites his prayers and fills the prayer hall with positive vibrations, while he goes about doing his routine. Electric lights are not allowed inside the sanctum as they say electricity interferes with the vibrations, though many Agiaries do allow electricity since most of them consist of only one hall and they are small, so no electricity at all would mean complete darkness. But since Atash-Behrams are large, there are areas, such as the holy sanctums, that do not allow electricity at all; separate areas do have electricity to help people pray and also fans to beat the heat. So after sunset, typically, it's impossible to refer to prayer books inside the holy sanctums of Atash Behrams. My favorite place to be after sunset is the Udvada Atash Behram where- to the best of my knowledge- absolutely no electricity is allowed, not even in the outside halls. However, dozens of diyas are lit and put inside hollow chandeliers, hoisted from the high ceilings, many feet above the ground. It's divine to be there after sunset, amidst all these diyas; to just sit there and focus on the Holy Fire is an experience that every Parsi on this earth should experience atleast once in his / her life. It doesn't matter if you do not know any prayers by heart; just sit in a corner and close your eyes, focus and keep praying whatever you know or just be silent and at peace.

But coming back to why I feel Dasturjis should be more appreciated, you must attend a Nirangdin ceremony atleast once. It's a humongous effort. Our two Dasturjis (one seemed senior and the other junior) started their marathon prayers at about 2 am on the night of 27-28 October. It was non-stop, till the prayers ended at about 8 am in the morning. They recited at a stretch, without taking a single break. Except for a minimal area, they did not move out. Every muscle in their body was put through the severest of test, not to forget their vocal chords if you're reciting something or anything at about six to seven hours at a stretch. Despite offering a noble service, many dasturs, especially those outside the ranks of head priests, live a very simple life and cannot afford many comforts. I know of a few dasturs at the temple I visit who are old and still wait at the bus stop to catch a bus home at about 11 am at that age, after waking up as early as 4 in the morning and reporting to the Agiary for early morning prayers.We were about 10 from our family and many of us dozed off in the waiting hall post 4 am- we just couldn't sustain ourselves- but those two Dasturjis- went about their business in as much professional sense as it could get. At 8 am, it was over and about five to seven bottles of bull's urine were sanctified through this ceremony, to take our religion forward, to bind two loving souls in matrimony and much happiness beyond and to also welcome a young Parsi / Irani kid into our lovely Zoroastrian faith.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    Its curious, I love being part of such culture


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