Observing The Fravardegan Days

by Noshir H. Dadrawala

According to the Parsi religious calendar, on August 21, 2001, it will be the first day (Roj Hormuzd) of the first month (Mah Fravardin) of the Shehanshai calendar corresponding to the year 1371 Yezdagirdi. The Parsi calendar dates back to the coronation of the last Zoroastrian King (Yezdagird III) of Zoroastrian (Sasanian dynasty) Iran.

The Zoroastrian calendar is a fairly simple, yet meaningful, calendar. Each month of the Zoroastrian calendar is of 30 days and each of these 30 days are dedicated to a divinity, which presides over a good creation of Ahura Mazda. The 12 months of the Zoroastrian calendar are also dedicated to different divinities that preside over a good creation. Thus, we have 12 months multiplied by 30 days, giving us a calendar of 360 days to which are added the 5 days of the ‘Gathas’ at the end of the year, aggregating to 365 days. Since Parsis do not add a leap year, the Parsi New Year slips by a day, every four years. The Zoroastrian tradition in ancient Iran was to add a whole month of 30 days, every 120 years, to keep the calendar in tune with Nature and the seasons. The Zoroastrians of Iran discontinued this tradition after the fall of the Sasanian Empire and even the Parsis who came to India intercalated a month only once after their arrival in India. This explains the difference of one month between the Kadmi (ancient) calendar followed by some Iranian Zoroastrians and Parsis of Gujarat and the Shehanshai (Imperial) calendar, followed by a majority of Parsis in India.

The last 10 days of the Zoroastrian calendar (i.e., Roj Astad to Aneran and the five days of the ‘Gathas’) are considered to be very holy, as doctrinally it is believed that during this period, the fravashis of the righteous dead, come down from their spiritual world into this material world and bless all those who remember and pray for them.

Besides the five ‘Gatha’ days are also the Gahambar days. The Gahambars are six seasonal feasts celebrated with prayers, ritual offerings and community feasts to a) offer thanks to Ahura Mazda for his bounties; b) to celebrate the change of seasons, the regularity of which ensures the delicate ecological balance and c) the good creations of Ahura Mazda. Gahambers are also a time for storing (Pahlavi: Gasanbar) "good deeds", "good blessings" and "good energies of Nature".

The five ‘Gatha’ days are as follows:

1) Ahunavad (possessing Ahunavar or the energy with which Ahura Mazda created this universe;

2) Ushtavad (possessing Divine Happiness)

3) Spentomad (possessing Piety/Devotion)

4) Vohu Khshtra (possessing good Spiritual Power)

5) Wahishtoish (possessing best Spiritual Riches)

The ‘Gathas’ are essentially the Word of God received by Prophet Zarathushtra by way of a Divine Revelation. Little wonder that Yasna 55.2 says, "The Gathas are the Lords of our souls, protectors and providers of spiritual food and clothing." Not remembering the ‘Gathas’ is a Tanapuhr sin, according to the ‘Nirangistan’.

The last ten days of the Zoroastrian calendar (which include the five ‘Gatha’ days) are also known as the ‘Fravardegan" or "Muktad" days. During these days, Parsis offer special prayers for the fravashis of their near and dear ones. The fravashi or farohar is the Divine essence, which is wholly pure and good. It is not to be confused with the ruwan or soul. The Avestan word "fravashi" comes from the word "Fra" (to take forward) and "vaksh" (to grow). In other words, Fravashi is that spiritual essence or power that takes every good creation of Ahura Mazda forward and helps it to grow. Fravashi is also a prototype, which is believed to have existed before the material creation. Even Ahura Mazda and His Divine Energies, the Amesha Spentas and the Yazatas, are said to be having their own fravashis. Plants, animals, mountains and rivers also have their own fravashi. They are guardian spirits of the souls of the dead and protect and guide the souls of the living, as well.

‘The Rivayats’ recommend six important religious duties for a Zoroastrian, two of which include "observing the Gahambers and "remembering the fravashis of the departed on the fravardegan days".

The Muktad or fravardegan days essentially center around the family and until a few decades ago was observed largely at home. Today, with urbanization, small flats and difficulty in observing ritual purity at home, the focus has shifted from the home to the fire temple.

The fravardegan days were holidays in the true sense of the word. Parsis would cut themselves away from worldly affairs and engage themselves in offering prayers, night and day. All houses would be cleaned, weeks in advance. Where possible, the walls would get a new coat of paint. Fire and incense would be kept burning, day and night, especially in that separate room where consecrated metal vases bearing clean well water and fresh flowers are kept on marble topped tables.

Flowers not only help keep the memory of a loved one green, but also create an atmosphere of peace, purity and love. With flowers, oil lamps, fire and the burning of incense, a virtual paradise is created on earth in honour of the visiting fravashis.

Parsis also observe cleanliness and purity at the highest level during these days. All staunch orthodox families abstain from cutting hair and nails as also shaving, since nails and hair are doctrinally seen as nasu (a pollutant). Traditionally, prayers should be offered in all the five Gehs (Watches) of the day and during the first five days, the "Fra Mraot" (i.e., chapter 20 of the Yasna) should be chanted or 1,200 Ashem (a short 12 words’ prayer) should be offered. During the five ‘Gatha’ days, the relevant ‘Gatha’ may be chanted or 1,200 Yatha (a short 21 words’ prayer). It is also considered meritorious to offer acts of charity in the name of the departed and offer Patet (repentance) for the soul of a near and dear loved one.

The last ‘Gatha’ day is also known as "Pateti" (the day for offering Patet - repentance for sins of omission and commission for the year, which is to come to a close). The New Year or Navu Sal or Navroze (New Day) falls on the next day (i.e., Roj Hormuz, Mah Fravardin). This is the day of celebration, ushering in the New Year with much feasting and jubilation.

About 200 years ago, the French scholar, Anquetil du Perron observed that the Parsis in Surat "give them (i.e., the fravashis of the departed) the most magnificent reception. The houses are purified and decorated. They (i.e., the Parsis) do not go out of the house. They spend the day in prayers and works of charity."

The Fravardin Yasht (13.14) states, "In that house in which clean and pure water and vegetation is placed, the holy fravashis agree to move about."

Even today, the Parsis observe the fravardegan days all over the world with religious fervour and piety. Every agiary is abuzz with activity and the soothing chants of the Avesta. A visit to the agiary on these days gives one a glimpse of Paradise on earth itself.

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