The Importance of Vendidad in the Zarathushti Religion

by Ervad Behramshah Hormusji Bharda (1990)

Udvada Mobed Behramshah Hormusji Bharda represented one of the 9 families responsible for daily maintenance and preservation of Pak Iranshah Atash Behram Saheb. Behramshah through contact with our Minocher Nusserwanji Pundol Saheb gained admittance to Koh-e-Demavand, a fact of which he apprised our Parsi community with, was also responsible for consecration of The Pundol Adaran. Behramshah gave numerous religious lectures in India and even went to far off London and Vancouver. This article which was translated from Gujarati into the English Language is one of many produced by Behramshah that we feel is still valid even today after his demise.

The Importance of Vendidad in the Zarathushti Religion ­

by Ervad Behramshah Hormusji Bharda (1990)

Recently the Jam-e-Jamshed newspaper has published a few articles/opinions both pros and cons, on the issue of Vendidad prayer. The person responsible for instigating this debate is Sohrab R. Dastur, who is a Yozdathregar Mobed from Udvada and belongs to a one of the nine families which attend to Pak Iranshah Atash Behram Saheb. Ervad S. Dastur has performed numerous Yajashne and Vendidad ceremonies in his lifetime and is a Panthaky also. Then what is the reason, at this stage in his life, that compelled him to write against the Vendidad prayer?

First let us examine the importance and central role of the Vendidad ceremony. For example, a Zarathushti youth who has successfully passed the Navar and Maratab exams qualifies to perform the Boye ceremony in an Atash Behram or Atash Aderan. All mobeds and dasturs are fully cognizant of the fact that without praying Vendidad one can not pass through or obtain the status of Maratab; this is a basic requirement in order to be considered a dastur and which is accepted even to this day. One of the biggest ceremonies in our religion is that of Nirang Din during which the entire Vendidad is recited. It is through this ceremony that the nirang of Varasyaji is elevated to an an extremely high state of divine strength and purity and thereafter known as the Nirang of Nirang Din. This Nirang remains "uncontaminated " for several years and does not show deterioration of any sort. Some members of the community, and especially the readers of Jam-e-Jamshed, may recall that several years ago a sample of Nirang after one such Nirang Din ceremony performed many years ago was submitted for bacteriological tests in a Microbiology lab in London. The test report clearly stated that there was no evidence of any bacteriological contamination; this test report made the headlines in Jam-e-Jamshed. An important fact to bear in mind is that only after the entire Vendidad prayers are recited during this ceremony is the Nirang transformed to an extremely high state of purity.

This is the power of the prayer of Vendidad, its glory, its omnipotence, a clear demonstration of the greatness of the Zarathushti religion and the power of our Avesta Manthra which can be accessed by any mobed even in these times (Kali Yug). The mobeds who perform the Nirang Din ceremony are able to generate this divine force during the Nirang Din ceremony even though they do not possess M. A. /Ph.D. degrees in Avesta/Pahlvi. Even today, 45 years later, the Nirang of Nirang Din which results after recital of the Vendidad prayer, and which has been stored in a glass container covered with a "purified" cloth, is extant today on the premises of Pak Iranshah Atash Behram in Udvada without any contamination whatsoever. Addtionally, without the Nirang of Nirang Din a mobed cannot be given the Barashnum Nahn and he is also ineligible to perform the Pav-Maehl religious ceremonies. Further, the Nirang of Nirang Din is given to every child as part of the Navjote ceremonies and if this is not done then the child does not avail of all the benefits of the Navjote ceremony. Another matter of great importance is that without the Nirang of Nirang Din one cannot consecrate our places of worship, i.e., an Atash Behram or Atash Aderan, since it serves as an essential Alaat for this purpose. In addition numerous Yajashne and Vendidad ceremonies are performed which are absolutely essential for the consecration ceremony. Hence without the Vendidad ceremony an Atash Padshah can not be consecrated/established. Similarly, as part of the purification ceremonies of our Dokhma prior to use the Vendidad ceremony is performed, in addition to various other ceremonies.

Dear Zarathushtis, pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that without the Vendidad ceremony one cannot carry out a Nirang Din ceremony, or purification of our Dokhmas, give our priests a "nahn" ; in essence there will be no Zarathushti religion or community. A few years ago an event took place which very clearly demonstrated the power of the prayer of Vendidad and which I would like to present below. In the township of Deolali (State of Maharashtra, India) there was a Panthaky by the name of Ervad Peshotan P. Antia, B.A.. The township, a military camp, was under the command of an Englishman who arrived with his family and was in search of living quarters. Eventually he found a bungalow which was however not for hire since the local residents believed that the house was haunted and frequented by evil spirits. In spite of this warning the Commander-in-Chief hired the bungalow. Every night after retiring to bed he would hear a lot of banging noises coming from the upper floors and the roof as if someone or a group of people were trashing the premises. However upon investigating this personally, with his gun at the ready, he would find that everything appeared to be undisturbed. This happened every night and ultimately ruined his sleep and that of his family members. After due consultation with the locals he sought the help of the resident Christian priest, Hindu Brahmins/Sadhus, etc but to no avail. It was then suggested that he should seek the help of a Zarathushti priest in this matter. At the Deolali Agiary he met a mobed, Jamshed N. Sidhwa, who was also a Yozdathregar Mobed from Udvada who volunteered to pray the Vendidad at this persons bungalow. He arrived early in the evening and washed one room by himself and thereafter brought a small Afarganyu for Atash, Diva, Sukhad-Loban, etc from the Agiary and ordered that no one enter the room. He was fully aware of the power of Vendidad prayers from his own experience.

After thoroughly purifying himself, he arrived at the bungalow in the evening and entered the room prepared previously and which he had cordoned­off from the rest of the bungalow by building a "pavi" with washed river sediment/sand. He started by lighting a diva and then started the Atash in the Afarganyu. This was followed by Kusti and Farazyat prayers, Atash Niyaesh and then the Vendidad prayer. At this time the mobed, and the English gentleman sitting outside the room, heard the same "noises" from the roof as before. At one point when the mobed was praying with great religious force/determination there was a tremendously loud thunderclap whereupon all the lights in the bungalow and outside were extinguished but the diva burned on brightly unaffected. The mobed continued to pray in the light of the diva until just before dawn when he finished the Vendidad prayers. This astonished the Englishman and simultaneously brought him great joy since after the last thunderclap all " noises" ceased permanently. This true story is known to quite a few people who then congratulated that mobed with great enthusiasm and who is still alive today. The above mentioned example serves to enlighten us regarding the awesome power of the Vendidad prayer. These days a fair number of Zarathushtis would like to have the Vendidad ceremony performed but unfortunately there are only a handful of mobeds who perform this ceremony; this is compounded by the fact that there is a paucity of new mobeds in the community.

Reasons for Opposition to the Vendidad Ceremony:

Let us now examine the reasons why some Zarathushtis have found it necessary to write against the Vendidad ceremony. Our elders, 15 years ago, possessed tremendous faith in our Avesta manthra and used to perform our religious ceremonies with this implicit faith. They were not interested in knowing the meaning of the Avesta manthra or the manner in which these prayers were composed. The motivation to understand the hidden meaning of Avesta increased after publication of a translation of the entire Khordeh Avesta, Vendidad etc. This is a direct result of the efforts of scholars of Avesta in the West and some Parsi scholars who tried very hard to understand the Avesta Manthra to the best of their abilities; additionally these scholars publish highly different translations albeit using the same rules of philology. For example for our smallest, yet powerful prayer of "Yatha Ahu Vairyo" there are at present approximately 50 different translations! This matter was brought to the attention of the Zarathushti community by none other than Behesti Erach Taraporewalla, B.A.., Ph.D., Bar-at-Law and once a Principal at the Cama Athornan Institute has stated in his book ­ The Gathas of Asho Zarathushtra (1947) p4 that "European scholars of philology have published numerous translations of our holy Avesta manthra; during my own studies I have read, at the very least, 50 different versions of the same prayer wherein no two given translations show extensive similarities between them. Each scholar views or attempts to understand this manthra according to his own mental capacity and intelligence".

This begs the question ­ if indeed there exist at least fifty different translations of one small prayer then which is the correct one and which are wrong? There are thousands of languages/dialects spoken in the world today. When a child is taught a language in school it is first taught the alphabet, followed by words, which the child learns to read and write and which are then arranged to form sentences, etc. Thereafter the child is able to read and write, understand and converse in that language. Now Avesta is not such a language wherein one can converse; e.g., scholars of Avesta are unable to carry out a simple conversation viz., how are you, what is your name, etc in Avesta or arrange words to this effect appropriately. Hence on what basis can they propound that they understand Avesta manthra? In this world Avesta is the only language in which one can not converse. This quite clearly undermines the false claims of the scholars to "understand" Avesta. All these translations are a result of ones own intellectual ability and capacity. Furthermore if the translations were indeed carried out by a common set of rules of philology then all the scholars would come up with only one translation and would also be able to converse in them!!

From time immemorial the Pak Sahebs of Koh-e-Demavand in Iran have been stewards of the Zarathushti community and the Zarathushti religion. In recent times a Zarathushti by the name of Behesti Behramshah Shroff had the good fortune to meet them. Then approximately 27 years ago Behesti Minocher Nusserwanji Pundol was also blessed with the good fortune to meet the Pak Sahebs and acquire religious knowledge. These Pak Sahebs have stated emphatically that "one should not translate Avesta, do not encourage people to translate Avesta, do not read Avesta translations or encourage others to read such translations; these translations of Avesta will only lead to a decrease in the faith and love of the Zarathushti religion". Hence on several occassions and especially during religious lectures Behesti Minocher Nusserwanji Pundol Saheb has stated that Avesta is not a language of conversation or discourse. This language is used by Yazads and Ameshaspands and those Ravaans that reside in Hasti. As per the tenets of the religion this Avesta Manthra is for prayer alone and should be recited with absolute faith as often as possible and without any modification. Additionally one should have jashans and other religious ceremonies performed by our priests as often as possible and as finances permit.

The reason our small Zarathushti community has co-existed and prospered amongst the millions of the general population is primarily due to the faith our forefathers had in our Avesta manthra prayers. Today a scholar of Avesta is unable to give an explanations to why during the Navjote ceremony the Zarathushti child is made to wear sudreh and a kusti consisting of 72 individual strands is wrapped around three times despite the fact that some scholars themselves wear sudreh-kusti. Dasturji Dhalla, who was an Avesta scholar, stated that Vendidad is a book of rules or laws and is employed to disrupt the sleep of mobeds during the night by waking them up at midnight and making them pray from the Vendidad; since he must have prayed the Vendidad himself how could he, in all honesty, say these things and then wear the shawl of a dastur. Our simplest prayer of Ashem Vohu is to be recited either once, three times, ten times, twelve times or a hundred times as proscribed in the prayer; can any scholar of Avesta explain why this is so? It is only after studying the translations of Avesta that a fair majority of Zarathushtis today have shown a decrease in their faith of the Zarathushti religion. or example a Yozdathregar Mobed from Udvada, Mobed Saheb Sohrab R. Dastur, after studying the translations of the Vendidad came to the conclusion that this prayer is "useless/of no value". Why did he come to this conclusion? The only valid explanation for such a change of heart is that upon reading these translations his faith was shaken to a great extent.

Another incident which took place in the United States of America also demonstrates quite clearly the fallacy of translations of Avesta. This incident involves the performance of Navjote ceremony for one Mr. Peterson which was totally rejected by the Zarathushtis in India. This Navjote ceremony was performed by none other than a mobed from an orthodox family who was trained as a priest at the Cama Athornan Madresa where he had also obtained the Maratab stage. This mobed was very keen on acquiring an in-depth knowledge of the Zarathushti religion and therefore started to read translations of our Avesta manthra. From these studies he concluded that there is no harm in performing the Navjote ceremony of a non-Zarathushti. This mobed, born in an orthodox family and being orthodox himself, still went ahead and carried out this anti-Zarathushti act which is indeed sad. This categorically proves that the responsibility for performing such an act lies squarely on these translations of Avesta. It is not surprising that scholars of Avesta who use the rules of philology, those persons holding advanced degrees of M.A. /Ph.D. in Avesta, and some of our Dasturs will feel insulted by these remarks. However this is not a personal attack on any individual and should not be viewed or interpreted as one either. The issue is whether among these several different translations are any correct and which are wrong.

Furthermore, in view of these disparate interpretations on what basis can these scholars teach the religion to us ordinary Zarathushtis. For example, one scholar trained in the West has written that "according to the teachings in the Zarathushti religion Dadar Ahuramazda is not Omnipotent". Every religion teaches that the Almighty who is addressed as God, Bhuddha, or Bhagavan as the case may be is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent and will be so forever and that HE is the Creator of everything in the Universe. This belief has been followed for thousands of years in our religion too. Hence if scholars of Avesta of recent times start expounding these falsehoods then the faith of the young Zarathushtis towards their sublime Zarathushti religion and even Pak Dadar Ahuramazda will be severely compromised or worse still, extinguished. Additionally, these scholars differ drastically on even the fundamentals of religion. The reason for this is their use and emphasis on translations of Avesta. Furthermore, a set of Avesta translations can be interpreted by different scholars of Avesta to arrive at completely different conclusions. For example:

1) Some scholars state that according to the Zarathushti religion one should not consume meat or fish whereas others state there are no such restrictions.

2) Some scholars believe that there is no reincarnation in the Zarathushti religion whereas others believe that it is so.

3) Some say that after death one should perform religious ceremonies for 4 days only and all further ceremonies are of no use.

4) Recently some scholars have come to the conclusion that the Muktad ceremony should be performed for 10 days only; others state that they must be done for 18 days.

5) Some scholars have stated that Tarikat plays a central and important role in our religion; other scholars however emphatically state that there is nothing like Tarikat in our religion.

6) Some scholars who are Dasturs (by profession) state that in our religion only Atash Behram and Atash Dadgah are recognized and that there is nothing like Atash Adaran. "Adar" means Atash and "Adaran" is plural of Atash. A European scholar has equated/compared our consecrated and all-powerful Atash Behram to a simple Cathedral Fire and our Atash Adaran Saheb as an ordinary Local Fire equipment in a Parish church; this explantion is supported by some of our highly esteemed Dasturjis too.

7) The Parsi Panchayat had sponsored a Parsi Scholar , Mr. Fariboz Nariman, who presented a paper at the 28th International Congress of Orientalists. near Canberra, Australia in 1971. The subject matter consisted of an explanation of the word "Vairy" found in the Gathas. He esentially puts words in our Paigambar Saheb Asho Zarathushtra Spitma's mouth, to the effect that Zarathushtra Saheb is cursing some person or casting a spell on someone (the words are of a very filthy nature and hence not suitable for this essay). By making such derogatory statements he insulted our beloved Vakshur-e-Vakshuran. When the Parsi Panchayat was made aware of these facts Mr Fariboz was severely reprimanded by all the trustees of the Parsi Panchayat. One trustee, Mr Erach Nadarshah stated that " There was no need for Mr Nariman to drag down the name of another scholar to support his own filthy imagination. This is shocking. We should take suitable action since this is a matter of sorrow and shame for the Panchayat in particular and for the Parsi community in general". The above incident was published in Mumbai Samachar dated Nov7, 1976 under the auspicies of the feature column ­ "Parsi tari Aarsi" wherein Mr. Nariman was severely criticised. This clearly demonstrates the total lack of respect this scholar has towards our beloved Vakshur-e-Vakshuran such that he shows no hesitation in denigrating our beloved Prophet of Prohets Asho Zarathushtra. The reason being that every scholar considers his own translation of Avesta to be correct and hence by definition all others wrong. There are numerous other examples wherein there are very significant differences in interpretation among the scholars. These issues point to a more fundamental problem ­ if the scholars themselves do not agree upon or have a consensus of opinion on a subject then what is an ordinary Zarathushti expected to conclude from these arguments?

However, umpteen thanks to Pak Dadar Ahuramazda that the large majority of the Parsi community does not bother to read these translations but does pray Avesta manthra with complete faith. These Zarathushtis are fully aware of the fact that the results obtained by Avesta manthra is beyond human understanding or comprehension and further that it is by the grace of this manthra that one gains both spiritual progress as well as peace of mind. Before we conclude this essay we wish to pose a question to all reasonable scholars and dasturs ­ ever since translations of Avesta manthra were started, simultaneously this has resulted in deep divisions and an increased misunderstanding within the Parsi community; some orthodox Dasturs turned reformists and in addition even turned against our religion by expressing serious doubts about our religion and its religious ceremonies. Then what is the value of these different translation? The academic degrees of M.A. /Ph.D. obtained by these scholars has not resulted in any increase in faith towards our religion in the Parsi community. Hence we should learn from our mistakes and return to the religious practices and precepts followed by our forefathers which, in turn, will bring an end to the present misunderstandings, etc. However if after reading the above essay some scholars or Dasturs should still consider Avesta translations more important than the religion itself then I have nothing to say.

Lastly I would like to point out that at the present time all Dasturs have reached the Maratab level by reciting the Vendidad manthravani. Then why is it that not one amongst these have bothered to write in defense of this prayer? This is indeed a most regretable state of affairs. We suggest that the readership think about these issues with a calm mind so as to enable them to arrive at the truth.

Kshnaothra Ahurahe Mazdao

Ervad Behramshah Hormusji Bharda (1990).

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