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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee

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Contents

After Life &

Funeral Customs

Page1

Body & Spirit

Preparing for One's Demise

Imagery

Assault of Evil Spirits

Spiritual Guide / Daena

Chinvat Peretum - Bridge of the Requiter

Meeting One's Daena at the Chinvat Bridge

Eschatology / Frasho-kereti

Page2

Traditional Ceremonies / Geh Sarnu

Preparatory Arrangements

Death Ceremonies

Removal to the Mortuary

Spiritual Unity - the Payvand Connection

The Fire

Ritual Bath / Sachkar

Wrapping the Kusti

Whispering Prayers in the Deceased's Ears. Final Respects

Demeanour of the Bereaved

Handing Over to the Nasa-Salars or Pall Bearers

Nasa-Salars Mark the Protected Space or Kasha

Prayers for the Departed

Confirmation of Death / Sagdid

Placing the Body on the Bier / Gehan

Funeral Procession in Payvand Connection

Final Sagdid

Placing the Body in the Tower

Beholding by the Sun / Khursheed Nigerishn

Disposal of the Deceased's Clothes & Shroud

Farewell Prayers

Prayers for the first Four Days

Page3

Mortuary

Private Homes

Neighbourhood Mortuaries / Nasa-Khana or Margzad

Bungli

Methods of Laying the Dead to Rest

Towers of Silence / Dakhma

Other Methods

Modern Practices

Stone / Concrete Protected Graves

Ancient Practices

Ossuary / Ossuaries

Stone Tombs

Funerary Couches

Memorial Prayers

Ossuary Use by Ancient Zoroastrians

Page 1. Body & Spirit. Preparing for One's Demise. Imagery


» Page 2: Traditional Ceremonies / Geh Sarnu

» Page 3: Mortuary. Methods of Laying the Dead to Rest. Memorial Prayers

» Additional reading: Ossuary use by Ancient Zoroastrians


» Suggested pre-reading: The Soul, Urvan - Fate of the Soul & Spiritual components - Zoroastrianism Overview


Body & Spirit

Human beings are constituted from both the material (physical) or gaetha and spiritual or mainyu existences. The body is gaetha and the various spiritual components are mainyu.

When a person dies, it is the body that dies and the spiritual components continue to exist in the spiritual existence.

The fate of the three primary spiritual components, the soul, fravashi and spirit, depend on the kind of life a person has led from the age of reason, fifteen years of age (see navjote). This includes the person's store of thoughts, words and deeds, how well the person has kept her or his word, the person's conscience and sense of justice.

Zoroastrians take comfort in the faith that if they have led a life as true Zoroastrians, that is, if they have led a life of honest work, goodness, and helpfulness to others, they can approach death with no fear. The Zoroastrians of Yazd, Iran, hold that since they know the fate of the soul and spirit after death, there is no mourning when a loved one dies - only celebration. Their memorial stones state the date of a person's passing from this existence to the next, as the date of that person's second birth.

When all is said and done, the soul receives in the afterlife what it has given out in this life. In other words, the soul creates its heaven or hell, both of which are a state of spiritual existence and not places.

Regardless of its fate, a soul does not perish after death. A soul will continue to exist as long as creation and time exists (also see Zoroastrian concepts of time). The state in which the soul resides also continues until the end of time. At the end of time all souls will return to God after a cleansing.

Souls of the ashavan - individuals who have led their lives according to the precepts of asha (goodness in short) - unite with the fravashi and spirit to form a united fravashi. A united fravashi has the ability to become a guardian angel.

Zoroastrianism suggests the goal of one's life is to achieve ushta - abiding peace and happiness - humanity at peace with itself and an individual at peace with oneself.


Preparing for One's Demise

The focus of an individual and family members when preparing for a person's demise is three fold. First, to be serene and at peace with oneself - armaiti. The second, is to conclude preparations for the soul's afterlife. The third, is one's legacy - a passing of the spiritual flame, and where possible, a tangible legacy of service to the community.

These steps contribute to a person accepting the inevitability of mortality and a realization that while mortal life is short, spiritual life will exist till the end of time.


Imagery

Zoroastrians have developed imagery to accompany, represent symbolically and explain the philosophical underpinnings of the concepts dealing with life after death.


Assault of Evil Spirits

Shortly after a person passes away, evil spirits, the nasu, try and assail both soul and body. Special cleaning rituals and prayers are required to be performed expeditiously in order to keep these evil spirits at bay. The nasu are primarily the agents of diseases that can cause great harm to the living. The nasu cause nasa: death, pollution, putrefaction, contamination, and decay, and will multiply greatly in a dead body and use the corpse as a means to harm the living - unless appropriate measures are taken upon a person's passing away, a primary purpose of the rituals and stipulations. A contaminated object is also called nasa.


Spiritual Guide / Daena

The soul remains in the vicinity of the body for three days and nights after the person has passed away.

At the dawn of the fourth day, the soul is guided to the bridge of judgment and separation, chinvat peretum (later called chinvat pol) by the person's discerning beliefs (daena) - beliefs that have formed the underpinnings of the person's thoughts, words and deeds. If the beliefs were those that led to good thoughts, words and deeds, daena becomes a beautiful guide. If the beliefs had led to evil thoughts, words and deeds, daena becomes as ugly as the person's beliefs - an ugly harbinger of the fate the soul will soon face (cf. Yasht 22).


Chinvat Peretum - Bridge of the Requiter, Judgment & Separation

Sogdian-Zoroastrian Funerary Couch from China at Miho Museum, Japan
Detail from Sogdian-Zoroastrian Funerary Couch from China at Miho Museum, Japan.
The images purport to show a soul crossing the chinvat bridge, a priest and fire,
and the sagdid dog (further details)
Sogdian-Zoroastrian Funerary Couch from China at Miho Museum, Japan
Complete panel
showing the chinvat bridge

While on this earth, the soul had the freedom and opportunity to chose the nature of its spirit and a person's every thought, word and deed. In other words, it had control over its destiny in the after-life through its body's ability to think, speak and act. When separated from the body after death, the soul no longer has the opportunity to influence its destiny. That fate will be decided when it reaches the bridge of the requiter - the chinvat bridge. To use an old metaphor, when in the world of the living, the soul makes its bed upon which it will sleep in the afterlife.

One interesting interpretation of the etymology of 'chinvat' (Avestan), chinvar (Pahlavi), is that the name is derived from a combination of the Avestan chinaeta or Pahlavi chitan, meaning to arrange or lay as in bricklaying and the verbal root vid meaning knowledge or recognition. The conclusion is that the chinvat bridge is constructed over a lifetime of attaining wisdom and goodness.

When the soul arrives at the bridge, it will find present at the bridge three angels: Mithra, Saroosh and Rashnu (or Rashn / Rashne). These angels are the guardians of a person's core values - the person's moral and ethical constitution. Mithra represents the qualities of showing kindness to others and keeping one's word (Mithraic qualities). Saroosh (also spelt Saroosh) is the guardian of a person's conscience. Rashnu is the guardian of justice and a person's sense of justice. Rashnu is characterized as razishta (most just and upright) and stands with gold scales of justice - scales which cannot be tarnished.

The person's core values and every thought, word and deed will be known to these angels who will reflect them back to the soul for it to behold and either take comfort in the good the person has done or despair in the hurt and harm the person has caused - a final realization from which there is no escape.

The manner in which Rashnu's scales will tip will determine the width of the Chinvat bridge - a width that is determined by the soul's beliefs, values, thoughts, words and deeds accumulated over its past life from the age of reason.

 - If the person has been an ashavan, a person whose life was based on the precepts of asha or goodness, the bridge will be wide and accompanied by its daena (see* below), the crossing to the abode of light and song, garo-demana (house of song/praise/merit), or heaven, will be effortless.

 - Sins such as murder are beyond redemption and the bridge will be razor sharp causing the soul to fall into an abyss of darkness, evil and deceit, drujo-demana (house of lies/abode of liars), or hell, doomed to wait an eternity of despair before the resurrection, a final cleansing, and a return to God.

 - In between these two ends, the width of the bridge will be determined by the balance of the soul's goodness over badness as determined by Rashnu's scales of justice.

* In the Hadhokht Nask (Yasht 22), Dinkard (Vol. 2, 83) and Menog-i Kharad (2.125-139 7 2.167-181), a person's daena is portrayed as a maiden who appears beautiful to an ashavan and hideous to a sinner. J. H. Moulton's Early Religious Poetry (Cambridge, 1911) pp. 159-61, also has a version of the relevant Hadhokht Nask passage.


Meeting One's Daena at the Chinvat Bridge

[The following lines composed by this author were inspired by the texts noted above.]

I am my soul.
Three glorious dawns have risen and gone by
Since the last breath did from my body fly.
With the waking loveliness of the fourth day
A southern breeze whispered as it came my way.

Laden with fragrance as from a divine bouquet
With the sweetest of flowers in its spray.
Floating on those enamoured winds there came
A maiden more exquisite as I have ever seen.

Her face was radiant, her form divine
She stood before me casting a loving smile.
Amazed, my voice a question formed
"Pray, tell me who you are - an angel from heaven's door?"

In a silken voice her answer came
"I am your daena and with your beliefs I am made.
With your every thought well thought and words well spoken
With every deed well done, my form was thus woven.

"Yes, it is you who made my form
As a sculptor shapes his clay.

"Then glorified by conquest over base desire
By every prayer before the holy fire
By every kindness to those in need
You gave me the beauty that you see.

"Now I shall be your companion and your guide
Across the bridge that spans the great divide.

"If you had spent your life causing others great harm
With scant regard for those needing a helping arm
You would have made me hideous and most vile
No maiden, but a creature full of guile.

"The bridge to you would then be razor thin
Revealing a deep chasm filled with horrors within.
No help would I have proffered for the crossing
Save to nudge you to your destiny, your falling.

"Swarmed by demons you had so failingly honoured
Racked by the pain you had for others caused;
No respite from these would you ever find
Until, that is, the very end of time.

"Now, fear not but rejoice in a life well spent
Each misdeed you did accordingly repent.
I shall be beside you as we cross the divide
And deliver you in safety to the other side.

"There waits for you the sage whose noble creed
Has guided your every thought, word and deed."
- by K. E. Eduljee

(Click here for a patet prayer.)


Eschatology / Frasho-kereti

Zoroastrianism is credited by authors of comparative religion as the religion that developed the original concept of eschatology or the doctrine of the end of the world and time, a doctrine that includes a final judgment and the resurrection of the souls of the righteous.

These Zoroastrian beliefs and ideas were known to the west early in history. Greek biographer Diogenes Laertius (c. 230 CE) quotes earlier Greek writers Theopompus (380 - BCE) and Eudemus (370 - 300 BCE) as being familiar with the Zoroastrian eschatology of the magi.

Zoroastrian eschatology developed from concepts included as a part of Zoroastrian theology to an elaborate apocalyptic mythology found in middle Persian books. The name of this future event also evolved from frasho-kereti (also written as frashokereti or frasho kereti) to frashkart and frashegird (or frashigird).

In the final analysis, frasho-kereti is seen as the transformation to an ultimate and ideal future existence both in the material and spiritual existences - the realization of the goal of creation. Goodness will reign supreme over evil. Frasho-kereti is also a time when all human beings will have realized their khvarenah - their full potential in grace. For the living, the culmination of their efforts and the efforts of preceding generations will result in the best possible existence on earth.

For the souls of the dead, the imagery of this final event is that all souls will pass through a river of molten metal to be cleansed. For the souls of the righteous, this passage will feel like wading through milk. The souls of the wicked will experience a final torment. The cleansed souls will return to God.

In one interpretation, the souls of the righteous will be resurrected to live in a paradise on earth until the end of measureable time, when all souls will return to God.

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