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|Bombay (India) Parsi praying before the setting sun|
Even business leaders observed this rite.
Cover Image from Nov. 20 1875 issue of the Illustrated London News
Much of the Zoroastrian scriptures are composed in verse and in the form of a manthra / mantra / mathra. Manthras are insightful thoughts; thoughts for reflection, contemplation and meditation on God's work, personal spiritual growth, introspection and commitment to the principles of the faith, as well as formulation of one's personal goals.
While it is advantageous to know the meaning or intent of the manthra being recited, even when the ancient words are poorly understood, reciting a manthra has a calming, soothing effect that allows the mind to refocus itself. Many go further and believe that the manthra if recited correctly, has the power to heal spiritually. Some may say that the manthra correctly intoned opens the portals to the spiritual realms enabling access to spiritual healing.
For orthodox Zoroastrians, individual prayer is a defining feature of their religiosity. Daily prayers and indeed prayers during all five watches of the day are seen as imparting spiritual strength and resistance against harm and ill health. From a health and healing perspective they are seen as being both preventative and curative. Praying pray five times a day and can be seen as an opportunity to take a periodic recess from the pressures of the day to develop a quite space and a calm mind - to make the recital of a manthra, a meditation.
The Manthra, Meditation & Healing
Reciting a manthra can become a form of meditation and meditation is now widely recognized, even in medical circles, as a method of maintaining a state of mind that permits the human body to marshal its healing faculties.
We should add without delay that Zoroastrian principles advocate that praying and meditating are considered to be adjuncts to living active, productive and meaningful lives - a form of recess - and are not intended to consume the lives of human beings.
Praying and mediating at a retreat helps remove distractions and provides more time for the process to be effective. It provides the practitioner the opportunity to slow down the process by focusing of every word and the person's breathing during the intonation of the ancient words. Even if a Zoroastrian periodically chooses to go into a longer retreat than the five watches of the day, it is nevertheless with the intention of refocusing and enhancing the ability to lead healthy, active, productive and meaningful lives.
A Healthy, Balanced Mind and Spirit
Whether in-between other tasks or during a retreat, praying and meditation introduce balance. They are means to an end. Both overwork on the one hand and seclusion from worldly lives on the other hand, are considered extremes or excesses - actions that introduce a lack of balance in a person's life.
|Artist's impression of Zarathushtra addressing the rising sun seeking its benediction in|
Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra.
1931 Tempera on canvas painting named Zoroaster by Russian artist Nicholas K. Roerich (Rerikh).
Svetoslav Roerich collection, Bangalore, India
Image credit: union-contre-la-secheresse.org [Artist name supplied by Bahman at blagoverie.org]
According to tradition, Zarathushtra went into retreat in a cave and emerged to begin his mission. As far as we can tell, the retreat was a one time event that allowed Zarathushtra the space for his mind and spirit to focus and determine its true nature. Eventually, the process enabled Zarathushtra to establish his goal in life.
This event was also used by Nietzsche to open his book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The book introduces the role of meditation, contemplation and introspection in achieving spiritual understanding and realization by starting his prologue with these words: "When Zarathustra was thirty years old, he left his home and the lake of his home, and went into the mountains. There he enjoyed his spirit and his solitude, and for ten years did not weary of it. But at last his heart changed...". Nietzsche also introduces the reader to the role of natural light, the sun, and fire to the process.
Source of Light
Orthodox Zoroastrians face a source of light, preferably natural, when praying. For the morning prayers they will face the rising sun (or east) and for their evening prayers they will face the setting sun (or west) while reciting their manthra. In the interim, they will, if possible, light a wood burning fire in a censer, a flame in a vegetable oil lamp or a candle. The censer or lamp can be part of a home altar.
Mountain Caves & Caverns
Coincidentally, but reminiscent of Zarathushtra's cave nevertheless, is Pir-e Sabz, a pilgrimage site in Iran, where many devotees pray seeking tandorosti - health and healing (see our page on Yazd's pilgrimage sites). The image below left is that of a devotee praying at Pir-e Sabz. Indeed, a feature of certain pirs, is their cave-like or underground cavern-like location.
Perhaps there are some metaphoric symbolisms of being in a mountain cave or underground cavern - a dark space with a source of light or with several points of light - and how reflection on those symbolisms can in themselves become a focused meditation.
As a side note, it is said (cf. Farsinet & Pars Times) that on the night of Yalda, the three-quarter year festival that marks the winter solstice - the start of the solar winter - ancient Aryans would gather in caves along the mountains of Airyana Vaeja, as 'yar-e ghar' (cave friends), to bear witness to the rising sun at daybreak of the next morning, the Havan gah - the start of the day's first watch.
Daily Prayers & Serenity
There is no prescribed space for the recitation of a manthra. Each choice of space brings with it a particular ambiance and connection. Given that praying using the manthra is for many a way of staying whole or when healing is needed, a vehicle for healing, Zoroastrians can engage in their daily prayers in several ways and in several places. Whatever the location, one of the intentions is to provide the mind the opportunity to be serene.
|Parsi Zoroastrians praying at sunrise beside the sea near the Gateway to India, Mumbai.|
Photo credit: Sue Darlow
|Prayer room divider c. 1800 from a Bombay (Mumbai) home|
The choice of space may include the home, the open, a hill-top, or in a temple. When praying at home, the practitioner may have a designated quite room or an alcove set aside for the purpose.
They may even choose to walk around the home praying as they engage in their daily chores.
Memories While Growing Up
Some of this writer's most pleasant youth memories are those of his maternal grandmother (with roots in Yazd*, Iran) covering her head with a white scarf, lighting a fire using sandalwood** in a censer, sprinkling incense over the embers, and walking through the house reciting her prayers. It was understood that one did not interrupt her nor did she speak to anyone while praying. She nevertheless did some housework during her rounds such as dusting or putting articles in their place. It was an exemplary blend of praying and meditating while engaged in labour, keeping order and maintaining cleanliness. The entire process introduced an aura of calm in everyone and in the house itself. The incense and sandalwood imparted a fragrance characteristic of Zoroastrian homes. It may even had assisted in disinfecting the house and keeping it free from insects. As one can observe, the entire process was fairly holistic and very Zoroastrian. Grandmother did not limit her praying in this manner. As with other Zoroastrians, during other times of the day she would retreat to a quite spot.
[*Also see our pages on Yazd. In Yazd, the village of Sharifabad is the home of Zoroastrian orthodoxy.
**The use of sandalwood in India has now all but stopped and other slow-burning woods have been substituted. Zoroastrians of Iran do not use the fragrant sandalwood. Rather, they may choose to sprinkle esfand (harmala) seeds on the embers of a slow burning wood such as that of the pomegranate tree. That combination has its own characteristic aroma. In both traditions, incense (frankincense) is sprinkled on the fire.]
The Healing Manthra & Nirang
There are two ways to view the healing power of manthras: first that a daily recitation of the prescribed prayers provides the necessary spiritual strength and protection and, second, there are those who believe that specific prayers or manthras are particularly efficacious. In the latter category there are manthras that promote the well-being of others and the community at large, and there are manthras that promote personal healing. There is a further group of prescribed manthras that are called nirangs. As is the want of different people, some Zoroastrians will establish their own formulae while other Zoroastrians will relegate this practice to superstition.
The two most common prayers that are recited on every occasion and for every purpose including healing are the Yatha Ahu Vairyo and Ashem Vohu prayers. The Yatha Ahu Vairyo prayer is for Zoroastrians what the Lord's prayer is for Christians. We will note these prayers below.
According to Ardeshir Fahrmand, who maintains the site Ancient Iranian Studies : Zoroastrianism, Avestan, Shâhnâmeh..., the traditional manthra for healing and well-being is Yasna 68.11. Is lesser known manthra is Yasna 31.21. He further states that according the book of Vendidad in the Zoroastrian scriptures, Yasna 54.1, the Airyaman Ishyo, is also recited for healing.
Amongst the prayers or manthras that promote the wellness of others and the community is the Doa Tandorosti in the Pazand (Middle Persian) and Avestan (Ancient Iranian) languages (Tan means body and doroost means correct or healthy in this case). The Avestan Tandorosti is Yasna 60.2-7. This prayer is often prayed together with Airyaman Ishyo, Yasna 54.1.
The English translations of the prayers transcribed below have been omitted as most are inadequate and do not capture the spirit of the verses. Further, the efficacy of the mathra lies in reciting them in the original language. Below, we have included links to audio and video examples of how the Avestan words and verses sound. It is not necessary to sing the manthra.
Audio files of the Gathas recited by Dr. Kersey Antia
The prayers / manthras for healing are as follows :
Yatha Ahu Variyo - Yasna 27.13
Yatha ahu vairyo
Atha ratush ashat chit hacha
Vangheush dazda manangho
Shyaothananam angheush Mazdai
Khshathremcha Ahurai a
Yim drigubyo dadat vastarem.
Ashem Vohu - Yasna 27.14 (It is common practice to insert one or more Ashem Vohus after each prayer)
Ahmai Raeshca - Yasna 68.11 (the principal healing prayer. Note reference to 'ahmai tanvo' meaning 'to her/his body' and 'drvatatem' means soundness and health.)
Ahmai raeshca kharenasca
Ahmai tanvo drvatatem
Ahmai tanvo vazdvare
Ahmai tanvo verethrem
Ahmai ishtim pourush-khathram
Ahmai asnamcit frazantim
Ahmai darekham darekho-jitim
Ahmai vahishtem ahum ashaonam
Ashem Vohu (see above x 1)
Gatha Ahunavaiti - Yasna 31.21
Mazda dadat ahuro
Boroish a ashah'yacha
Khapaithyat khshathrahya saro
Vangheush vazdvare manangho
Ye hoi mainyo shyaothanaishcha urvatho.
Ashem Vohu (see above x 1)
Airyaman Ishyo - Yasna 54.1
A airyema ishyo rafedhrai janto
Nerebyascha nairibyascha zarathushtrahe Vangheush rafedhrai manangho
Ya daena vairim hanat mizhdem
Ashahya yasa ashim
Yam ishyam ahuro masata mazda.
Ashem Vohu (see above x 1)
[Note: The Yasna verse devoted to Airyaman, health and healing, immediately follows the last Gatha verse (the Gathas were composed by Zarathushtra himself). The concept behind Airyaman later became a yazata - an angel with guardianship of the qualities and principles behind the concept. The Airyaman Ishyo is often recited with the Doa Tandorosti, a prayer for good health and a sound body. In the Middle Persian text, the Denkard 8.37.13 the Amesha Spenta Asha is paired with Airyaman, Asha being associated with spiritual health while Airyaman is associated with corporeal health and haoma. In Denkard (3.157), it is under the guardianship of Airyaman that a physician can provide healing using the medicinal plants that are part of the haoma family. Airyaman and its Vedic equivalent are translated as 'brotherhood' - a gender-biased western term. The word 'airya', which may or may not have been used as a common noun in the Yasna, is the word from which the proper noun 'Aryan' is derived.
Doa Tandorosti (Pazand preface)
Ba nam-e Yazad-e bakhshayandeh bakhshayashgar meherban.
Yatha Ahu Variyo (see above) x 2
Tan-darosti der-zivashni awayad khoreh anghad ashahidar
Yazdan-e minoyan Yazdan-e gethyan haft amshaspandan myazd roshan hame be-rasad.
In doayan bad, in khoahayan bad, hame andar kasan ra Zartoshti din shad bad, aidun bad.
Yabari Khoda! Khodavand-e alam ra, hama anjaman ra
(If the prayer is being said for someone else, insert name of person(s) for whom the prayer is being said each with the title behdin) ra
Ba farzandan hazar sal der bedar u* shad be-dar u tan-darost be-dar u aidun be-dar
Bar sar-e arzanyan salha-ye bisyar u karanha-ye bishumar baki u payande dar sad hazaran hazar afrin bad sal khojasta bad.
Roz farrokh bad, mah mubarak bad.
Chandin sal, chandin roz, chandin mah
Besyar sal arzanidar yazashne u nyaishne u radi u zor barashne ashahidar
Aware hama kar u kerfeha tan-darosti bad neki bad khub bad.
Pa yazdan u ameshaspandan kame bad.
*u=o=va meaning 'and'
Ashem Vohu (see above x 2)
Doa Tandorosti - Yasna 60.1-7
1. At kho vangheush vahyo na aibi-jamyat ye na erezosh savangho patho sishoit ahya angheush astvato mananghascha haithyeng astish yeng a-shaeti ahuro aredro thwavas huzentushe spento mazda.
2. Ta ahmi namane jamyaresh ya ashaonam khshnotascha ashayascha vyadaibishcha paiti-zantayascha, us-no ainghai vise jamyat ashemcha khshathremcha savascha kharenascha khathremcha darekho-fratemathwemcha aingha daenaya yat ahuroish zarathushtroish.
3. Asista-no ainghat hacha visat gaush buyat asistem ashem asistem narsh ashaono aojo asisto ahoirish tkaesho.
4. Jamyan ithra ashaunam vanguhish sora spenta fravashayo ashoish baeshaza hacimna zem-frathangha danu-drajangha khare-barezangha ishtee vanghangham paitishtatee ataranam frasha-vakhshyai rayamcha kharenanghamcha.
5. Vainit ahmi namane sraosho asrushtim akhshtish anakhshtim raitish araitim armaitish taromaitim arshukhdho vakhsh mithaokhtem vacim asha-drujem.
6. Yatha ahmya amesha spenta sraoshadha ashyadha paitishan vanghosh yasnascha vahmascha voho yasnemcha vahmemcha huberetimcha ushtaberetimcha vantaberetimcha a-darekhat kha-bairyat.
7. Ma yave imat namanem khathravat khareno frazahit ma khathravaiti ishtish ma khathravaiti asna frazaintish khathro-disyehe paiti ashoishcha vanghuya darekhem hakhma.
Hazangrem - Yasna 68.15 (last line repeated thrice)
hazangrem baeshazanam baevare baeshazanam!
hazangrem baeshazanam baevare baeshazanam!
hazangrem baeshazanam baevare baeshazanam!
Always being aware -
There is an aspect to a person's quest for wellness and healing that bears mention here and which stem from Gatha Yasna 43.1:
Ushta ahmai yahmai ushta kahmaichit.
Free rendering: Happiness comes to them who bring happiness to others.
The concept can be extended to say:
Wellness and health comes to then who bring wellness and health to others.
A morning prayer adapted by this author from a free rendering of Yasna 52.1-3. "I" can be replaced with "we" then praying with a group:
I pray for the entire creation,
And for the generation which is now alive
And for that which is just coming into life
And for that which shall come thereafter.
I pray for that sanctity which leads to well-being
Which has long afforded shelter
Which goes on hand in hand with it
Which joins it in its walk
And of itself becoming its close companion as it delivers forth its bidding,
Bearing every form of healing virtue which comes to us.
And so may we be blessed with the greatest, and the best,
And most beautiful benefits of sanctity;
Aidun bad - so may it be.
Yasna 52.1-3 in transliterated Avestan:
Vanghu-cha vanghas-cha afrinami vispaya ashaono stoish haithyai-cha bavaithyai-cha bûshyaithyai-cha ashim rasaintim darekho-varethmanem mishacim hvo-aiwishacim mishacim afrasanghaitim.
Barentim vispa baeshaza apam-cha gavam-cha urvaranam-cha taurvayeintim vispa tbaesha daevanam mashyanam-cha areshyantam ahmai-cha nmanai ahmai-cha nmanahe nmano-patee.
Vanguhish-cha adha vanguhish-cha ashayo hupaurva vahehish apara rasaintish darekho-varethmano ıatha-no mazishtas-cha vahishtas-cha sraeshtas-cha ashayo erenavante.
Articles of Faith
For the orthodox, the efficacy of reciting the manthra is not complete without accompanying articles of faith.
Sudreh & Kusti
Those who have undergone a formal initiation into the faith will recite a manthra wearing a sudreh and kushti, the white cambric vest and cord wrapped around the waist respectively. The orthodox wear the sudreh and kusti at all times except when bathing for they believe that the very wearing of these articles cloaks the believer with a spiritual armour.
Zoroastrians cover their heads while praying. In olden times, as with the sudreh and kusti, the head was covered at all times except when bathing and sleeping. While there are several styles of prayer (scull) caps, there is no prescribed type of head covering. Even a kerchief or scarf will suffice.
|A sace (or sas)|
Some Zoroastrians will create a special prayer place in their homes. This may include an altar containing a sace (ses) and its various items. The altar in this writer's family home was a simple table covered with a white table cloth. Beside the sace stood the fire censer and at the back of the arrangement was a mirror. The mirror was to remind the person to wear a pleasant countenance on one's face.
If the home does not contain a room that can be set aside for the purpose, some householders will construct a special partition in order to segregate a part of a larger room, thereby providing a relatively quite alcove - a retreat within the home that all respect as a space where the occupants are not interrupted.
Book of Prayers
Some Zoroastrians memorize prayers that they use most frequently and recite the manthras from memory. Others prefer to read from a prayer book especially when they observe the five watches of the day, and recite the designated manthras for each watch. In the images above, we see Zoroastrians praying while reading from a prayer book. Often the prayer book will be pocket sized.
Suggested prior reading: