In the Zoroastrian calendar, the second day of every month as well as the eleventh month of every year is dedicated to Bahman Amshaspand. Bahman is the Persian form of the Pahlavi word Wahman and the original Avestan – Vohu Manah, a term which most scholars translate as the ‘Good Mind’, though there are more esoteric interpretations as well.
In the pantheon of Zoroastrian Divinities, Bahman Amshaspand ranks next to Ahura Mazda Himself! Bahman is an Amshaspand or Amesha Spenta (translated as Bountiful Immortal or Arch Angel) who is the guardian of Ahura Mazda’s Good Creation of Animals – particularly Goshpands like cow, goat, sheep, etc. It is for this reason that devout Parsis abstain from eating meat throughout the entire month of Bahman. Even those who do not observe fasting from meat for the whole month try to avoid eating meat on Bahman Roj of Bahman Mah and the days dedicated to Bahman’s Hamkara (co-workers) – Mohor, Gosh and Ram.
Since at a moral and ethical level, Bahman represents the Good Mind, abstaining from eating meat on every Bahman Roj, as also Roj Mohor, Gosh and Ram, is considered not just as an act of pleasing the Guardian Divinities of all Goshpands, but, also an act of spiritual merit to acquire spiritual wisdom through internal cleansing and exercising non-violence towards a Good Creation of Ahura Mazda.
Strictly speaking, throughout the month of Bahman, a Zoroastrian is expected to live on a simple diet of ann, fal and shak (grain, fruit and vegetable). But Parsis, being Parsis, cannot live on what they call ghaas phoos, and therefore most consider eating eggs as quite acceptable and some go even further to believe that eating fish or even fowl, would be perfectly legitimate. “Aquatic creatures with fins and two legged fowls are not Goshpand”, it is argued! To each their own! I believe that there is no point observing the month of the Good Mind unless it is observed with faith, humility and understanding.
In the Gatha, Prophet Zarathushtra asserts that the path leading to Ahura Mazda is through Vohu Manah. In other words, propitiating Bahman Amshaspand takes one closer to God. Interpreted at a moral and ethical level, exercising the right moral choice with the help of the good mind can only take one closer to Ahura Mazda, who in Zoroastrian theology is seen as the very Lord or Master of Wisdom.
In certain later texts, the Sudreh that every Zoroastrian wears is referred to as Vohu Manah Vastra or the garment of Bahman; just the way the Kushti that is tied around the waist is referred to as the girdle of Sarosh Yazata. It is believed that wearing the Sudreh which is the garment of Bahman Amshaspand gives the wearer wisdom, while tying the kushti over it gives the wearer Sarosh Yazata’s Divine protection. According to historians, the Achaemenian emperor Artaxerxes II had Vohu Manah as the second part of his throne or court name, which when translated into Greek, appeared as ‘Mnemon’.
I have memories of observing Bahman Mah as a child and one of the most vivid is eating just plain khichdi (rice cooked with daal and turmeric) with spicy-tangy Bafenu (a ripe Mango Pickle) or Doru (a tangy-runny concoction made with tamarind).
In the Zoroastrian calendar of 365 days there is not a single day for total fasting from food. The only fast that is traditionally observed is the fast from eating meat throughout the month of Bahman. No special prayers or ceremonies are performed during this month. One is only expected to turn to a simple vegetarian diet as an act of spiritual discipline.
There is no Yasht or Niyaish dedicated to Bahman. There probably was an Avestan Vohu Manah or Bahman Yasht but which is now lost to us with the vicissitudes of time. What we have is a Pahlavi commentary called Zand-e-Vohu Manah Yasna. However, unlike Avesta and Pazand, Pahlavi is not Manthravani or the traditional language of prayer. However, many do pray it. Once again, to each their own article of faith!
Historically, Parsis Zoroastrians have never been a vegetarian community. In fact, one of the strongest arguments supporting the non-vegetarian theory is the observance of Bahman Mah. “If Parsis are mandated by religious tradition to be vegetarian all year round, why all the fuss over this month?” is a common refrain! However, the fact is: ‘we are what we eat’ and a vegetarian diet is considered good for spiritual development. Spiritually advanced Zoroastrians like Dasturji Jamshed Kukadaru were all staunch vegetarians. In the Gatha, Asho Zarathushtra urges us to acquire happiness through wisdom, which in turn can be acquired by reflective thinking and exercising moral choices within an ethical framework. Much later, the Chinese philosopher, Confucius echoed the same thought: “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest”.
May Bahman Amshaspand bless our community with Wisdom!