Roj Astad to Aneran of Asfandarmad Mah and the five independent days of the Gatha are observed as the days for propitiating the Fravashis of the righteous dead. The five Gatha days are also the Gahambar days. The Gahambars are six seasonal feasts celebrated with prayers, ritual offerings and community feasts to firstly offer thanks to Ahura Mazda for his bounties; secondly, to celebrate the change of seasons, the regularity of which ensures the delicate ecological balance, and thirdly, to celebrate the good creations of Ahura Mazda. Gahambars are also a time for storing (Pahlavi: Gasanbar) ‘good deeds’ and ‘good blessings’.
The five Gatha days are as follows:
1) Ahunavad (possessing Ahunavar – Ahura Mazda’s creative power)
2) Ushtavad (possessing Divine Happiness)
3) Spentomad (possessing Piety / Devotion)
4) Vohu Khshtra (possessing Good Spiritual Power)
5) Wahishtoish (possessing Best Spiritual Riches)
The Gatha are essentially the Word of God received by Prophet Zarathushtra by way of a Divine Revelation. Yasna 55.2 affirms – “The Gatha are the Lords of our souls, protectors and providers of spiritual food and clothing.” Not remembering the Gatha is a Tanapuhr sin, according to the ‘Nirangistan’. The Rivayat recommends six important religious duties for a Zoroastrian, two of which include observing the Gahambar and remembering the fravashis of the departed on the Fravardegan days. Earlier, the fravardegan days were holidays in the true sense of the word. Parsis would keep away from worldly affairs and engage 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.