Parsi Times brings you the continuation of yet another interesting series titled, ‘Popular Parsi Myths’, written by our Community luminary, Zoroastrian scholar and visionary, and a writer par excellence – Noshir H. Dadrawala. The object of this series is to shed the light of truth on myths and fables and sift the facts from fiction. Read on…
Myth # 1: Should we stand or remain seated during the Boi ceremony? Some say that during the Boi ceremony, evil is driven away and if one stands up at the toll of the bell, it tantamounts to paying respect to the forces of evil!
Fact: The Boi ceremony is performed by ordained Zoroastrian priests in each of the five Geh or watch of a day of twenty four hours. The Persian term for the ceremony is Bui daadan which means to ritually offer ‘fragrance’. Whether a devotee should sit or stand during this ceremony is not stated in any known Zoroastrian text. However, as part of ritual tradition, priests always stand up while offering the Atash Niyaish, which is a litany to the fire.
During the Boi ceremony the priest rings the bell while reciting the words, “Dushmata, Duzhukhta, Duzhvarshta”, which means “bad thoughts, bad words and bad deeds”, leading some super-imaginative minds to conclude that if one stands up at that moment, it implies paying respect to evil. A fire temple is a consecrated place of worship and the object of reverence is the Holy Fire. Where is the question of any evil force being present at such a sacred, purified and consecrated place of worship?
With the ringing of the bell, the priest symbolically and ritually drives away the forces of evil (all bad thoughts, bad words and bad deeds) and if one decides to stand up, it does not mean the devotee is offering respect to evil. The act of standing up is an act of respect to the Holy Fire through which the forces of evil are being driven out of this world.
Myth # 2: Are Zoroastrians Fire-Worshippers?
Fact: From a Zoroastrian perspective, fire is both a giver of light and giver of life. Neither darkness nor evil has an existence of its own. Just as darkness is merely the absence of light, so is evil the absence of good. Thus, while fire dispels darkness, evil is dispelled each time we choose to think, speak and perform a good deed.
According to legend, fire was discovered during prehistoric times by Shah Hooshang. While elaborating this episode Firdausi Toosi states in the Shah-nameh (the Book of Kings), “Ma gui ke ātash parastā budand, Parastande-e pāk yazdān budand”, which translated means, “Do not call them Fire-Worshippers – they are worshippers of God through Fire.” Indeed, therefore, when a Zarathushti reveres or prays before fire, he/she in essence, offers worship to Ahura Mazda through Fire.
Myth # 3: Is the winged human-head really a Zoroastrian symbol and does it represent the Ahsho Farohar or Fravashi or the Holy Spirit? Is it a depiction of Ahura Mazda?
Fact: One finds the oldest depiction of the so called Asho Farohar at Mount Behistun (near modern Kermanshah in Iran) with rectangular shaped wings. A fancier version with curved wings can be found at Persepolis. These original etchings at Behistun and Persepolis are over two thousand five hundred years old. However, The Assyrians used this symbol much before the Persians and Egyptians had used the symbol of the ‘winged sun’, even five thousand years ago. In all likelihood, the Achaemenian Kings Darius and Xerxes borrowed this symbol either from the Egyptians or the Assyrians, for indeed both theses nations were among the twenty-eight nations of that time that Darius and Xerxes ruled over.
Also, interestingly this symbol was only used during the Achaemenid period. Neither the Parthians nor the Sassanians who followed and ruled longer than the Achaemenians, ever use this symbol. During Sasanian times Zoroastrianism was the State Religion of Iran. But this symbol was never used on any coin, flag or etching of that period. This symbol was unknown even to the early Parsi settlers in India.
It was only around the year 1925, when noted scholar, Jamshed Unwala wrote an article linking this image with the Farohar or the guardian spirit, that it caught the attention of the community. In the year 1928, an equally learned scholar, Irach Taraporewala published an article demolishing the theory that this figure represented Ahura Mazda or the guardian spirit (Fravashi).
Also, one finds male heads on the so called Fravashi whereas in the Avesta, Fravashi is depicted as female. Thus, it is uncertain what this symbol represents. What is certain is this symbol in not originally Persian.
It is of course a very creative and inspiring motif, so do wear it or flaunt it. But, remember that it is not originally Persian and nor have Zoroastrian dynasties following the Achaemenians ever used this symbol. Both Ahura Mazda and the Fravashi (Guardian Spirit) should be visualized in abstract.