The Muktaad or Fravardegan days are the last ten days of the Zoroastrian calendar and are of great significance in every devout Zoroastrian’s life. This year, the Muktaad will begin from 6th August and end with Pateti (the day for Patet or repentance) on 15th August and the Shehenshahi. New Year is on 16th August, 2020, the first day (Roj Hormuzd) of the first month (Mah Fravardin) of the Shehanshai calendar, corresponding to the year 1390 Yezdazirdi (YZ).
Due to the pandemic, all places of worship are closed and only the priests are permitted to enter places of worship and carry out ceremonies. Hence, as a policy, most fire temples have decided that whilst all the usual ceremonies connected with the Muktaad will be performed, regrettably, devotees will not be allowed entry into the Agiary or Atash Bahram for attending the ceremonies like Baaj, Afringan, Farokshi, Stum and Jashan. This decision is taken with the intent of complying with government directives as also with a view to minimize the possibility of devotees, priests and helpers contracting this highly infectious disease.
We fully understand, sympathize and empathize with the feelings of families who may have lost a near and dear one only recently. However, the good news is, all ceremonies can and will be performed, as have been done over the years at virtually every Agiary or Atash Bahram. The only difference being, the devotees will not be present. One must put their faith in their family priests.
‘Muktaad From Home’: A number of devotees have inquired if and how they could do something parallel from home. So, can one observe Muktaad from home? Our response is in the affirmative! Historically, the community always observed Muktaad at home. With urbanization, small apartments and difficulty in observing ritual purity at home, the focus shifted from the home to the fire temples. Perhaps this pandemic is an opportunity for many of us to go back to observing the Muktaad the way our ancestors did – at home and with family, albeit with ceremonies conducted by the priests at the fire temples.
Fravardegan Days Commemorate Fravahar Not Urvan: A concern many Parsis have shared is about progress of the soul. Here again, it is important to note that Muktaad days honor the Fravashi, and not the Urvan or the souls! The fravashi or farohar is the Divine essence, which is wholly pure and good. It is not to be confused with the urvan or soul. The Avestan word fravashi comes from the word Fra (to take forward) and vaksh (to grow). In other words, Fravashi is that spiritual essence or power that takes every good creation of Ahura Mazda forward and helps it to grow.
Fravashi is also a prototype, which is believed to have existed before all material creation. Even Ahura Mazda, the Amesha Spenta and the Yazata, are said to be having their own fravashi. Plants, animals, mountains and rivers also have their own fravashi. They are guardian spirits of the souls of the dead and protect and guide the souls of the living, as well.
Be Thoughtful: During the fraverdegan days, we offer special prayers for the fravashis of their near and dear ones. The Rivayats recommend 6 important religious duties for a Zoroastrian, two of which include ‘observing the Gahambar and remembering the fravashis of the departed on the Fravardegan days’. Two other duties include ‘Raasti (truthfulness/righteousness) and Raadhi (charity)’. And, charity here is not just about giving food, shelter, clothing or money. What is of prime importance is being charitable in thought, or what we commonly refer to as being thoughtful – thoughtful to the feelings of others, thoughtful about the well-being of others and generally being charitable in thought, word or deeds. Fight even your enemies with righteous conduct is what Zoroastrianism preaches. Do not harm others with negative thoughts or harsh words and let your deeds not cause any harm to yourself or to others.
Observing The Muktaad: The Fravardegan days were holidays in the true sense of the word. Parsis would cut themselves away from worldly affairs and engage themselves in offering prayers, night and day. All homes would be cleaned and renovated, weeks in advance. 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. This can be observed even today. One may have entrusted ceremonial work to the family priest at the fire temple. But a parallel atmosphere can also be created at home with flowers, oil lamps, incense and offering of fruits. 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. Surely if one creates the right atmosphere at home, the visiting fravashis will pay your home a visit and bless you.
Purity: 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.” Zoroastrians 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 (pollutant). This is all very good, but remember to also abstain from cutting off people be it in thought, word or deed. See it as a time to forgive yourself and forgive those who may have been unkind to you.
Create A Virtual Paradise At Home: Even during this pandemic, we can observe the Fravardegan days with religious fervour and piety. Let your home be filled with the soothing chants of the Avesta prayed my members of your family. Make your home wear the look of paradise on earth and this year, try to make this world a living paradise. Be charitable, kind and understanding. Start with your home, your work place, your neighborhood. Do pray, but also practice what you pray.
Muktaad is about mukt atma (free spirit). Propitiate the righteous fravashis, but also liberate your own spirit. Liberate your spirit from negative thoughts, harsh words and hurtful deeds. Yes, indeed, observe Muktaad from home with faith and devotion!