Homage To Our Dear Departed

Almost every religious tradition observes a day or days for remembering their near and dear departed ones. They say grief is the last act of love that we offer to those we loved; and remembering them is akin to breathing life into their fading presence from our life. Most humans, by nature, are ritualistic and therefore prayers and ceremonies help us acknowledge the reality of death and emotions associated with the departure of a loved one.

Diverse Traditions: Hindus observe Shradh, also known as Pitru Paksha, for a period of sixteen days in the month of September. Certain rituals are performed and priest along with crows are fed with rice. In the Christian tradition Sunday, third February is observed as ‘Aneede’ Sunday. The Syriac word ‘Aneede’ means the departed and thus observed as Sunday of all faithful departed souls. The Qingming festival, also known as Chinese Memorial Day or Ancestors’ Day is a traditional Chinese festival observed on the fifteenth day after the Spring Equinox, in early April of any given year. It’s been observed by the Chinese for over 2,500 years and is associated with the consumption of qingtuan or green dumplings made of rice and barley grass. The Japanese believe that the spirits of the dead return to visit the living and therefore propitiate them during the Obon festival, around mid-August.

Zoroastrians observe the Fravardegan or Muktad. The Muktad or Fravardegan days are the last ten days of the Zoroastrian calendar and are of great religious significance to every devout Zoroastrian. During Muktad, the Fravashi or Fravahar of our dearly departed are remembered with piety and devotion.

Remembering The Divine Essence: 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 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.

Observing the Muktad: In ancient times, Fravardegan days were holidays in the true sense of the word. Parsis would cut away from worldly affairs and engage themselves in offering prayers, through night and day. All homes would be cleaned, weeks in advance. Fire and incense would be kept burning twenty-four hours, especially in a separate room where consecrated metal vases, bearing clean well water and fresh flowers are kept on marble-topped tables. This is observed by some families even today.

One may entrust 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 help keep the memory of a loved one green, and also create an atmosphere of peace, purity and love. With flowers, oil lamps, fire and burning incense, a virtual paradise is created on earth, in honour of the visiting fravashis.

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, since nails and hair are doctrinally seen as nasu (pollutant).

Specific Prayers:

Traditionally, prayers should be offered in all the five Geh (Watches) of the day and during the first five days, the Fra Mraot (i.e., chapter 20 of the Yasna) can be chanted or 1,200 Ashem can be offered.

During the five Gatha days, the relevant Gatha may be chanted or 1,200 Yatha can be offered.

The Stum can also be sprayed with offering of clean water and fruits, preferably a pomegranate. After the prayer, the water may be drunk or poured in a flower-pot and the fruit eaten as Chasni. It is considered meritorious to do 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 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 Patet should preferably be prayed at night.

Ode To The Departed:

Perhaps it may not be out of place or context here to share a poem I wrote four years ago. Per chance, it may bring comfort and solace to those grieving the loss of their loved ones…

Silver v​ases of those once loved in times gone by,

Beautifully​ ​arranged​ in rows ​on marble top tables;

Such a peaceful place of many ​sweet memories​,

Where the living walk, among solemn rows,

Looking for the ​vase​ where​ fond​ memories lie,

As they recall the day of the final goodbye.


The d​ear departed​ bring memories of joy and sorrows

For loved ones walking among the silent rows,

Some stand by​ the​ ​vases​ in hushed reflection.

Others speak aloud of heartbreak and affection;

Some visit for just a moment and others for a while,

Then walk away with a tear or memory’s fond smile


Each ​vase​ has a life story once known,

Stories created as life’s seeds were sown;

Some stories live on in family histories

While others wane into unknown mysteries;

All eventually forgotten as time passes by,

When all those memories grow old and die.


Such a peaceful place of many ​sweet memories,​

Where the living walk, among solemn rows,

Looking for the ​vase​ where memories lie,

Sadly ​remembering,​ until their own final goodbye,

When ​their ​memories too​​,​ in a ​vase will ​lie.

And loved ones ​shall mourn for the times gone by.


Noshir H. Dadrawala
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