Letters To The Editor

The Significance Of Dogs In Zoroastrianism

Since the past two years, I have seen an increasing number of dogs being abandoned on the streets. A number of people, sadly including us Parsis known for our dog-loving nature, have simply left these noble creatures on the roads to fend for themselves. Many simply die out of hunger or accidents and neglect.

Therefore, I request Parsi Times to kindly print the following information as regards the importance and sacred relevance of dogs in our Zoroastrian religion, which I have shared (and verified by our priests) from a social media post.In Zoroastrianism, the dog is regarded as an especially beneficent, clean and righteous creature, which must be respected, fed well and taken care of.

The dog is praised for the useful work it performs in the household, but it is also seen as having special spiritual virtues. A dog’s gaze is considered to be purifying and it is known to drive off daevas (demons) or negative energies.

The dog is also believed to have a special connection with the afterlife: the Chinwad Bridge to Heaven is said to be guarded by dogs in our Zoroastrian scriptures. These noble animals are traditionally fed in commemoration of the dead. Ihtiram-i sag – “respect for the dog” – is a common injunction among Iranian Zoroastrian villagers.

Detailed prescriptions for the appropriate treatment of dogs are found in the Vendidad scriptures –  which is a subdivision of our Zoroastrian holy book – the Avesta.

Especially in chapters 13, 14 and 15, of the Avesta, where harsh punishments are imposed for harm inflicted upon a dog and the faithful are required to assist dogs, both domestic and stray, in various ways. Hence, it was clearly observed that help or harm to a dog is equated with help and harm to a human.

The killing of a dog (“a shepherd’s dog, or a house-dog, or a Vohunazga [i.e. stray] dog, or a trained dog”) is considered to lead to damnation in the afterlife. A homeowner is required to take care of a pregnant dog that lies near his home, at least until the puppies are born (and in some cases, until the puppies are old enough to take care of themselves, namely about six months).

If the homeowner does not help the dog and the puppies come to harm as a result, it is thus deemed that, “he shall pay for it the penalty for wilful murder”, because “Atar (Fire) watches as well (over a pregnant dog) as he does over a woman.”

It is also considered a major sin if a man harms a dog by giving it bones that are too hard and these get stuck in its throat, or then food that is too hot, so that it burns its throat. Giving bad food to a dog is as bad as serving bad food to a human.

The believers are required to take care of a dog with a damaged sense of smell or vision, to try to heal it – “in the same manner as they would do for one of the faithful,” and, if they fail to do so, then the least they could do is to tie it safely, lest the dog should fall into a hole or a body of water and be harmed.

‘Sagdid’ is a funeral ceremony in which a dog is brought into the room where the body is lying so that it can look on it. “Sag deed” means “dog sight” in the Middle Persian language of Zoroastrian theological works. There are various spiritual benefits thought to be obtained by the ceremony.

It is believed that the original purpose was to make certain that the person was really dead, since the dog’s more acute senses would be able to detect signs of life that a human might miss. A “four-eyed” dog, that is one with two spots on its forehead, is preferred for sag deed. Yet, another reason that a dog is made to view the corpse is because the soul is given in the protection of Sarosh Yazata and “dog” is this Yazata’s earthly representative! It symbolically guides the departed soul on the right  path onto the other world, through the Chinvat.

By Delshad R. Patel

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