The Holy Fravardegan or Muktad days this year will commence on 6th August and end on 15th August 2022. Zoroastrians believe that during this period, the fravashis of the righteous dead, come down from their spiritual world into this material world and bless all those who remember and pray for them. These last ten days of the Zoroastrian calendar (also known as Muktad days) are observed with great sanctity and piety by devout Zoroastrians. The term Muktad is derived from the Sanskrit term Mukt Atma or the free/liberated spirit.
Finer Nuances Of These Ten Days: These ten days of the Zoroastrian calendar begin on Roj Astad and end on Roj Aneran of the month of Aspandarmad, and to these last five days of the last month (Aspandarmad) we add five days of the Gatha. It is important to note that the five Gatha days are ‘stand-alone’ days and are neither suffixed to the last moth of the Zoroastrian calendar (Aspandarmad), nor prefixed to the first month of the Zoroastrian calendar (Fravardin). In short, the five Gatha days belong to no particular month in the Zoroastrian calendar of twelve months.
The Zoroastrian calendar has twelve months and each of these twelve months has thirty days making it a year of three hundred and sixty days. The addition of five Gatha days makes it a year of three hundred and sixty-five days. Since we do not observe the concept of a leap year, the Zoroastrian calendar slips behind the Gregorian calendar by one day every four years.
The first five days from Roj Ashtad to Roj Aneran are known as the Panj-i-Keh, (smaller days) and during these days the normal Baj, Afringan, Farokshi and Stum prayers are recited in honour of the Ardafravash.
The five Gatha days from Ahunavad to Vahishtoisht are called the Panj-i-Mah (greater days). These five days also mark the seasonal festival of the Hamaspathmaidyem Gahambar (to commemorate Ahura Mazda’s sixth creation i.e., human beings)! During the five Gatha days Baj, Afringan, Farokshi and Stum prayers are recited in honour of the Gatha as well as the Gahambar. Special Gahambar Jashans are also performed during these five days.
Ten Or Eighteen Days?
During my childhood, I remember the Muktad days being observed at my maternal grandmother’s house in Valsad (Gujarat) for eighteen instead of ten days. The Muktad vases would be kept in a separate room, which would be kept ritually clean through the year and priests would come home to pray daily. Throughout the day, members of the family would also offer prayers and incense and change the flowers in the vases daily. Zoroastrian neighbours from the mohalla (ours was known as Motta Parsi Waad) would also visit and offer obeisance to the fravashi of their dear departed neighbours.
The eighteen days Muktad would commence on Roj Ashishwangh of Mah Aspandarmad (incidentally my Roj Birthday) and conclude on the dawn of Roj Amardad of Mah Fravardin. Roj Ashishwangh was counted as the first (preparatory) day of the eighteen days festival. The Muktad rituals and prayers would commence the next day on Roj Astad and continue for ten days till the last Gatha day, which was observed as Pateti or the day to offer Patet or atone for one’s mistakes.
The next day would be the New Year or the first day (Roj Hormuzd) of the first month (Mah Fravardin). The third day of the New Year or Roj Ardibehesht would be the day to ceremonially consecrate Rapithwin, while the seventh day (Roj Khordad) would be celebrated as Khordadsaal and the eight-day (Roj Amardad) as Amardadsaal! All these festive days would aggregate eighteen days.
There is textual evidence that Parsis in India celebrated Muktad for eighteen days even during the fifteenth century. However, later due to shortage of priests, urbanisation, time constrains and some textual evidence that originally the Fravardegan days were meant to be observed for only ten and not eighteen days, the community started observing ten and not eighteen days. However, some fire-temples in India continue to observe Muktad for eighteen days.
Farohar or Fravashi: is the Divine essence, which is wholly pure and good. It is not to be confused with the ruwan 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 the prototype, which is believed to have existed before material creation. Even Ahura Mazda and His Divine Energies, the Amesha Spenta and the Yazata, are said to have 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.
Ritual Observations: The Muktaad or Fravardegan days essentially centre around the family and until a few decades ago were observed largely at home. Today, with urbanization, small apartments and difficulty in observing ritual purity at home, the focus has shifted from the home to the fire temple. 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 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.
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 (a pollutant). The Fravardin Yasht (13.14) affirms: “In that house in which clean and pure water and vegetation is placed, the holy fravashis agree to move about.”
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) should be chanted or 1,200 Ashem (a short twelve words’ prayer) should be offered.
During the five Gatha days, the relevant Gatha may be chanted or 1,200 Yatha (a short twenty-one words’ prayer).
It is also considered meritorious to pray the Fravardin Yasht during these ten days. Praying the Stum no Kardo and Muktad no Namaskar before the Muktad vases is recommended.
It is also considered meritorious to offer acts of charity in the name of the departed and offer Patet (repentance) for the soul (Patet Ravani) of near and dear loved ones.