Fresh water well is mandatory at every Agiary or Atash Bahram. One cannot think of a Parsi Zoroastrian fire temple anywhere in India without fresh water well within the temple compound/complex. Even otherwise, the community considers fresh water well as sacred. In Mumbai, the Bhikha Behram well, for example, is considered sacred and devotees pray there daily and light oil lamps (Divo) especially towards evening. In the villages of South Gujarat, almost every old Parsi house has its own well and families pray before it. Today, many of these families also use these wells for rain water harvesting and restore depleting levels of precious ground water.
In Iran, all the five major Zoroastrian mountain-shrines have natural water flowing from the mountain. These are mountain oasis bringing life amid the two major salt deserts of Yazd and Zoroastrians consider these shrines, especially Peer-e-Sabz as extremely holy. The natural and healing waters flowing at this shrine is considered as aab-e-hayat or life-giving water!
Holy Well Contamination In Hyderabad: Recently, we have been reading about contamination of the fresh water well situated within the compound of the 119-year-old Bai Maneckbai Nusserwanji Chenoy Dar-e-Meher, in Hyderabad. Sewerage water has contaminated the holy well and as a result the priests are in a quandary, since only clean fresh water well can be used to perform various religious ceremonies.
Since 9th March 2022, the sewerage line which was constructed over a century ago has been deliberately and unauthorizedly blocked by ‘Santosh Dhaba’, a restaurant that shares its compound wall with the Parsi Colony, built around the Dar-e-Meher, where the community has been dwelling in peace and harmony.
Complaints have been filed with various local government authorities. However, the response of the local government authorities seems to be slow and knee-jerk. Clearing the sewage pipeline is only a temporary solution. The only permanent solution is to restore the sewage line as it has been for a century and more. The trustees of the Dar-e-Meher should spare no effort in ensuring that the solution is sustainable in the long run. This is not just a serious health hazard for the residents of the Parsi colony but a calamity where the religious sanctity of the Dar-e-Meher is concerned. The sacred fresh water well is an integral part of this place of worship and its desecration is tantamount to indirect desecration of the Holy consecrated Fire.
Local authorities need to respect the sanctity of this 119-year-old place of worship and the health of the peaceful Parsi residents of the colony. Their duty is to right the wrong done by a restaurant which has started its business barely two decades ago.
The Well Is Considered Sacred
At every fire temple, the fresh water well in the compound is considered as sacred as the holy fire installed inside the temple building. On entering the complex, devotees wash their hands, face, and feet with this fresh well water which is considered pure and natural. They then recite various prayers including a litany to the waters (Avan Niyaesh) and/or the much longer hymn (Avan Yasht) standing near the sacred well.
At dusk, devotees light oil lamps near the well and ensure that no water is drawn out of the well after sun-set and before sun-rise. Devotees are not allowed to throw flowers or anything else in the well in order to keep the water clean and pure. This is the reverence with which the sacred well within the fire temple complex is treated.
A Purifying Force
The term Ava is derived from the word Aap or Aapo – the Divine Cosmic Force that purifies and sustains the entire universe. In the Avesta, this Divinity is called Ardvisura Anahita – the Pure and Immaculate. This Divinity is invoked and revered by devotees at the sacred well in the fire temple complex. When invoking Ava, devotees attune their inner energies to aspire for Ava’s knowledge and wisdom and to be like Ardvisura Anahita – pure and immaculate in thought, words, and deeds. Like fire, water is a purifying force and Zoroastrians revere both when visiting an Agiary or Atash Bahram.
Well Water Is Essential For Religious Ceremonies
The well is of great importance to the priests who tend to the Holy Fire and carry out various rituals where only fresh well water can be used. For sacred rituals, only water that flows naturally from the ground into the well is considered appropriate, and not tap water.
In the Ijashne, which is a higher liturgical ceremony, the priests draw fresh water from the well, perform the elaborate Ijashne ceremony and pour the water back into well. For the priest and devotees who witness this ceremony, it is an active form of meditation wherein the priest and devotees realize that the small quantity of water that the priest has drawn comes from an infinite source through the well and although what he has drawn out is a minuscule part of it, it is still the very same. One is a vast and infinite source while the other is only a tiny part of it. One is called a well, and the other, a pot of water. But the contents are the same. The difference is only in the measure. The infinite source of water sustains a multitude of life and yet, a deep silence and calm beneath. The infinite source of water itself is not affected by any of this. It remains pure and clear within itself, full of energy and yet at peace.
When the priest pours the water back into the well it disappears and becomes one with the infinite source. The priest realizes that he, too, is a part of that infinite source. Just as the water he pours back merges with the infinite, his consciousness, too, merges with Divinity.
Fresh water well is considered sacred and should never be allowed to get contaminated. It is revered as a sacred space within the fire temple complex and a devotee cannot pray before a well that is contaminated by sewage. Fresh water well is essential for higher liturgical ceremonies at the fire temple and contaminated water simply cannot be used to perform religious ceremonies or even ablution by the priests or laity. To pollute a fresh water well is considered sinful and vitiates all prayers offered by devotees as also all religious ceremonies conducted at the fire temple.
One hopes that the trustees and the local government authorities will take a very serious view of this calamity and help our peaceful (micro) minority community restore the religious sanctity of this sacred fresh water well.
May Ava Ardvisur Anahita (immaculate and purifying Divinity of Water) bless all those toiling fervently to restore the sanctity of this place of worship!