The Journey of Life

There are no rites associated with the child at birth, though new babies are often given a special strengthening drink made from water, fermented hom tree juice and pomegranate leaves.

The first major stage in life is initiation (naujote = new birth) which should take place just before puberty when the child of Zoroastrian parents chooses to join the army of Ahura Mazda and undertake the obligations of the religion. The ceremony involves the investiture by the priest with the sacred shirt and cord (sudre and kusti) which all Zoroastrians, male or female wear next to the skin like a vest throughout life (except when bathing).

Marriage is a religious duty in order to have children and expand the Good Creation of Ahura Mazda. Not even a High Priest (Dastur) can perform the higher liturgical ceremonies until he has married, because he is not a full man. The wedding ceremony is performed by priests. Initially, the couple sit facing each other with a curtain between them; when this is lowered it is popularly thought that the first person to shower rice (a sign of fertility) over the other will dominate the marriage. A cord is passed several times round them both symbolising the marriage bond. After this the couple sit side by side, affirm that they wish to get married and are blessed by the priest(s). Parsis have their own marriage laws in India. Divorce is more common than in much of Indian society but far less than in the West. It can be instituted by women as much as men, for example for adultery, cruelty or infertility.

Death is believed to be ultimately unnatural as Ahura Mazda created the first human being immortal. The death of a righteous person is a greater victory for evil than that of a wicked person and so the corpse is more polluting, though all dead bodies are regarded as unclean. The body, therefore, has to be treated in a special manner. It is taken to the funeral ground where professionals wash it. The corpse is then laid on a slab and a circle is drawn around it. No-one except the corpse bearers should enter the circle. A priest prays beside the body until the time of the funeral which should be the same day if possible.

At the time of the funeral the body is taken into a Tower of Silence (dokhma) and exposed to be consumed by vultures which dispose of the body in half an hour during which time the bereaved pray in a nearby hall. After the bones have dried in the sun they are then cast into a central pit where acid is poured. There are strong religious reasons for this mode of disposal. Zoroastrians believe that the earth, waters and fire are sacred so the body cannot be buried, cast into the sea or cremated. Ahura Mazda created everything for a purpose and the purpose of vultures is to consume dead matter to stop it polluting creation. Parsis also argue that it is the most hygienic form of funeral as it does not waste land. Everyone is treated in this manner, whether they are rich or poor, man or woman. Where there is no dokhma the dead may be buried in a stone coffin to save polluting the earth or, as in the western Diaspora, they are cremated and the ashes buried in their own cemeteries. The family prays either in the temple or at home to aid the soul on its way to judgment. On the 4th day after death there is the uthumna ceremony when charitable gifts are announced which Zoroastrians see as a better memorial than an elaborate tomb or gravestone.

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