The sun was shining strongly when the Parsees started arriving at Radio Club, Colaba, for the annual AVA YAZAD PARABH. This is the ancient festival on Ava Roj, Ava Mahino when the Zoroastrian Yazad of the waters, Ava Ardvisur Banu, is worshipped.
Young and old, our community arrived decked in clean and spotless clothes, traditional as well as modern. Colourful scarfs adorned the women, and the men had their traditional Phetas or caps, with children dressed colourfully as well. The walkway leading to the inside of the Radio club was lined with a number of colourful Parsi stalls selling religious artifacts and heirlooms, clocks with pictures of Persepolis soldiers, T-shirts with Persia on them and even wafer biscuits.
Then there were rows and rows of chairs on the deck leading out to the middle of the ocean, seemingly leaving the hustle and bustle of the crowded metropolis behind. The rolling waves lapped around on all three sides, with hazy brown mountains in the distance, a fine natural setting for worshipping one of the greatest Divinities of Mother Nature, the Divinity of Ava which in her form of purifying water is responsible for all life on earth.
In the past centuries, our forefathers used to worship in the lap of nature, a great English poet Lord Byron wrote about them in the following excellent words:
Not vainly did the early Persian make
His altar the high places, and the peak
Of earth o'er gazing mountains, and thus take
A fit and unwall'd temple, there to seek
The Spirit, in whose honour shrines are weak'
Uprear'd of human hands. Come, and compare
Columns and idol dwellings, Goth or Greek,
With Nature's realms of worship, earth and air,
Nor fix on fond abodes to circumscribe thy prayer!
- Lord Byron, in "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage".
So in that excellent natural setting, where fishing boats, yachts, cruise boats and naval vessels bobbed around on the waters on the horizon, and the Gateway of India loomed in the distance, all eyes were on the group of twenty-one white robed priests as they sat behind the long white curtains, accepting the huge piles of sandalwood offered by the devotees, and then started the Holy Jashan ceremony facing the blue sea.
The community fell silent as the Holy Mathravani filled the atmosphere, the Head Priest Dasturji Khurshed Dastur chanting powerfully with the other priests intoning the sacred verses in the background.
For a while it seemed as if the community was in the presence of the ancient Magav Sahebs at Demavand Koh, where such spiritual prayers can be heard all day long.
For a while it seemed as if there was a spiritual link created between the earth, the ocean, the sky and the Yazatas, and they had come down to that spot to bless the priests and those who had gathered there.
For a while it seemed that paradise had come to earth, such was the power of our sacred Mathravani.
Then the Jashan ended, and it was followed by a Humbandagi led by Dasturji Khurshed Dastur. The combined voices of hundreds of our Humdeen filled the air with resonating Mathravani. The fruit and sweet offerings (Chasni) were then carried to the people in large plates so that they could partake of the sanctified offerings. At the same time, Parsi men and women were offering flowers and coconuts and sweets to the sea, facing the sea beyond the iron railings so they could pray to Ava directly themselves sitting on their wooden chairs.The sun was setting.
The stage was occupied by Dasturji Khurshed Dastur who made an impassioned plea to the community to end the in-fighting. This was followed by a powerful speech on the Yazatas by Ervad Ramiyar Karanjiar.
Ervad-Saheb explained in this wonderful speech that Ava Yazad is worshipped for the benefit of finding a suitable life-partner, and for helping in childbirth, Ram Yazad is worshipped for giving Ramashni or Joy, Sarosh Yazad gave us the good quality of obediance, Meher Yazad helped us in contracts and friendships and was worshipped by soldiers, and Behram Yazad gave us victory over enemies, help in difficulties, and help in long journeys. Tir Yazad is worshipped for giving us rain and for helping with eye ailments, likewise other Yazads govern other parts of the body.
Ervad-Saheb emphasized that the Pahlavi scriptures said that if man goes one step towards the Yazads, they take more than a thousand steps toward him. He said the first step was to say the Yazad's name and "beresad", such as "Ava Yazad Beresad" on the Yazad's day, for as many times as you like. Beresad means you are asking the Yazad for assistance.
He said the second step would be to pray the Siroja Yasht, a powerful prayer which has invocations of all the 30 Yazads of the month and praises of their Glory. The third step would be to pray the Yazad's own Yasht, such as Ava Yasht, BehramYasht and so on.
Ervad-Saheb said that our calendar month had holy-days or holidays on the days of Hormuzd, DaepAdar, DaepMeher, DaepDin. These are the 1st, 8th, 15th and 23rd days of the month and are the days of Hormuzd, and served as days on which man rested and worshipped. The Daep days are the days of Hormuzd before the Adar, Meher and Din days respectively.
Ervad-Saheb said there is a lot of treasure in the Zarathushtri religion, still our people go to other religions for help. They do so, and they get the help they request, but they must remember it is at a heavy interest that they will have to repay to the other religion. Why get a loan at a heavy interest when the treasure is at your own house? Ervad-Saheb said "Ask, and you shall receive".
The evening then ended with Gujarati religious songs about Parsees and Iran and India. Children played merrily, running around the wooden chairs. Old Parsi men of previous generations were seen singing the Gujarati songs with gusto, watched admiringly by their spouses and the younger generation. Red-blooded red-faced Parsi men, with the original Parsi-panu, were seen everywhere along with their fair and beautiful Parsi spouses. Then the Parsi people, with visible glows on their faces, and with happiness in their hearts, started to leave for home, with a promise to themselves and their loved ones to be back next year, for the divine experience of the Ava Yazad Parabh, when Divinity truly descends to earth by the power of our sacred religion.
Porus Homi Havewala.
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