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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

First of the ceremonies comes the navar


[Illustration:

Parsee Priests of Yezd Officiating during Ceremony in their Fire Temple.]

The priests belong generally to the better classes, and the rank is mostly hereditary. Certain ceremonies are considered necessary before the candidate can attain the actual dignity of a prelate. First of the ceremonies comes the _navar_, or six days' retreat in his own dwelling, followed by the ceremony of initiation; four more days in the fire temple with two priests who have previously gone through the _Yasna_ prayers for six consecutive mornings. Although after this he can officiate in some ceremonies, such as weddings, he is not fully qualified as a priest until the _Bareshnun_ has been undergone and again the _Yasna_. The following day other prayers are offered to the guardian spirit, and at midnight the last ceremony takes place, and he is qualified to the degree of _Maratab_, when he can take part in any of the Zoroastrian rituals.

As a preliminary, great purity of mind and body are required from candidates, and they are made to endure lavish ablutions of water and cow urine, clay and sand--an ancient custom, said to cleanse the body better than modern soaps. After that the candidate is secluded for nine whole days in the fire temple, and is not permitted to touch human beings, vegetation, water nor fire, and must wash himself twice more during that time, on the fourth day and on the seventh. It is only then that he is considered

amply purified and able to go through the _Navar_ ceremony.

The Zoroastrian religion is based on three excellent points--"good thoughts, good words, good deeds"--and as long as people adhere to them it is difficult to see how they can go wrong. They worship God and only one God, and do not admit idolatry. They are most open-minded regarding other people's notions, and are ever ready to recognise that other religions have their own good points.

Perhaps no greater libel was ever perpetrated on the Parsees than when they were put down as "fire-worshippers," or "worshippers of the elements." The Parsees are God-worshippers, but revere, not worship, fire and the sun as symbols of glory, heat, splendour, and purity; also because fire is to human beings one of the most necessary things in creation, if not indeed the most necessary thing; otherwise they are no more fire-worshippers than the Roman Catholics, for instance, who might easily come under the same heading, for they have lighted candles and lights constantly burning in front of images inside their churches.

Besides, it is not the fire itself, as fire, that Parsees nurse in their temples, but a fire specially purified for the purpose. The process is this: Several fires, if possible originally lighted by some natural cause, such as lightning, are brought in vases. Over one of these fires is placed a flat perforated tray of metal on which small pieces of very dry sandal-wood are made to ignite by the mere action of the heat, but must not actually come in contact with the flame below. From this fire a third one is lighted in a similar manner, and nine times this operation is repeated, each successive fire being considered purer than its predecessor, and the result of the ninth conflagration being pronounced absolutely pure.

It is really the idea of the purifying process that the Parsees revere more than the fire itself, and as the ninth fire alone is considered worthy to occupy a special place in their temples, so, in similarity to it, they aim in life to purify their own thoughts, words, and actions, and glorify them into "good thoughts, true words, noble actions." This is indeed very different from fire-worshipping of which the Parsees are generally accused.


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