Initiation ceremony of Zoroastrians
by Dr. Pallan R. Ichaporia
Dear Friends; I hope following will be of interest to you.
Zoroastrians must be properly initiated by ordained priests into the religious community. In the ancient times this occured at the age of fifteen, the ancient Iranian age of maturity to become responsible for his or her religious, moral and communal life (See: Yast 8[Tir],13-14 and Videvdat 18.54)
According to Videvdat (Vendidad): "Then the she-demon who is the Lie replied," O Sraosha, truthful and well formed one, of these males indeed this the fourth one, a male whore who after his fifteen year walks forth without either the sacred girdle or undershirt" (Videvdat 18,54). This warning from the Spirit of Evil underscores the emphasis placed on the proper initiation into the Zoroastrian faith.
During the initiation ceremony the candidate wears a sacred white undershirt (Phl. SHABIG; N.P. SHABI,SUDRA; Dari.SEDRA; Parsi Guj. SUDRA, SUDRE), and a sacred girdle (Av. AIWYANGHANA; Pz.AIWAYANGHANA; Pahl. KUSTIG; N.P and Parsi Guj.KUSTI) (Note: Av. AIWYANGHNA (AIWI+YANGHANA(AIWI+YAH)) =to girdle). The initiation seems to be based on the ancient Indo-Iranian custom of investing only the male members of society with a sacred girdle as a sign of their membership within the community.
A similiar practice persists to-day among Hindus where male members of the three upper castes (Skt. VARNA) are ceremonially invested with a sacred cord at the time generally called the ceremony of the Second Birth (Skt. UPANAYANA) conducted between the ages of eight and twelve (See: Gonda: Vedic Ritual, 1980, 42, 153-154). The sacred cord is knotted by an ordained Hindu priest and worn under the clothes diagonally around the body over the right shoulder and under the left arm. Hindus never untie this cord but slip it aside and step out of it when neccessary.
The pre-Zoroastrian origin of the rite of initiation is found in 'Dadestan-i-Denig'where it is clearly stated that king Yima Xshaeta (Jamshid)introduced the sacred girdle, centuries before Zarathushtra (See D-i-D:39, 18-19). This initiation rite has been practiced since the the earliest years of the faith and there can not be any second opinion about it. The age of initiation into the faith of Zarathushtra was gradually lowered with the present day Irani Zoroastrians undergoing it between twelve and fifteen and with Parsi Zoroastrians initiating their children at the age of seven. This may be due to influence of Hinduism. Irani Zoroastrians term this ceremony as (Dari) SEDRA PUSHAN ="Putting on the sacred undershirt" while Parsi Zoroastrians refer it to as (Ps.Guj) NAVJOTE="New Born"
As in Hindusim, the Zoroastrian initiation symbolizes spiritual rebirth or second birth. After their initiations, Zoroastrians must ritually untie and tie the sacred girdle very time they pray or perform Padyab-Kushti. Sadra and Kustig must be worn every day and night during the life time of each and every individual. It is a grievous sin for an initiated Zoroastrian to abstain from wearing the girdle (Kustig) and undershirt (Sadra), a condition termed "SCAMBLING AROUND NAKED" (Phl. AISHAD DWARISHNIH). According to SHAYEST-NE SHAYEST (4:10)The sin of scambling around naked, upto three steps, is a FRAMAN [for] each step; at the fourth step [it becomes] a TANAPUHL.
The Padyab-Kustig is performed before a Zoroastrian can engage in any religous activity as it ensures the purity of his body and soul. It is enjoined that this ritual be performed early each morning on rising from sleep, prior to religious act of eating, before ablutions, at the begining of each of the five periods of the day and after urination and excretion. (Although this may be hard to follow but one will still find most ordained Zoroastrian priests and devout Zoroastrians still true to this ancient tradition). ALL ZOROASTRIANS do undergo the ablution on entering the premises of a fire-temple, to ensure that every religious act they perform is done so in the state of purity of body and soul. The Padyab-Kushti ritual, because it involves the performance of a purification rite, differs from the simple Kushti ceremony, in which a ritually clean person unties and reties the KUSHTI without first performing ablutions; the simple Kusti ceremony is referred as "MAKING NEW THE SACRED GIRDLE" (N.P.:KUSTI NAW KARDAN ) or "TYING THE SACRED GIRDLE" (PGj.: KUSTI BASTAN).
The main principle underlying this ceremony is to providing religioritual purity for the performance of religious functions as praying, approaching the sacred fires, attending funeral ceremonies (before and after), eating etc. This simple and beautiful rite thus ensures a Zoroastrian to maintain a state of socioritual purity of his/her body and soul at all time.
With kindest regards to all.