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The Initiation as Nāvar and Martab between the Parsi priests
In India, it is only the sons of priests or of the members of the priestly families who can become priests. The right can he revived by any male member of the priestly family, though his immediate ancestors may not actually have been priests. The right can be revived by a descendant up to the fifth generation It then dies and can no longer be exercised.
In order to be a thoroughly qualified priest, one has to go through two grades of initiations and their ceremonies. They are (1) the Nāvar and (2) the Martab.
1. THE NAVAR
The first initiatory ceremony for priesthood is that of Nāvar. The word means "one who is newly initiated in work of offering prayers, rites and sacred things to the Deity."
To initiate a person into priesthood, several stages of ceremonies have to be gone through. They are the following: (a) the Bareshnum; (b) the Gewra; (c) the initiation proper. I give herein an illustration which shows the initiate taking his Bareshnum.
(a) The candidate for initiation into priesthood has to go through two Bareshnum purifications
(b) On the candidate completing the Bareshnum, two qualified priests who "hold the Bareshnum," who have to initiate the candidate, perform, what is known as the "gewra" ceremony, which lasts for six days. This ceremony, which qualified them to initiate the candidate, consists of reciting the Yasna with its ritual for six consecutive days. Both the priests recite the whole Yasna with the necessary ritual. One of the two priests who recites the whole Yasna is called Joti. The other priest who assists him in going through the ceremony is called Rathwi. The priest, who performs the ceremony as Joti, is technically said to have "taken the gewra," i.e. has acquired the qualification of continuing the ceremony. The priest who takes the gewra on the first day, is said to taken the first gewra. He is to pass a night of vigil and watchfulness. If he has nocturnal pollution, he is said to have lost the efficacy or the qualification of his gewra. The gewra must be repeated the next day. If the efficacy continues, on the next day, in the morning, he gives the second gewra to his colleague. The other priest recites the Yasna as Joti and the priest who gives the gewra acts as Rathwi. He, now, in his turn has to pass the night in vigil. Thus each of the two priests has to "take the gewra" on an alternate day. These gewra ceremonies are to be performed for six days. To avoid the chance of the gewras being vitiated by the failure of the vigil of the priest holding the gewra for the particular day or by some other cause, at times, three priests are made to take part in the gewra ceremonies. Instead of one taking the gewra, two perform the ceremony, so that, if one fails to observe the required vigil and is disqualified for some cause, the other may serve, and the candidate may not be disappointed and the initiation not delayed. The candidate has, during these six clays, to pass his time in prayers during the five Gahs
(c) On the sixth day of the gewra ceremony, the priest who has taken the sixth gewra, initiates the candidate. The candidate takes his bath
The parents of the candidate invite a few friends, both male and female, to witness the ceremony. In mofussil (smaller) towns a general invitation to males is passed round in the whole town. So any Zoroastrian who chooses may attend.
At the appointed hour, at about nine o'clock in the morning, a procession is formed to take the candidate to the temple for initiation. On the procession arriving at the Fire-temple, the candidate goes to the "Yazashna-gāh" where he is to perform the Yasna ceremony. The assembled priests are generally seated on carpets spread on the floor. The candidate removes his garments which form his full dress, performs the "pādyāb kushti" and puts on the "padān" (mouth-veil). Thus prepared, he is brought before the assembly by one of the two priests, who asks for permission to initiate him. The Head-priest present, after the interval of a few seconds, takes the silence of the assembly for its assent and nods his head, or puts both his hands, to signify the acquiescence of the gathering.
The candidate must be free from leprosy or any wound from which blood oozes, otherwise he would be rejected and the necessary permission refused. It is to give the assembly an opportunity to see or examine him well, that he is presented after the removal of the upper garments. The candidate returns to the Yazashna-gah to go through the ceremonies of his initiation to recite the Yasna with its ritual. On returning to the Yazashna-gah, the candidate recites the Navar Yasna (Yasna without the Visparad) with its rituals, he acting as the Joti and the priest who initiates him as the raspi
On the second and the third day, the candidate is permitted to have only one meal. The above three ceremonies are repeated in honor of Sraosha, and the baj is performed on the morning instead of in the afternoon as on the first day. On the third day, the above three ceremonies are repeated in honor of Sirouza (the Yazatas presiding over the thirty days of the month). On the fourth day the Yasna is recited with the Visparad, the baj and afringan in honor of Ahura Mazda. Thus qualified, the priest now called "herbad" (Avesta, "aethrapaiti, teacher,
It appears that the "Navar" has been from the first, a ceremony of trial, of self-abnegation, self-denial, and self-renunciation.
A good deal of the original lofty ideal seems to be losing its ground now. In order to avoid the risk of failure in the pious meditation, self-abnegation, or control of passions, candidates are made to go through the initiatory ceremony in early boyhood before the age of fifteen or sixteen, when according to the course of nature, they are expected to be free from "pollutis nocturna." Again now-a-days, it is not only those who are really intended to be priests in the future, go through the initiation, but many others who are intended by their parents for other walks of life. The latter are to go through it with the idea, that it is a religious ceremony worthy to be gone through. There are many medical men, lawyers and merchants of the priestly class, who have been made to go through it by their parents is their boyhood. That being the case, the whole of the Yasna is not learned and not recited but only a part.
The second degree for priest is known "Martab." The degree of "Navar" does not entitle a priest to perform, what may be called, the ceremonies of the inner circle of the Fire-temple. He cannot perform the Yasna, the Vendidad and the Baj ceremonies. He cannot officiate at the purification ceremonies of "nahn" and "bareshnum." In order to qualify himself to do so, he must go through the Martab ceremony. Besides the Yasna and the Vispered, which he had to read for his Navarhood, he has now to read the Vendidad.
For this ceremony, the candidate has to go through one Bareshnum of 10 days. On the 11th day, he, in company with a qualified priest, performs the "khub" ceremony and recites for it the Mino Navar Yasna with its ritual. On the second day in the morning, he has to recite another Yasna in honour of Sarosh, and at midnight he recites the Vendidad. This completes the "Martab" ceremony and he is now entitled to perform and recite any of the Zoroastrian rituals and prayers.
(Condensed from pages 187 to 198, THE RELIGIOUS CEREMONIES AND CUSTOMS OF THE PARSEES, Ervad Shams-ul-Ulama Dr. Sir Jivanji Jamshedji Modi (1854-1933), 2nd ed. (reprint), Bombay, 1986)
NOTE: At present, there are two ways to become a priest among the Parsis:
(1) Take the full school course of eleven years at the Athornan Madressa, Bombay, in which the student is also taught the rituals in detail. It takes six years to become a Navar in the Madressa, two years to be ordained as Martab, and a total of eleven years to get the Secondary School Certificate.
(2) The short cut by those, whose parents do not want them to become professional priests and who join other walks of life in business or employment. They do not join the Madressa for the purpose, and attend their respective primary and secondary schools in their residential localities, in India or abroad. It takes them between 18 to 28 days to be ordained as priests.
In this second way, the candidate does not recite, as mentioned by the late Ervad Dr. J.J. Modi, the entire Yasna but a part of it. There are some who recite only eleven sections (hās) and there are others who do only seven "hās." One is called "Eleven-hā" Ervad and the other "Seven-hā" Ervad. The remaining of the 61 or 65 sections of 72-ha Yasna are recited by the accompanying "gewra" priest. The majority of the "non-professional" Parsi priests belong to the category of "Eleven or Seven hā" class. Unless they pursue their religious studies to a desirable height, they tag "Ervad" to their names in name only.
The entire course for initiation into priesthood, Navar or Martab, is to learn to recite the Avesta and Pazand texts by rote and to perform the rituals by practice.