Monday, 25 March 2013

The Reconsecration of the Mandi

Written by  Julie Abadirad
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Traditional Mandi made of clay Traditional Mandi made of clay

The hut must be re-consecrated yearly after the pollution caused by the five days preceding Panja (which are dedicated to the five powers of darkness) and this ceremony takes place ore he last day of Panja (or Parwanaia). I was in Qal'at Salih twice when the re-consecration took place. The first time I saw the ceremony (called in the ratna Tarasa d mandi) in part and the second time I witnessed it practically from beginning to end, the complete tarasa lasting from twelve to eighteen hours without a break.

On each occasion, although I was in my place of observation within the mandi enclosure at an early hour, I was too late to observe the preliminaries, which consisted of the sweeping and cleaning of the enclosure and the tidying of the banks of the pool. The mandi hut had been replastered with fresh mud moulded over the door so as to form a triple arch, rounded at the top. As this appears well in my illustrations, I need not describe it further.

To the right of the mandi were planted two dravshas, or ritual banners, and beside them the clay table (toriana) with its usual furniture, and a fire on the ground, constantly replenished with lustrated reeds. The ground in front of the hut was prepared by a barefoot attendant. He made shallow furrows or runnels about 3 inches wide (known as misri) from the cult-hut down to the pool, the loose earth being placed in a basket and removed. The first furrow ran from the right door-post, the second from the left door-post, the third was to the right of the first, the fourth ran from the southern corner of the east wall, and the fifth from the southern corner of the west wall. These furrows or runnels went down in straight lines, and a careful order was evidently observed. Lastly, he traced a furrow horizontally from the third to the fourth runnel, leaving an almost square patch by the hut .


These furrows or misri (sing. misra) enclosed purified areas, and should a chance impurity pollute one or the sections enclosed by them, it can be re-purified independently of the others. Nothing could be closer to the karsha of the Parsis, and the enclosed area corresponds to the pavi. Such a chance pollution occurred the second time a that I watched the ceremony. A small child stepped over the misra. An officiating priest im-mediately went back into the pool, and after ablution ceremonies performed on himself, soused the spot by throwing bowlfuls of water over it, while repeating a formula of purification.

Pots, bowls, tongs, mill-stones, basins, pestle and mortar (hawan), knives (haftless) used during the ceremony were taken within the purified areas after having been immersed three times in the pool with the usual 'Bahram' formula (see p. 49). The white muslin cloth (new) used for sifting the wheat flour was also immersed, and even a needle (at which point in the ritual this was used I could not discover).

A ganzibra, two priests, and two shgandas took part in the tarasa, but the ganzibra (Shaikh Rumi) was not throughout the chief ofliciant; towards the end of the proceedings he played the role of a dead man, for the tarasa must be 'in the name' of a rish 'ama (see p. 173), in this case in the name of one Bahram Yahya, great-great-grandfather of Shaikh Rumi himself, so that he was personating his own ancestor. (The rish 'ama must be of the highly honoured priestly family of 'Manduiia'.) For this reason he put on a later a completely new rasta for (as will be seen presently when I describe lofani rites) those who represent the dead must wear new ritual gar-ments.

The chief officiant, next to the ganzibra, was a priest, Shaikh 'Abdullah, who had been through his ablution and sacraments at dawn, and my arrival at the mandi found him performing the elaborate ceremonies which qualified him to play his part, which was, first, to administer the five sacraments to the ganzibra, fellow priest, and the two shgandas. The usual preliminaries for an officiating priest followed: the making of the myrtle wreath, the dedication and arrangement of the garments, placing of the pandama before the mouth, and so on. Shaikh 'Abdullah then baptized in turn the ganzibra, his fellow priest, and the two shgandas, and when all were assembled on the bank in their wet garments, the 'signing' with crushed sesame followed, the difference from the usual sacrament being that the priest and ganzibra joined the officiant in intoning prayers throughout instead of observing silence like laymen, or like the shgandas. Shaikh 'Abdullah then daubed a small recess or niche in the eastern exterior wall of the mandi with fresh wet mud, filled his qanina and sprinkled the wall with water from the pool. He next made the pehtha (sacramental bread). Taking a handful of flour and salt, he went to the pool, kneaded it with a little water in his palm, then plunged the closed fist containing the dough together with his other hand into the water. Returning, he placed the dough, patted into a round, on the fire (which was continually fed by washed reeds), setting it on the hot ashes and covering it with burning fuel. In a few moments it was baked. He put some morsels of it in the recess referred to above, and then administered the sacraments of bread and water to the four communicants.

Again, the proceeding differed from the usual administration to laymen, for the pehtha and mambuha were given one after the other to each individual at one time, instead of making two rounds of it. The blessing was next given, and the celebrant moved backwards and forwards along the line several times, placing his hand on each head. Later came the usual oath to the yardna, the communicants stretching their right arms out behind them in the direction of the river, not the pool (this is an invariable rule, as the river although it feeds the pool, may in its twistings lie in any direction, while the mandi must always be on the right bank facing the north with its pool to the south of it). Throughout the baptism and sacraments the celebrant alone covered his face with the pandama, but the gauzibra and priest retained their staves (margnas). Then all stood, and those of priestly rank began to recite, the shgandas remaining silent. The usual final kushta or hand-grasp was given to the officiant, who thereupon ate pehtha and drank mambuha. The long prayers and ceremonies followed which release the various parts of the rasta from the special sanctity given them by their consecration in the initial ceremonies. The ganzibra and priest joined in these, and when klilas and taghas were removed the former (the myrtle wreaths) were thrown into the water.

Thus ended what might be termed the first chapter of the ceremonies. The second part showed the priests in the role of slaughterers, millers, cooks, and bakers, and the sacred areas within the misri became the scene of busy activity.

In the temporary lull, I observed that all pots and pans which had been ceremonially dipped before being taken into the misri had been previously re-tinned, inside and out, for they lay gleamingly white on the ground.

The ganzibra prepared for his labours by removing his turban and stole, and flinging them on the roof of the mandi, thus, showing his long hair looped in small plaits close to his head. The two priests partly disrobed, and all set to work to brush the sections divided by the misri, sweep-ing all loose fragments of clay and rub is into the pool.

Three balls of clay, almost round, were left, however, in section A and these were used later, I suppose, to support dishes put on the fire (i.e. manasib in Arabic), but I forgot to inquire their purpose. They can be seen in the photograph.

The ganzibra now changed his rasta, piece by piece, for a new rasta, and having done this, went into the pool, ducked under three times, and then, taking a dish, hurled water from it all over the mandi, reciting prayers as he did so. The outer walls and roof were thus all washed, but the north wall did not receive as much attention as the others, though water ran down upon it from above. Meanwhile the ganzibra was pronouncing the name of the Life and Manda d Hiia upon his labours: 'Ushma d He'i wushma Manda-t-he'i madkhar 'illakh'.

Next, standing upon the threshold of the hut but not entering it, he splashed the interior with water from his dish or basin. A larger tinned basin was washed, filled from the pool, and that done, the ganzibra entered the hut, and dipping water from the larger basin, he soused the mandi thoroughly within, standing upon the already wetted floor. Roof, beams, and every part received liberal ablution.

A ritual text inscribed with a stylus upon sheets of lead was now brought into the enclosure. It was wrapped in a white cloth, and the bundle plunged three times beneath the water. This text contains the masiqta (service for the ascension of the souls of the dead) and the ritual for the zidqa brikha, both offices being recited during the subsequent proceedings. Meanwhile, the ganzibra and priests continued to wash the mandi, the former within and the latter without.

Next, a shganda took from outside a bundle of freshly peeled reeds, and these received the threefold immersion, as did wheat and sesame and various other grains brought in white cloths, like the reeds and wood employed on the fire. So that no purified celebrant should come into touch with impurity, fuel was floated across the pool, and each time that any actor within the misri came into chance contact with anything from without, he had to immerse three times. The wet wood and grain (the latter spread out on the white cloths upon the roof of the mandi) dried quickly in the sun and wind. I noticed that the ganzibra and priests ate now and again from the grain and fruit, for they had been fasting but for the sacred bread and water, and might not emerge from the misri for any profane purpose. A fire was lit in space A, the reeds being kindled by a lighted reed thrust in from without the area. One of the washed bundles of reeds was carried within the hut, to be used later for the brihis (incense braziers).

Now the priests worked at the preparing of the food, baking bread in flat loaves on the reversed side of a shallow bowl. The five sacred foods brought for the masiqta which was later to be performed in the mandi hut were:

1) Pomegranate seeds.
2) Coconut.
3) Quince.
4) Walnuts.
5) Raisins, or fresh white grapes when in season.

Besides this there were the 'fruits and vegetables in season' ordered by the ritual for the zidga brikha and the dates, sesame, and salt, whose uses will be presently explained.

At this point, having been present for more than four hours, I was absent for three-quarters of an hour. In the interval various operations were in process. The wheat was being milled within the mandi, prior to making the dough which is used for the masiqtta. In addition, the priests were baking small flat loaf after small flat loaf over the fire, eating to stay their hunger. The raisins and pome-granate seeds were placed on a reed dish for their ablution, and then dried in the sun, so were the other foods intended for the masiqta and the zidqa brikha. The sesame was cooked a little over the fire, its husk was removed, and it was then placed in a mortar (hawan) and pounded, together with some dates; then the mixture was placed by a priest in a corner of his robe, little by little, and squeezed with a pair of iron tongs, the resultant liquid (misha) falling into a keptha, and being later transferred to a qanina. It is this mixed juice of sesame and date which is used later in the signing of the fatiri (the loaves of the masiqta). Only a few drops were extracted from each handful so at it was a tedious process; nevertheless, they told me, in the year proceeding, the priest had succeeded in extracting enough to fill the qanina.

On my return, preparations for the masiqta were in progress. A dove of the khirrah species, whole, male, perfect, and especially bred for the purpose, was being held by a small boy outside the consecrated areas, and I found myself obliged to reprimand him for teasing the bird. The bundle of white cloth containing the ritual text inscribed upon lead was opened, one of the lead sheets extracted and placed upright and face outwards against the mandi wall within the square.

The ganzibra now reappeared in an entirely new and dazzlingly white rasta, and underwent the threefold immersion in the pool. On emerging, he prayed silently in the square B. A curious feature of the dove-sacrifice for a masiqta is that not a word must be uttered aloud either by the celebrant or the shganda who assists him.

The latter, with the dove, the knife to be used in its sacrifice, the stick to be held with the knife, and a sprig of myrtle clasped to his right shoulder, goes down into the pool, and plunges under three times before joining the ganzibra in sand taking up a position to the east of him. Facing the mandi (i.e. the north), crouching and holding the dove so that in cutting its throat the knife moved from north to south, the ganzibra performed the silent sacrifice of the bird. As always, the slaughterer held a stick of wood with the knife. I was told that at this sacrifice the ganzibra, holding the dove by its wings, steadies the body of the bird with his bare right foot. I have since acquired a manuscript describing the ritual, and find that this use of the right foot in slaughtering the dove is prescribed.

The body of the dove and the knife were taken by the shganda to the pool and immersed thrice, the stick being allowed to float away on the slowly flowing waters. He then rejoined the ganzibra in the square of the sacrifice and both left it together. The ganzibra, taking the body of the dove, put a little salt on the wound, and passed the cut throat three times into the flame of a burning (and previously lustrated) bundle of reeds held by the shganda, after which the corpse was taken inside the mandi by the ganzibra and the two priests, all three washing their hands before entry into the hut.

The ritual of the masiqta within the mandi is identical with that of the masigta performed at the consecration of a priest described in a later chapter. For a description of this, and other masiqtas, I have been dependent upon the priests, as none but they are allowed within the cult-hut for its performance. The consecration of the sixty-six fatiri, solemn eating of the tabutha with the dove's flesh, the drinking of hamra, and the final burial of the remains of the dove and the sixty-six fatiri (sacred bread) with their sacred morsels are all hidden from profane eyes, and the only ceremony that I saw was the completion of the interment of the bundle which contained them in a space to the north-west of the mandi. It is never buried beyond the east wall of the mandi-hut, and a fresh spot is always chosen. What happens when all the ground has been used I do not know: as this cannot happen for many years, perhaps earlier interments are forgotten, or another mandi consecrated. The differences between the ganzibra's masiqta and that of the shwalia are described more nearly in the last chapter, on 'Eating for the Dead', also the exact nature of the zidqa brikha which I witnessed so dimly by the light of candles. But the zidqa brikha and the final burial were at the end of a long day's work, and it is my task here to describe what I actually witnessed.

The second victim, whose fat was to be used in the zidqa brikha was a sheep which had been waiting some time outside the consecrated area, but inside the mandi enclosure. The priests quitted the mandi, leaving the ganzibra alone with the dead dove and a shganda. His voice was heard chanting from the dark interior. The priests chanted, too, but busied themselves with the second victim and preparations for its slaughter. A bundle of reeds were shortened, taken into the pool and thoroughly washed, then laid on division C making a couch of reeds (chibasha or kibasha) upon which the victim was to be laid. (I witnessed another slaughter of a sheep for lofani, and the victim was laid on a bed of green palm-branches at the side of the river, with a misra trenched about the spot in a square, the trenches running down into the river.

The sheep (a male, for no female must be slaughtered) was thrown on its side outside the misri, its feet tied to-gether, and a hallali proceeded to clean its legs and feet. I was informed that, previous to its entry into the mandi enclosure, the animal had been induced to evacuate all that was in its bowels by means of a reed introduced into the anus, so that it might not defile the ground. The washing of the feet was so thorough and minute that it took about ten minutes, and after that, the tail and liyah (fatty base of the tail characteristic of the local species), and all the wool of the hinder parts were washed with equal scrupulousness. Meanwhile, a priest was washing and scrubbing the leaden sheets of the ritual text (defiled, I presume, by the slaughter of the dove). It was at this point that the profanation of the misri by a child, mentioned earlier, temporarily interrupted proceedings except as regarded the ganzibra inside the mandi. The untoward episode terminated, the hallali lifted the sheep and bore it with him into the pool, plunged himself and the sheep below the surface three times, and, staggering out with difficulty, for the wet sheep with its unshorn fleece was heavy he placed it on the reeds with its head to the east and its tail the west. The knife was washed with the usual formula, the bond of rushes which secured the sheaf of reeds was cut so that the reeds flattened out, and a large dish was placed beneath the throat of the animal to catch its blood. Shaikh 'Abdullah, the priest detailed for the slaughter, performed his rishama, splashed water over his staff touched each part of his rasta in consecration, and placed the tagha and klila on his
head with the usual prayers. Silk taghas must be worn at Panja.

Meanwhile, the other priest and shganda were exchanging pleasantries with the onlookers. The shganda stood by Shaikh 'Abdullah as witness to the slaughter (for at every slaughter a witness is necessary). Shaikh 'Abdullah squatted to the south of the victim, facing the north, and cut its throat, murmuring into its right ear as he bent over it:

(Pronunciation) 'Bushma d Hei, ushma ad Manda-t-Hei madkhar illakh. Pthahil qariakh Hiwel Ziwa paqad illakh miniksakh besrakh dakki kul men ad akhil menakh nihiyi nitessi nitqayyam ushmi ad Hei wushma ad Manda-t-Hei madkhar illakh'

(Translation) 'In the Name of the Life! The name of Manda d Hiia is pronounced upon thee. Pthahil calls thee; Hibil Ziwa ordered thy slaughter. Thy flesh is pure; everyone who eats of it shall live, shall be made healthful, shall be established. The name of the Life and the name of Manda d Hiia are mentioned upon thee.'

The knife, like all sacrificial knives or ritual knives used by Mandaeans, was of iron, and was heated red-hot in a fire after the slaughter was complete, so as to purify it absolutely. The customary small stick, about 6 inches in length, was held with it when the throat was cut. This slaughter-stick may be of olive, tamarisk, willow, mulberry, or any 'clean' wood. 'It is forbidden to slaughter with parzla (iron) only,' is the only explanation of this custom, which I have ever received from the priests. As before, at the slaughter of the dove, both stick and knife were taken down to the pool, Shaikh Abdullah descending into the water to purify himself. He took off his clothes, all but the sharwala, then immersed himself three times, rubbing the shirt in the water to remove blood-stains, and while the knife, too, was washed carefully, the stick was allowed to float away

The formula during the purification is:
(Pronunciation) 'Ushma ad Hei ushma as Manda-t-hei madkhar illey neksit ib parzla halilit byardna ana nakasa marey hayasa ushruley ushwuqley (shbuqlai) hattai havey (hubai) eskhilathey tuqlathey shabshathey diley, Aplan bar Aplana (the names of the ofliciant and his mother), ushma ad Hei ushma ad Manda-t-hei madkhar illey.'

(Translation) 'The name of the Life and the name of Manda d Hiia be pronounced upon me. I have slaughtered with iron, I have purified myself in the yardna. I am a slaughterer, my lord, pardon! Absolve me and free me from my sin, my trespass, my follies, my errors, and my evil deeds, mine, So-and-So son of So-and-So. The name of the Life and the name of Manda d Hiia be pronounced upon me.'

It will be noticed that no purely light names are invoked in this prayer: the sin incurred is a sin against the Great Life through the taking of life.

Water from the pool was also poured on the throat of the dying sheep, and the priest's wet clothes flung on to the mandi roof to dry. When the sheep had gasped its last breath, a torch of burning reeds was brought and applied to its throat. Its four feet and the head were cut off and placed in a dish, and the business of skinning and cutting up was begun by the now semi-naked slaughterer, aided by one of the shgandi. The wool was first shorn away, then a little of the fat cut off and put inside the mandi for the zidqa brikha. The whole business was per-formed on the bed of reeds, and at times the priest washed his hands. A log of wood was floated across the pool towards him from without the misri, and, after this had received its threefold immersion, it was used as a chopping block for the meat. While these lengthy operations were in process, the ganzibra emerged again from the mandi, performed the rishama, and filled two qaninas from the pool, taking one within and placing the other by the right doorpost of the mandi. Followed by a shganda, he again disappeared within the mandi, only to issue once in answer to a shouted suggestion about the ritual from a priest (not an officiant), who sat outside the misri. This priest, who had a roll of the Sharh d Parwanaia in his hand, had a criticism to make about the way in which the ritual was proceeding. Interruptions of this nature are never resented. A passage from the roll was read, dis-cussed, and the matter settled, and then the ganzibra returned to his incantations within the mandi. The second priest officiating, Shaikh Faraj, had also by now divested himself of all his rasta but his sharwala (drawers), dipped under three times in the pool, washed his rasta, put on his wet shirt and washed the sharwala separately, and then hung them and the rest of his rasta above the smoky fire to dry.

The roasting of the meat followed. Small portions of flesh were put in a dish, dipped in salt and then laid as they were on the fire. After a while, the pieces were removed, laid again in salt, and put on a second dish. The result scorched morsels covered with ashes and salt, looked most unappetizing. Flies were soon busy on the meat, and, as the precautions as to ritual cleanliness had been so scrupu-lous, I asked about the flies, which certainly had not undergone the threefold ablution.

They smiled. 'We know, but how can we help it? What the air brings, willow-down' [the cotton-like down fell at every puff of wind like snow from the willow trees which grew in the mandi enclosure], 'dust, or flies, we cannot help.' In any case, flies have no blood, and it is creatures which have blood which are unclean.'

Now and again a priest or shganda ate a morsel of the roasted meat. The skin, wool, and some of the uncooked meat were conveyed outside the mandi, and the offal was taken by a woman to be cast into the river. When the whole chopping and cooking were over, the blood-stained log and reeds were brought to the fire and used as fuel by degrees.

The third act was now ready to begin, and the two priests clothed themselves in their complete rastas, washed their margnas, and, summoned by the ganzibra who came out to fill three qaninas with water, they all three entered the hut for the reading of the rahmi and the rest of the masiqta described in the next chapter. (see pp. 156ff.). The sound of their intoning voices droned on for a long time: the afternoon became dusk and then night. From time to time, from outside, I caught a glimpse of swaying bodies as they read the long liturgies.

At last came the final act, the solemn zidqa brikha in the name of the dead rish 'ama. It was dimly seen by the light of the still burning fire and of two lanterns suspended on sticks. The ganzibra and two priests emerged from the hut, crossed the misri and took their place by the two dravshas planted in the ground of the eastern end of the enclosure. First they swept the ground. A large toriana was set on the ground, and on this unbaked clay table and another near it were placed salt, bread, orange peel, small pieces of roast mutton fat (from the sacrificed sheep's tail, or liyah); with rice (the white, 'not the red shilib), fish, raisins, pomegranate seeds, and other eatables, all of a vegetable nature except the fat of the slaughtered sheep and the fish. A shganda, emerging ghost-like from the darkness, brought a branch of myrtle and held it over this table of tabutha or 'good things' as the medley was called. The two dravshas were a little to the east of the strange scene. The customary sanctification of the rasta took place: piece by piece it was touched and sanctified, the shganda sitting facing the priests and holding the branch of myrtle. Then came the dukhrana, the 'remembrance' or solemn mention of the blessed souls of those in the world of light, including that of the long-dead rish 'ama. The ganzibra and the priests each took a handful of the food and held it while one of the priests recited the zidqa brikha prayers with the Abahathan prayer (see pp.218-222), and then carried it to their mouths and ate it. The ganzibra played a silent part during this ceremony, and the onlookers reminded me that during this zidqa brikha he was impersonating his ancestor, in whose name together with that of his wife, the prayers were offered. (For the full ritual of this zidqa brikha see pp. 205 ff.).

When some of the food before them had been eaten, the ganzibra, holding a piece of myrtle, read from a book. All three placed sprigs of myrtle plume-like into their turbans and, one after another, drank hamra from their kepthas in the name of the dead. Then the two priests rose, and placing the ends of their stoles upon the head of the crouch-ing and silent figure of the ganzibra, prayed. The ganzibra then handed the book from which he had read to them officiating priest (Shaikh Abdullah), who read from it in his turn. I heard lists of dead persons. 'So-and-So, son of So-and-So, a forgiver of sins may there be for me.'

At long last came the de-consecration of the rasta, and, in the uncertain light, all three weary men bent to smell the myrtle and to say, 'Lovely is the perfume of life, my lord, Manda of Life!'

It was the end. I saw a priest, in the dark, dig the tomb of the dove and fatiri, and went home.

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