BĀJ, a principal Zoroastrian observance meaning primarily “utterance of consecration;” reference to bāj has been current in Mazdean literature since at least Sasanian times, spelled in Book Pahlavi wʾc, Middle Persian wāz, Parthian wāj, and variously wāj, wāž, bāj, bāž, bāz in New Persian. Boyce and Kotwal, in their exhaustive studies of bāj, explain the term as deriving from Old Iranian wā/ăk- “word, speech” and follow Tavadia’s definition of bāj as a “particular essential formula” which precedes, accompanies, or follows an action (J. C. Tavadia, in Dinshah Irani Memorial Volume, pt. 2; Boyce and Kotwal, I, p. 57). Always recited in Avestan language, bāj serves to frame ritual actions with a symbolic boundary of sacred speech (just as the physical boundary of the karš “furrow” known as pāvi is drawn around the actual location of a religious ritual). A bāj must be recited without faltering, and only the prescribed actions (and none other) may be performed under the protection of that bāj. The major Zoroastrian liturgical rite, the yasna, is held to be so powerful in itself that its initial and concluding bāj are simply one recitation of the prayer ašəm vohū, by each priest, before and after the ceremony. Integral parts of the yasna ritual, however, have their own bāj, when the two celebrant priests “give” and “take” bāj between themselves to maintain the utmost cooperation, “so that their full ritual power (ʿamal) may be concentrated in order to make more effective the rite about to be performed” (Boyce and Kotwal, I, p. 60). A shorter form of the yasna ceremony (yašt ī keh) contains a bāj which is called yašt ī drōn “service of the drōn” (because there it encloses the ritual tastings of the drōn “sacred portion [of bread]”). The yašt ī drōn was said as a service in its own right as a bāj ī nān xwardan “bāj for eating bread,” i.e., as a grace for eating food at normal daily meals. Just as in temple services after the initial bāj was spoken no words other than those of the accompanying bāj might be pronounced, so with bāj ī nān xwardan silence was maintained until the concluding bāj was spoken after the meal. In liturgical and domestic contexts, if any other speech was necessary it was uttered bista “with closed [lips]” (New Persian basta, cf. Middle Persian māwāg “inarticulate[ly]”). Nowadays in Iran only priests eat with bāj, as also in India where Parsi priests do so only when maintaining high states of ritual purity and for festivals. Yašt ī drōn, which is known by the generic term bāj among Parsi Zoroastrians, is said as a powerful prophylactic prayer for many actions in daily life; such a bāj is dedicated to the yazad whose protection is believed to be strongest for the particular action. E.g., Srōš is invoked to protect against decay and death (for funerary and purification rites, etc.). Forms of bāj have functioned as frames for the highest religious and also the most personal human actions, and as such they have exerted a force of discipline and control upon Zoroastrian community and individual.
M. Boyce and F. M. Kotwal, “Zoroastrian bāj and drōn I, II,” BSOAS 34, 1971, pp. 56-73, 299-313.
J. J. Modi, Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsis, Bombay, 2nd ed., 1937, chap. XV.
T. D. Anklesaria and S. D. Bharucha, Dādestān-e dīnī, Bombay, 1926, pp. 48-54.
J. C. Tavadia, ed., Šāyast nē-šāyast, Hamburg, 1930, passim.
(A. V. Williams)
Originally Published: December 15, 1988
Last Updated: August 24, 2011
This article is available in print.
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