STŪM (Av. staoma-, MPers. stūm, satūm, stum, Pers. satumi, Guj. astam) “(ritual of) praise” in Zoroastrianism, in serving as a means of commemorating the mortal soul (Av. uruuan-, MPers. ruwān, Pers. and Gujerati ravān) and the immortal spirit (Av. frauuaṣ̌i-, MPers. frawahr, Guj. farōhar) of each Zoroastrian (Figure 1). It persists in contemporary Indian practice and also has an equivalent Iranian rite.
The stūm is an outer ritual, that is, one performed in the outer precinct of a fire temple or even in a clean area of a home, often on a carpet or table. The ritual’s name comes from Av. stav- (Pahl. stūdan, stāyīdan, stāy-, Pazand stāīdan, Pers. sotudan, setudan; cf. Skt. stóm- < IE *st-, *st(ə)) “to praise, to profess.” It is mentioned in the first line of recitation, derived from Y.26.1: aṣ̌āunąm vaŋuhīš sūrā̊ spəṇtā̊ frauuaṣ̌aiiō staomi “I praise the good, strong, holy immortal spirits of the orderly ones.” Its practice is attested during late medieval and premodern times by references in the Persian Rivāyats (composed 1478-1773 CE) and the Rahbar-i dīn-i Jarthushtī (composed in Gujarati by Dastur Erachji Sohrabji Meherjirana in 1869).
The act of performing this ritual itself is termed Stūm-nō kardō by Parsis, while the ceremony with consecration of a food offering is termed Stūm-nu bhōnu. The offerings (Av. miiazda-, MPers. mēzd, Pers. and Guj. myazd), usually cooked food items or raw fruits, plus the scents of those items were thought to attract the frauuaṣ̌i- (see FRAVAŠI) to gather together (cf. Yt. 13.64) to be propitiated (Y. 26.7) by living Zoroastrians who seek their blessing (Yt. 13.51). So the stūm became an obligatory performance for the dead (Modi, 1937, pp. 402-4). The stūm can be performed for living persons too as a preemptive ritual to ensure that the religious path to the afterlife has been prepared properly for an individual’s mortal soul and immortal spirit in case death transpires within a setting where funerary rites cannot be performed appropriately. In that situation, the corporeal existence (MPers. zīndag-ruwān, Guj. zinda-rawān) of the person(s) whose uruuan- and frauuaṣ̌i- are honored prior to death is mentioned. Parsi practice permits the stūm for a living person to be performed in conjunction with a year-long zinda-ravān and when the gāhānbār (gāhambār) feasts are celebrated (Modi, 1937, pp. 417-18).
The stūm consists of five stages: šnūman (Av. xšnūmaine-) or dedicatory formula, Yasna 26 or the rite proper, the dībāca or prefatory recitation, a series of propitiatory recitations, and the bāj (MPers. wāz) which serves as a closing recitation.
Recitation of the šnūman (Meherjirana 1954, pp. 613-27) should be dedicated by the magus to the yazata- (MPers. yazad) or worship-worthy spirit in whose name the stūm is performed. This šnūman consists of Sīrōza 1.1 (or litany for the spirits presiding over the days of month) honoring Ahura Mazdā and the Aməša Spəntas, together with Sīrōza 1.19 honoring the ardā fravaš or all righteous immortal spirits: ahurahe mazdā̊ raēuuatō xvarənaŋuhatō aməṣ̌anąm spəṇtanąm “For Ahura Mazdā the radiant and glorious, for the Aməša Spəntas,” and aṣ̌āunąm frauuaṣ̌inąm uγranąm aiβiθūranąm “For the mighty, victorious, immortal spirits of the righteous ones.” In addition, a šnūman can be performed in honor of Sraoša without mention of Ahura Mazdā at the beginning because that yazata manifests mąθra.spənta- (MPers. mānsar-spand, māraspand), “the holy word” and is in charge of prayer itself (Kotwal and Boyd, 1991, p. 91; Kreyenbroek, 1985, pp. 29-130, 143-45).
Next, Y. 26.1-11 is recited. The first stanza is omitted in the stūm. So this prayer begins with the words staomi zbaiiemi “I praise, I invoke,” followed by the names of frauuaṣ̌i-: Ahura Mazdā, Aməša Spəntas, the earliest devotees, of Gayo Marətan (see GAYŌMART), the legendary first androgyne, Zarathushtra, Kavi Vištāspa (see KAYĀNIĀN ix), and Isat̰.vāstra, the eldest son of Zarathushtra, of living, dead, and future Zoroastrians, and finally of the Saoshyant (Av. Saošiiant-, MPers. Sōšāns) or future savior (see ASTVAT̰.ƎRƎTA).
Then the dībāca is whispered by the priest in bāj or undertone, because it is a Pazand passage recited between two sections of the Avestan scripture (Kotwal and Boyd, 1991, pp. 149-53). The dībāca recounts the hope that through the good thoughts, good words, and good deeds of living Zoroastrians—especially those persons commissioning and performing the ritual—the stūm would be efficacious and religiosity will be spread throughout the world. It seeks to please the frauuaṣ̌i- through the offering so they will reciprocate by bestowing joy, prosperity, and wellbeing to residents of the province, city, town, or village named in the recitation. After Ahura Mazdā, the Aməša Spəntas (as a group), and all the frauuaṣ̌i- are invoked, the deceased or living individual on whose behalf the stūm occurs is named; so is he or she who commissioned the ritual (if different from the person being honored). The names of Zarathushtra and, often, other legendary and historical Zoroastrians like Gayo Marətan, Saoshyant, Ādurbād ī Maraspand, and Neryosangh Dhaval also can be invoked in bāj with the words: nāmcištī anaošah ravān ravāni … [name of individual] … aēdar yāt bāt “May the soul of … [name of individual] … be especially remembered here among the immortal souls.” Each person’s religious title of ērvad (MPers. hērbed, “teacher priest, theologian”), ostā (Pers. ostād “teacher” < MPers. hāwišt, “disciple, pupil”), and behdīn (MPers. wehdēn, “member of the good religion”) is prefixed to his or her name. Then hamā ašō farōhar “all the righteous immortal spirits” are aēdar yāt bāt “remembered here” again in connection with especial mention of the particular Zoroastrian for whose soul and immortal spirit the ritual has been commissioned. The collective immortal spirits of Zoroastrians past, present, and future, of family members, of the societal classes, and of people on every continent will be invoked, as well, in order to expand the sphere of devotion to include the good deeds of all devotees.
Next, a series of propitiatory recitations are undertaken by the priest, commencing with Y. 26.11.1 (the rest of 26.11 is not recited during the stūm ritual) vīspā̊ frauuaṣ̌aiiō aṣ̌āunąm yazamaide iristanąm uruuąnō yazamaide yā̊ aṣ̌aonąm frauuaṣ̌aiiō “We venerate all the immortal spirits of the righteous ones, we venerate the souls of the deceased, who are the immortal spirits of the righteous ones.” Y. 6.19 aṣ̌āunąm vaŋuhīš sūrā̊ spəṇtā̊ frauuaṣ̌aiiō yazamaide “We venerate the good, strong, holy immortal spirits of the righteous ones” and Y. 6.20.1 vīspe aṣ̌auuanō yazata yazamaide “We venerate all the righteous veneration-worthy spirits” follow. Y. 6.20.2 is skipped, because it refers to the ratu- or spiritual chiefs of ritual. Y. 6.20.3 is recited, however, with variation according to the gāh or period (watch) of the day, followed by the Yeŋ́hē hātąm prayer (Y. 27.15.3) yeŋ́hē hātąm āat̰ yesnē paitī vaŋhō mazdā̊ ahurō vaēθā aṣ̌āt̰ hacā yā̊ŋhąmcā tąscā tā̊scā yazamaide “In accordance with order, Ahura Mazdā knows those male and female entities who are better for veneration. We venerate those male and female entities.” Then the priest utters, in bāj, a short Pazand formula based on the Xwaršēd Niyāyišn (Niyāyišn 1.16.2): hōrmezd i xᵛadāe i aβazūnī mardum mardum sardagą hamā sardagą hambāyast i vahą vaem vahə dīn i māzdayasną āgāhī āstuuąnī nēkī rasąnāt̰ ēduṇ bāt̰ “Lord Ahura Mazdā, increaser of people, the human species, all species, and all good coreligionists, may knowledge, steadfastness [of belief], and virtue come to the good ones of the Mazdean religion. So may it be.”
The bāj or closing recitation commences thereafter. First, the Ahunawar (q.v.) prayer is chanted twice. Then comes yasnəmca vahməmca aojasca zauuarəca āfrīnāmi “I bless the veneration, adoration, power, and ability of” plus the name of the yazata in whose honor the stūm ritual is being performed, followed by one Ašəm vohū (q.v.) prayer. Thereafter, the standard unit of four prayers—namely, Ahmāi raēšca, Hazaŋrəm, Jasa mē avaŋhe Mazdā, and Kərfə muzd—are to be recited to conclude the stūm ritual.
The ritual is conducted in the presence of a holy fire on a small altar (Guj. āfrīngānyu, afargānyu) to which sandalwood (Guj. sukhar, sukhad) and frankincense (Guj. lōbān) are offered by the magus. Family members of the person for whose soul the ritual is undertaken offer sandalwood and incense to the fire afterwards. The food offering, representing the sacrifice, is placed before the priest, next to the fire vase before the ritual commences.
In Iran an equivalent ritual called yašt-i šavgīra “hymn of the night period” used to be conducted during the 1960s in memory of a deceased Zoroastrian’s mortal soul and immortal spirit during the ušahin gāh of the third night after the fourth drōn service in honor of ardā fravaš has been performed. It seems to have parallels as well with the four bāj services performed by Parsis in India (Modi, 1937, p. 81). This custom may have arisen from late medieval practice, where recitation of the stūm was substituted if the drōn service in honor of ardā fravaš and faroxši could not be performed (Persian Rivāyats: Unvala, ed., I, p. 502; Boyce, 1977, pp. 154-55; Boyce and Kotwal, 1999, pp. 311-12; Choksy, 1996, p. 554). Zoroastrians in the region of Yazd included cloth for the ritual undershirt (MPers. šabīg, Pers. sedra, šīv, šabī, Guj. sudra), a ritual cord (MPers. kustīg [q.v.], Pers. kōštī, Guj. kustī), and a silver coin or ring among the offerings to be consecrated.
Parsis perform a stūm with its food offering on the fourth day after death, following the yasna, āfrīnagān, and bāj rituals, during the hāwan gāh around midmorning. The priests who undertook the rites in honor of Sraoša during the three preceding days for the spiritual welfare of the deceased person are requested to honor Ahura Mazdā and the departed soul by gratefully consuming the food after taking the bāj of Ohrmazd. Other Zoroastrians may partake as well, because the food items are a charitable good deed. Another stūm-nu bhōnu is performed during the uzērin gāh or evening. The stūm also can be performed by Parsis three times each day—in the early morning and midmorning (hāwan gāh) and in the early evening (uzērin gāh)—on the fifth through tenth days after the death occurred. Further stūm rituals for the soul of a deceased or living individual may be commissioned on monthly and annual anniversaries of a death.
The ritual is popular too on the six gāhāmbār (see GĀHĀNBĀR)—especially on the all souls’ days (Av. hamaspaθmaēdaiia-, Pahl. frawardīgān, N.Pers. panjī, Guj. muktād). Other occasions for undertaking a stūm include frawardīn rōz or day of the immortal spirits (which is the nineteenth day of each month), jašn (Guj. jašan) or festival days (where the day and month dedicated to a divine entity coincide). Traditionalist Parsi men and women still pay priests to perform the ritual on the day before their marriage (Guj. varadh patra < varadh “ancestor” + patra “correspondence”) in honor of bygone relative (Modi, 1937, p. 20). Magi, relatives, and friends consume the consecrated food on each occasion, except at the varadh patra, when it is reserved for family members and their friends.
In contemporary Parsi practice, the traditional food offering for the early morning stūm consists of sweet dishes (Guj. mīthī vāṇī), porridge (Guj. khīr), and well water (Guj. kuvā-nu pāṇī) in a metal vessel placed in the center of the individual items of the offering. The midmorning food offering may include rice and lentils or split peas with sheep, goat, or chicken meat (Guj. gosht-nu dhānshāk) or without meat (Guj. dhānshāk), meatballs (Guj. kabāb), fried fish (Guj. tarelī machhī), gourd with meat (Guj. dōdhī-nu gosht), a vegetable salad with radishes plus limes and lemons (Guj. kachumbar-linbu), wine, and a pot of well water. At the early evening ritual, the consecrated meal comprises thin flat wheat bread (Guj. rōtlī, rōtī), potatoes with meat (Guj. papetā-nu gosht), fried fish, cream custard, wine, and a pot of well water. Some orthodox families, at locales like Navsari, Surat, and Udvada, continue to follow this pattern of food offerings. The more common custom among Parsi families in large Indian cities and in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Western countries is to prepare a sweet, a couple of fried eggs, a flat bread, and a pot of water, or even more frequently to purchase and present fruits in lieu of cooked food, for the early morning stūm. A couple of cooked dishes and a pot of water constitute the offerings for the midmorning and early evening stūm. The varadh patra offering, less frequent in recent years, may include large crisp cream of wheat doughnuts (Guj. varadh-varān), vermicelli (Guj. sev), fried fish, and pieces of unrefined palm sugar or jaggery with wafers (Guj. gol-pāpdī, gor-pāprī). All purity laws relating to preparation of food should be followed for each offering—including ensuring that the metal cooking utensils and containers are clean and that the food is cooked at home by Zoroastrians (Choksy, 1989, pp. 103-4). Moreover, if the site where the ritual is to be conducted is outside the home—such as at a fire temple—then purity of the offerings must be ensured during transportation. Consequently, fruits are often substituted for cooked food, as the issue of loss of ritual purity does not arise.
Essentially a soliloquy of remembrance, the stūm ritual links living Zoroastrians to deceased coreligionists by reminding them that righteousness during life ensures salvation after death (Kotwal and Choksy, 2004).
M. Boyce, A Persian Stronghold of Zoroastrianism, Oxford, 1977; repr., Lanham, Md., 1989.
M. Boyce, “The Absorption of the Fravašis into Zoroastrianism,” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungarium 48, 1995, pp. 25-36.
M. Boyce and F. M. Kotwal, “Farōkši,” in EIr. IX, 1999, pp. 311-12.
J. K. Choksy, Purity and Pollution in Zoroastrianism: Triumph over Evil, Austin, 1989.
Idem, “Drōn,” in EIr. VII, 1996, pp. 554-55.
F. M. Kotwal and J. W. Boyd, A Persian Offering, The Yasna: A Zoroastrian High Liturgy, Studia Iranica, cahier 8, Paris, 1991.
F. M. Kotwal and J. K. Choksy, “To Praise the Souls of the Deceased and the Immortal Spirits of the Righteous Ones: The Staomi or Stūm Ritual’s History and Functions,” in Zoroastrian Rituals in Context, Studies in the History of Religions, vol. 102, ed. M. Stausberg, Leiden, 2004, pp. 389-401.
Ph. G. Kreyenbroek, Sraoša in the Zoroastrian Tradition, Leiden, 1985.
R. D. Meherjirana, Āfrīngānō, āfrīnō, frawaši stōmnā kardā temaj bājdharnā sāthē, Bombay, 1954; repr., 1988, 1991.
J. J. Modi, The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees, 2nd ed., Bombay, 1937; repr., Bombay, Society for the Promotion of Zoroastrian Religious Knowledge and Education, 1986.
M. R. Unvala, ed., Dârâb Hormazyâr’s Rivâyat, 2 vols., Bombay, 1922.
(Firoze M. Kotwal and Jamsheed K. Choksy)
Originally Published: January 1, 2000
Last Updated: June 14, 2013