Fly-overs to Salvation
by Ervad Marzban Hathiram
The division of a day into a certain number of distinct periods is a common feature in many religions, and the Zoroastrian faith is no exception. The Avesta divides the day into 5 distinct periods called gahs. The changeover from each period to the next is marked by the recitation of specific prayers. The question arises: What is the rationale for such a division? While a cursory study may show merely a functional division of the day, a closer look at the prayers signifying the different gahs reveals a singular of salvation at work.
At the core of the gahs lies the concept of time. The Avesta has three distinct concepts of time. Each individual has his own personal time period, called Thwashe Khadat, which is one cycle of birth to death. The world we live in has its own time frame, called Zurvane Darego Khadat, a repeating cycle of 81,000 years from creation to destruction. These two are part of Zurvane Akarne, or endless time, which is cosmic, immeasurable and merged within the three dimensions.
It is the individual’s duty not only to earn salvation from his individual cycle of birth and death, but also to assist the Creator in helping others, the whole world and ultimately the entire creation attain their respective salvation. And the gahs are the centre point in this exercise, as they contain the methodologies for doing so. Each gah, besides being a division of time is also seen as a cosmic entity working with its co-workers and helping others.
The day, and man’s journey, begins with Havan gah, stretching from sunrise to noon. Havan signifies the start of a cosmic journey, where man is full of vigour and enthusiasm, although unsure of what he actually has to do. In his haste he makes mistakes, perhaps even taking the wrong path. Havan’s co-workers are Savangh and Vis. Savangh collects the good and bad deeds that man does and safe keeps them for future use, while Vis is the compassionate, the merciful who through his love guides man away from evil, giving him gentle lessons on the way.
Soon man reaches Rapithwan gah, which stretches from noon till 3 p.m. Here the heat of the midday sun saps him of his enthusiasm. He gets bogged down in the affairs of the world and family, entwining himself in the clutches of obligation and give and take. His earlier misdemenours catch up with him, he realises that he has lost his way, and pretty soon begins to lose hope. Now the co-workers of Rapithwin, Fradat Fshu and Zantu step in. Fradat Fshu is the gentle source of hope and sustenance to man, laying the foundations of faith. Zantu is the hard taskmaster, who thumps all the evil baggage that man has collected earlier onto his weary head in the form of misfortunes and bad luck. He punishes, passes man through the smelter, and makes him emerge scarred but pure, ready to move on.
And so man moves into the Uziran gah, stretching from 3pm till sunset. The evening’s cool shade comforts him even as the impending darkness frightens him; the co-worker Fradat Vira imbibes him with spiritual strength to face hunger and poverty, while co-worker Dakhyu gives him the spiritual wisdom, called Khshnoom, persistence and faith. Man now realises his import in nature, sees before him his unfinished tasks and approaches the darkness with quiet trepidation.
Darkness now envelopes the world as the Aiwisruthrem gah commences, stretching from sunset to 12 midnight. The evils of darkness-passion, lust and promiscuity arise in man. The co-worker Aibigayai supports and protects him, while Fradat Vispam Huzyaiti induces him to sleep, so he can wake refreshed. While the tired man sleeps, co-workers Zarathushtrotemas wage a valiant battle against evil.
Finally man drifts into Ushahen gah, stretching from midnight to dawn. Co-worker Bereza blesses him, shows him the now straight path to salvation, while Nmana accompanies him on the way to Hoshbam, the dawn of consciousness. Man approaches this final destination, chanting the prayer of the same name: "Through our actions may we approach You, may we come near You, may we enter into eternal friendship with You!"
This is how the individual’s fortunes are linked to those of all creation, in the Zoroastrian account. The Creator has set us on a long and treacherous road to trek before we can finally be one with Him, but in His kindness and compassion, has also built us flyovers and expressways to speed up our journey. The gahs are, undoubtedly, the most grand of these creations.