Joy Grows From the Conquest of Evil

by Ervad Marzban Hathiram

Sometime in August or September, the Parsis celebrate their New Year with traditional gaiety, visiting the fire temple, going to see comic theatricals, eating pulao dal, sali boti, patra-ni-machhi and wishing one another ‘Pateti Mubarak’.

Newspapers will diligently carry small reports on the celebrations, perhaps with a photograph of a happy family posing in front of a fire temple; some will even wish their Parsi readers on occasion.  For many Parsis and non-Parsis, then, Pateti is a moment of rejoicing that is synonymous with the New Year.

Pateti is not, in fact, the New Year.  It is the last day of the closing year, while the following day, Navroze, is the first day of the next. The word ‘Pateti’ is derived from the Pazend patet, meaning ‘repentance’. And since Pateti is the Day of Repentance, surely it is paradoxical to wish someone ‘Pateti Mubarak’?

To understand this paradox, we must understand what patet, loosely translated as repentance, regret for some act of wrongdoing or sin, really is. But how is sin defined?  Given that the Parsis lay much store by ‘good thoughts, good words, and good deeds’, any action that contravenes these ideals must be deemed a sin, an offence against the good.  But what, then, is the `good’? Is it human-defined and subject to changes of circumstance and perception, or is it divinely ordained and immutable?

The answer to that is found in the Patet Pashemani or Prayer of Repentance, as also in the Gathas. The Patet says: “Ahuramazda khodae gunah andar din paeda be kard i vehane poryotkaeshan gunah dashteh ested.” That is, “The Lord Ahuramazda has decreed these as sins and they have been so written and followed by His lawgivers in deed and example.” The Gathas say: “Atcha hoi schantu manangha…erezush patho yam daenam ahuro saoshyanto dadat.” That is: “The saoshyants, religious teachers, shall indeed teach the real paths of the religionpaths that have been given to them by Ahura Mazda Himself-to him (man)” (Yasna 53.2, Gatha Vahishtaishti).

Thus ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are defined by God: although eternal, their forms may change from era to era. Humans have been given the ‘real paths’ by the Lord Himself, and if they choose wilfully to go astray and come into sin, there is no alternative but to offer patet.

The concept of patet is closely linked to the concept of khuda or khodae, loosely and inaccurately translated as ‘god’. The khuda is the personal spiritual guide of every man and woman, nominated by the Lord to oversee his or her progress. The khuda is the controller of a person’s destiny, deciding how to shower upon him or her that sequence of joys and sorrows, elation and frustrations that we call fate.

It is important to understand that the khuda is not the creator or originator of destiny, which is formed by the person’s own thoughts, words and deeds. The khuda may be seen, rather, as an accountant desperately trying to balance the two sides of the ledger, the accounts of good and evil that a person draws up along the route of life.  Should the debit side prevail, the person would inevitably suffer grief; on the other hand, if the credit side outweighs the other, the entitlement of happiness results.

By offering patet, a person says, “I admit that I have committed a sin, and that I therefore deserve and will surely be given retribution. But I pray that the retribution is such that I might bear it. I pray to my khuda to grant me the spiritual strength to avoid falling into the same error again.”

Our question as to why Parsis should wish each other ‘Pateti Mubarak’ still remains unanswered. The answer to this is found in the last paragraph of the Patet, which says, “Pa neki sepasdar hom, az anai khorsand hom.” That is, “However much I thank the Lord for His goodness, it is not enough. Whatever trials and sorrows He may award, I accept happily: because in that lies my redemption.”

This single sentence is the essence of Zoroastrian philosophy, the reason for the endless optimism and joie de vivre of the Parsi community. Having accepted the inevitable, they recite the Patet on the last day of the year and purge themselves of evil; this enables them to usher in the New Year joyously, content in the thought that their gracious spiritual guide will lead them towards the Path of Bliss and so to the Lord Himself.