Considered the most exalted and ‘esoteric’ (in the sense of ‘hidden’, ‘specialised’) religious practice by the Zoroastrians of India (Parsis), the nīrangdīn is also one of the longest and hardest ceremonies of the Zoroastrian liturgy. Its main objective is the transmutation of a bull’s urine (gōmēz) into the sacred elixir known as nīrang, which is a mandatory ritual implement (ālāt) for the performance of all the other Zoroastrian high ceremonies. By means of historical and textual analysis combined with ethnographic research methods, this research project aims at examining how the nīrangdīn ceremony informs the religious fabric of the Parsi community and the ongoing process of religious individualisation. Furthermore, this project intends to explore the role of ritual power in the Parsi community and the emic views on esotericism, as well as the transmission of rituals with the related legitimation and concealment strategies. Nowadays, less than 15 priests are able to perform this ritual in the Parsi community whose steep demographic decline makes Zoroastrianism, and particularly the nīrangdīn ceremony, a critically endangered heritage.
Priest taking a break during the performance of the nīrangdīn ceremony at the ‘Minocher Pundol’ Fire Temple, Udvada (Gujarat), India. Photo credit: Mariano Errichiello 2019.
Varasiaji in Surat (Gujarat), India, a consecrated white bull whose urine is purified during the nīrangdīn ceremony. Photo credit: Mariano Errichiello 2019.