Mandaean identity - Mandaean Associations Union - اتحاد الجمعيات المندائية

Mandaean identity (9)

 Although Mandaeans neglected to document their history and have lost much of their oral traditions, they were quite eager to keep their religious heritage by copying their manuscripts. They therefore adopted strict regulations for copying their sacred manuscripts, to maintain and preserve them from one generation to the next.

The Ginza Rabba, or “Great Treasure”, is Mandaeans’ largest collection of religious principles and instructions. According to their beliefs, the Ginza was the first revelation of God to Adam and thus considered as their holy book. Among Mandaeans, the book is also known as Sidra Rabba, the great codex or Sidra ’d Adam, the codex of Adam.

As unique as these people are, their holy book is specially arranged: it consists of two volumes, the yamina or “right” and smala or “left” Ginza. The “right” volume is larger and contains 18 chapters divided into individual tractates, whereas the “left” volume includes 3 main chapters containing many hymns. The way of binding both volumes together is very particular and used by the Mandaeans only for this book. Both parts have to be bundled together in one tome; the “left” part is placed upside-down to the “right” part, so that both parts can be read from right-to-left according to the Mandaic alphabet.

The Ginza Rabba varies in its contents and deals with spiritual, even metaphysical aspects. It also deals with the mortal life of human beings and describes ancient visions concerning life after death. In particular, the “right” volume depicts the Mandaean theology, cosmogony and anthropogeny, i.e. the Mandaeans’ dogma of monotheism and the creation story of the cosmos and mankind; in this part, Mandaean ethics are outlined by a detailed account of moral duties. On the other hand, the “left” volume is concerned entirely with the return of the soul to its origin in the world of light; it is about the ascent of the soul after death and the idea of eternal life.

Generally, the Ginza Rabba represents consecutively the principles of the Mandaean doctrine: the belief of the only one great God, Hayyi Rabbi, to whom all absolute properties belong; he created all the worlds, formed the soul through his power, and placed it by means of angels into the human body. So he created Adam and Hawa/Eve, the first man and woman. Since the soul was brought down to the material world, it has to stay for a defined period of time in the human body and is obliged to suffer its worldly fate; however, the soul as a part of the divine creation should encourage human beings to do good deeds and to confront evil with God’s help. God therefore sent the saviour to protect the soul, along with messengers to guide the people to a pious life according to His will. When the soul completes its predestined lifespan, the saviour will come to accompany it back from the body to its origins, whereupon it has to pass through several stations of purification.
In more recent times, Mandaeans have been facing serious difficulties in reading and understanding the Ginza Rabba, and explaining its contents to their children and neighbors because of its original Mandaic language.
In the past, there were several serious attempts to translate the Ginza Rabba into foreign languages by scholars as part of their studies of Mandaean religion. This began with the attempt of the Swedish Orientalist Mathias Norberg to translate it into Latin in 1815/1816. The first printed version of the Ginza Rabba was copied by the German Orientalist Heinrich Julius Petermann in 1867. Then the German scholar Wilhelm Brandt attempted to translate the whole book into German, but only published some portions in 1839. His colleague Mark Lidzbarski produced the first translation of the whole book into German in 1925. Other scholars included in their publications some passages translated into English, usually relying upon the German version.
Despite these considerable efforts, Mandaeans were unable to use these editions in Iraq and Iran due to the unfamiliarity of German and Latin there. As the result of an increasing need to have a comprehensible Ginza in Iraq, the headship of the Mandaeans decided to translate the Ginza Rabba into Arabic.

Since the last quarter of the twentieth century, the Mandaeans have been forced to leave their homelands. They have escaped to many countries, so that three-quarters of them are now living in the Diaspora.
Due to their emigration to foreign countries, the new generation of Mandaeans is becoming fully integrated into their new societies. They are deeply influenced by the cultures and the languages of these new “homelands”. However, they have to sustain their identity by means of understanding their own religion and presenting their faith to other interested people.

As a result of this, it became necessary to translate the Ginza Rabba into English, so that coming generations will maintain their religious education in a language which is of common use.
Even though this edition represents a translation of the meaning, reflecting the intentions behind the original text rather than a literal translation, we were quite careful and attentive towards conveying the spiritually worded text from its Mandaic origins to an understandable language. The Ginza Rabba should be easily read and understood by everyone; our aim is to make its ancient heritage coherent with modern usage, so that readers are not confused.
This project was according to the permission and supervision of Rishema Sattar Jabbar Hillo the head of the Mandaeans in the world and Rishema Salah Jabbar Tawos the head of the Mandaeans in Australia. I would like to thank them for involving me in this important project.

Monday, 25 March 2013 16:20

The Mandaean Alphabet

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The alphabet is called by the Mandaeans the abaga. Each letter according to them represents a power of life and light, and the first and last letters, the 'alpha and omega', are the same and represent perfection of light and life. Yet they say this perfection was itself created, it did not create itself. 'When the a o (according to another narrator 'Melka d Anhura') was created, he cried, "There is none mightier than I!" As he said this, he saw on the face of the waters the twenty-four' letters of the alphabet, like a bridge, and said to himself, "Who created these? I did not, therefore there must be one mightier than I!"' A legend says that the letters were written originally on the ksuya or robe of Mara d Rabutha. Another represents Hibil Ziwa as teaching Adam his letters.

Hence, Mandaeans look upon their alphabet as magical and sacred. Writing is under the especial protection of the planet Nbu (Enwo in pronunciation). Letters of the alphabet, inscribed on twenty-four scraps of silver or gold, are placed under the pillow of a person who desires heavenly guidance in some matter of difficulty. Each night one is removed, and if the sleeper has a dream bearing upon the matter about which he is troubled, he considers that the spirit belonging to the letter which he has singled and taken out that night has given him a revelation and is willing to come to his aid. The letter is henceforth worn as a charm round his neck. Most magical scrolls begin with the letters of the alphabet given in their order, and often with their vowel modifications as well. The reading of letters aloud is a charm to keep off evil spirits. This reading of the letters, or exorcism, has its own verb-- 'to abaga'. Abaga is equivalent to 'he read a spell'.

The first and last letters have as their sign a circle, possibly representing the sun-disk as a symbol of light. They are pronounced like the vowel a. It is worth remembering that the Phoenician 'aleph' 4 (our A) is the ox-head, alpha meaning 'ox', and that the Bull was symbolical of the sky and of the sun.

The vowels are modifications of this circle and, similarly, may represent the setting and rising sun, the angular shape having been adopted for the purpose of clarity.

The pronunciation of
is precisely the same as it would be if it had been written separately

Mandaean explanations of the inner meaning of the symbols are interesting as being traditional, though in some cases the original symbolism has obviously been forgotten. Over some letters there was disagreement and doubt, over others none. One of my informants was a priest, the other a member of a literate and priestly family. "

O (A) - the Highest of all - Perfection, Light and Life, the beginning and end of all things

Ba - (Ab). The Great Father

Ga - (1) : Gauriil Ishliha - Gabriel the Messenger
(2):Gimra anat Gmira - Perfection thou art Perfect

Da - Dirka - the way or law

Ha - (1): Hiia rbia. The Great Life
(2): Hibil Ziwa.

Wa - Weyli! (written Wailh). Woe to him who listens not to the language of light!

Za - Ziwa--The word means radiance or rather active light active. The character is evidently a pictograph of the sun above the horizon or he sun as a life-giver

Eh - This Letter is so sacred that it is not much employed. It represents the Eye of God.

T'a - (1) Tab - Good (pronouned Tau)
(2) It is the bird (tayr) representing the soul leaving the body to return (to the World of Light). This is clearly the pictograph of a flying bird, symbol of the freed soul, the mana winging its way back to the Great Mana.

Ya - (1) Yowmono -the day
(2) Yamin - the right - the right is symbolic of Light the left of darkness, the right of being and the left of non-being.

Ka - (1) Klila - The Myrtle Wreath
(2) Kushta - Truth, right-dealing, righteous

La - Lishan - the tongue which praises

Ma - Mana Rba Kabira. - The Great First Mind or Soul

Na - Nhura - Light

Sa - Simat Hiia - the mother of all life

' - Ain - the Eye or Fountain (not a guttural in Mandaic merely a vowel)

Pa - Pira anat Haiy - Thou art the tree of Life

S'a - S'auta abar qadmaiia. Thou art the First Voice (sound)

Qa - Qala anat qadmaiia d' Hiia -. Thou art the first cry of Life

Sha - Shamish (sun spirit)

Ta - Toba - repentance

Adu - this is counted as a letter always though it is the possessive particle

A - O first letter.


The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran By E.S. Drower Leiden: E.J. Brill: 1962 Pges 240 & 241




Monday, 25 March 2013 23:36

Where Are The Mandaeans

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The Mandaeans have for the last 2000 years resided along the banks of the Lower Euphrates and Tigris rivers in Southern Iraq and in Khuzestan ( Iran ) along the Karun River . Mandaeans today may also be found in the larger cities such as Bagdad and Ahwaz .

In the last few years the Mandaeans have been migrating to the United States , Canada , Europe , Australia , and New Zealand due to a number of conditions that exist in both Iraq and Iran .

Tne important item that must noted is that while the Mandaeans are often referred to as the "Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran " this term is simply a geographic title. The Mandaeans lived along the river sytems that now encompass the Iraq- Iran border and when the area was divided into countries the Mandaeans were split. Much in the same way as Berlin --when the wall went up there were families on both sides and both sides were basically of the same ethnic makeup.

The Mandaeans no matter in which country they are now located are of the same basic ethnic, cultural, and religious makeup. Many even have the same genealogical ties due to intermarried across this "wall" that now divides family members.

Monday, 25 March 2013 19:29

History Highlights

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275 AD
The Kaftir inscription at Naqsh-I-Rustam mention religious groups that are persecuted at the hands of the Sassanians.

272 AD
This is the date associated with one of the earliest known Mandaean copyists named Zazai d-Gawazta, son of Hawa. He is the earliest copyist on the following: The Thousand and Twelve Questions, Alma Risaia Zuta , Diwan Masbuta d-Hibil Ziwa, Qolasta, and he is mention in the Abahatan Qadmaiia . The language at this time represents a fully developed Babylonian-Aramaic idiom and a poetic skill that has never been match or surpassed in any later Mandaean literature. The classical period ends with the redaction of the Ginza in the first Muslim century.

224 AD
The Mandaeans suffer persecution under the Sassanians (Persian dynasty 224 AD TO 640 AD)

200's AD
Mani is born and begins his religion of Manichaeanism--Mandaean material is used in the creation of this new religion.

160 to 235 AD
Life of Hippolytus
Hippolytus tells of a book obtained by a man called "Elchasai". He got this book from Serae, a town of Parthia , and that he gave this to the Sobiai (assumed to be the Mandaeans). More than likely this person Elchasai received the book from the Sobiai (Mandaeans).

81 BC –224 AD
Kingdom of Elymais existed in which there is a form of script copied from the Mandaic. This form is called Elymaean and is considered by Macuch to be a late form of Mandaic instead of an earlier form. The main writing comes from a few inscriptions found in Khuzistan at Tang-e Sarvak and the Shimbar Valley .

Monday, 25 March 2013 22:30

Mandaean Moral Values

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Mandaean Moral Values

"And when ye , my chosen ones give alms, do not proclaim it to anybody. If ye proclaim it to anybody ye do not give. When ye give alms with your right hand do not tell your left hand: when you give alms with your left hand, do not tell your right hand. He who gives alms and proclaim it - to him the reward shall be denied and it shall not abscribed to him."

"Blessed are they that listen and believe"

"all things whatsoever that are hateful to you, do not ye do them to your neighbor"

"Honor thy mother and thy father and thy elder brothers as thy father"

"Perfect and faithful: do not deviate from your words and love not lies and falsehood. "

"If ye have children...then teach them, when they have grown up the wisdom of truth and let them wander the road of Kusta (truth): if ye do not teach them ye will be deem guilty in the house of judgment: if ye teach them and they do not learn they have to account for their sins themselves"

"Take a wife and found a family, so that the world may multiply through you"

"Love not gold and silver and the possessions of this world, for this world will come to nothing and perish and its possessions and its works will be abandoned. "

"Give bread, water, and shelter to poor and persecuted people who suffer persecution."

"Do not commit adultery or fornicate, do not sing or dance. Do not let your heart be fettered by Satan 's singing, which is full of magic, deception, and seduction ... "

"Do not eat the blood of animals, not one dead, not one pregnant, not one casting its young, not one standing (or, what has fallen), and not one which a wild animal attacked. But slaughter with iron and rinse, wash, purify, cook, and eat it."

Do not worship Satan , the idols, the images, the error, and the confusion of this world: whoever worships Satan falls into the blazing fire until the day of judgment, until the hour, the hours of release, as long as the sublime King of Light desires it."

Monday, 25 March 2013 14:24

Mandaean belief system

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Below is a very simple list (using English terminology) of the Mandaean belief system.

  • A monotheistic belief system
  • Adam was the first Mandaean who received the religious instructions directly from God.
  • Last Prophet or teacher is John the Baptist
  • Only God may take a life - no Mandaean may ever take a life
  • The Mandaeans do have an elaborate baptism ritual system.
  • Marriage and children are held in great esteem
  • There are strict dietary requirements
  • The Mandaeans have no symbols, no idols, and no images that can be used to pray to
  • Sunday (with the exception of specific religious holidays) is their holy day

Their language is called Mandaic and Modern Mandaic is still spoken in Iran among the laypeople. Also all the priests still speak Mandaic.

Please refer to Mandaean values pages to get a learn about their moral belief system


Monday, 25 March 2013 10:16

Who Are the Mandaeans?

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The Mandaeans are a religious sect of great antiquity that still exists in limited numbers in the border territories of southern Iraq and Iran . Neither Christian , Moslem, Jewish nor Zoroasterism, the Mandaean religion contains a variety of ancient elements that attest to their antiquity. Adherents to the faith can be found in the cities and villages in the lands of the lower Euphrates , the lower Tigris , the rivers that surround the Shatt-al-Arab, and in the adjacent Iranian Province of Khuzistan (once called Arabistan).

Their religion is a proto-religion in which they descended from Adam who was the first to receive the religious instructions of the Mandaeans. Their last great teacher and healer was John the Baptist. The origins of both the people and of the religion are one of the continuing mysteries of Mandaean research.

Other names used for the Mandaeans

Christians of Saint John

It was through the Portuguese monks that the name Christians of Saint John or Chrsitiani S. Ioannis . The first time this term is used is in a report dated 1555 written by the Portuguese monks of Ormuz. Upon seeing their baptismal rites and hearing the stories of John the Baptist, the Portuguese called the Mandaeans "Christians of St. John" or Christiani di San Giovanni. Assuming that these people were simply the last remnants of John the Baptist followers and that they simply had not heard the word of Jesus, the monks decided all the Mandaeans needed was a little prodding to become good Catholicss.


We first seee this term in the the writings of Muhammad ' ibn Ishaq 'ibn 'al-Nadim (died 995 AD). 'Ibn al-Nadim wrote about a baptizing sect that he calls Sabat al-bata'ih—the Sabians of the Marshs. He also calls them informally al- Mughasilah "the Baptists" or "ones who wash themselves".

Monday, 25 March 2013 06:54

The Reconsecration of the Mandi

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The hut must be re-consecrated yearly after the pollution caused by the five days preceding Panja (which are dedicated to the five powers of darkness) and this ceremony takes place ore he last day of Panja (or Parwanaia). I was in Qal'at Salih twice when the re-consecration took place. The first time I saw the ceremony (called in the ratna Tarasa d mandi) in part and the second time I witnessed it practically from beginning to end, the complete tarasa lasting from twelve to eighteen hours without a break.

On each occasion, although I was in my place of observation within the mandi enclosure at an early hour, I was too late to observe the preliminaries, which consisted of the sweeping and cleaning of the enclosure and the tidying of the banks of the pool. The mandi hut had been replastered with fresh mud moulded over the door so as to form a triple arch, rounded at the top. As this appears well in my illustrations, I need not describe it further.

To the right of the mandi were planted two dravshas, or ritual banners, and beside them the clay table (toriana) with its usual furniture, and a fire on the ground, constantly replenished with lustrated reeds. The ground in front of the hut was prepared by a barefoot attendant. He made shallow furrows or runnels about 3 inches wide (known as misri) from the cult-hut down to the pool, the loose earth being placed in a basket and removed. The first furrow ran from the right door-post, the second from the left door-post, the third was to the right of the first, the fourth ran from the southern corner of the east wall, and the fifth from the southern corner of the west wall. These furrows or runnels went down in straight lines, and a careful order was evidently observed. Lastly, he traced a furrow horizontally from the third to the fourth runnel, leaving an almost square patch by the hut .


These furrows or misri (sing. misra) enclosed purified areas, and should a chance impurity pollute one or the sections enclosed by them, it can be re-purified independently of the others. Nothing could be closer to the karsha of the Parsis, and the enclosed area corresponds to the pavi. Such a chance pollution occurred the second time a that I watched the ceremony. A small child stepped over the misra. An officiating priest im-mediately went back into the pool, and after ablution ceremonies performed on himself, soused the spot by throwing bowlfuls of water over it, while repeating a formula of purification.

Pots, bowls, tongs, mill-stones, basins, pestle and mortar (hawan), knives (haftless) used during the ceremony were taken within the purified areas after having been immersed three times in the pool with the usual 'Bahram' formula (see p. 49). The white muslin cloth (new) used for sifting the wheat flour was also immersed, and even a needle (at which point in the ritual this was used I could not discover).

A ganzibra, two priests, and two shgandas took part in the tarasa, but the ganzibra (Shaikh Rumi) was not throughout the chief ofliciant; towards the end of the proceedings he played the role of a dead man, for the tarasa must be 'in the name' of a rish 'ama (see p. 173), in this case in the name of one Bahram Yahya, great-great-grandfather of Shaikh Rumi himself, so that he was personating his own ancestor. (The rish 'ama must be of the highly honoured priestly family of 'Manduiia'.) For this reason he put on a later a completely new rasta for (as will be seen presently when I describe lofani rites) those who represent the dead must wear new ritual gar-ments.

The chief officiant, next to the ganzibra, was a priest, Shaikh 'Abdullah, who had been through his ablution and sacraments at dawn, and my arrival at the mandi found him performing the elaborate ceremonies which qualified him to play his part, which was, first, to administer the five sacraments to the ganzibra, fellow priest, and the two shgandas. The usual preliminaries for an officiating priest followed: the making of the myrtle wreath, the dedication and arrangement of the garments, placing of the pandama before the mouth, and so on. Shaikh 'Abdullah then baptized in turn the ganzibra, his fellow priest, and the two shgandas, and when all were assembled on the bank in their wet garments, the 'signing' with crushed sesame followed, the difference from the usual sacrament being that the priest and ganzibra joined the officiant in intoning prayers throughout instead of observing silence like laymen, or like the shgandas. Shaikh 'Abdullah then daubed a small recess or niche in the eastern exterior wall of the mandi with fresh wet mud, filled his qanina and sprinkled the wall with water from the pool. He next made the pehtha (sacramental bread). Taking a handful of flour and salt, he went to the pool, kneaded it with a little water in his palm, then plunged the closed fist containing the dough together with his other hand into the water. Returning, he placed the dough, patted into a round, on the fire (which was continually fed by washed reeds), setting it on the hot ashes and covering it with burning fuel. In a few moments it was baked. He put some morsels of it in the recess referred to above, and then administered the sacraments of bread and water to the four communicants.

Again, the proceeding differed from the usual administration to laymen, for the pehtha and mambuha were given one after the other to each individual at one time, instead of making two rounds of it. The blessing was next given, and the celebrant moved backwards and forwards along the line several times, placing his hand on each head. Later came the usual oath to the yardna, the communicants stretching their right arms out behind them in the direction of the river, not the pool (this is an invariable rule, as the river although it feeds the pool, may in its twistings lie in any direction, while the mandi must always be on the right bank facing the north with its pool to the south of it). Throughout the baptism and sacraments the celebrant alone covered his face with the pandama, but the gauzibra and priest retained their staves (margnas). Then all stood, and those of priestly rank began to recite, the shgandas remaining silent. The usual final kushta or hand-grasp was given to the officiant, who thereupon ate pehtha and drank mambuha. The long prayers and ceremonies followed which release the various parts of the rasta from the special sanctity given them by their consecration in the initial ceremonies. The ganzibra and priest joined in these, and when klilas and taghas were removed the former (the myrtle wreaths) were thrown into the water.

Thus ended what might be termed the first chapter of the ceremonies. The second part showed the priests in the role of slaughterers, millers, cooks, and bakers, and the sacred areas within the misri became the scene of busy activity.

In the temporary lull, I observed that all pots and pans which had been ceremonially dipped before being taken into the misri had been previously re-tinned, inside and out, for they lay gleamingly white on the ground.

The ganzibra prepared for his labours by removing his turban and stole, and flinging them on the roof of the mandi, thus, showing his long hair looped in small plaits close to his head. The two priests partly disrobed, and all set to work to brush the sections divided by the misri, sweep-ing all loose fragments of clay and rub is into the pool.

Three balls of clay, almost round, were left, however, in section A and these were used later, I suppose, to support dishes put on the fire (i.e. manasib in Arabic), but I forgot to inquire their purpose. They can be seen in the photograph.

The ganzibra now changed his rasta, piece by piece, for a new rasta, and having done this, went into the pool, ducked under three times, and then, taking a dish, hurled water from it all over the mandi, reciting prayers as he did so. The outer walls and roof were thus all washed, but the north wall did not receive as much attention as the others, though water ran down upon it from above. Meanwhile the ganzibra was pronouncing the name of the Life and Manda d Hiia upon his labours: 'Ushma d He'i wushma Manda-t-he'i madkhar 'illakh'.

Next, standing upon the threshold of the hut but not entering it, he splashed the interior with water from his dish or basin. A larger tinned basin was washed, filled from the pool, and that done, the ganzibra entered the hut, and dipping water from the larger basin, he soused the mandi thoroughly within, standing upon the already wetted floor. Roof, beams, and every part received liberal ablution.

A ritual text inscribed with a stylus upon sheets of lead was now brought into the enclosure. It was wrapped in a white cloth, and the bundle plunged three times beneath the water. This text contains the masiqta (service for the ascension of the souls of the dead) and the ritual for the zidqa brikha, both offices being recited during the subsequent proceedings. Meanwhile, the ganzibra and priests continued to wash the mandi, the former within and the latter without.

Next, a shganda took from outside a bundle of freshly peeled reeds, and these received the threefold immersion, as did wheat and sesame and various other grains brought in white cloths, like the reeds and wood employed on the fire. So that no purified celebrant should come into touch with impurity, fuel was floated across the pool, and each time that any actor within the misri came into chance contact with anything from without, he had to immerse three times. The wet wood and grain (the latter spread out on the white cloths upon the roof of the mandi) dried quickly in the sun and wind. I noticed that the ganzibra and priests ate now and again from the grain and fruit, for they had been fasting but for the sacred bread and water, and might not emerge from the misri for any profane purpose. A fire was lit in space A, the reeds being kindled by a lighted reed thrust in from without the area. One of the washed bundles of reeds was carried within the hut, to be used later for the brihis (incense braziers).

Now the priests worked at the preparing of the food, baking bread in flat loaves on the reversed side of a shallow bowl. The five sacred foods brought for the masiqta which was later to be performed in the mandi hut were:

1) Pomegranate seeds.
2) Coconut.
3) Quince.
4) Walnuts.
5) Raisins, or fresh white grapes when in season.

Besides this there were the 'fruits and vegetables in season' ordered by the ritual for the zidga brikha and the dates, sesame, and salt, whose uses will be presently explained.

At this point, having been present for more than four hours, I was absent for three-quarters of an hour. In the interval various operations were in process. The wheat was being milled within the mandi, prior to making the dough which is used for the masiqtta. In addition, the priests were baking small flat loaf after small flat loaf over the fire, eating to stay their hunger. The raisins and pome-granate seeds were placed on a reed dish for their ablution, and then dried in the sun, so were the other foods intended for the masiqta and the zidqa brikha. The sesame was cooked a little over the fire, its husk was removed, and it was then placed in a mortar (hawan) and pounded, together with some dates; then the mixture was placed by a priest in a corner of his robe, little by little, and squeezed with a pair of iron tongs, the resultant liquid (misha) falling into a keptha, and being later transferred to a qanina. It is this mixed juice of sesame and date which is used later in the signing of the fatiri (the loaves of the masiqta). Only a few drops were extracted from each handful so at it was a tedious process; nevertheless, they told me, in the year proceeding, the priest had succeeded in extracting enough to fill the qanina.

On my return, preparations for the masiqta were in progress. A dove of the khirrah species, whole, male, perfect, and especially bred for the purpose, was being held by a small boy outside the consecrated areas, and I found myself obliged to reprimand him for teasing the bird. The bundle of white cloth containing the ritual text inscribed upon lead was opened, one of the lead sheets extracted and placed upright and face outwards against the mandi wall within the square.

The ganzibra now reappeared in an entirely new and dazzlingly white rasta, and underwent the threefold immersion in the pool. On emerging, he prayed silently in the square B. A curious feature of the dove-sacrifice for a masiqta is that not a word must be uttered aloud either by the celebrant or the shganda who assists him.

The latter, with the dove, the knife to be used in its sacrifice, the stick to be held with the knife, and a sprig of myrtle clasped to his right shoulder, goes down into the pool, and plunges under three times before joining the ganzibra in sand taking up a position to the east of him. Facing the mandi (i.e. the north), crouching and holding the dove so that in cutting its throat the knife moved from north to south, the ganzibra performed the silent sacrifice of the bird. As always, the slaughterer held a stick of wood with the knife. I was told that at this sacrifice the ganzibra, holding the dove by its wings, steadies the body of the bird with his bare right foot. I have since acquired a manuscript describing the ritual, and find that this use of the right foot in slaughtering the dove is prescribed.

The body of the dove and the knife were taken by the shganda to the pool and immersed thrice, the stick being allowed to float away on the slowly flowing waters. He then rejoined the ganzibra in the square of the sacrifice and both left it together. The ganzibra, taking the body of the dove, put a little salt on the wound, and passed the cut throat three times into the flame of a burning (and previously lustrated) bundle of reeds held by the shganda, after which the corpse was taken inside the mandi by the ganzibra and the two priests, all three washing their hands before entry into the hut.

The ritual of the masiqta within the mandi is identical with that of the masigta performed at the consecration of a priest described in a later chapter. For a description of this, and other masiqtas, I have been dependent upon the priests, as none but they are allowed within the cult-hut for its performance. The consecration of the sixty-six fatiri, solemn eating of the tabutha with the dove's flesh, the drinking of hamra, and the final burial of the remains of the dove and the sixty-six fatiri (sacred bread) with their sacred morsels are all hidden from profane eyes, and the only ceremony that I saw was the completion of the interment of the bundle which contained them in a space to the north-west of the mandi. It is never buried beyond the east wall of the mandi-hut, and a fresh spot is always chosen. What happens when all the ground has been used I do not know: as this cannot happen for many years, perhaps earlier interments are forgotten, or another mandi consecrated. The differences between the ganzibra's masiqta and that of the shwalia are described more nearly in the last chapter, on 'Eating for the Dead', also the exact nature of the zidqa brikha which I witnessed so dimly by the light of candles. But the zidqa brikha and the final burial were at the end of a long day's work, and it is my task here to describe what I actually witnessed.

The second victim, whose fat was to be used in the zidqa brikha was a sheep which had been waiting some time outside the consecrated area, but inside the mandi enclosure. The priests quitted the mandi, leaving the ganzibra alone with the dead dove and a shganda. His voice was heard chanting from the dark interior. The priests chanted, too, but busied themselves with the second victim and preparations for its slaughter. A bundle of reeds were shortened, taken into the pool and thoroughly washed, then laid on division C making a couch of reeds (chibasha or kibasha) upon which the victim was to be laid. (I witnessed another slaughter of a sheep for lofani, and the victim was laid on a bed of green palm-branches at the side of the river, with a misra trenched about the spot in a square, the trenches running down into the river.

The sheep (a male, for no female must be slaughtered) was thrown on its side outside the misri, its feet tied to-gether, and a hallali proceeded to clean its legs and feet. I was informed that, previous to its entry into the mandi enclosure, the animal had been induced to evacuate all that was in its bowels by means of a reed introduced into the anus, so that it might not defile the ground. The washing of the feet was so thorough and minute that it took about ten minutes, and after that, the tail and liyah (fatty base of the tail characteristic of the local species), and all the wool of the hinder parts were washed with equal scrupulousness. Meanwhile, a priest was washing and scrubbing the leaden sheets of the ritual text (defiled, I presume, by the slaughter of the dove). It was at this point that the profanation of the misri by a child, mentioned earlier, temporarily interrupted proceedings except as regarded the ganzibra inside the mandi. The untoward episode terminated, the hallali lifted the sheep and bore it with him into the pool, plunged himself and the sheep below the surface three times, and, staggering out with difficulty, for the wet sheep with its unshorn fleece was heavy he placed it on the reeds with its head to the east and its tail the west. The knife was washed with the usual formula, the bond of rushes which secured the sheaf of reeds was cut so that the reeds flattened out, and a large dish was placed beneath the throat of the animal to catch its blood. Shaikh 'Abdullah, the priest detailed for the slaughter, performed his rishama, splashed water over his staff touched each part of his rasta in consecration, and placed the tagha and klila on his
head with the usual prayers. Silk taghas must be worn at Panja.

Meanwhile, the other priest and shganda were exchanging pleasantries with the onlookers. The shganda stood by Shaikh 'Abdullah as witness to the slaughter (for at every slaughter a witness is necessary). Shaikh 'Abdullah squatted to the south of the victim, facing the north, and cut its throat, murmuring into its right ear as he bent over it:

(Pronunciation) 'Bushma d Hei, ushma ad Manda-t-Hei madkhar illakh. Pthahil qariakh Hiwel Ziwa paqad illakh miniksakh besrakh dakki kul men ad akhil menakh nihiyi nitessi nitqayyam ushmi ad Hei wushma ad Manda-t-Hei madkhar illakh'

(Translation) 'In the Name of the Life! The name of Manda d Hiia is pronounced upon thee. Pthahil calls thee; Hibil Ziwa ordered thy slaughter. Thy flesh is pure; everyone who eats of it shall live, shall be made healthful, shall be established. The name of the Life and the name of Manda d Hiia are mentioned upon thee.'

The knife, like all sacrificial knives or ritual knives used by Mandaeans, was of iron, and was heated red-hot in a fire after the slaughter was complete, so as to purify it absolutely. The customary small stick, about 6 inches in length, was held with it when the throat was cut. This slaughter-stick may be of olive, tamarisk, willow, mulberry, or any 'clean' wood. 'It is forbidden to slaughter with parzla (iron) only,' is the only explanation of this custom, which I have ever received from the priests. As before, at the slaughter of the dove, both stick and knife were taken down to the pool, Shaikh Abdullah descending into the water to purify himself. He took off his clothes, all but the sharwala, then immersed himself three times, rubbing the shirt in the water to remove blood-stains, and while the knife, too, was washed carefully, the stick was allowed to float away

The formula during the purification is:
(Pronunciation) 'Ushma ad Hei ushma as Manda-t-hei madkhar illey neksit ib parzla halilit byardna ana nakasa marey hayasa ushruley ushwuqley (shbuqlai) hattai havey (hubai) eskhilathey tuqlathey shabshathey diley, Aplan bar Aplana (the names of the ofliciant and his mother), ushma ad Hei ushma ad Manda-t-hei madkhar illey.'

(Translation) 'The name of the Life and the name of Manda d Hiia be pronounced upon me. I have slaughtered with iron, I have purified myself in the yardna. I am a slaughterer, my lord, pardon! Absolve me and free me from my sin, my trespass, my follies, my errors, and my evil deeds, mine, So-and-So son of So-and-So. The name of the Life and the name of Manda d Hiia be pronounced upon me.'

It will be noticed that no purely light names are invoked in this prayer: the sin incurred is a sin against the Great Life through the taking of life.

Water from the pool was also poured on the throat of the dying sheep, and the priest's wet clothes flung on to the mandi roof to dry. When the sheep had gasped its last breath, a torch of burning reeds was brought and applied to its throat. Its four feet and the head were cut off and placed in a dish, and the business of skinning and cutting up was begun by the now semi-naked slaughterer, aided by one of the shgandi. The wool was first shorn away, then a little of the fat cut off and put inside the mandi for the zidqa brikha. The whole business was per-formed on the bed of reeds, and at times the priest washed his hands. A log of wood was floated across the pool towards him from without the misri, and, after this had received its threefold immersion, it was used as a chopping block for the meat. While these lengthy operations were in process, the ganzibra emerged again from the mandi, performed the rishama, and filled two qaninas from the pool, taking one within and placing the other by the right doorpost of the mandi. Followed by a shganda, he again disappeared within the mandi, only to issue once in answer to a shouted suggestion about the ritual from a priest (not an officiant), who sat outside the misri. This priest, who had a roll of the Sharh d Parwanaia in his hand, had a criticism to make about the way in which the ritual was proceeding. Interruptions of this nature are never resented. A passage from the roll was read, dis-cussed, and the matter settled, and then the ganzibra returned to his incantations within the mandi. The second priest officiating, Shaikh Faraj, had also by now divested himself of all his rasta but his sharwala (drawers), dipped under three times in the pool, washed his rasta, put on his wet shirt and washed the sharwala separately, and then hung them and the rest of his rasta above the smoky fire to dry.

The roasting of the meat followed. Small portions of flesh were put in a dish, dipped in salt and then laid as they were on the fire. After a while, the pieces were removed, laid again in salt, and put on a second dish. The result scorched morsels covered with ashes and salt, looked most unappetizing. Flies were soon busy on the meat, and, as the precautions as to ritual cleanliness had been so scrupu-lous, I asked about the flies, which certainly had not undergone the threefold ablution.

They smiled. 'We know, but how can we help it? What the air brings, willow-down' [the cotton-like down fell at every puff of wind like snow from the willow trees which grew in the mandi enclosure], 'dust, or flies, we cannot help.' In any case, flies have no blood, and it is creatures which have blood which are unclean.'

Now and again a priest or shganda ate a morsel of the roasted meat. The skin, wool, and some of the uncooked meat were conveyed outside the mandi, and the offal was taken by a woman to be cast into the river. When the whole chopping and cooking were over, the blood-stained log and reeds were brought to the fire and used as fuel by degrees.

The third act was now ready to begin, and the two priests clothed themselves in their complete rastas, washed their margnas, and, summoned by the ganzibra who came out to fill three qaninas with water, they all three entered the hut for the reading of the rahmi and the rest of the masiqta described in the next chapter. (see pp. 156ff.). The sound of their intoning voices droned on for a long time: the afternoon became dusk and then night. From time to time, from outside, I caught a glimpse of swaying bodies as they read the long liturgies.

At last came the final act, the solemn zidqa brikha in the name of the dead rish 'ama. It was dimly seen by the light of the still burning fire and of two lanterns suspended on sticks. The ganzibra and two priests emerged from the hut, crossed the misri and took their place by the two dravshas planted in the ground of the eastern end of the enclosure. First they swept the ground. A large toriana was set on the ground, and on this unbaked clay table and another near it were placed salt, bread, orange peel, small pieces of roast mutton fat (from the sacrificed sheep's tail, or liyah); with rice (the white, 'not the red shilib), fish, raisins, pomegranate seeds, and other eatables, all of a vegetable nature except the fat of the slaughtered sheep and the fish. A shganda, emerging ghost-like from the darkness, brought a branch of myrtle and held it over this table of tabutha or 'good things' as the medley was called. The two dravshas were a little to the east of the strange scene. The customary sanctification of the rasta took place: piece by piece it was touched and sanctified, the shganda sitting facing the priests and holding the branch of myrtle. Then came the dukhrana, the 'remembrance' or solemn mention of the blessed souls of those in the world of light, including that of the long-dead rish 'ama. The ganzibra and the priests each took a handful of the food and held it while one of the priests recited the zidqa brikha prayers with the Abahathan prayer (see pp.218-222), and then carried it to their mouths and ate it. The ganzibra played a silent part during this ceremony, and the onlookers reminded me that during this zidqa brikha he was impersonating his ancestor, in whose name together with that of his wife, the prayers were offered. (For the full ritual of this zidqa brikha see pp. 205 ff.).

When some of the food before them had been eaten, the ganzibra, holding a piece of myrtle, read from a book. All three placed sprigs of myrtle plume-like into their turbans and, one after another, drank hamra from their kepthas in the name of the dead. Then the two priests rose, and placing the ends of their stoles upon the head of the crouch-ing and silent figure of the ganzibra, prayed. The ganzibra then handed the book from which he had read to them officiating priest (Shaikh Abdullah), who read from it in his turn. I heard lists of dead persons. 'So-and-So, son of So-and-So, a forgiver of sins may there be for me.'

At long last came the de-consecration of the rasta, and, in the uncertain light, all three weary men bent to smell the myrtle and to say, 'Lovely is the perfume of life, my lord, Manda of Life!'

It was the end. I saw a priest, in the dark, dig the tomb of the dove and fatiri, and went home.

Sunday, 24 March 2013 22:34


Written by

Days of Commemorations---Parwanaiia or Panja (Banja) (Benja)
Parwanaiia or Panja is one of the most holy of the religious holidays celebrated by the Mandaean people. The holiday can be called Parwanaiia

Parwanaiia or Panja (Banja or Benja) occurs between the 8th & 9th months & lasts for 5 days. (3)
These are the five intercalary days of Parwanaiia, or Panja, the happiest time of the whole year, during which the great baptismal river feast is held. It falls at the time when the river is swollen by melting snows from the north, i.e. during the first warm days of spring. In 1932/ 1933/ 1934/ 1935 Panja fell an April 5th but in I936 it fell on April 4th. (4)
The days for Panja this year are as follows:

March 19-Monday -1 Panja year of Saturday (5)

March 20-Tuesday -2 Panja year of Saturday (6)

March 21-Wednesday -3 Panja year of Saturday (7)

March 22-Thursday - 4 Panja year of Saturday (8)

March 23-Friday -5 Panja year of Saturday (9)


The five days prior to Panja are considered mbattal days:
The last five days of Shumbulta (the Ear of Corn, Virgo) are mbattal for they are dedicated to the five lords of the underworld, Shdum, Hagh, and his consort Magh, Gaf, and his consort Gafan, Zartai-Zartani, and Krun, the Mountain-of-Flesh. These five mbattal days, given over to the Darkness, necessitate the reconsecration of the manda, or cult-hut, during the five ensuing days of light. (10)
This year those five days of mbattal are as follows:
March 14-Wednesday-26 Missay Gitta or Qam Shinbilta (8) year of Saturday (11)

March 15-Thursday--27 Missay Gitta or Qam Shinbilta (8) year of Saturday (12)

Friday 16-Friday -28 Missay Gitta or Qam Shinbilta (8) year of Saturday (13)

March 17-Saturday-29 Missay Gitta or Qam Shinbilta (8) year of Saturday (14)

March 18---Sunday--26 Missay Gitta or Qam Shinbilta (8) year of Saturday (15)
Panja is the time when darkness (i.e. evil) has no hold on the earth:
Thereupon come those five days of Parwanaiia that are uncounted in the reckoning of the days nor are they counted or included in a calculation of months of the year). They are the days of vigil, darkness hath no share in them and there is no night in them because night is defiling and night hath no claim in these five days, they are allotted to souls which ascends to the Life our Father. For rays from the world of light stream down to the earthly world. In them (five days) there is no darkness (souls) are awakened and are signed by baptism and they give garments to the departing souls that is to those that depart the body. (16)
Each of the five days of Panja is dedicated to an Uthra, a light being:

Each of the five days is dedicated to a spirit of light and, as the doors of the world of light are open during Panja by night as well as by day, prayers may be at night. On other nights of the year no prayer may be said after sunset. (17)
These five light beings are all manifested from Kings of Kings, who himself, is self-created:

"During those five days the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year were created so that in each one, one day (being?) was created, and then the five days of Pawanaiia which are called (days of) Commemorations. They are (days of) Commemorations of brightness. No darkness is in them: within them darkness has no mandate: on the contrary, mandate, command, and dominion are Mine. They (the five days) are like one single day; night doth not divide them.

For the first day belongeth to the King of Kings, Father of all worlds, in it He who is great and lofty created Himself.

The second day is that in which the Lord of (Celestial ) Majesty (Rabuta) created himself.

The third day is Mara d-Rabutha, he who created Manda d Hiia (knowledge of life): in it he created himself.

The fourth day is Mara d-Rabutha, he who is Dmuth-Kusta; he created himself therein.

The fifth day which is the day of Commemorations running streams were distributed, for he Mara d-Rabutha, Divider of running streams, he created himself therein.

For they are five Kings, in them they created themselves and they are the five mysteries of the Beginning in which spirit and soul rejoice (at?) the seven crowns that are placed upon them. (18)

This is a time for religious observation and devotion especially to the souls. At this time all Mandaeans should be dressed in white for this is a religious time:
During Panja every true believer should dress completely in white (this is not observed strictly), and should either wear sandals woven of grass or go barefoot. The latter is usually the custom, though priests tell me that in ancient times it was considered a sin to walk barefoot on the earth, and that the real object of the injunction was that worshippers of the Life should not wear upon their feet the skins of dead animals. (19)
This is also the time when no meat may be eaten except for the lamb that is included in any meals prepared for the dead:
"Then on the two days of Susian and the five days before Parwanaiia and the (fire?) following the Feast of Daima do not slaughter or cook (boil) neither shalt thou grid on the sacred girdle except for a dying person. . (20)
No meat may be eaten except the flesh of sheep sacrificed in the ritual meals for the dead. (21)

This is also the time that the mandi is consecrated and the appropriate steps taken in regards to slaughter and consumption of meat:
... the consecration of the manda involves the sacrifice of a sheep and a dove, described in a later chapter. (22)

Lady Drower wrote about her observation of a re-concencration of a mandi during Panja. For more information on the mandi please click here.

All Mandaeans, that can, are baptized during this time. This is also the time that anyone, who died, especially those under unfavorable conditions, may have lofanis, zidqa brikhas, and dukhranas said for them:

Thereupon Ziwa-Sagia ( Great Radiance) whose brilliance is more dazzling than all the worlds spoke about those nine treasures which we confer upon the soul when the five days of Yawar-Ganziel arrive, when the banner is unfurled in the presence of Abathur and all the souls stand before him each one seeking her share of the masiqtas, commemorations and tabahata. (23)

Panja is a religious festival rather than a season of carnival, and Subba who live far from a priest travel long distances in order to be baptized as many times as their means allow, and join in the lofanis, zidqa brikhas, and dukhranas for the dead. The dead, assembling at the sacred meals and summoned by the mention of their names in the ritual, are refreshed by the spiritual double of the foods, and bless the living. The uneasy souls of those delayed upon the road to the worlds of light because they died an unclean death, or on a mbattal day, or without the proper death-ceremonies and clothing, are represented by proxies at the ceremonies of ahab d mania and others, and clothed, purified, and sustained are furthered on their way through the mataratha. Families save up to pay the fees necessary for these ceremonies; indeed, they regard the barriers between them and their dead relatives, back to distant ancestors and the spirits of light who beget them, as down during the five days of holiness. The soul of a person who dies during this period, when it emerges from the tomb on the third day, passes without hindrance through the mataratha, and the costly death-masiqta is not necessary for such a one. Hence relatives of a person dangeriously ill long that he should die at this time, and I have noted that in a small hamlet three persons died of different diseases in one year at this season. No doubt, if a person is dangerously ill, a baptism in the river might be expected to produce the desired result. The patient himself is anxious to leave the world at this season, for no demons or wild beasts (zangoyi) will have power to harm his soul on its journey, and it accomplishes the long and difficult journey to the Gate of Abathur in a single day. (24)

(1) The Mandaic Dictionary by E.S. Drower and R. Macuch Orford:Clarendon Press 1963 page 363

(2) The Mandaic Dictionary by E.S. Drower and R. Macuch Orford:Clarendon Press 1963 page 361

(16) Alf Trisar Suialia (1012 Questions) by E.S. Drower: Berlin: Akademi Verlag 1960: page 199-200

(17) Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran by E.S. Drower, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1962, page: 85

(18) Alf Trisar Suialia (1012 Questions) by E.S. Drower: Berlin: Akademi Verlag 1960: page 116-117

(19) Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran by E.S. Drower, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1962, page: 90

(20) Alf Trisar Suialia (1012 Questions) by E.S. Drower: Berlin: Akademi Verlag 1960: page 200

(21) Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran by E.S. Drower, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1962, page: 90

(22) Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran by E.S. Drower, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1962, page: 90

(23) Alf Trisar Suialia (1012 Questions) by E.S. Drower: Berlin: Akademi Verlag 1960: page 140

(24) Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran by E.S. Drower, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1962, page: 89-91