PĀDYĀB, a sacred ablution requiring washing by water, a necessary prelude to the basic Zoroastrian purificatory ritual. Pādyāb, a Pahlavi word meaning “ritually clean,” is now primarily used in the sense of a ceremonial ablution.The word can be derived from Avesta āp- “water” with adverbial prefix paiti- “against” (AirWb, cols. 325, 822), meaning “to pour water on.”In New Persian, the word is used as pādyāw, pādyāb (Boyce, 1991, p. 281). The term pādyāb (later modified to pādiyāv) is also used as a hybrid Gujarati word.

In its primary meaning, the term pādyāb refers to a prelude to the kosti ritual, which is performed by Zoroastrians several times in the day.A traditional Zoroastrian often uses the term pādyāb to indicate the kosti ritual. The term pādyāb-kosti is almost a synonym for the kosti ritual, which, among the faithful, is almost always referred to as pādyāb-kosti (Madan, pp. 45, 46, Motafram, p. 74; see also CLEANSING i. IN ZOROASTRIANISM).

In Persian Rivayats, the word pādyāb is used for the act of washing the head and body with consecrated and unconsecrated bull’s urine (Dhabhar, pp. 87, 91).It is also used just to indicate bull’s urine (Dhabhar, pp. 103, 120, 133, 294, 370).Perhaps that is why many modern Western academic sources indicate that in the past the pādyāb ritual included washing by unconsecrated bull’s urine (gōmēz) prior to washing with water (Choksy, p. 53; Boyce, 1975, p. 296). However, traditional Zoroastrian sources, as well as oral tradition, do not indicate the use of bull’s urine in the pādyāb ritual, and indicate the use only of water (Bajan, p. 293; Madan, p. 45, Motafram, p. 74).Moreover, at some places, even the Persian Rivayats, use the term pādyāb specifically only for the pādyāb-kosti ritual.It also uses it for ceremonial washing of ritual utensils (Dhabhar, pp. 363, 398).

For the performance of pādyāb, before the kosti ritual, a Zoroastrian is expected to wash with water the exposed parts of the body.The ceremonial ablution of pādyāb takes place as follows: The person first recites an Ašəm vohu prayer.Then he wets the two hands up to the wrists, including the palm and fingers, and washes his face, which is followed by wetting the right hand again and thrice washing the right foot from below the ankle. Then again he wets his right hand and thrice washes his left foot from below the ankle. Then he washes both his hands again up to the wrists and wipes off his hands and face with a clean cloth or towel.

The pādyāb-kosti is performed before a Zoroastrian engages in any religious activity, such as offering prayer or visiting a fire temple.It is also performed after an act that makes a person ritually impure, like visiting a cemetery or after attending the call of nature.It is also done to acquire ritual power, for instance at the turn of each watch of the day.Like most other Zoroastrian rituals, the pādyāb is an expression of religious and theological beliefs translated into practice, and aims at re-establishing the sacred order in the imperfect world after the onslaught of the evil of pollution.

In the comprehensive list of fifteen virtues to be inculcated by a priest, one virtue is pādyāv sājašne “maintaining the power of pādyāb-(kosti).”The priest who has inculcated this virtue has the requisite ritual power by virtue of his practicing the required religious disciplines.

In the Pahlavi commentaries (Pāzand) on the scriptures (Zand), the word pādyāv is used as an adjective pādyāvi(h) qualifying the divine being Ardwisur Anāhid in the marriage benedictions.In the Avestan Ābān Yašt, dedicated to the same divine being, a similar word paityāpa is used in the sense of “water flowing ahead/upstream” (Kanga, p. 306).At another place in the Avesta, the word is used in juxtaposition with the word nyāpəm “water flowing below/downstream” (Vd. 6.40; Darmesteter, p. 73; Boyce, 1991, p. 281).

The pādyāb ritual reminds one of the Islamic religious practice of wożu ablution prior to performing the obligatory daily prayer, namāz (Choksy, p. 61), but the wożu a ritual is much more elaborate than the pādyāb.



Barjorji Erachji Bajan, Parsi din ain ane tavarikhi farhang (The Parsi religious beliefs and historical encyclopedia), Mumbai, 1908, p. 293 (in Hindi).

Mary Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism I, Leiden, 1975, pp. 296, 323.

Idem, “Pādyāb and Nērang: Two Pahlavi Terms Further Consulted,” BSOAS 54/2, 1991, pp. 281-91.

Jamsheed K. Choksy, Purity and Pollution in Zoroastrianism: Triumph over Evil, Austin, 1989, pp. 53-62.

James Darmesteter, The Zend-Avesta, Sacred Books of the East IV, Oxford 1895.

Bamanji Nasarvanji Dhabhar, The Persian Rivayats of Hormazyar Framarz and Others, Mumbai, 1932.

Kavasaji Edalaji Kanga, A Complete Dictionary of the Avesta Language in Guzerati and English, Mumbai, 1900.

E. F. Madan, Jarthoshti Dharmaprakash (Light on Zoroastrian religion), Mumbai, 1956, pp. 44-49.

Jivani Jamshedji Modi, The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees, Mumbai, 1937.

Ervand R. Rustamji Motafram, Zoroastrianism III, Mumbai, 1984, p. 74.


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(Ramiyar P. Karanjia)

Originally Published: January 1, 2000

Last Updated: June 29, 2011