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Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

The word chhanta is an Indian word, means an act of sprinkling (the water). Its synonymous in Arabic is rashash means to sprinkle, and rashash'tun (pl. rashashat) means an act of sprinkle (of water). Its proper word in Persian is pashidan. It is a sin that defiles man and renders him impure. The chhanta is a symbolic rite in Ismaili tariqah to dissipate the sins or forgiveness. It is also an act of the purity of body, soul and intellect, thus the sanctified water is sprinkled three times on the face of the believers in its rite.

The sprinkling of water has been ritually associated since the rise of human civilization as one of the most natural purifying agents. In Egypt, the Book of Going Forth by Day contains a treatise on the water-sprinkling on newborn children, which was performed to purify them of blemishes acquired in the mother's womb. Water, especially the Nile's cold water is believed to have regenerative power, is used to baptize the dead in a ritual, based on the Osiris myth. The ritual bath assures the dead of an afterlife and rids them of blesmishes that may not be taken into the other world. Baptism of the dead is also found among the Mandaens, and similar rites is mentioned on Orphic tablets. In ancient Babylon, a sick was sprinkled water while the priest uttered certain sacred words. In Tencbus, Pondos and Fingos tribes in South Africa, when a child is born, the mother secluded for one month. The father slaughters an ox for getting favour of the spirits. While at home the mother sprinkles water daily to the child, repeating some words for his health. In Fiji, the child's first bath is made an occasion of a feast called Uvea. The head of child is sprinkled with water. Among Yoruba tribe in Africa, the saint gives the child's name by spraying water from a vessel which stands under an holy tree. When child is 3 to 4 months old in Mfiote tribe in West Africa, he is sprinkled water in presence of the villagers, then he is named. The same tradition is also found among the Gabun tribe. In Baganda tribe of Congo, the children of two years are brought together. Each mother throws the fragment of unbilical cord which she preserved into bowl of water. If it floats, the child is declared legitimate of water to be sprinkled on his head. In the Pacific religions, according to A New Handbook of Living Religions (ed. John R. Hinnells, London, 1997, p. 558), "Water, the chief purifying agent, was sprinkled on new-born children, bloodstained warriors and those contaminated by sickness or death, in order to free them from tapu (taboo) and make them safe for contact with other people. Priests used a variety of further rituals and chants for healing and divination, protection from sorcery or evil spirits, and for the burial of the dead to ensure their peaceful departure to the spirit-land."

Among the Persian Zoroasterians, the Day of Hope is festivated on the sixth day of the month of Farvardin. They believe that the portions of happiness are distributed by the fate on that day. People sprinkle water at one another, because some say, the day is consecrated to the guardian angel of water; other said that it is a memory of the purification by water prescribed by emperior Jamshed. Besides, on the 30th of the month of Bahman, the people in Ispahan celebrated the feast of Afrejagan, the pouring and spraying of water (Persian, abriz). Its origin was ascribed to Firoz (d. 484), the Sassanid king of Persia and the grandfather of Chosroes I. In his time the rain failed and Persia suffered from drought. The king in the temple of Adhar-Khura in Fars implored to put an end of the calamity. His prayers were heard and rain fell copiously. In gratitude for this blessing, Firoz built a village and gave it the name of Kamfiruz (the desire of Firoz). People joyfully sprinkled water at each other, which is the main feature of the feast of Afrejagan.

In Sikh religion, the ceremony of baptism is common, known as charan ghawal established by Guru Nanak (1469-1539). In 1699, Guru Gobind Singh (1661-1708), the successor of Guru Nanak had started a ceremony called khande-de-pahul, i.e. water stirred with double-edged sword. When a child has reached 12 to 18 years of age, the pahul or baptism is administered to him in presence of Guru Granth Saheb. Some sugar is mixed in clean water in an iron bowl, which is processed through their different ceremonies. According to Encyclopaedia of Sikh Religion and Culture (New Delhi, 1996, p. 67), "He is next asked to look straight and the amrit (nectar) is sprinkled on his face and eyes, and some of it is given to the candidate to drink from the palm of his hands"

In Hindu, the abhiseka in Sanskrit means sprinkling was once a royal ceremony that was later applied to the consecration of divine images.

The common word baptism among the Christians is derived from the Greek baptein meaning to plunge, immerse or wash. The frequantative form, baptizein however appears much later. It was Saint Paul who first defined the theological and symbolic significance of baptism. Christian baptismal practice is said to have founded on the commandment of Jesus himself to his disciples (Matt. 28:19). Baptism is a fundamental rite of entry into the church community, in which water is sprinkled on the face of the new converts.

Sprinkling of water – its practice in Islam
Tabari (5:267) relates from Ibn Abbas that the Israelites in one of the town of Syria were afflicted by the epidemic of plague. They were 4000 people who left their town fleeing the plague. They said, “Let us go to a land which is free from death.” They arrived at Dawardan near Wasit in Iraq. As they reached the place, God said to them, “Die!.” They were so badly afflicted by a calamity that death struck them. After a long time, the Prophet Ezekiel (or Hizqil bin Buzi) passed by their corpses, which had been dismembered and the bones were scattered by beasts and birds. The Prophet prayed to his Lord to bring them back to life. According to Tafsir-i Anwar al-Bayan (Bawnagar, 1901, p. 183), “God ordered the Prophet to sprinkle water on the bones, which he did and the dead restored to life.” The Koran describes the event in these words: “Have you not considered those who went forth from their homes in the thousands for fear of death? God said to them: ‘Die.’ Then he gave them life” (2:243).

When Fatima had shifted to her new house after marriage with Ali bin Abu Talib, the Prophet went to her and sent for some water in an utensil. He dipped both his hands in the water and sprinkled it on the breast and arms of Ali. The Prophet then sprinkled water on Fatima, saying that he had married her to the best man in his family. (Tabaqat, 8:15). It is also narrated that after an end of the wedding feast, the Prophet performed ablution and sprinkled the remnant on Ali and Fatima and prayed: "O God! bless them, send Thy blessings upon them, send blessings for them, for their children and their offspring" (Tabaqat, 8:21and al-Ithaf Bihub al-Ashraf, p. 21, Nisai, 7:341).

It is related by Ali bin Abu Talib, according to the Daim al-Islam that once Hasan fell illness, his mother took him in the presence of the Prophet. The Prophet put some water in a bowl and recited al-Hamdullilah for forty times, and sprinkled the consecrated water on the face of Hasan, and he was cured.

According to Bihar al-Anwar (14:512), once the Prophet said: “Verily, if one recites the Sura Hamd forty times on water in a bowl, and sprinkle it on someone suffering from fever, God shall cure him.”

Jabir b. Abdullah Ansari’s health was impaired. The Prophet visited his house and found him unconscious. The Prophet asked for some water and performed ablution, then sprinkled the remnant on his face. Jabir soon became conscious, to which the Prophet said, “You will not die in this illness” (Sirat-i Insar, 1:306, Bukhari, 6:101).

Umm-i Ishaq relates that during her migration to Medina, she suffered much pain because her husband killed her brother in Mecca. She wept too much and reported all about to the Prophet in Medina. The Prophet took a handful of water and sprinkled it over her face. Umm-i Hakim relates that even if the greatest misfortune befell her, tears did appear visible in her eyes but did not flow over her cheeks. (Hayatus Sahaba, Karachi, 1999, 3:731).

Fatima bint Mundhir relates: Whenever a woman who had a fever, she was brought to Asma, who prayed for her and took water and poured it inside her collar. She said, “The Prophet ordered us to cool it with water.” Malik bin Anas related from Nafi the Prophet as saying, “Fever is from the vehemence of the heat of hell, so put it out with water” (Muwatta, 50:15).

Muhammad Bakir Majlisi (1627-1699) quotes a tradition in Hayyat al-Qulub (2:848) that once the Prophet gave a new life to Bilal by sprinkling few drops of water on his face.

The Companions of the Prophet had so much reverence for him that one of them collected the clothe of the Prophet drenched with perspiration, and made a will that it should be put into the water and sprinkled on his dead body before it lowered into the grave (Bukhari, 4:62). Once Umm Salim, the mother of Anas bin Malik prepared a bed for the Prophet who had a nap there. When he woke up, she used to wipe off his sweat into a phial. She made a will that the perfume for her funeral should be mixed with the sacred perspiration and sprinkled on her dead body.

Tabari (3:2163) writes that on the occasion of Navroz in Baghdad, the people sprinkled water over one another. Reports differ as to the explanation of this water-sprinkling. Some say that it was a good omen and a means to ward off harm; other however declare that it served the purpose of removing from the air the pollution which produces epidemic diseases. According to Kitab al-Hafawat by Hilal al-Sabi (cf. Tritton’s Sketches of Life under the Caliphs, MW, LXII, 1972, p. 145), “Women made a point of buying perfumes on the occasion of Navroz in Baghdad during the Abbasid period. To sprinkle perfume on a man and tread seven times on him was a means of driving away the evil eyes, laziness and fever.”

According to Memoirs of Jahangir (London, 1909, 1:265), the Persian festival, Ab-pashan or Gulab Pashi (rose-water scattering) was celebrated in the period of the Mughal emperor Jahangir. It was held on the 13th Tir in memory of a rainfall on this date that put an end to a famine. The peope amazed themselves with sprinkling rose-water over each other.

In the mosque of ad-Dashtuti, just outside the Bab ash-Shariya at Cairo, there is a well and a tank (maghtis); and it is a popular belief that if any one afflicted with a fever (humma), plunges into the tank three times in three weeks or sprinkles its water three times in his own face, he will be healed.

These illustrations suggest that the notion of “sprinkling of water” on face was in vogue in Islam on different occasions and purposes. Likewise, the forgiveness of sins through the sprinkling of the sanctified water is a unique rite in Ismaili tariqah. The concept of which infers from one of the Prophet’s supplications: “O God, wash away from me my offenses with the water of snow and hail, purify offenses from my heart as Thou purifiest dirt from white cloth, and remove me far from offenses as Thou hast removed the east from the west.” (Bukhari, 39:44)

Origin of Chhanta in Ismaili tariqah
The word sibghah is derived from the Syriac word sba, meaning dyeing or colouring, and also dipping or immersing in water, hence sibghah indicates baptism, which the Christians effect by immersing in water. Wahidi relates from Ibn Abbas that, “When a child is born to Christians, after the seventh day they immerse him (sabghuhu) in a kind of water in order to purify him” (Asbab Nuzul al-Koran, Cairo, 1969, p. 38).

According to Tabari, the Jews and Christians once said to the Prophet and his faithful Companions, “Embrace Judaism or Christianity, so that you may be guided aright.” In the meantime, God instructed to His Prophet to say to them, “O Jews and Christians, rather follow the path of Abraham, the sibghah of God, which is the best sibghah, for it is the pure faith of Islam” (Jami al-Bayan, Cairo, 1954, 3:118). Thus, Tabari translates the above Koranic verse, taking sibghah as a synonym for the religion that, “Follow the religion of God, which is the best religion.” Tabarsi relates from Imam Jafar Sadik that, “The sibghah of God is Islam.” According to Hasan al-Basri, Qatadah and Mujahid, it is the religion of God (Majma al-Bayan, Beirut, 1961, 1:492). Abu Hayyan writes in Bahr al-Muhit that, “The Divine baptism indicates the religion of God or the nature according to which God has created man.”

It implies that the description of the sibghah in the Koran has nothing to do with that of the practice of baptism in Christianity. W. Montgomery Watt writes in his Companions to the Quran (London, 1967) that, “It is doubtful if there is any reference to Christian baptism (in the Koranic verse).”

Qurtubi adds another significance of the word sibghah: “It is said that sibghah is a (ritualistic) bath for one who wishes to enter into Islam. Instead of baptism of the Christianity, I say that according to this tawil, the bath is mandatory for a rejecter of faith as an act of worship. This is because the meaning of sibghah of God is the bath of God. This is as if to say, ‘wash yourselves when you enter Islam by taking bath, which God has made obligatory for you.’ It is related on the authority of Abu Huraira that Thumamah al-Hanafi was captured and when on one day the Prophet passed by him, he accepted Islam. The Prophet then sent him the walled date palm orchard of Abu Talha and ordered him to take bath, which he did. The Prophet said, “Your Islam is now good.” It is also related that Qays bin Asim entered into Islam, whereupon the Prophet ordered him to take bath with water and sidr (the ground leaves of the lotus tree), vide al-Jami l’i-Ahkam al-Koran (Cairo, 1967, 2:144-5), and Mishkat (3:11). Giving his comment, Maulana Muhammad Ali writes in A Manual of Hadith (Lahore, n.d., p. 60) that, “A man who is initiated into Islam must clean himself outwardly also by having a bath, and this was further meant to serve as a hint that he should henceforward aim at both purity of body and purity of mind.”

It is immaterial to discuss, why the bath taking, while entering into Islam, is not in force in orthodox Islam? It must be borne in mind that Nimatullahis, the Sufi order in Islam seem to have followed the original practice. Thus, before the Nimatullahi initiation ceremony, both the Muslim and non-Muslim aspirants to the Sufi path are obliged to make a ritual adherence to Islam. Pourjavady and Wilson define as “outwardly…a ceremony whereby the aspirant swears to obey the master and is received into the tariqah.” Prior to the initiation, the candidate must formulate a correct intention, and then undertakes five ritual ablutions as follows; each of these ablutions has an exoteric and esoteric dimension: firstly comes the ablution of repentance with which the aspirant repents of past misdeeds. Then comes the ablution of submission or Islam, involving total surrender to the will of God. The third is the ablution of spiritual poverty, which signifies an inner purity. Fourth of the five ablutions comes the ablution of pilgrimage, indicating that the aspirant should be cleansed outwardly before visiting the master to receive directions for inner purification and pilgrimage via the sufi path. Finally, the fifth of the five ablutions is termed the ablution of fulfillment. These ablutions are followed by the five gifts to be presented to the master. The gifts comprised of a coin, a white shroud, a ring, sweets and nutmeg. Each of these objects has a mystical significance: the coin symbolizes the wealth of this world, and its presentation to the sufi master means an acceptance of inner spirit of poverty; the shroud represents the seeker’s absolute surrender to God; the ring signifies the binding of the aspirant’s heart to God; the sweets are a sign of the second birth of the disciple as he enters the realms of spiritual poverty; finally, the nutmeg is symbolic of disciple’s head which is presented as a mark of devotion to the master. Thus, the initiation qualifies the seeker to become a sufi. For further details, vide, King of Love: The Poetry and History of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order (Tehran, 1978) by Nasrollah Pourjavady and Peter Lamborn Wilson, and Sufi Ritual (London, 2000) by Ian Richard Netton.

It infers from the fragments of the traditions that Pir Shams had also introduced a ritual bath in India for the new converts for their purification. The tradition has it that some persons who had joined Ismaili fold, instead of taking bath in an usual manner, they visited Ganges river, whom they considered same as were commanded. Pir Shams is reported to have condemned the Hindu customs and told them to abandon. Instead, he introduced an act of sprinkling few drops of consecrated water on their faces as a symbol of purification. He also imparted that one who visited the prayer-hall, he would gain same reward of visiting the Ganges river. This ceremony was not yet given a specific name, but it was simply called as the chhanta meaning sprinkling (of water).

The above ceremony was followed by the ceremony of baiyt. The new follower brought seven things in a plate, viz. cloves (lawing), wheat (ghau’n), rice (chawal), sugar cubes (sa’kar), dried grapes (dhraksh), cardamoms (ilaychi) and fennel seeds (variyali). He put the plate before the Pir and picked handful with two hands and reverently dropped in the hands of the Pir. In turn, the Pir accepted and put the mixture in the plate. This process repeated three times. Symbolically it indicates that the new convert took an oath of seven tastes of material life that he would follow the Ismaili faith till last breath. Then, the Pir tied a red silken thread around his right wrist, means that he would remain obedient even at the cost of his life. It was an act of baiyt in Indian tradition. It should be known that this type of baiyt continued until 1905 in the time of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, the difference was only that there were only two items instead of seven, i.e., laving (cloves) and dhraksh (dried grapes).

Hence, water-sprinkle became a common practice of purification. When Pir Shams left one place for another, the Mukhi was consigned to execute the rites. Once the aspirant or new convert passed through the ceremony, he became the follower. Thus, the jamat in each village was comprised of the old followers (who had embraced Ismailism by this ceremony) and the new followers. This ceremony was reserved only for the new candidates. It is further related that when the old followers desired to perform this ceremony again for forgiveness of their minor sins, which were committed after becoming the Ismailis, it was also allowed for them at the disposal of the jamat. In its formative stage, the ceremony was not given any specific name, but the people ordinarily continued to call it the chhanta. It seems that when this ceremony acquired its ritual status, its prevalent title was retained till now.

It must be noted that the chhanta was not performed as it is seen today. One who intended, he revealed his desire to the Mukhi, who in turn sought consent of the present jamat. Thus, he was given the chhanta, and when the Mukhi prayed for him, the whole jamat responded with the utterance of a’amin. This procedure sounds in the following ginan of Pir Shams:

Gat farman’e mahadan utar’e, an’e gat farman’e pa’tak jai;
gat farman’e chhanto nakhavi’e, je mah’en gat ganga’nu snanaj thai.

“With the words or consent of the jamat, one is redeemed through the ma’adan (hereafter). His sins are also pardoned with the consent of the jamat. (You should) have a chhanta with the consent of the jamat, whereupon one enjoys bath of the Ganges.” (Sloko Motto:197)

It should be noted that God Himself commands absolute authority to forgive the sins: “And who forgives the sins but God” (3:134). God invested His absolute authority to His Prophet and the Imam: “As We have sent among you an Apostle from among you, who recites to you Our communications and “purifies” you and teaches you the Book and the Wisdom and teaches you that which you did not know” (2:151) and “Take alms out of their property, you would cleanse them and “purify” them thereby, and pray for them; surely your prayer is a relief to them” (9:103). The act of “purification” is the forgiveness of sins. This is much clear in another verse: “And if when they had done injustice to themselves, they had but come to you and asked God’s forgiveness, and the Prophet had (also) asked forgiveness for them. Surely, they would have found God Forgiving, Merciful” (4:64). When God commanded the people to have recourse to the Prophet for the forgiveness of their sins and ask for foregiveness through him, does this not establish the necessity of this means, and should it not be living in the world for ever. Besides, the Prophet was empowered to forgive the sins of the people, and its authority was vested in the Imam of every age. The Prophet said, “Ali bin Abu Talib is the door of hittah (pardon). He who enters through it is a believer and he who leaves it is an unbeliever” (Mishkat, 4:546). Thus, the chhanta for forgiveness of the sins is in accordance with the teachings of the Koran.

The rite of chhanta is performed once in a month on Chand Ra’at and in the majalis for purification and forgiveness of sins. The Imam invested right of chhanta in the Mukhi. Hence the Mukhi, Kamadia or Mukhiani , Kamadiani themselves carry out the chhanta ceremony, but they also can nominate persons to officiate on their behalf. The person presenting himself for this ceremony should sit down with bent knees. The officiating person dips his fingers into the bowl of water and sprinkles it on the face of offerer three times.

Ma’adan Chhanta

"The word ma'ad is derived from the verb ada or awd signifies to return to a place, and thus ma'ad means the ultimate place of one's returning. It is also treated as a synonym of raja'a, which is also used in the Koran (2:28) to indicate return to God: ""Then He will make you die, then He will make you live, then you will be brought back to Him (ilayhi turjaun)"". Its verbal form ada denotes to recommence or reiterate. This is the sense which it has in verses where this root is associated with that of raja'a: ""God begins (yabda'u) creation, then He repeats it (yu'iduhu); then you will be brought back to Him"" (30:11). The word ma'ad is used once in the Koran: ""Most surely He Who has made the Koran binding on you will bring you back to a place of return"" (28:85). And the place of return is hereafter

The barzakh denotes the first realm where the soul returns after death, and reached ultimately to akhira (hereafter). In short, the life after death is called ma’ad or the ultimate place of one’s returning. To relieve the soul from the sufferings of the ma’ad, a special chhanta is given, known as the Ma'adan Chhanta, (the chhanta of ma’ad), which is taken once in a life as well as it is to be given to the dead body before burial. "

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