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The Class and Stratification Structure of the Manichaeans

Based on their past records, piety, and their ability to perform religious duties and responsibilities, the Manichaeans were divided into five different classes, viz.: i) The teachers who held the highest rank and whose number would never exceed twelve at any given point of time; ii) The “Ispesgān” or the priests whose number would not exceed 72; iii) The “Mahastegān” or the nobles whose number could not go beyond 360; iv) The “Elect” or the “Righteous”; and v) The “Naghushāgān” or the auditors. Most of the hard labor as well as farming were the responsibility of the last two classes. It was obligatory on the Manichaeans to exercise control over their hands, mouths, and bodies and to refrain from the ten major sins of idolatry, lying, adultery, parsimony/jealousy, murder, theft, witchcraft and sorcery, deceit, doubting the religion, and lethargy in observing religious duties. The Naghushāgān were duty-bound to perform the four daily prayers in the morning, noon, evening and at night. For the day-time prayers they would face the sun while for their night prayers they were supposed to stand towards the moon. They also had to purify themselves with water before every prayer and in case of no access to water they could do the purification by touching sand or soil. They would also fast on every Sunday and for a full month each year and it was obligatory on them to give seven types of alms and pay one-tenths of their incomes and property in charity for the livelihood of the priests and the other higher social classes. The other four Manichaean classes lived collectively in monasteries and ate only one vegetarian meal a day, in the preparation of which they had no role. They were not allowed to store more than one day’s meal and more than one year’s clothing requirements and one of their duties was to travel on foot (to propagate religion). Besides the general Sundays, they had to fast even on Mondays and their five most special and important obligations were: a) avoiding non-vegetarian food; b) refraining from drinking wine; c) living in privation; d) observing non-violence; and e) truthfulness. The devotees of these classes had to offer seven daily prayers and in addition to the one month of fasting they were also duty bound to observe five fasts of 48 hours each and the last day of each month was celebrated by them as the “Id-e Bemā”. As per Manichaean beliefs, on the day of Bemā, Mani’s soul had ascended and had merged into the Eternal Light. On this day the Manichaeans would gather around “Māni’s Bed” (a bed on which they placed his picture) and would confess their sins.


* source: Bagheri , Mehdi " Iran Entry " The Great Islamic Encyclopedia . Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 , pp.585- 587

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