sudre & koeshti, the sacred shirt and belt of the Zoroastrians

Traditional Zoroastrians, both males and females wear a sacred shirt and a sacred belt called “sudre and koeshti,” under their clothing. The sacred shirt and belt is given to a Zoroastrian during his/her initiation. This practice is quite ancient, and has its roots in ancient indo european beliefs. In fact, both “sudre” and “koeshti” bear striking resemblance to “russian peasant clothing.” The shirt or sudre is made out of white cotton, and is kept scrupulously clean. The cotton is a symbol for the sacredness of the Plant Creation. It looks really like a T-shirt with a V-neck. At the point of the V, over the chest, is a symbolic “pocket.” This pocket is called “the pocket of good deeds” and is the symbolic place where virtuous deeds are stashed.

Over the white cotton shirt or “sudre,” and tied around the waist, is a sacred belt called the “koeshti.” koeshti is etymologically realted to latin costa, engl. coast, old french coste, Dutch. kust, Swed. kust, Ger. Küste, Dan. kyst. The original meaning is SIDE, BORDER, which later developed a secondary sense of SHORE. In Avesta, the term used for “koeshti” is “aiwi-yáñg.” The avestan term comes from the from the root “yāh/ yās,” to gird, girdle; compare lithuanian “juosiu” to gird, O.C.S. po-jasu “girdle. belt.

Putting a belt amomg ancient Aryans meant “to gain or succeed by struggling,” to strive, fight, overcome and WORK AT. In fact, the ancient commentaries translate “yáh” as kárik; to create, work at, win, gain and succeed. Hence, by putting on the sacred belt or koeshti, a Zoroastrian becomes a worker/warrior of light, wisdom and virtue. A comparsion with Thor’s GIRDLE OF POWER in norse mythology is very appropriate.

This Zorastrian sacred belt or koeshti resembles in many ways the much later “Fransican cord.” Koeshti is a flattened tube of white wool and is made by women of priestly families. The wool of the Koeshti is a symbol for the sacredness of the Animal Creation. The color white stands for purity, light virtue and goodness. Koeshti has 72 strands interwoven in it, each strand symbolizes a chapter in the YASNA or the most sacred 72 songs of Zoroastrianism. The number 72 is especially sacred to Zoroastrian. The most powerful “srósh váj” formula (Yasna 27.13, Yasna 46.7 and Yasna 44.16 from the second line onwards) consists of 72 words. Also, the mention of the 72 intelligences governing the 72 zodiacal terms, and 72 as the number of eternal youth/vigor amomg taoists, could be cited as other examples.

The tying of the Koeshti is one of the most important rituals for a Zoroastrian. The Koeshti prayers are slightly different for Parsis from India and Iranian Zoroastrians. During recitation of the Koeshti formula, a Zoroastrian unties the koeshti from around his/her waist and holds it up, the strand doubled over, in both hands. The reciter faces a light, moon, stars or the sun, in honor of the divine light.

He/She lifts the koeshti to touch forehead and eyes. The formuals include some inspiring verses from the Poetic Gathas, and a warding formual against evil. Undoubling the koeshti, the reciter winds the belt around his/her waist and brings it around to the front, where he/she ties a square knot, while saying the most sacred Yasna 27.13 formula. Then, bringing the ends around to the back again, he/she ties another square knot, while saying Yasna 27.14 song. The two ends of the koeshti hang down a few inches in the back. The koeshti thus have three knots around the waist, which is symbolic of the great Threefold Path of “good thoughts, good words, good deeds.” In fact, Zoroastrians wear this sacred shirt and belt for the purpose of mutual work of spreading virtue, wisdom and goodness in thoughts, words and deeds in the world.


Bibliography : M. Haug, Essays on the Sacred Language, Writings, and Religion of the Parsis, 2nd ed., London, 1878, pp. 396-99. Modi, Ceremonies, pp. 272-76.

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