Just like other communities, Mumbai’s Zoroastrian or the Parsi community, as we lovingly know, has always been an integral part of the city. Frohar foundation has been organising the 2-day event “The Zoroastrian Saga” for quite many years now to share the knowledge of the Zoroastrian community, as not many of us know a lot about their origins and the importance of their religion.
For many years we have been discussing the importance of giving respect to our Priests and enabling them to become Pastors to the Parsi community, as are the Catholic Priests as well as the Sikh Granthis. Jiyo Parsi has realized that without a strong ethical background in Zoroastrianism, our community is suffering. This is seen in some cases, in community rates of depression, in neglect of our Priests, our Elders, even our children, as we head towards an increasingly self centered society.
Jiyo Parsi therefore has worked with experts from Masina Hospital and other Counseling centres and our senior Priests, to create a special programme for our Priesthood which will be conducted in Mumbai as per the advertisement issued in the Jame Jamshed yesterday. This is attached herewith for your quick perusal. We need you as the Leaders of the community and important voices to encourage priests from your Anjumans and Baugs to come, with their wives, on a fully reimbursed Workshop and travel to and at Mumbai on Saturday 13th May 2017. We need a good response and the importance of this needs to be understood by our clergy and community.
If this is successful, the Priests will be trained in a Series of Workshops, as per their willingness to:
Become eloquent speakers
Communicate values and ideas
Deal with Youth and their problems
Be Effective leaders who can stand up for Zoroastrian values.
Showcase their great talents gained during their priestly training
Become advocates for their own improved conditions
Personality development skills
Emotional development and their own marriage issues
To provide solace at times of grief
To Become Pastors to their community in each Agiary and Atash Behram.
These are only some of the planned events. A Certificate of Participation will be given and if the programme is successful we can even workout more interlinking with High Priests and greater exposure through universities and Academic institutions.
We request you to send as many Mobeds for this initial workshop with the idea that it is a method of self improvement and development. The Priests have been asking for correct interventions and interface with the Parsi and larger community. This is a carefully worked out chance for them. It would be sad if they missed it.Looking forward to your support and your spreading the word quickly.
With warm regards,
Dr. Shernaz Cama
Mrs Suna Kanga, a Parsi, set out to write a book about her heritage, but died before completing it, so freelance writer Subina Aurora Khaneja finished it on her behalf
Four-volume compendium highlights issues plaguing community
A four-volume compendium that traces the demographic decline of the Parsi community in India was released recently at the Max Mueller Bhavan. The Parsis Of India: Continuing at the Crossroads by Lata Narayan, and Siva Raju took over a decade to complete and has been hailed as a “a major socio-psycho-anthropological work”.
The book release was attended by Union Minister of Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Dr Pheroza Godrej, Prof. Leela Visaria and Dr. Shernaz Cama. The Parsi community is now estimated to have dwindled to approximately 70,000 in India, a population decline that goes against the prevailing nationwide trend.
Shalini Bharat, co-editor of the series, read out Dr. Armaity Desai’s speech that focused on some of the myths that plague the community, a topic covered in the first volume. These include the oft-prevailing myth that young Parsis lack the flame and fire of their ambitious entrepreneur forefathers. The other volumes go into the issues of religion, identity and health that Parsis, young and old, grapple with.
Amid the gloom, there were also rays of hope: infant mortality and life expectancy of Parsis were seen as comparable with countries such as Denmark, while the Jiyo Parsi scheme has been successful. Several more ways were suggested to increase the numbers. There were calls for more open-mindedness including allowing adoption, navjote of children from mixed marriages and incentivising fertility. Perhaps the bravest idea came from Dr. Armaity, who sought more recognition for single parents.
Adar is the Divinity that presides over fire. In the Zoroastrian calendar, Adar is the ninth day of every month of thirty days and also the ninth month of the year of twelve months. Nine is a sacred number across several religious traditions. In the Zoroastrian tradition, Prophet Zarathustra is often depicted holding a nine-knotted stick called Navgar. Among Hindus, nine is the number of Brahma, the Creator. Among Christians, number nine symbolizes divine completeness and conveys the meaning of finality. Christ died on the cross at the ninth hour of the day (03:00 pm) to pave the path of salvation for everyone. Also, Jesus appears nine times to his disciples and apostles after his resurrection. Mathematically, when multiplied nine always reproduces itself.
Interestingly, Adar (Akkadian Adaru) is also the twelfth month of the ecclesiastical year on the Hebrew calendar. The Hebrew name Adar (pronounced ‘Ay daar’) is related to the word Adir which denotes strength and power.
Atash Nu Parab:
Parsis celebrate Ruz (day) Adar of Mah (month) Adar as ‘Atash nu parab’. When Ruz and Mah coincide, the day is celebrated as parab. The feast actually begins the day before (Ruz Dae-pa-Adar) when the women of the household celebrate the Chulah nu varas, which literally means birthday of the hearth Fire over which food is prepared throughout the year. The kitchen is cleaned and the area around the cooking stove is decorated and the stove itself is garlanded with marigold flowers and the stove is not used from early evening (Uzirin Gah) till the next morning.
According to the Bundahishn, which is a Zoroastrian text, equivalent to the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament, Adar is associated with the marigold (calendula) flower. Marigold is believed to have derived its name from ‘Mary’s Gold’, taken from the fact that early Christians placed flowers instead of coins on Mother Mary’s altar as an offering. This flower is often used in festivities honoring Mary. Hindus use it during marriages and Zoroastrians associate this flower with fire because of its colour.
According to the Old Testament (the Book of Genesis) God created this world in six days and rested on the seventh. In Zoroastrian cosmogony, Ahura Mazda created this world in six stages (the six Gahambars) creating first the sky, water, earth, vegetation, animal and finally man. However, what animated or gave energy or brought to life all these six good creations was Adar or fire. Both, the Bundahishn and Zatspram, explain that Ahura Mazda’s six good creations were able to commence their work thanks to Adar as the life-giving force or energy.
Ruz Adar of Mah Adar is also the day when several Agyari and Atash Behram were consecrated and enthroned, including the Holiest of Holy, Iranshah.
Discovery Of Fire And It’s Reverence Through History:
According to Ferdowsi’s ‘Shahnameh’, fire was accidentally discovered during the pre-historic Peshdadian period by Shah Hooshang. According to the legend, when Hooshang threw a rock at a serpent like creature it missed the target and instead struck another rock and sparks from that friction ignited some dry grass in the surrounding area. Hooshang recognized this fire as the Divine Glory of Ahura Mazda and instructed his subjects to offer homage.
The Astodan or the final resting place of most of the Great Achaemenian Kings, including that of Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerxes depict the great Kings offering homage before a fire alter. Coins of the later Sasanian period, beginning with the founder, Ardashir, carried the symbol of fire.
Why Pray Before Or In The Presence Of Fire?
From a Zoroastrian perspective, fire is both a giver of light and giver of life. Neither darkness nor evil has an existence of its own. Just as darkness is merely the absence of light, so is evil the absence of good. Thus, while fire dispels darkness, evil is dispelled each time we choose to think, speak and perform a good deed.
The concept of having a hearth fire or in modern times, at least a diva at home, is a ritual form of dispelling darkness and evil with the presence of light. The Persian Revayet recommend that we should pray five Yatha while lighting a diva. Yatha is the chant (The Ahunavar and equivalent of the Sanskrit Om) with which Ahura Mazda created this universe. Also, while reciting the Sarosh Baj (Sarosh Yazata is the guardian of the souls of the living as also the dead) we pray five Yatha. Hence, praying five Yatha while lighting a Fire, probably has a link with enlightening or enhancing our five senses, or our consciousness and an act of attuning our spirit with the Creator, the chant with which the universe was created and the energy of fire that animated or energized all creation.
Adar (Avestan ātar) is Hamkar (co-helper) of Ardibehesht (Avestan Asha Vahishta literally meaning Best Truth or Righteousness). Indeed, when a Zoroastrian prays before fire, he/she looks up to Ahura Mazda the Creator through fire as a form of Light and Life. Also, since Ardibehesht, along with Adar is the Divinity protecting fire and Ardibehesht is the embodiment of Truth and Righteousness (Asha Vahishta); praying before fire is an affirmation of upholding Truth and Righteousness in our lives.
Grades Of Consecrated Fire:
Consecration is an act or manner of making the ordinary sacred or worthy of reverence through ritual purification. There are three grades of Fire. The highest is Atash Behram or the fire that gives Victory. There are four Atash Behram in Mumbai, two in Surat, one in Navsari and one in Udwada. The oldest is the one in Udwada which has been continuously burning for more than a thousand years. It is called Iranshah as it is the first Holy fire that we consecrated in India after coming from Iran using the Aalaat (sacred ritual requisites, including the Holy Ash) brought from Khorasan.
Meaning Behind Certain Rituals:
Before entering a Fire Temple, we should first wash our hands and face and then untie and retie the kushti which is worn around the waist. By washing we clean ourselves physically and by performing the Kushti ritual, we clean our aura or our unseen personal atmosphere. Thus, we go before the Holy Fire clean in body, spirit and mind. We cover our heads with a cap or a scarf as a mark of respect and so that hair from our head does not fall and pollute the holy temple.
When we pray before fire we see light instead of darkness. We see Adar, the energy that gives life and provides energy to this world. We also feel the energy of Ardibehesht or Truth and Righteousness. In other words, we see and feel all that is good that is given to us by God and through Fire as a Divine Channel we send our prayers and good wishes up to the Creator.
We offer fragrant sandalwood as fuel to the fire and which in turn gives off fragrance. When offering sandalwood to the fire we should visualize our offering as a gift to God and God accepts the gift with fragrance. It also reminds us that throughout life we should continue to offer to this world our good thoughts, words and deeds which in turn will make the world fragrant. We apply the holy ash to our forehead as a way of ritually connecting to the fire and reminding ourselves that ultimately, we will all be reduced to ash.
The Priests perform the Boi ceremony before the Holy fire, five times a day. They strike the bell while reciting the words dushmata, duzukht, dusvarast – rejecting all evil thoughts words and deeds. Thus, during the ceremony, the Priest rings the bell and symbolically drives out evil in thought, word and deed from this world.
Indeed, when a Zarathushti reveres or prays before fire, he/she in essence, offers worship to Ahura Mazda through Fire.
What We Pray?
We begin the Atash Niayesh (litany to the fire) with the following salutation:
Khshnaothra Ahurahe Mazdao Nemase-te
Atarsh Mazdao Ahurahe hudhao mazishta Yazata.
“May there be the propitiation or pleasure of Ahura Mazda!
Homage (be) unto thee, O Fire of Hormazd,
bestowing good, the Greatest Yazata.”
We also affirm:
Us-moi uzareshva Ahura
Armaiti tevishim Dasva
Spenishta Mainyu Mazda
Vanghuya zavo ada
Asha hazo emavat vohu
“O Ahura Mazda, the most beneficent spirit and the bestower of good things in return for prayers! Do Thou purify me (i.e. keep me away from wicked deeds), owing to (my) gentleness (or humility) do Thou grant me strength, on account of righteousness, bestow upon (me) mighty power (and) on account of (my) good thoughts, grant me supremacy.”
We further aspire:
Rafedhrai vouruchashane, doishi
moi ya ve abifra,
ta khshathrahya Ahura ya
Vangheush ashish manangho
fro Spenta Armaite Asha
“O Hormazd! for (my) delight (and) for sufficiently acquiring religious lore, do Thou grant me assuredly those gifts which (are) blessed by Shehrevar and Vohuman. O Spenta Armaiti! Instruct (me) the commandments of the Religion through Asha.”
And to the Holy Fire itself we express the following sentiments:
Yasnemcha vahmemcha huberetimcha
ushta-beretimcha, vanta-beretimcha, afrinami,
tava Atarsh puthra Ahurahe Mazdao, yesnyo
ahi vahmyo, yesnyo buyao vahmyo
nmanahu mashyakanam ushta buyat
ahmai naire, yase-thwa badha
frayazaite, aesmo-zasto, baresmo-zasto
“O Fire, the purifier (of all things) pertaining to Ahura Mazda! I praise Thy worship, invocation, good health-giving and friendly gift. (O Fire), Thou art worthy of worship and invocation, mayest Thou be worthy of worship and invocation in the abodes of men! May there be greatness (or happiness) unto that man who shall always worship Thee with fuel, Baresman, milk and mortar in hand.”
It is sad informing you that
Sam Peddar, pilot with the Royal Indian Air force during the early 1940’s, who along with the Engineer brothers saw action in
the then N.W.F. Provinces & Burma. Later he and Jangoo Engineer opted for Air India, he was the Chief Instructor with Air India,
one who also flew the Holy Fires from Aden to Bombay in the 1970s. He passed away in London earlier today April 22, 2017.
exactly five years to the day that he had a stroke.
He willed his body to the London Anatomy Office for medical research.
According to Sam’s wishes, there will be no funeral. If anyone wishes to donate in Sam’s memory,
please do so either to Oxfam, Greenpeace (UK or India) or to the Bhopal Medical Fund (https://bhopal.org/).
The latter is the only charity providing free medical aid to the tens of thousands of victims of the Union Carbide gas leak.
Hope the attached collage of Sam’s journey through life leaves those who knew him with happy memories.
DiSCOVER THE CHINESE ROOTS OF THIS TRADITIONAL PARSI EMBROIDERY
Chinese Roots And Silk Routes
“People tend to forget that it is not just a craft, but also a visual identifier of the Zoroastrian community and its achievements,” says Ashdeen Z. Lilaowala of eponymous label Ashdeen, who has been working for over a decade to contemporise the Parsi gara.
It was the best of times for the Parsis in the 19th century, when men travelled from India to the Far East to trade in opium, returning home with artistically embroidered, hand-spun silk as gifts for women. Such were the beginnings of gara, which today is the community’s most striking inheritance. Dipping into its backstory, New Delhi-based Lilaowala says, “It is not as black and white as it is made out to be because there was a lot of cultural exchange that transpired. While Parsis did go to China during the Raj, there was also a lot of refining of the craft that took place in India. For example, they chose to adapt it, not for Chinese gowns or European clothes, but the sari. Also, Parsis had wealth coming in from trade and they wanted to create an identity for themselves.”
The Birds and the Trees
Besides being an Indo-China hybrid, the embroidery is multicultural in form. While inspiration from the Orient resulted in motifs such as the china-chini (Chinese man and woman), divine fungus, weeping willows, pagodas and cranes, its Indian influences took the shape of peacocks and lotuses. Persian designs were also ubiquitous via the paisley, gul-e-bulbul and simurgh (bird of paradise) as were the British symbols of baskets, bows and scallops. Given the community’s binding relationship with nature, floral motifs too adorn almost all saris, as do religious ones such as the fish and rooster. Lilaowala’s clothes and accessories are replete with chrysanthemums, peonies, roses and cherry blossoms, addressing the deep reverance for nature among Zoroastrians.
Knots and Know-how
Asal na garas or authentic garas came strictly in hues of purple, maroon and navy and were ornately embroidered with silk floss (mainly in ivory), which lent the embroidery its subtle sheen. Famously described as ‘painting with a needle’, the technique employed the satin stitch, aari or mochi stitch, petit point stitch and the devastatingly intricate French knots or khakha stitch. Even though Lilaowala uses khakha in his designs, he restricts its application to certain elements because “it doesn’t make commercial sense to use it to make full borders — it would be too expensive”. Depending on the elaborateness of the design and type of sari, a hand-stitched gara could take between two to nine months to create, which is also why they are considered heirloom-worthy.
Painstaking as the stitching may be and time-consuming though the process, Lilaowala insists that the real challenge lies in training the craftspeople. “What’s most difficult is getting them to understand what the embroidery is all about, because it is very figurative. It’s about creating exact forms and figures. And then of course, retaining the artisans. Losing good talent is always a concern,” he states.
Today, the gara is conspicuous in its presence at Parsi weddings and navjotes (Zoroastrian investiture ceremony), but that hasn’t always been the case. While the craft enjoyed its heyday from the 1850s to the 1920s, its popularity declined in the 1930s due to the communist upheavals in China and the khadi movement in India. Almost 50 years later, the late Naju Daver pioneered its revival. More recently, the New Delhi-based UNESCO Parzor Foundation has been making commendable efforts to bring back the lost glory of the embroidery while online apparel retailer Patine has been giving the technique a modern twist via its blouses, jackets and dresses in silk chiffon and georgette fabrics. Lilaowala, too, has expanded its application to lehngas, tunics, shawls and clutches in contemporary hues of turquoise, emerald, lime green and fuchsia, even experimenting with net. While many dispute this dilution, the designer reasons, “The fact is that the craft grew from an amalgam; it wasn’t something that existed since the beginning of time. So who is to define what an original gara is? I have no issues with machine-made versions as I believe that there is a place for everything. The most important thing is keeping the aesthetic intact.”
Despite fewer people investing in handcrafted garas because of the staggering prices they command, Lilaowala maintains that, “The main thing is patronage, and people are slowly developing an appreciation and realising that it is all about hand work. And so, I have no doubts that it will live on.”
Care For Your Wear
“The best way to look after your garas is to wear them! It is a disservice to let them lie idle. In between wears, periodically air your garment to allow the fabric to breathe.”
KOZHIKODE: On April 18 which is observed as World Heritage Day, among the several monuments with a story to tell in Kozhikode is its only Parsi temple in Kerala. The local people are not well aware of this fire temple, the Parsi Anjuman Baug, where Parsis are the only worshippers. This sacred temple, which is over 200 years old, is located off the busy streets of the famous Sweet Meat Street. Over 300 Parsis once resided there but today, Kozhikode is left with only one family, the Marshalls, which has only six members.
Parsis live chiefly in Mumbai and in a few towns and villages mostly to the South of Mumbai, but there are a few in Karachi and Bangalore. The fire temple was built in the 18th century when Parsi traders settled in Kozhikode about 200 years ago. The Parsis, the name means “Persians”, have descended from Persian Zoroastrians who immigrated to India to avoid religious persecution by the Muslims. Devotees visit the temple for mainly two purposes, related to marriage and for good health and longetivity of the husband.
“They come here for worship only on Sundays”, says a nearby shopkeeper of the flower shop. “A Parsi has to be cremated in here. They are very unique in their costumes and rituals”, he added. There customs are different from that of the other communities. Fire is given supremacy in the Zoroastrian faith. It is closely associated with Ahura Mazda, the lord of endless light and wisdom, according to the Parsis. Most religious ceremonies are performed in the presence of fire. Just before entering the temple, the hands are washed and a ‘kusti’ (ritual) is performed and a scarf is used to cover the head.