Eating in Thousands
EATING IN THOUSANDS
It’s a fight for a seat, and sometimes, a chicken leg, at the Parsi gahambar that celebrates an age-old tradition of praying and feasting.
At 8 pm on March 21, stewards from legendary caterer Tanaz Godiwala’s team were on stand-by like soldiers awaiting a general’s order, even as a line of cooks poured bubbling hot sweet-sour, butter-flour saas from saucepans into aluminium trays stacked with succulent boneless chunks of steamed rawas. The saas-nimacchi was soon making the rounds of aisles in a makeshift seating area at Dadar Parsi Colony where a dinner was underway on the occasion of Navroze, the holiest day of the Zoroastrian calendar, marking the Spring Equinox.
They were carrying on a tradition that some say, dates back to the times of Prophet Zoroaster. The feast that his followers in India, the Parsis, call gahambar or gahanbar – a middle Persian name for community feasting held at the end of six seasons of the Zoroastrian calendar – was held through the year to celebrate the creation of the sky, water, earth, plants, beneficent animals, mankind, and fire. Each festival originally lasted one day, but following a calendar reform, was extended to six, and finally reduced to five – the first four days dedicated to prayer, and the last to communal eating where everyone participated, either by bringing dairy, meat, legumes and vegetables or offering their cooking services.
“Currently, a gahambar is celebrated as a community event for Zoroastrians, where a thanksgiving meal is preceded by a jashan or prayer. The feasting may be sponsored either for a living person or in memory of the dear departed or simply as an act of spiritu- a l merit,” says Ervad Dr Ramiyar Karanjia, Zoroastrian scholar and priest. Most gahambars are free, with coupons distributed at landmark Parsi stores and colonies, while some are ticketed. The menu can vary as can the guest list.