The Zoroastrian priestesses of Iran

MEE visits a Zoroastrian fire temple in southern Tehran, and hears from priests about gender equality among followers of the ancient religion


Mobediar Sarbar Talapolevara enters the temple dressed in a long white dress on top of which a white veil is pinned, and sits close to the small but vigorous fire that crackles in the middle of the temple.

Talapolevara’s immaculate threads are transcendentally laundered, flawless white throughout. Her one accessory is the traditional koshti, a long belt which represents the Zoroastrian basic principles of “good thoughts, good words and good actions”.

“My father was a Parsi, that is a Zoroastrian from India,” she says. “I recall him fastening his belt every day before breakfast and telling us about his childhood in India, where Zoroastrians cling to conservative traditions and kids must wear the koshti from the age of eight years old.”

“It was my father who encouraged me the most. At first Indian Parsis opposed the idea of the female priests,” Mobed Talapolevara said. “That’s why I was pleasantly surprised upon my initiation as a priest four years ago to receive messages of support from those same Indian Parsi. They even published articles in Indian newspapers and at the International Congress of Zoroastrians.”

Berhad, a young Zoroastrian disciple, who chants by heart the Avesta, the holy Zoroastrian scriptures, as often as he can, told MEE that “Zoroastrian society maintains a caste system. The Mobeds are the highest caste. After the Arab invasion and the following persecutions, the majority of Mobeds fled to India”.

“They were the most traditional ones, those who apply the Sasanian interpretation of the sacred text, the Avesta. Actually, during the Sasanian time – the last pre-Islamic reign in Iran – the Mobeds took power and mixed religion and politics together, instituting even a kind of Sharia, a law and moral code which gave the precepts and the rules founded on a new reinterpretation of the Zarathustra recitations.”

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One comment

  • Dear Yazdi, Please do not misinform our Zarthushti community by saying that female Mobed-Yars are priestesses. I am a writer for Parsee Times and my article was printed just a fortnight ago about male Paasbaans and female Mobed-yars. Ervad Dr. Ramiyar Karanjia clearly told me during our interview that female Mobed-Yars have only been in a training course for which they receive certificates. At the most they can do only some basic rituals but they are not included in the priesthood.To begin with, a priest must undergo the ritual purification bath and a month of austerity.In any of your future posts, kindly confer with our religious authorities and then post your comments.When our beloved Prophet Zarathushtra propounded the equality of men and women he meant that men should respect women as equals in terms of intellect, independence and religious worship. This has been misconstrued by individuals to justify the emergence of female Mobed-Yars. Traditions and values of the most pristine and pure and oldest religion believing in the existence of Ahura Mazda cannot be violated in the name of so-called progress which has in fact become regress.Best Regards,JAMSHED ARJANI

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