Soak in the ethos and evolution of India’s dwindling Parsi community at a three-month long festival.
We know them as dressed in mostly white, with prayer caps, cooking great food and very industrious. We romanticise them, their descent, make movies about them and make them interesting characters in our novels. But the Parsi community is slowly vanishing with dwindling numbers and sooner or later will be limited to the romanticism we attribute to them. So will vanish the multi cultural ethos that they brought with them.
To celebrate the multicultural ethos that makes the unique ethnic and cultural identity of the Parsi-Zoroastrian community, Ministry of Minority Affairs under their scheme Hamari Dharohar in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and the Parzor Foundation is hosting a cultural spectacle The Everlasting Flame International Programme at premiere cultural institutes across the city. Three exhibitions, titled The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination at the National Museum, Threads of Continuity: Zoroastrian Life and Culture at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) and Painted Encounters: Parsi Traders and the Community at National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) along with many cultural and educational events will be held over a period of three months. “After the success of the MOMA Jiyo Parsi programme, we needed to explain why such tiny communities were worth saving and their contribution both to world history and culture and specifically India . So Pheroza Godrej’ and FPM s exhibition at NGMA and Parzor’s TOC address these issue,” says Shernaz Cama, one of the curators.
The highlight of the festival are the specially created artistic performances by Astad Deboo and Dadi Pudumjee. The unusual mix of a non Zoroastrian designer , India’s great Wendell Rodricks explaining the symbols of our faith – the simple white sacred shirt with its 1 inch square Pocket of Good Deeds and Ashdeen, a Parsi showcasing the glories of the intercultural amalgam of Parsi embroidery are things never done before.
“For Threads of Continuity, the loans from the National Museum, Tehran and Tehran Zarthushti Anjuman Museum , the display of the most precious documents of Parsi history from the Meherjirana Library, Navsari and the two gifts from Akbar to the first Dastoor Meherjirana at Fatehpur Sikri- the Firman and the Genealogy never shown before are objects of great historic importance will be exhibited,” says Cama.
Photographer Sooni Taraporevala will showcase her photographs of her Parsi family and others that she has been documenting since 1980. She says the community has evolved a lot over the years. “Youngsters are much more hip than they were in the eighties. There are many more marriages outside the community & many more kids of mixed parentage who are having their navjotes thanks to some liberal priests who have the courage to perform them,” says Taraporevala who thinks the best and unique quality of Parsis is “our ability to laugh at ourselves.”
Katayun Saklat, the septuagenarian Parsee artist from Calcutta will hold a Stained Glass Workshop. There will be an introduction to the art and craft of stained glass. “Parsis have a long association with stained glass. Agiaries like the one in Bandra have beautiful stained glass probably manufactured in France.
Magnificent portraits done in medieval technique adorn the reading room of the JN Petit Institute in Bombay.
These are merely two examples, there are several. Since Parsis have always been interested in European art, it is natural that they would be drawn to stained glass,” she says. All in all, the exhibition seems a fascinating one to catch. -The Everlasting Flame International Programme is on till May 27 at various venues.