Funeral Rights: The Inter-Married Parsi Zoroastrian
27th September, 2020, marked the unfortunate passing of the very popular and much-loved Bahadur Hansotia, a resident of Cusrow Baug (South Bombay) for seventy years. A true Parsi, he was known to help everyone in need, a true friend to many. His nearly three-decade-long tenure at the Central Bank of India (Colaba Branch) also showcased his ever-helpful and compassionate nature. During the pandemic too, he ceaselessly stood in service of those in need, but unfortunately contracted the deadly disease himself in the process, and being asthmatic himself, succumbed to a cardiac arrest.
Late Bahadur Hansotia was married to a non-Parsi lady who had passed away much earlier, and he is survived by his children – two daughters and a son. The request to have his funeral prayers performed at the Karani Agiary, in Cusrow Baug, was turned away on the basis of his being inter-married. This led to an outpouring of reactions – some hurt and some angry – resulting in a controversy of sorts.
Parsi Time has received a large number of messages and mails sharing their anguish at the refusal for prayers of a man that was as helpful and kind as the Late Mr. Hansotia, especially in keeping with the fact, that male inter-married Parsis (and to a large extent, also the children of male inter-married Parsis) have been largely accepted into the faith. A number of letters we received cited unfair discrimination, criticizing Dasturji Aibara, Panthaky of Karani Agiary, on his decision to not perform the last prayers.
Late Bahadur’s daughter, Aafrin Hansotia’s anguish went viral on Whatsapp, where she states (excerpts), “My dad… was always running and helping people… he still continued to work for a lot of people even through COVID-19 and then being diagnosed with this incurable disease… he was asthmatic and succumbed to a cardiac arrest on Sunday. We are stuck in Australia and couldn’t even pay our last respect and say goodbye bye properly… Does the Zoroastrian faith condemn people to be treated this way? Does a well-respected and loved human like my father not deserve prayers and respects paid by people who he’s lived with/spent his whole life with? Is this what it means to be Parsi? Do men who marry outside the religion cease being Parsi?”
Well-regarded and respected for his kind demeanour and helpful nature, Dasturji Yazdi Aibara of Karani Agiary, shared his side with Parsi Times. “Let me first state that Bahadur was very close to me too and he was an extremely helpful person – and I have highest regards for him, but I am cannot go against my beliefs and my conscience and the commitments to my service as a Priest. I cannot compromise on the pledge I have made to my Dharam – these are the principles and values I have grown with and I will not do a disservice to our religious ethos. That would be wrong.
Whether a man or a woman marries a non-Parsi, both are wrong in our religion. Once you marry a Non-Parsi, you cease to be Parsi and that is the truth. I believe this to be the case for all religions, immaterial of what is being practiced, because once you marry outside, the tokham or the Zoroastrian genes become impure, and this also compromises the other person’s genes. We need to maintain the purity of our man (mind), aatma (Soul), Khorshed (energy) and shareer (body) to nurture the aatmik shakti for the progress of the soul. When we marry outside, we impede the progress of our soul, which goes against the very reason that we were put on earth, i.e., the soul’s progress.
I’m hurt myself to have refused his prayers because I have great respect for him. But religious doctrines cannot bow to wrongful and unacceptable changes, just because these are practiced more regularly now. I’m bound by my religion’s dictats and I will stay sincere to these, immaterial of what other priests practice or our community members believe. Ten or hundred or thousand wrongs, don’t make a right, simply because they are being practiced increasingly. This is not progress when you go against your Dharam na kaayda (religious rules).”
Noshir Dadrawala, known for his encyclopeadic knowledge and wisdom of Zoroastrian religion and culture, shares an insightful understanding aimed at addressing the quandary / confusion that numerous community members have communicated, based on this event…
Obsequies Of Inter-Married Parsi Zoroastrians
By Noshir H. Dadrawala
This incident is unfortunate because not only was Late Mr. Hansotia a good and helpful human being, but so also is the Head Priest who refused to do the ceremony – an equally gentle, helpful and much respected priest among devout Behdins. While every individual, be it priest or laity, is entitled to one’s own opinion and has the right to act as per dictates of one’s own conscience, it’s important to discern facts from fiction and myths from reality.
Before I venture to express my opinion, I wish to clarify that personally I too am not in favour of inter-marriages and neither am I inter-married and nor is any member of my immediate family.
Here are some Historical, Religious and Legal facts…
Several Achaemenian, Parthian and Sasanian Kings were inter-married. But we continue to invoke their names with great pride and reverence – Khusro – I, also known as Anosharavan or Noshirwan-e-Adil, (531-579 AD) was married to a Roman Princess. The marriage was a political alliance to usher peace. The fact remains that it was a formal marriage but we still remember and invoke the name of Noshirwan-e-Adil reverently to this date. Just as we do the name – ‘Khusro – II’, or Emperor Khusro Parvez (590 AD) who married the Roman Princess Maria, as a political alliance to neutralize the rebellious General Behram Chobin.
Marriage from a Zoroastrian point of view is a religious duty/discipline. It is an institution that pleases Dadaar Ahura Mazda, according to the ‘Vendidad’. A number of religious texts, in particular, the Avestan ‘Vendidad’ and the Pahlavi ‘Dinkard’, have proscribed mixed marriages. These texts have considered ‘mixing of the seed’ (intermarriage) as sinful. But, no where does any Avesta or Pahlavi text explicitly or categorically state, that on inter-marrying, a Parsi Zoroastrian ceases to be a Parsi Zoroastrian.
The Vendidad lists out a number of sins and some sins are forgivable and some are unforgivable. But, no where does the Vendidad or the Dinkard or any other religious text state that if a Parsi Zoroastrian inter-marries, he should be excommunicated or not considered a Parsi Zoroastrian, once he or she marries outside the community.
Justices Dinshaw Davar and Frank Beamon, (as reported in (1909) 33 ILR 509 and 11Bom.L.R. 85), after hearing evidence led before the Bombay High Court by some of the most leading scholars, priests and High Priests of the period, arrived at the conclusion that the Parsi community consists of: (a) Parsis who descended from the original Persian emigrants and who are born of both Zoroastrian parents and who profess the Zoroastrian religion; (b) Iranis from Persia professing the Zoroastrian religion; (c) children of Parsi fathers by non-Parsi mothers who have been duly and properly admitted into the religion.
While this so-called definition of ‘Parsi Zoroastrian’ is obiter dictum (i.e., a collateral opinion/observation of the judge, which is not binding) it formed the basis of the judgement why the French wife of Ratanji D Tata was not to be considered a Parsi Zoroastrian, despite her Navjote.
Much as this definition is gender-biased, it has not been legally challenged by any priest or High Priest for over a century.
- The religious texts do not approve inter-marriages. But there is not a single scripture which states that on inter-marriage, a Parsi Zoroastrian ceases to be one.
- There are several other sins including murder, cruelty and speaking untruths listed in the scriptures. So, one wonders, historically, would priests then have to deny prayers to Parsi murderers, sadists or liars?
- One also wonders if such policy applies to those who are inter-married, then what about live-in couples and those indulging in illicit sexual activities with non-Parsis?
- In the past and in the present, many priests perform ceremonies for the intermarried rich, be it a Tata or a Wadia – and their portraits adorn their Agyari wall! So, why do the rules change when it comes to the ordinary Parsi?
One is neither questioning nor condemning the decision of our priests – it’s their choice. But the question remains, if this becomes a new trend, will this become one more issue for challenge in the courts of law? We need a unified answer from our learned High Priests in this matter, to undo the confusions of our community members on the most integral aspect of religion. As a community, we need to discuss, debate and decide thoughtfully.