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…

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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…

Historical 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.

Religious Facts:

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.

Legal Facts:

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.

Conclusions:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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.

16 comments

  • This article has shocked me, in that, we hsve always been told that aParsi boy may marry a no Parsi, but he can still enter our Fire temples, and his children can be initiated into our faith Then why this sudden volteface?? That too, for an upstanding man who has always upheld the tenets of our religion?

  • Gulserene Dastur

    Firstly, any priest who wants to justify this anti-intermarriage stand because of genetics has a moral duty to get his DNA tested and show us the results.
    Secondly, faith and genes have absolutely nothing to do with each other.
    Thirdly, what this Aibara is actually saying is: “I am a kind man, but my God wants me to be cruel.” Thus in his overweening conceit, he’s literally claiming he’s more humane than his God.
    Fourthly, there is no valid excuse whatsoever for adding to the amount of suffering that already exists in the world by creating artificial suffering.

  • This decision by our high priests has been pending for a long time, but sadly they are not in unison!! And I think this will keep going for another 100 years! Alas!!
    All our priests should get together and appoint one to be “”our Pope” rather than all wanting to voice their own opinions.. Thereafter those decisions should be final.
    That is the only way there will be unanimous understanding of how we should be pracrisping our beautiful faith in unison.

  • When Zarathustra came down from the mountains his first words were, “Ahura Mazda has asked me to deliver His message for ALL OF HUMANITY “

    So as per our so called learned priests, only the Parsees are Humans ?

    Racism at its best.

    Now to my fellow brethren, you all want to spread the message of Ahura Mazda to the whole world as He wished or follow the priests of today’s Zoroastrianism ?

  • Agree with your views. Times are changi g so must the religion. Felixibility should be maintained. All must remain happy at all times.
    Parsi boys are not capable of pleasing Parsi girls and their demands. The community will dwindle& perish.
    Girls will marry out of religion to be happy. Boys will have to marry non parsi.
    Finally the vadas of the relogion will debate and decide

  • Expose them! Have a spine & bring back zoroastrianism to it’s deserve status. Do Not Let These Idiots Bigots Racists run our Religion

  • Times r changing and so must old religious beliefs.

  • It Stinks of Racism Discrimination Bigotry

  • Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal

    I normally stay away from involving myself in our religious matters, but, I find the attitude of this Dastur totally abominable! To refuse to do prayers for someone to me, reeks of bigotry and is totally racist. It’s time Parsees took a good look at themselves and decided for themselves if they need to follow the dictats of these racists and misogynists ( in the case of women marrying outside the religion). It also calls for the laity to start studying the religion, if they wish to follow it, to understand what it says on these issues. It is Because the common man/ woman, knows very little of the true essence of the religion, that they are at the mercy of the likes of Mr. Ibara.
    The trustees of all fire temples need to rethink these issues and appoint men who really practice the adage Parsees are so proud of, ‘good thoughts, good words, good deeds’, none of which embodied by the refusal to do the death ceremonies of a practising Zoroastrian.

  • Sad. Radicalism and narrowmindedness must be eliminated from the community before it eliminates the community..

  • Perviz Dara Bhote

    Saddens me to know that our community that was once known for its progressive ideas is now wallowing in regressiveness.
    Best in such circumstances is to have the funeral prayers recorded by some priest who would be willing to do so. Then play the recording at such funerals. After all, our soul does not need the mediation of the priest to get what it deserves.
    Inter-community marriages are on the rise.
    Challenge the priest to take a DNA test along with a person married to a non Parsi and see whether there is any difference. Challenge this scientifically and expose their half knowledge.

  • It’s cruel and racist
    Give the gentleman his last prayers
    Give it with love and care which he showed for his people

  • Death Levels all!!! Ahura Mazda will have the last say

  • This action by the Priest of Agiary, is a real Travesty!! How DARE he refuse to carry out the Last Rites Prayers for an Up-standing Parsi Gentleman who has served his community as a TRUE Zorastrian and worshipped at this same Agiary all his life!!

    I think This Priest has some personal problem
    Or even a grudge which makes him act in this disgusting – NON- Parsee – behaviour!

    It would be better for the Community of this Baug – to Remove this Priest & Have him Replaced by another Priest who is Wise to Our Rules & Regulations of Our Religion & is Capable of caring for the needs of the Parsees who reside in this Baug – so that such a Travesty NEVER raises its disgusting/Ugly Head at the last hour when the Family is grieving the Loss of their Dear ones!!

  • Rustom Adi Havewalla

    I cannot take sides here because I like them both, Yezdi Aibara as well as Noshir Dadrawalla.

    I believe that neither anyone nor I have the moral right to pass a judgement on the choice made by any individual, whether it is a question of whom one should marry or whether it is a question of for whom one should perform or refuse to perform the prayers.

    I am expressing my thoughts with a request to everyone to understand the fundamental right of an individual.

    Every individual has the choice of doing or refusing to do something as per his faith, beliefs, learning, thinking and experience.

    This world is big. If Mr. A refuses to serve, you have the choice of approaching Mr. B or C or D……..n for getting your work done.

    When we, as individuals, have the choice of working for or refusing to work for someone, why should a priest not have that choice?

    Why then, Yezdi Aibara should not have the right to stick to his beliefs? He refused his services as per his beliefs. At the same time, he DID NOT STOP OTHER PRIESTS from performing the prayers.

    I think that this controversy is unnecessary. Let us live peacefully and happily.

  • In Iran itself, interfaith marriages among parsi and non-parsis are not frowned upon and one lady (Dr. Meena Prabhu) had entered into a Fire Temple (Reference: Marathi Book -Gatha Irani) and taken photograph of holy fire in agiary in Iran. Hence it is high time for Parsi community in India to embrace moden ideas.

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