Oral tradition of Paria Mai
Oral tradition of Paria Mai
Beautiful story for kids and adults explaining the history of Chula-nu-varas
The image of the serpent is widely acknowledged in western culture to symbolize medicine. One of the most recognizable symbols for medicine today is the rod of Aesculapius with its entwined single serpent. It was originally a symbol representing Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine, from around the 6th century BC. In the early 20th century the US Army Medical Corps (USAMC) adopted the caduceus of the Roman god, Mercury, with its double entwined serpents capped with wings as a medical symbol, although it had no medical association in early Greek or Roman tradition. In contrast, Iranian mythology has no recorded evidence that the image of the serpent was ever associated with the practice of medicine or pharmacy. Instead, it was the mythical bird, Simurgh.
Simurgh (Image: Jahan-e-Khosrau / Free use )
The Simurgh was described as a peacock with the head of a dog and the claws of a lion. She was a creature big enough to comfortably carry an elephant or a whale. The Simurgh was said to be so old that she had seen the destruction of the world three times over. This afforded her so much wisdom and learning that she possessed the knowledge of all the ages. In one legend, the Simurgh was said to have lived for 1,700 years before plunging herself into flames, much like the Phoenix. The figure of the Simurgh can be found in all periods of Iranian art and literature, as well other regions that were within the realm of Persian cultural influence. In the Avesta, the Zoroastrian holy book, containing the oldest record of the Simurgh, the Simurgh is written as Meregho Saena . Later, the name ‘Saena’ was also associated with healers. In Farvardin Yasht , verses 97 and 126, several physicians have also been mentioned bearing the name ‘Saena’. In the Dinkard, a 10th century compendium of the Mazdaen Zoroastrian beliefs and customs, it is mentioned that there was a physician by the name of ‘Saena’ who was born 100 years after Zoroaster and who trained 100 students to be physicians, during his long life.
The Simurgh represented the union and served as a mediator and messenger between the Earth and the Sky. She lived in the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ and, when she took flight, her powerful ascent shook the tree’s branches so violently that the seeds from every plant that had ever existed, were scattered throughout the world, bringing a wealth of valuable plants to mankind.
The movie Padmaavat depicts the ancient practice of `Jauhar’, where Rajput women commit mass self-immolation by jumping into the fire to avoid being captured and humiliated by invading armies. But not many know that around 900 years ago, Parsi women sacrificed their lives in a tiny village called Variav near Surat in Gujarat by jumping in the river Tapi.
The exact date is not recorded in history, but oral tradition says the incident happened towards the end of the 11th Century when Parsis, who had arrived from Iran to escape persecution, had settled in villages in Gujarat. The local Raja had levied a crushing tax and demanded a heavy tribute from the prosperous Parsi settlement in Variav. When they protested, the Raja sent his soldiers but were beaten back and made to retreat. The Raja did not give up and dispatched more troops after sometime. Unfortunately on that day, all the Parsi men had left the village for a feast, leaving the women behind. Instead of fleeing, the brave women put on the armour of their men, tied their hair, covered their faces and rode on horses to fight the army. Such was the ferocity, so the story goes that the Raja’s army was on the verge of defeat. But a fatal blow on the helmet, revealed a woman’s face. Shocked that they were being beaten by women, the soldiers returned with zeal and fought them. By now weary and tired, the women decided they would never surrender and rushed to the Tapi river and drowned. Subsequently, the army destroyed the entire Parsi settlement in Variav. The battle is popularly known as Jung Variav in Parsi history. The brave martyrs are remembered till today with special prayers and ceremonies held every year in the Zoroastrian month of Farvardin, day Ashishwang, which falls sometime in September.
Nauzer Bharucha; Courtesy:Jehangir Bisney
One of the most moving stories related to a Commemorative Gahambar, I have come to learn from my mother, Homai Wandrewala: That of the vaal-no-Gahambar, or the Variav behedin-nu-parabh. This is connected with the historic and heroic Jung-e-Variav,or the Battle of Variav, fought sometime during the late 11th Century, or early 12th century AD. The small village of Variav, near Surat, on the banks of the river Tapti, (now part of Greater Surat), had a largely Parsi Population. A Rajput Price who had suzerainty over Variav, the Raja of Ratanpur, was enraged with the Parsees of Variav, because they defied him, and refused to pay the unjust, excessive tribute / revenue (mehesul), which he would forcibly collect. In order to enforce his unjust demand, he would send mercenaries, (called garasias’), to claim the mehesul. Generally, these garasias were repulsed by the brave Parsi men of Variav. One day, the menfolk had gone off to a far-off village, for a vaal and toddy party, leaving behind the women and the elderly. It was on that fateful day that the garasias decided to pay another visit to Variav. The women, pre-warned of the impending attack from the clouds of dust across the river raised by the horses’ hoofs, decided to try and repulse the garasias themselves in the absence of the menfolk. Led by a brave lady named Navaz, the women donned their men’s riding attire, put on visors on their faces, and got astride horses with whatever arms they could lay their hands on. Indeed, they fought so bravely, that the garasias were repulsed and started riding back towards the bridge fording the river, when one of them happened to turn around and noticed the earring on the ear of a woman, whose visor had shifted askew during the fight. Realizing that they were being beaten by women, the garasias returned with renewed frenzy. The women, apprehending molestation by the garasias if caught alive, en masse jumped into the river and drowned. The garasias then forcibly collected the mehesul from the elderly folk of Variav, who narrated what had happened to the young men when they returned. It appears that on that day every year thereafter, the men of Variav, to commemorate the bravery of their women, held what they called the vaal-no-gahambar, or the Jung-e-Variav Gahambar, at which only vaal was served. Apparently, this was on roz Ashishvang, mah Ferverdeen. There is some uncertainty as to the historical authenticity of this story. Apparently however, there is mention of the Jung-e-Variav in one of the Disa Pothis (Family Death Register) unearthed by Dr. Sir Jivanji Mody, during his researches. It appears that most families then kept aDisa Pothi’ which, apart from giving details and genealogies of individual families, also was a repository of much historical information.
Some years ago, a young Dasturji, from a small town in Gujarat, accepted a posting to an Agiary in Mumbai.
Some weeks after he arrived, he travelled on a bus from his home to Chopati. When he sat down, he discovered that the conductor had accidentally given him 1 rupee too much change. As he considered what to do, he thought to himself, ‘You’d better give the rupee back. It would be wrong to keep it.’
Then he thought, ‘Oh, forget it, it’s only a rupee! Who would worry about this little amount? In any case, the bus company already makes too much profit from us hardworking people and its fares are too high. A rupee won’t be missed: I’ll just accept it as a ‘gift from God.’
When his stop came, he paused momentarily at the door. Despite his desire to keep the rupee, his conscience got the better of him and he handed the rupee to the conductor, saying, ‘Here, you gave me too much change.’
The conductor smiled broadly and said knowingly, ‘Aren’t you the new Parsi priest in our neighbourhood agyari?’
‘Yes’, he replied.
‘Well,’ said the conductor, ‘I’ve heard a lot of good things about Parsis. I just wanted to see what you would do if I gave you too much change.’
When the Dasturji stepped off of the bus, he was in a state of shock, and said, ‘Oh God, I almost sold my conscience for a Rupee!’
Our acts are the only Parsipanu some people will ever see. This is a good example of how much people watch us as Parsis, and will put us to the test! They don’t want us to fail – they hope we will come up to their high expectations. They want to tell their children that some people and communities do live up to high ideals. Don’t let them down. Don’t let yourself down. Always remember: you carry the good name of Parsis on your shoulders when you call yourself, ‘Parsi.’
Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.