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Dear Community Members
Attached is the July 2019 issue of Manashni.
Hope you enjoy reading it.
Thank you to all our contributors and as always to Farhad Khurshed and Nadish Naoroji for their time and effort to get this issue put together.
Honorary Secretary – AZA – 2018 -2019
On behalf of the AZA Managing Committee
AZA – MANASHNI – JULY 2019
Jiyo Parsi- the Government of India’s scheme implemented by Parzor, has expanded in 5 years from a medical programme financially assisting couples who require ART, to a programme dealing with the care of elders and children, with financial assistance as well as Counselling, to ensure the Health of the Community.
At an exclusive event on 6 July at the Banaji Atash Behram Hall, Charni Road Mumbai eminent psychiatrist Dr. Pervin Dadachanji, Chief Guest, addressed the audience on the topic : ‘Yes, We Can: Marriage Myths and Reality.’
Dr Dadachanji, renowned Consultant Psychiatrist, has many decades of experience in the field of Counselling young adults and her speech was greatly appreciated.
Taking Jiyo Parsi’s attempts at Parsi matrimony further, Parzor planned an evening for the launch of a Parsi Shaadi App. This particular app is created by one of India’s leading matrimonial services Shaadi.com. They had assigned Mr Pamit Anand, VP & Business – Head, People Interactive India, Private Ltd, to launch the App at this event.
Helping Parsis Meet their Partners, is on the checklist of Jiyo Parsi. A dedicated App can empower singles, allow them to choose independently and when single-mindedly dedicated towards the Parsi Zoroastrian community, will help young adults find a suitable partner.
This app launch was followed by an interactive panel discussion entitled ‘A Wholesome Work Life Balance.’
Eminent Chairman of the Madison World Group, Mr Sam Balsara, who has been closely involved with the Jiyo Parsi initiative and prepared all the Ad Campaigns pro-bono through Madison BMB, showed his excellent understanding of the issues facing his community. Dr Anahita Pandole, Consultant Gynaecologist, spear heading the medical component of the scheme shared her experiences, while Mr Jimmy Mistry, Chairman & Managing Director, Della Group showed how to manage life, family and business successes simultaneously. While Dr Dadachanji added to the issues raised by her in her speech, the young Editor of Grazia India, Ms Mehernaaz Dhondy exemplified the ability for Parsi women to reach the heights of a professional career, alongside raising happy children.
Dr Shernaz Cama, Director, UNESCO Parzor introduced the Programme and moderated the Panel.
Ms Kritika Mudgal, Programme Coordinator, Parzor Foundation, delivered the Vote of Thanks.
The Panel then took questions from the audience and Press. The event concluded with Parsi refreshments enjoyed by all.
Download the app here :
‘You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream!’
The above quote may have been said by the British scholar and novelist – C.S. Lewis, but no one can prove it better than the maverick photographer turned actor – Boman Irani, who made his Bollywood debut at the age of 44 and made a mark for himself with his excellent comic timing and signature style of acting.
“If there is passion in your heart and fire in your belly there is no one who can stop you from moving forward,” says the Housefull 3 actor, who has done everything in his life with complete passion and honesty, be it acting in front of the camera, capturing photographs through his lenses or waiting tables at The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel as a waiter.
Yeah, today Boman Irani may be one of the most sought after actor who is known for his versatility and brilliant performances in films like Munnabhai M.B.B.S, Khosla Ka Ghosla, 3 Idiots etc., but there was a time when this successful actor worked as a waiter and even sat in his ancestral shop selling chips.
“As a kid I had a speech defect, I had a lisp, I used to actually talk like my character Virus from 3 Idiots. To make matters worse I was dyslexic, who was not good at academics. People used to call me Boman the duffer. So I decided to do a course to be a waiter and joined The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel as a waiter. I worked there for 2 years and put my heart in it. My granny used to say – ‘gali ka mochi bano, toh bhi sabse acha mochi bano’, basically be the best in anything you do and that has stayed with me always,” says Boman.
However, Boman was not destined to be a waiter forever. His mother met with an accident and Boman had to take over his family shop. “I started sitting in our shop. I sat in the shop for over 14 years. It was a long time. So imagine sitting in a shop and saying to myself that I think I am a creative person, I think I need to do something with my ability to either writer, or to understand, or to put down words, or to breakdown a screenplay and understand it…I think I am passionate about all that. Actually, I was a student of cinema since I was 12-years-old. As a kid my mom used to encourage me to see films every day, over and over again. She told me to observe cinematography, acting, music, camera movements, lyrics, lightening… everything. I used to watch movies 30 to 40 times at Alexander theater, so I was passionate about cinema. So what do I do? At 32 nobody was making me an actor because that’s a funny age, you are neither too young nor too old to play characters. So what’s the next best thing to do? I bought a camera from the money that I had saved from the tips I got at Taj as a waiter and decided to become a photographer,” reveals Boman.
He juggled his photography career along with managing the shop and actually succeeded in turning his passion into a paycheck. Initially, Boman made about 25 rupees per picture but soon his go-getting attitude and talent coupled with his passion for succeeding helped him to make 300 dollars per picture. He recalls, “I needed to do something creatively and photography was my outlet. I started with sports photography, my pictures were getting composed pretty well and I used to make about 25 – 30 rupees per picture. I said this is a great outlet, if I can make a profession out of this, then I will be a happy creative soul. That happened too, I bagged my first big project as an official photographer for The World Cup of Boxing that was happening in Mumbai. Then I did some pictures for an international client, for which I got 900 dollars, 300 dollars for each picture. I was thrilled. I was finally a professional photographer.”
And though Boman was content to have found some creative outlet, he wasn’t afraid to experiment further as he says, “One day while I was doing a portfolio for Shiamak Davar, he told me that I need to be on stage. I was like why not, chalo karte hai. He took me to theater thespian Alyque Padamsee, who told me I had no talent. However, Shiamak coaxed him to take me and I did a small role of a pimp in a play called Roshni. The show was a disaster but the press talked about me. Then I did another play and another play and another play… and then suddenly I became a theater actor with successful plays. I started getting film offers but I said no to a lot of movies and a lot of television work. Then one fine day Vinod Chopra, who had seen an experimental film I had done – Let’s Talk, called me. He gave me a cheque for 2 lakh rupees saying he would like to block my dates for the next year. I humbly thanked him and returned the cheque. Six months later, he called me again for Munnabhai M.B.B.S, I turned down the offer. Few days later he again called me and insisted that I meet Raju Hirani. I was hesitant to meet him, but I still went. I was planning to finish that meeting in 20 minutes but I ended up spending 8 hours with Raju that day, and by the end of our meeting I said yes to play Dr. Asthana.”
The rest we all know is history. And while today Boman has a very successful career, the man hasn’t stopped dreaming. Recently he voiced his desire to direct a film someday. “I don’t want to keep anything unfulfilled in my life, so I will try it.”
Well, like he says — If there is passion in your heart and fire in your belly there is nothing that’s going to stop you, right Mr. Irani?
Image Credits: cochintalkies, magnamags, indiatvnews, talkingmoviez, parsikhabar
Since long a sect of people have been propagating a campaign of Not to stand up during the Boi ceremony, as the Priest recites ‘Dushmata-Duzhukta-Duzvareshta’ to drive out Ahriman and that standing up would be an Honour to Ahriman and an Insult to The Atash Padshah .
The other believes that we are removing the evils from the world & so the Bell ringing defeats Ahriman.
Shri Rohin Noshirwan Karanjia of Surat has taken this matter up in his Gujarati article in the Souvenir of the Navsari Atashbehram celebrations October 2015. Some brief points from it:-
All religious ceremonies are done by the Ervard sahebs in a demarked area ‘A Paavi’. Religious Books states, “Any Religious ceremonies done within the Paavi the pure energies emanating while reciting Avesta Maanthras can also reach out of the Paavi region, but the foul energies of Ahriman CAN NOT enter the Paavi region. Thus Paavi acts as a protective cover & the spiritual strength emanating from it destroys outside enemy attacks. So the purity of the ceremonies done in a Paavi is not defeated”
It is true that the words ‘Dushmat-Duzukt-Duzvarsht’ do mean ‘Bad Thoughts-Bad Words-Bad Acts’ but taking grammar rules into consideration the words appended with them, ‘Oem Goft- Oem Kard-Oem Jast’ come along, which without these words the Dushmat… words remain incomplete. As per Erv. Edulji Kanga the words portray, “In my Past Life – This Life – Or the Life in Future; if I have had Bad Thoughts-Words-Or Acts; or in future If I may have them; then I am distraught, I do penance for it, I ask Forgiveness and promise to be away from such conduct in future.” So as the Ervard saheb rings the Bell during the Boi ceremony uttering these words, there is no negative vibes felt. Only positive energy is spread. Hence one should stand up during that time. Remember the Ervard saheb does the Full Boi ceremony while remaining standing.
The Kadmi Boi ceremony is a bit different from the Shehenshai one. They utter, “Saoche Buye Ahmay Namaane” (3 bells rung) “Mat Saoche Buye Ahmay Namaane” (3 bells rung) “Raochahi Buye Ahmay Namaane” (3 bells rung). Meaning, ‘O fire may you keep ever burning brilliantly in this house’. At that time there is no issue of Ahriman being present, as there are no words uttered that seem to represent Ahriman coming to douse the Atash, and so when we stand up to honour the ringing of bells, we do not honour Ahriman.
Leaving that entirely aside, let us take it up from a Non religious angle. Simple straight forward earthly reason.
We call our consecrated Atash as ‘Atash Padshah’- The King! In olden days when there was Kingship in the world, there would be a fixed time when the King would arrive in his court Room. To Mark the occasion & warn all, there used to be a Ringing of Bells to alert the genera that the King was coming to his court room. (In India There was also an announcement in the court yard before the King entered) When the King entered everyone would stand up as a mark of respect and alliance to the king.
Also to Mark the Change of Time they used to ring the bell to let the common people know of the Time. (Remember the ringing of Bells in Schools to mark the end & start of a Period or Recess)
As we consider Atash as son of Ahuramazda, (Atash Puthre Ahuremazdao) and a Padshah – (A King) When The Padshah is offered a Machi & the Boi (Actually from Gujarati KHUSHBOI -‘Fragrance’) The Fragrant offering to the Atash at the time of the change of the time -‘Gah’ from Morning to Noon & Evening to Night etc. So as a Mark of respect to The Atash Padshah & the Bringing in of the New Gah, we rise up when the bell rings proclaiming the ‘Kings’ entry.
And hence we must stand Up when the Ringing of the Bells at the time of offering Machi.
My English Pocket Book of Nirangs – Short Zoroastrian Prayers – by Ervad Rustom Noshirwan Panthaki, ex-Principal, Dadar Athornan Madressa
- Attain Success
- Ward off evil influences
- Enjoy Good Health
- Experience Inner Peace & Joy
- Feel Spiritually Protected
The above mentioned book was published in Gujrati script about twenty years back and thereafter several editions were published with additional Nirangs. Necessary explanations regarding Nirangs It is necessary to give some explanations and guidance to our dear co-religionists regarding the Nirangs contained in this book. These Nirangs are prayers culled from Pazand or Avesta, and prefixed and suffixed by Avesta prayers. The term ‘Nirang’ or ‘Niruk’ occurs in Pahlavi and Persian languages and means “strength, ability, power”. However, the word is also used in a wider sense for “short efficacious prayers”, “new things” and “miracles”.
It is necessary to know that the recitation of Nirangs is beneficial to the body, mind and the soul. To get the full benefit the reciter should pray it with devotion, full faith in Ahura Mazda and with due observance of rules of ethics, piety, concentration, food and mode of living The Nirangs should not be considered a substitute for the Avesta prayers given in the Khordeh Avesta.
Nirangs can be recited for the benefit of self or others. If the reciter of Nirangs observes rules of ethics, piety, concentration, food and mode of living, he/she will get physical, mental and spiritual benefits due to the effects of the prayer’s colours and vibrations, as these Nirangs are culled out ‘ESSENCES’ from larger longer prayers by sages and spiritual leaders. In present times, several Zoroastrians suffer from physical and mental ailments. During troubled times, unawares of the great treasures lying in their own religion due to absence of proper understanding and guidance, they turn towards beliefs and teachings of other religion, visit their holy places and submit themselves to fake charlatans. Such misguided, misled Zoroastrians should pray their own Avesta prayers, which will definitely benefit them if prayed devotedly with full faith.
I make a fervent and humble appeal to my fellow Zoroastrians that they should turn to prayers like the Nirangs, from their own religion, and pray them with piety and full faith to alleviate their physical and mental sufferings. A Zoroastrian born in the Zoroastrian faith derives much benefit and solace by reciting Zoroastrian prayers on the basis of the ‘Jhiram’ of Zoroastrian religion.
Need for publishing Nirangs in English script : For last several years, particularly after formation of Maharashtra state, some devout Zoroastrians are unable to read Avesta prayers published in Gujrati script leading to an urgent demand for publishing them in the Roman script. My ever helpful friend Ervad Keki Dosabhai Panthaki’s wife Perin willingly carried out the task of preparing the book of Nirangs in Roman Script, without any financial gain for which she deserves our sincere congratulations and gratitude. The Nirangs were initially published in Gujrati by the learned scholar late Ervad Phiroz Shapurji Masani (Solicitor) several years back. About twenty years ago, the late Mr. Parvez D. Chinoy, owner of Union Press, extended a helping hand in re-publishing some of these Nirangs. Mr. Parvez Chinoy passed away in 1990 and the work of publishing this book was continued by his worthy son Rohinton, who too passed away very recently. The entire credit for preparing and publishing this book of Nirangs in Roman script should go to my friend Ervad Keki D. Panthaki. Before I conclude, I would like to thank Mrs. Rohinton Chinoy of Union Press, Mrs. Perin Keki Panthaki, Ervad Burjor R. Panthaki, Ervad Dr. Ramiyar P Karanjia and others who have extended a helping hand in seeing this work through. If, by praying these Nirangs with devotion and sincerity, any benefit is derived by my co-religionists, I would consider that the aim of publishing this book has been fulfilled.
Ervad Rustom Noshirwan Panthaki Ex•Principal, Athornan Boarding Madressa, Dadar, Mumbai
Patuck Polytechnic Trust chairman Adil Patuck: 60% of our students are from families with no formal education
Mumbai-based Patuck Polytechnic Trust offers dual-medium schooling, along with technical training that has options of college education. The institution focuses in enhancing the skill levels of eligible people from the economically weaker session of the society thus creating growth possibilities. Adil Patuck, Chairman of the institution, delves into the Trust philosophy and elaborates on the vision of bringing in the much needed change, in a chat with Pankaj Joshi.
We believe in preserving the environment. So, we have our own composting facilities. The solar power module generates 60-75 units a day, which covers 15 per cent of the campus usage. We are currently working with the BMC in the area of disaster management.
Can you elaborate on the formation of the trust?
Patuck Polytechnic Trust is in its 87th year. It was founded by my great-uncle, Rustamba Patuck. He was a textile merchant who for long time was based out of Manchester. In the latter part of his life, he came back to India with the desire to serve the society. He did not believe in doles in any form. His aim was to give a sustained dignified life to people, and concentrated on improving the skill sets. The technical school concept was not so common in those days. People would normally aspire for desk jobs. But he wanted to make them work according to their skills. The Trust was formed in 1932 and the Technical Institute began in 1936 with just nine students. Unfortunately, he expired in the very same year.
Till late 80s, our student strength would be in the range of 300 and between standard 8-11. The objective was to give better and integrated education to those who completed their seventh grade in Municipal schools (the maximum education provided by those schools). We aimed at inculcating dignity of labour, and entrepreneurship. Students from our institute directly secured an apprentice in workshops. Some would pursue further technical studies and a few have even become entrepreneurs.
In the early 90s, Maganbhai Gala, a builder donated a building to the trust. Thanks to him, with this additional space, we have embarked on the next level of growth. Now we offer education from nursery till graduation. At present, we are in the process of obtaining permission for post-graduate education in commerce.
What is the current student strength?
Our student strength adds up to more than 4,000 currently. Nursery and pre-primary strength is 360, and primary session has 470 students. In the secondary segment (English medium) is 660 and in vernacular 560. Our junior college has three streams—science with 330 students, commerce with 480 students and the vocational stream has around 300.
For B.Com stream, there are about 850 students and another 90 in the specialised banking/ insurance course of B.Com. Our BMS strength is around 160. In all this, we get government aid for vernacular school; the science and technical streams of junior college. For the M.Com, the university stipulated strength is 60 seats, which we expect to reach in two-three years of operation.
What are the facilities being offered in the campus?
The campus is spread across three acres and has a built-up area of 60,000 square feet. Today, the classes are held between 7 am to 6 pm. We plan to conduct the proposed post graduate classes between 6 pm and 9 pm. All our classrooms are smart classes. We adopted the smart class philosophy six-seven years ago, and we are among one of the few schools in Mumbai to do so. We have a reading room of 1,000 sq feet, and has multiple laboratories – apart from physics, chemistry and biology labs. We have facility catering to electronics, electrical equipment, mechanical activity, automobiles, building maintenance etc. A workshop with lathe machine and even a CNC machine is also part of our facility. We have an auditorium with a seating capacity up to 500.
We believe in preserving the environment. So, we have our own composting facilities which generate the manure for our garden. The solar power module generates 60-75 units a day, which covers 15 per cent of the campus usage. We are currently working with the BMC in the area of disaster management, one of the very few to do so.
Can you elaborate on the student profile?
As you are aware, our students are from the economically weaker segment. The estimate is that 60 per cent of students are from families where no one has had formal education. Therefore, you can guess the enormity of courage they took and the kind of challenge they face at home while persuading education. With a heart brimming with happiness we watch these students securing higher marks and the result is 90 per cent and above in SSC
(Std X). Though the vernacular and technical stream students come directly from Municipal schools, it is proud to note that we have 90 per cent results in these category as well.
What is your staff strength?
The total staff strength is 185, of which teaching staff is around 130, where nursery has eight, primary nine and secondary 32 in the aggregate. Our junior college has 20 teaching staff in science, 12 in commerce and 17 in the vocational stream. The senior college teaching staff is around 28. In addition, we have 56 support staff across non-teaching functions. In the two decades since we have broadened our education portfolio, we have had around 5,000 placements across different areas – technical workshops, medical laboratories, auto workshops, and maintenance units. As entrepreneurs, some of our students have been spectacularly successful.
|The 5th ANNUAL KAMRAN SEMINAR“Zoroastrianism on the Move: From Ancient Iran to Present day Iran, India and the Diaspora”Featuring Professor Albert de Jong as the 5th Kamran Seminar Fellow from Leiden University in the Netherlands, a Professor of Comparative Religion and Religions of Antiquity July 20, 2019, 10:00 am to 2:00 pm |
Sponsored by Arash the Archer, Inc., supporting research on ancient Iran and Zoroastrian history and cultureMorvarid Behziz, Mehraban Manoochehri, Ariel Ahram, Zarir Khademian, and Anne KhademianHosted by ZAWMIThe Kamran Dar-e-Mehr15316 Barnesville Road, Boyds, MD 20841Tickets are free, donations to ZAMWI and Arash the Archer, Inc. are welcome (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Below is the copy of a powerful speech given by Shahin Bekhradnia, President WZO, at a function organized by AIMZ on Wednesday 21st December 2011 in Mumbai. The speech not only points out the differences in practice (and perception) of the same religion by Parsees of India and Zarathushtis of Iran, but also mentions some idiosyncrasies and blind-faith mentality, practiced by some Parsees, especially by the so-called orthodox/traditional wing of the Mumbai Parsi community.
I hope you will like reading the speech.
PS. If you are in the liberal/progressive camp, you will love this article –
if you are in the orthodox/traditional camp –
let me warn you – this may come as a surprise!
DIFFERENCES IN PRACTICE AND BELIEFS BETWEEN ZARTOSHTIES OF IRAN AND PARSEES.
by Shahin Bekhradnia
I would like to start by thanking my kind hosts for inviting me here to address you and for making this forum available for the open but civilized exchange of views. I would like to make it clear from the outset that I am not against rituals – indeed far from it as I adore the pomp, ceremony and pageant of ritual. However, it makes it so much more interesting and effective if they are meaningful to us.
Wearing white or green head covers on religious occasions is expected by Zartoshties from Iran and the choice of black hats that many Parsee men don we find contrary to our principles of colour symbolism. Black has always been seen as the colour of Islam and of negative forces so we feel that is is totally inappropriate when men cover their heads with black caps. Similarly it is a matter of some concern in terms of hygiene when we find pious Parsees, undoubtedly full of good intentions, covering their heads with handkerchiefs they fish out of their pockets which are either previously or later seen to be used for their intended nasal functions. No less perplexing is the sight of people covering their heads with their hands, sheets of paper etc. While we realise that these acts are attempts to communicate their religiosity, we do not believe that Ahura Mazda will think of us as lesser humans if we show our respect for the occasion in other ways, even with open heads if we have forgotten our scarves and hats.
At our temples, our doors are open for all who wish to come there. Admittedly there may be some who come with evil intent, but even in these recent years where our community have been particularly vulnerable there have been few reasons to regret this policy. The same goes for the attendance at our All Souls memorial services of Farvardigan just after Novruz and also the gahambar period just before Novruz. Our respect for the souls of the dead is not a selfish closed matter. We empathise with all who have lost their loved ones and we welcome all who with their own free choice have embraced the same way of thinking as ourselves.
In the temples we do not prostrate ourselves and kiss the step leading to the Afrignuni nor do we kiss the railings around it. This is considered as an irrational and alien way to behave, customs adopted from other cultures which surround us. Similarly placing a dab of ash on the forehead is simply not an Iranian practice, but undoubtedly echoes the Tila which has been adopted from Hindu practice.
We all know that at our initiation ceremonies we are given the sedreh and koshti to wear as the distinct emblems of belonging to our faith group. The sedreh pushi ceremony known to Parsees as Navjote is an important rite of passage and a significant milestone for a person, whenever it may be undertaken. However Iranian Zoroastrians do not suddenly lose their validity just because their parents may never have arranged the ceremony or because they may choose not to wear these emblems of their faith all the time after they have had their ceremony. It is a fact that the vast majority of Iranian Zoroastrians both in Iran as well as outside, do not wear the sedreh/koshti as faithfully as Parsees. My priestly grandfather did not regard these symbols as issues which would make or break the community’s identity and indeed he was right. We may not be renewing our spiritual strength as some priests would maintain but that is to our detriment and does not affect anyone else.
Our community numbers have continued to grow and our identity has not weakened just because we do not all wear these symbolic garments. We are not shocked nor do we judge a person’s worth or authenticity by whether or not they are wearing these outwards symbols. I stress this because I and a number of Iranian Zoroastrian friends were denied access to some temples in India some years ago merely because we could not persuade the doorkeeper that we were true Zoroastrians. The only thing which would have convinced him was the production of a sedreh and koshti which he demanded to see and which none of us was wearing. It may not have occurred to him that anyone could quite simply put these on and produce them for his inspection, whereas it would have been a lot more difficult for someone to learn the Avesta which we recited fluently without any success in convincing the doorman that we had every entitlement to enter the temple. Nor did our ability to converse in Dari have any effect whereas an Iranian Zoroastrian knows well that Dari is the spoken language of Yazdi and Kermani Zoroastrians.
We all know that our religion is enlightened from many perspectives, one of which is the pride we take in the equal treatment of men and women which is demonstrated in the Gathas wherein the text addresses both genders. This approach establishing women as the partners and equals of men in furthering good deeds and making the earth more bountiful was practised in domestic and political life so that we had Zoroastrian queens when there were no male heirs and sometimes women ran the household even when their men folk were not absent (as evidenced in the Herbedstan). In Iran Zoroastrian girls were the first females to attend schools, go to university, become professionals and maintain a high level of literacy among women in a country where this was far from the norm.
In keeping with this tradition it should come as no surprise although when the news broke it may have shocked the more conservative participants to learn that women used to and continue to fulfil priestly functions in the absence of adequate men. This is a living tradition and in London our recently arrived Mobed from Iran is helped by his wife when performing ceremonies. The authenticity of this tradition is confirmed by lines in the Herbedestan text in which a question is asked which makes it clear that it was quite well established that both women and men might attend priestly college. And yet there are Parsees who find the thought of a female undertaking priestly duties revolting – so much for enlightened thinking and traditions supported by historical literary sources. (at the time of writing this article recently 8 female Mobedyars were confirmed in Iran)
Notwithstanding all oppression suffered since the Arab conquest of Iran from 632 AD, ours has always been an optimistic and joyous community which has celebrated life, the wonders of nature and the goodness of humankind. We have therefore found every opportunity to make music and dance, drink and eat together. Our festivals have always allowed our communities to laugh and have fun together and the most joyous of all festivals is our spring celebration of Novruz. Among peoples of Iranian origin is understood as meaning a New Day or New Year. Yet it seems more faithfully celebrated and understood elsewhere outside Iran than among Parsees and this is both surprising and saddening. Why is it that the people of Tajikistan still prepare a Haft sheen/Haftsin table, as do the Azaris and the Kurds but our Parsee co-religionists not only do not prepare a special table in a celebration of Ahura Mazda’s bounty, but fail to celebrate the significance of the arrival of spring. How could it be that that the spring equinox holds no special meaning beyond yet another visit to the temple and maybe sending cards out while they celebrate something akin to Novruz in the middle of summer.? Where is the merry making, the genuine joy and the pleasure of seeing God’s good creation renewing itself through the laws of nature, of Asha when the planets are so aligned that the life of plants, birds and animals wakes up again.
Weddings are another example of things done differently. Our wedding celebration does not consist of much reciting of prayers in a language that is pretty much incomprehensible to most Farsi/Dari speaking Zoroastrians. Of course the preservation of the ritual language has its place but it is not interminable. Instead the majority of time is spent by the celebrant of the wedding giving prescribed advice (andarz) to the young couple in an intelligible language so that their lives may be lived according to true Zoroastrian values and principles. It is a truly inspiring liturgy which is lost on those who cannot understand the language and therefore it has now been translated noy just into Farsi but also into English and French and is used for ceremonies where the couples (usually living in Britain or North America) no longer speak Farsi as fluently as they do English or for mixed weddings.
There is nothing reprehensible about updating the liturgy so that it can be really meaningful and communicate an important message as it was intended to do. We do not see it as a cardinal principle to remain entrenched in the past and not change. Our religion is supposed to be based on rational enlightened thinking and we need to take sensible steps to ensure that the dynamic message of the Gathas is not lost through sticking to languages and practices that were developed for different times and different conditions. After all much of the Avesta that we recite is actually merely a translation or commentary on an older language – eg in our koshti prayer. Humata hukhta hvaresta, meneshni govenshni koneshni but here the second triad is merely a translation of the older first triad, and then we have tani ravani giti mainyu where the first pair are the more modern version of the second
Another example of difference is minor but some may find it interesting to know that in Iranian weddings we don’t sprinkle rice upon or hold a coconut over the couple but a green scented herb similar to oregano – obshan – which conveys the concepts of fertility, health sustaining and fragrant happiness. We do have in common the symbolism of tying the thread but we represent it differently and so on. We certainly do not ever use the SEJ(?) tray.
The principle of dynamic evolution can also be seen at work in discussing the use of dakhma and cremation. In Iran the use of dakhma or the Tower of Silence was given up as a result of social change in the late first half of the 20th century. As cremation became available, many Iranians opted for this sort of disposal rather than purification within the earth which was seen as un –Zoroastrian since the earth was provided to give forth life-sustaining crops and flowers etc. There was no question of defilement of fire as nothing can defile something which is inherently self purifying by its very nature. However where cremation is not an option, then burial has to be the alternative.The change from dakhma to other forms of funerary rite was not resisted by the majority of the population and clearly did not cause major traumas for the community. There was/is no condemnation of the use of cremation rather than burial, and certainly no comments that failing to use the dakhmeh as the means of disposal, will consign one to hell as we have heard said apparently from the mouths of so called scholars. This is in contrast with the continuing Parsee practise of Dakhma disposal even though the Dakhma in Bombay and other towns is now dangerously close to if not in the midst of urban populations and regularly gives rise to embarrassing incidents of body parts dropping onto nearby residents’ properties. It is clear that what may have been appropriate for past times, can no longer be relevant in a changed social context. Please remember that Dakhma disposal was designed for and applied in an arid desert climate that Iran has, not for a monsoon humid climate such as that of Bombay.
Iranians do not get very excited about whether the fire in their temples is fed by natural gas or sandalwood and recognise that if there is shortage of one material, then a sensible rational solution must be sought through a new channel of thinking. Indeed judging by the large logs of sandal wood I have seen here ready for the holy fire, I would think the environmentalists among us would have plenty to worry about, although the natural gas solution also poses its own environmental issues. Replacement planting at the ratio of 1:10 cut down trees would be a way forward of course. Meanwhile, there are no messages being put out by any Iranian priests or sages to the effect that we will be condemned to hell for not using sandalwood again as I have heard claimed by some Parsee scholars? .
Some Parsees appear to be very passionate about the use of Nirang, or consecrated bulls urine whose use in Iran was referred to in the Rivayat texts about which I will speak shortly.. In fact it was still in use at the time of my grandfather and even my mother’s childhood. So there was no loss of tradition during the downtrodden period of our history. . There was however a re-thinking of its real function ( which at a certain époque acted as a disinfectant) and it was agreed that it was not perhaps no longer as essential in keeping the religion alive. Some priests now use pomegranate juice instead for ritual symbolic purposes.
And the question of the segregation of menstruating women had an equally practical reason which no longer applies today – women are no longer in need of a well deserved break from the heavy lifting and carrying work they used to do in the villages of Iran (e.g carrying pitchers of water up dozens of steps, carrying heavy wood, iron implements and cooking vessels, sweeping and cleaning etc ), nor are they likely to experience embarrassing situations in a public space. I do not say that some people do not still observe the custom of not entering sanctified areas at a certain time of month but on questioning my friends, family and acquaintances, I can say that it is rare .
The point is that such matters were not spelt out in the Gathas, but became the obsession of a priestly caste that wished to keep the people in its thrall, ironically exactly what Zartosht himself denounced in the Gathas when Karapans (priests) were using their powers to get a hold over people How do we know what is or was the message of our founding prophet? Well, apart from oral transmission and handing down of tradition through families, some texts were secretly preserved. These were usually among priestly families such as my own which yielded a chest full of faithfully copied manuscripts, saved despite the many public burnings in front of the priests’ eyes in Islamic Iran. Textual specialists have translated both the oral and written texts. Having spoken with some Parsee priests, I was informed that in their madressa training, they did not study the meanings of the texts but were merely taught the correct recitals and rituals pertaining to them. Interestingly, the primacy of the Gathic texts were not discussed either. Now this is a critical matter because any serious student of Zoroastrianism is well aware that the Gathas constitute the fundamental core of Zoroastrian philosophy. They are admittedly difficult for several reasons : language, content, dating. Nevertheless the maybe 20 different translations (among which Stanley Insler’s is considered the most authoritative and from which Dastur Kotwal has quoted – on account of his outstanding linguistic competence and his deep empathy with Zoroastrian values), all reveal consistently that Zoroaster believes he must spread the message he has had revealed to him by Ahura Mazda. His mission is therefore to extend the community of Ashavan ie those who want to become happy by making others happy – propagating good and overcoming negative energies – encapsulated in the Ashem Vohu prayer.
. The Videvdat which developed the purity laws and which was the precursor of the Vendidad only appeared towards the end of the fist millennium about one thousand years after the divine revelation of our prophet. Later, at the time of the fall of the Sassanian dynasty (closely associated with the priesthood), there was certainly an unhealthy concern among priests about retaining the power they wielded through the further imposition of a whole host of religious dogma and ritual introduced by Kartir a couple of centuries earlier. Among the many theories for the success of Islam in Iran, is one that states that many people gladly gave up the overbearing ritual requirements made on the laity by the priests which involved economic demands , and sadly there are still some similar ego obsessed priests in our midst even today who impose their views on the laity as to what is or is not correct practice and belief..
It may be a little known fact to most Zoroastrians that with the passing of several centuries after their arrival in India, the Parsees had lost a lot of their knowledge about the practice and beliefs within the religion. It is nevertheless a fact that cannot be challenged. Furthermore there is good written evidence of all of this in documents known as the Rivayats which are accessible to all of us translated into English in 1932 by B N Dhabhar. The Parsee communities of Surat and of Navsari sent envoys to Iran to ask for guidance because they had lost confidence. They first sent out a brave Parsee named Nariman Hoshang over to Iran twice in 1478 and 1487 to seek advice on the correctness or otherwise of a number of issues.
The questions asked on behalf of the Parsee community included the right to recognition of Zoroastrians who had converted into the faith or who have been forced to espouse Islam but want to return. The responses from the Iranian priests on these occasions and all future exchanges right up till the last visit in the late 18th century constantly confirm the views of the Zoroastrian clergy of Iran that it is right, proper and meritorious and fully in the spirit of the message of Zoroaster that our faith should welcome those who have chosen of their own free will to heed the message of our religion.
“If slave-boys and girls have faith in the Good Religion, then it is proper that kusti should be (given to them to be) tied [that is, they should be converted to Zoroastrianism], and when they become intelligent, attentive to religion and steadfast, they should give them barashnum and it is also proper and allowable to eat anything out of their hands”!
They went further by expressing disapproval of the hypocritical Parsee tendency to treat their servants as if of the faith when it suited them and to deny them appropriate funerary rites. We also have the 1599 Kaus Mahyar Rivayat whose question includes categories from even lower-deemed persons:
“Can a grave-digger, a corpse-burner and a darvand become Behdins (i.e. be converted to the Mazdayasnian religion)?” gives as an answer: “If they observe the rules of religion steadfastly and (keep) connection with the religion, and if no harm comes on the Behdins (thereby), it is proper and allowable”!
The final quote I wish to bring to your attention comes from the last rivayat exchange known as the Ittoter Rivayat of 1773 Mulla Kaus was sent from India and asked 78 questions among them: “Concerning the acquisition of young men and women who are juddins as servants, the mobeds and behdins must first of all show care for their own religion, for their own rituals, for their personal property, and for their own soul so as not to face losses. TEACHING THE AVESTA TO THE SONS OF THE JUDDINS WHO HAVE BEEN ACQUIRED AND CONVERTING THEM TO THE DIN-I VEH-I MAZDAYASNAN EARNS ONE GREAT MERIT”
It is apparent when today comparing the varying complexions of Parsees, that some interbreeding with local indigenous people certainly did take place, since there were few women accompanying the courageous pioneers immortalized in the Qissa Sanjan and even as late as the 18th century since the question was posed then, it is evident that it was going on. The message is that all our welcome within our community, provided they have had proper instruction.
The fact that the Parsee community continued to send envoys to Iran over 3 centuries to seek guidance is adequate indication that they must have accepted the Iranian tradition as both correct and acceptable.
Knowing about this long background of toleration helps explain how Iranian Zoroastrians have kept this true Gathic spirit alive throughout the centuries. Thus it should come as no surprise to learn that our late High Priest, Mobed Ardeshir Azargoshasb whose erudition and authority as Head of the Iranian Mobed’s council is indisputable despite efforts to undermine our High Priests’ learning and knowledge, published a newspaper statement in 1991 in Parsiana (despite the evident dangers of doing so) “WE MUST PERSEVERE TO PROPAGATE OUR RELIGION AND ACCEPT PERSONS WHO WANT TO EMBRACE IT.”
Naturally he could not say this in Iran, and today because of the prevailing circumstances our mobeds still cannot publicly condone this stance officially. Interestingly this Iranian perspective was shared by Parsee mobeds as recently as in the 20th century when a number of eminent Parsee dasturs (Ervads Bharucha, Modi and Kangaji) who held a similar view, stated publicly and unambiguously that our initiation ceremony contains a declaration of faith including the statement that Zartosht came for the propagation of God’s message. Other eminent Parsee Dasturs who shared the same view were Dasturs Framroze Bode, Anklesaria and Kaikhosro Jamaspji.
The choice to propagate the religious message of Asho Zartosht has continued even despite the severe hardships which have been the unfortunate experience of Iranian Zoroastrians to undergo in the years following the Islamic revolution. Working with the Home Office and Immigration Appellate in the UK I have been surprised and impressed by the Zoroastrians who have had to flee Iran because they have chosen to continue the tradition of propagating our religion to those who seek information. They have chosen this path despite the obvious personal danger they put themselves into because they are clear about the several explicit verses in the Gathas which exhort followers to undertake this mission which can be found explicitly in Yasna 31.3 and 47.6
This Gathic message was echoed in the inscriptions of both Darius and Xerxes with clear indications that they both felt a compulsion to spread the religion, even by force if need be, by eliminating competing religions in the lands they conquered. The same attitude was practised by a number of Sassanian monarchs and well attested. This willingness to spread the religion whenever possible is a consistent approach which has continued unabated within the Iranian Zoroastrian tradition when opportunities have arisen.
In keeping with the Zoroastrian Iranian authorities referred to earlier which in turn have their reference from the Gathas, we have always welcomed into our community a spouse from a different background and naturally the children of such unions. A similarly welcoming approach applies to children who are adopted of non-zoroastrian birth and who are raised within a Zoroastrian household to go on to marry within the community. Our priests have never had a difficulty with this matter and have only refused to conduct such marriages if it is evident that problems will arise from such a union – a view voiced back in 1599 in the Mahyar Kaus Rivayat. We certainly find it quite inhumane and unnatural that some Parsees are so dogmatic as to prefer to reject their own children and grandchildren by cutting off relations with them rather than using the Zoroastrian qualities of wise thinking to accommodate them into the community. And what is worse, to differentiate in the acceptance of offspring between sons and daughters.
In ignoring our history reflected in textual sources, and by reference simply to what has been done in living memory, and by failing to bring clarity of rational thinking to the debates, and instead relying on mindless dogma, certain priests do us all a disservice in misrepresenting our beautiful forward thinking philosophy which uplifts the soul and offers a way forward with gender equality, environmental concern and positive philanthropic messages for all humanity. How then could we justify restricting it only to those who think they have some superior genetic/racial composition? They are the backward thinking benighted souls of our community and yet their voices have held sway and bullied us just as they did in Sassanian times, and even recently, much to our shame, they have resorted to violence as we read and hear. . They should not be allowed to prevail as they corrupt the really radical optimism of our religion.