Iraqi Kurd Faiza Fouad takes part in a ritual ceremony in an ancient and ruined temple as she joins the millennia-old Zoroastrian religion Photo: AFP / SAFIN HAMED
In a ceremony at an ancient, ruined temple in northern Iraq, Faiza Fuad joined a growing number of Kurds who are leaving Islam to embrace the faith of their ancestors — Zoroastrianism.
Years of violence by the Islamic State jihadist group have left many disillusioned with Islam, while a much longer history of state oppression has pushed some in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region to see the millennia-old religion as a way of reasserting their identity.
The initiative of holding Parsi community prayers every month on Ava Roz (day of water) is completing 10 years on Friday
Once a month, 80-year-old Parsi businessman Nariman Mody ensures he stops by at Bhikha Behram Well at a corner of Cross Maidan in south Mumbai. For Mr. Mody, the humbandagi or praying together is a good opportunity to catch up with fellow Parsis. This initiative of community prayers every month on Ava Roz (day of water) is completing 10 years this week.
“Barring three to four times when I was unwell or someone in my family was unwell, I have not missed the humbandagi for the past 10 years,” said Mr. Mody, a Grant Road resident.
The idea of organising the prayers was thought of by community members Hoshaang Gotla and Perzon Zend in 2009, and they approached the trustees of the well. “They were very supportive of the idea,” said Mr. Gotla. They started with leaner crowds of 20 to 30 people and now see up to 200 to 300 Parsis, especially on the weekends.
“A lot of bonding takes place when people pray together. We wanted to create that atmosphere,” he said.
The Ava Roz, when Parsis pray to the divinity of water, falls on different days every month. Bhikha Behram Well, which is a rich source of water, is a perfect religious place for such a gathering. Viraf Kapadia, one of the five trustees of the well, said it is a significant religious place for the community. “Dating back to 1725, the well was built by Parsi gentleman Bhikaji Behram, who came to Bombay on foot all the way from Bharuch,” said Mr. Kapadia.
The monthly prayer is followed by a talk delivered by several people from the community. From senior priests to religious scholars, many Parsis have delivered the talks over the past 10 years. On October 25, for the 10th year celebration of humbandagi, Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) trustee Noshir Dadrawala has been invited to deliver a talk on the topic, ‘Pray together, stay together’.
“I have delivered talks at Bhikha Behram Well earlier too,” said Mr. Dadrawala. The gathering is a great way of getting the young and old together, he said. “The crowd fluctuates every time. But when Ava Roz falls on a weekend, the place is packed,” he said.
However, the news of Mr. Dadrawala delivering the talk to mark the 10th year has not gone down well with some Parsis, who consider him a reformist. Mr. Kapadia said, “Mr. Dadrawala has delivered talks at the event many times. The platform is open for all community members, including trustees of BPP.”
Today the 6th Sept 2019, Mah: Farvardin – Roj: Ram Y.Z. 1389, marks the day for the Inaugural of our restored Udwada Station, with Feliciation ceremony of our Vada Dastoorji Shri Khurshed Kekobad Dastoor and his efforts and personal attention towards the Restoration of the Udwada Railway Station and the whole of Udwada. It’s the most beautiful station in South Gujarat and equipped with the latest technology and the most modern facilities for commuters. An announcement for halting Flying Ranee and another train for the convenience of commuters was made by Vada Dastoorji Shri Khurshed Kekobad Dastoor for which he shall put in an appeal and request our Railway Minister Mr Piyush Goyal to do the needful. He also requested citizens to take care of the upgradation and considered it as their own by keeping the surroundings clean and requested everyone to join the “Šwachh Bharat Mission” a dream of our adorable Prime Minister Shri Narendra bhai Damodardas Modi Jee. Ervad Mr Zarir. M. Dastoor too was present with other Parsi members of Udwada Gam to applaud Vada Dastoorji Shri Khurshed Kekobad Dastoor for his fulfilment in getting the project completed in the stipulated time period. Many more from the Lions club, WE club, Senior citizens club, Bhakti and Shakti Mandal members, Udwada Anjuman, Vyapari Mandal, Gram Panchayat and District and Taluka Gram Presidents were present to grace this special day.
The programme started with Maa Saraswati Vani by students of Bhagini Samaj School, speeches were held by the dignitaries and ended with reciting our National Athem. It was a wonderful evening and a successful inauguration of the beautifully made air-conditioned rooms was done by Vada Dastoorji Šhri Khurshed Kekobad Dastoor.
Sweets and chocolates were distributed to everyone present to mark the happiness and fulfilment of the day.
On the auspicious day of Khordad Sal, Thursday 22nd August 2019, the ZTFE hosted the Parsee Gymkhana Cricket Team for dinner at the Grade II* listed Art Deco Zoroastrian Centre, London.
The Parsee Gymkhana Team were visiting London to play against Surrey County Cricket Club Charles Alcock XI at the Kia Oval on Friday 23rd August for the coveted ‘1886 Trophy’.
Accompanying the Parsee Gymkhana Team was their No.1 fan, Boman Irani, A Listed Bollywood Actor & Theatre Personality, actor extraordinaire, photographer and singer.
Over 310 Zoroastrians and interfaith guests, including The Worshipful The Mayor of Harrow Cllr Nitin Parekh, Navin Shah AM, members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, Harrow Interfaith were entertained by Boman Irani on Khordad Sal, Thursday 22nd August 2019.
To conclude the evening, Boman sang ‘I did it my way’, the song previously sang by Frank Sinatra.
I had recently read about
the passing away of Dasturji Jamaspasa and I felt quite sad, as I fondly recalled
having his presence during my Navar ceremony at Cama Baug in 1957. He was a scholar and a very soft spoken
gentleman. May his soul rest in eternal peace!
Soon after the demise
of Dasturji Jamaspasa, I learnt about the passing away of the Vada Dasturji of
the Navsari Atash Behram, Kaikhusru Navroji Dastur Meherjirana. Although I didn’t know him, the news of his
demise triggered in me a very gloomy picture of the future of our religion, just
simply realizing that the names of the Dasturjis that I grew up with are slowly
but surely departing from this world. Dasturji Kaikobad Dastoor and Dasturji Peshotan
Mirza of Iranshah, Dasturji Meherjirana of Navsari and Dasturji Minocher Homji
are but a few other names who will be remembered, if not for anything else, for
their integrity, religious knowledge, piety and simplicity. Dasturji Feroze Kotwal is another old guard
who has certainly made his mark as a scholar of our religion. May he be blessed with a long life!
In the present time, the
reformists of the Zarathushti religion all over the world, who simply for their
convenience and own agendas are bent upon destroying the religious tenets and
traditions that our ancestors have held on for centuries. One wonders in
skepticism about the coming new generation of Dasturjis – would their knowledge
base, piety and leadership qualities suffice to uphold the tenets of our
Cleanliness and purity
are crucial components embedded into our religion, and yet, one is bounded with
utmost grief to see the shocking upkeep of our religious institutions, mainly
our Agiaries. On my recent trip to
Mumbai, I visited Cama Baug Agiary which holds a special place in my heart –
the place where my Navjote, Navar and wedding ceremonies took place. It was nothing short of a painful experience
for me to see both, the outside and the inside of that Agiary completely
deteriorated. Once a pristine place to
worship is now just seen as an unclean structure called an Agiary. The total
lack of cleanliness was a pitiful sight to bear. I know there are other Agiaries with the same
sad state of affairs and maybe worse. It
remains incumbent on the management and the trustees of these Agiaries to take
full responsibility of this mess and not pretend that it is beyond their
Quite frankly, with my
observation of the Cama Baug Agiary, and knowing that Ervad Kaikhushru Rawji
has been the Panthaky for over two decades of that institution, I wasn’t much elated
when I first found out that he is replacing Dasturji Meherjirana of Navsari.
Notwithstanding my bias, I was very impressed when Dasturji Rawji made a
striking statement during his inauguration ceremony as the 18th
Dasturji of the Navsari Atash Behram. He said that a
Dastur’s rank is next to that of our Prophet Zarathushtra. He also
added that a Dastur is expected to provide leadership to the Parsi Zoroastrian
somehow exude a ray of hope for the orthodox Parsi Zarathushtis around the
globe, particularly when it is clear that the names of the Dasturjis of today can
hardly be said in the same breath as our Prophet, or for that matter, even next
to Him. Their leadership to the community and their passion to preserve our religion
the way it is supposed to, are at best quite debatable.
Dasturji Rawji be true to his comments? Will he have the courage to shun the
reformists, most of whom appear to possess the political and financial powers? Will he be able to stay away from any and all
temptations for his own personal gains? Will
he be a role model ready to defend the core requirements to be a pure Parsi
Zarathushti? Well, let time be the only
May Ahura Mazda guide the 18th Vada Dasturji of Navsari to follow strictly in His path, and may Dasturji Kaikhushru Rawji make a positive difference which is needed so desperately.
At ZTFE UK, A
Life Well Lived – A Marathon 8 hour Workshop on Zoroastrianism
By Bapsy Dastur
Mistree’s association with Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe (ZTFE) is a long
standing one. A life member since the early 1980s, Khojeste has given talks at
ZTFE, beginning soon after completing his studies at Oxford University, where
he read for a degree in Oriental Studies and since then he has been a frquent
eight hour marathon workshop on Zoroastrianism, on Sunday, 2 June, 2019, attended by over a 100 participants, was a
runaway success and was probably the largest workshop ever held at ZTFE.
his articulation and a clear interpretation of the classical theology of the
faith, this time Khojeste surpassed himself. In a world torn by threats of war,
the agony of dispaced refugees and the flexing of muscles by powerful nations, the
title itself had special relevance, “ A
Life well Lived – Zoroastrian Values in Todays Word”; And his talk exhibited
the need to draw strength from one’s own value system and to believe that hope
and optimism isnt a bad thing, and can if promoted, enhance productively, life
as lived on earth. Khojeste conveyed this with remarkable alacrity, citing hope, optimism,
harmony and the discernment and appropriation of the Good, as the basis of
bringing about progress in the world, giving even non- Zoroastrians and
scholars, present at the workshop, a valid justification to uphold the
Zoroastrian rational for doing Good. He was reassuring, promising that a world
directed and dominated by Zoroastrian values can make the world a better place
to live in. His emphasis was on the “microcosm of the self”the need for the
inner being of a person to adopt Zoroastrian values and emerge as ‘ a Warrior
of Truth and Promoter of Peace’ .
narration of the Bundahishn, the creation of the world by Ahura Mazda, and the
antagonism of the Evil Spirit, transported those who attended, on a cosmic
journey, almost like an epic episode from Star Wars.
master story teller, he posited an advocacy of Zoroaroastrianism, taking the
participants from the birth of Zarathushtra and its many attendant legends,
through the time line of the Creation Story, the cosmic battle field in which
the forces of Good triumph over those of evil, the splendid moment of harmony,
when the 7 creations are created by Ahura Mazda and the ethicality of
Zarathushtra’s revealation in a period when right was defined by the unrestrained
exercise of brute power.
One was left with the feeling that enforcing the world of a rational wise and omniscient divine being, Ahura Mazda, on earth, and helping to perpetuate a Good world, as defined by the cosmology of the faith, is foundational to the understanding of Zoroastrianism and one that can be easily adapted by anyone. As one of the participants said you don’t have to be a Zorostrian to bring about these values and perpetuate this understanding of the world, as it should be, making it relevant today.
that in Zoroastrian thought, Knowledege and Wisdom eclipses power and its
surrogate use of force and every Zoroastrian has a role to play in extending
wisdom and enhancing knowledge to bring harmony into the world. The idea that,
the microcosmic adaptation of the Good brings about the perpetuation of Good in
the larger world, was an engulfing idea which reasonated with many participants.
advocated the Zoroastrian idea of charity by quoting the Denkard “ That a
generous person is most praiseworthy who seeks to become wealthy…and who gives
it to worthy people.”
discussed, ranged from the esoteric understanding of the Ashem and Yatha
prayers, to the sacred fire as a living being, fuelled by the breadth of Ahura
Mazda, to the complex ritual practices of the faith, reflecting the depth and
understanding of Khojeste’s command over the faith.
always say, where there are Parsis there is always food, and in the Zoroastrian
month of Dae, day of Bahram, 1388 Y (3 June 2019), it was appropriate that the
workshop held as it was, in the memory of Sheroo Framroze Darukhanawalla,
especially the lunch, with offerings of fragrant biryani, cashew chicken and rice
firni for desert, nourished the soul of Sheroo Darukhanawalla, a devout
Zoroastrian, as much as it did the participants of the workshop.
Zoroastrians are dwindling, but Russian academic Anton Zykov is making sure their distinctive tongue is not forgotten.
Growing up in Moscow, Anton Zykov was surrounded by “all things Indian.” Jawaharlal Nehru Square, where the statue of India’s first prime minister stands, was just around the corner from his home. His bookshelf was lined with children’s biographies of Indian rulers like Tipu Sultan and Hyder Ali. He learned to speak Hindi in school. With both his parents being doctors, he was quite sure one day he would grow up to be one too — a typically Indian thing, he admits.
While his calling in medicine never arrived, the Indian connection persisted. Today a scholar at the Oriental Studies School of Sorbonne University, Zykov, 31, is documenting the dynamism of Parsi-Gujarati — a language (some consider it a dialect) spoken by Parsis, a Zoroastrian community in India.
One of the world’s oldest religions, the monotheistic Zoroastrianism (named for the Persian prophet Zoroaster) probably influenced the development of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Zoroastrians migrated to India between the eighth and 10th centuries A.D., fleeing persecution by the Arabs in Iran (then Persia). They found refuge off the coast of Gujarat, a northeastern state in India. While assimilating certain aspects of local culture, including their language with regionally spoken Gujarati, they retained their religious identity.
They flourished into one of the world’s most successful minority groups, with an intense focus on education that helped produce an incredible collection of billionaires and business titans in the Tata, Godrej, Poonawalla, Mistry and Wadia families. The late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury and classical music conductor Zubin Mehta also come from the group. “Parsis can’t become complacent because they don’t have a country of their own,” Houtoxi Contractor, head of the Zoroastrian Association of Pennsylvania, told United Press International.
KARACHI: The Bai Virbaijee Soparivala (BVS) Parsi High School celebrated its 160 years with prayers and a grand Milad on Thursday.
The BVS Parsi High School was founded in 1859 by Seth Shapurji Hormusji Soparivala and his family in a small Parsi Balakshala housed in the residence of Dadabhoy Palonji Paymaster. But as the school-going community increased, it outgrew the building. In 1869, Seth Shapurji lost his beloved wife, Bai Virbaiji. In May 1870 Seth Shapurji, who had been so far the greatest benefactor of the school, donated Rs10,000 on the condition that the school be named the Parsi Virbaiji School.
This school for Parsi children, shifted to the present school building on Abdullah Haroon Road in 1905. After the subcontinent’s partition in 1947, the school’s then principal Behram Rustomji opened its doors for the very first time to non-Parsis on the request of the Quaid-i-Azam. Today, Muslim students are in a majority here.
Now Muslim students outnumber the others in the institution set up for Parsi children
There were separate special morning prayers held for the students and teachers who followed the Zoroastrian religion and the Muslim, Christian and Hindu religions. In the school’s assembly area there were the boys attending the Milad in their crisp white shalwar kameez and matching prayer caps.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD
Meanwhile the boys on stage started with a recitation from the Holy Quran followed by Hamd, Naat and several speeches throwing light on the various aspects of Prophet Mohammad’s (Peace Be Upon Him) character and way of life such as ‘The Prophet as a Teacher’, ‘The Prophet as a Father’ and lectures about the bad habit of talking behind people’s backs and the importance of honesty.
Uzair Ahmed, an old Virbaijeeite, who happened to have the most beautiful of voices, and who passed out of the school a few years ago returned to present a few Hamd and Naat before two teachers — Shabana and Sania Saleem — took over.
The master of ceremonies, young Zaigham Abbas of class five, really impressed here with his confidence. Later, at the conclusion on the milad, he led the prayers as well.
Finally, Kermin Parakh, principal of BVS Parsi High School, joked that it was amazing that even though the school had turned 160 years old no one here looked that old. She also spoke about the old Virbaijeeite Uzair and teased him for having grown a little beard and mustache now. “I still remember how you mesmerised us with your angelic voice in class one,” she said before asking everyone to join her in prayer for the school’s, the city’s and country’s prosperity.
“We have children here following separate religions but we are all united for the same cause. May we always stay united,” she said before asking the school band to play the tune of ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Congratulations’ followed by the school song for which everyone stood up in respect of the noble organisation.
A sea-loving Parsi family moved to Port Blair 35 years ago, to a house that had no electricity, no toilets, and on one occasion, no roof. Today, they run a thriving homestay, a spice farm and a kayaking tour company
Tanaz, Shiraz and Dinaz on his wedding day
In 1985, after a lifetime spent at sea, Captain Kersi Phiroze Noble set foot on Port Blair, and decided to spend his remaining life at sea. “He loved the ocean and hated land,” says his daughter, Tanaz. “For him, sailing was like detox.” Captain Noble earned his stripes in the Merchant Navy. In 1978, he married a Xavierite, Dinaz Dastur, and had two children back-to-back: son Shiraz in 1983 and Tanaz in 1984. “We had a lovely place in Pune, but my husband wanted to lead the sea life,” says Dinaz. “The only option was to settle in Mumbai, but we were not happy living in a cage.” Tanaz says, “[Prime Minister] Rajiv Gandhi was in power and he had indicated that the Andamans will be used for international trade. So, dad looked at it as a great economic opportunity. He bought a few properties, [including] an entire island that belonged to a local Sardarji, and we moved here bag and baggage.”
Plank by plank, Captain Noble and Dinaz built Khushnaz House, a two-storeyed yellow bungalow, overlooking the aqua-blue sea. Of their early days, Dinaz says, “It’s hard to explain what we had walked into. Although we came for a better quality of life, the challenge was to build it. There was no proper sanitation, electricity, or gas to cook on. My husband would take contracts from shipping corporations and cross over to Chennai and Kolkata, and literally bring everything, including the tiles in my bathroom.” Tanaz adds, “There were so many creepy-crawlies falling over us that we had to stay inside mosquito meshes. For dad, it was the perfect world, but mum came in her high heels and pencil skirts from Mumbai. For her to adjust to this life was phenomenal.” What made things easier for Dinaz was “the fact that the islands were painfully beautiful. My husband and I were both Aquarians and nature lovers. We would walk the jungles for hours on end and feel exhilarated. The kids were brought up in the same environment: sailing, walking in the jungles, fishing in the early morning.”
The Nobles in their early years in the Andamans. Tanaz says, “The most common childhood memory I have is of sandcastles. Even bunking school was about going to the beach.”
If not for the dismal quality of higher education in Port Blair, they would have stayed put. “I had a full-grown Mallu accent,” says Tanaz. “In boarding school in Ooty [in Lawrence School, Lovedale], they used to make fun of my English, it was so bad.” It eventually became so good that Tanaz went on to study journalism at KC College; Shiraz studied hotel management at IHM and worked at The Taj Mahal Palace for 10 years; and from 2000-2010, Dinaz was general manager at Burlington’s. They lived in Dadar Parsi Colony in this phase, and felt a bit like fish out of water. “I don’t speak Gujarati,” says Tanaz. “So, there’s a disconnect even in Mumbai. We are a very small community and we tend to be a little clannish. I’ve been cut off for so long that I only identify with them genetically now.” Dinaz says, “If the kids hadn’t gone to boarding, I would have never crossed over to mainland India or Mumbai again. There’s nothing in Mumbai that attracts me.”
In 2007, on a “jinxed voyage” from Kolkata, Captain Noble had a massive heart attack. “He died with his captain’s cap on,” says Dinaz. Tanaz decided to return home. “Locals wanted to take our properties and somebody had to stand the ground. We would receive death threats from moneylenders. My mum was scared and wanted to leave. She said, ‘We don’t need any of this. Let’s just go, live our lives and be happy.’ I refused. I said, ‘I’m never going back.'”
Bakhtawar, who married into the Noble family, admits that her first year in Port Blair “was difficult”. Pic/Shadab Khan
Since then, time and tide have been kinder to the Nobles. Tanaz learned kayaking and runs a tour company with 15 kayaks on Havelock Island. She conducts day tours to the mangroves and night tours to see the bioluminescence in the water and stars in the sky, a passion she inherited from her father. “He refused to put a roof on the house, so he could watch the stars.” She’s also the first Indian to complete 70 nautical miles kayaking in high sea in 36 hours. “I have a Genghis Khan keeda. I have to conquer and keep going distances.” Dinaz, who returned in 2010, runs a homestay out of her home, and a spice farm out of the four-acre island, on which she grows nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and black pepper. And Shiraz, who returned in 2014 with his wife Bakhtawar and son Jehan, does sailing trips and runs the kayaking company with Tanaz. “One by one, we dropped everything we were doing and came back,” says Dinaz.
Bakhtawar, a Mumbai kid who studied law at KC College, went from sharing her city with 1.5 crore people to sharing it with 1.5 lakh. Back home for her annual two-month holiday, she meets us at the Parsi Gymkhana in Marine Lines and admits, “The transition was not easy. You need a lot of mental adjustment to get used to the place. It was a 180-degree change, from the hustle-bustle of Mumbai to the quiet life of the Andamans.” But, she’s warmed up to it now, as has her five-year-old. “Jehan has the best of both worlds.” In August 2018, Dinaz also invited her mother, Ratty Dastur, who was the queen of a chikoowadi in Dahanu, to live with them. “She had no choice: she fell and broke her leg,” says Dinaz. “She misses her farm like mad, but she’s 85 years old and needs somebody.”
As for their Parsi connections in their veins, seawater runs thicker than blood. “I don’t need to speak in Gujarati to survive,” says Dinaz. “I don’t need to do Parsi-panu to survive. All humans are the same. That’s my basic idea.” Tanaz says, “If I hold on to the sign of Faravahar, I’m still Parsi. My sister-in-law is shocked at how un-celebratory we are, but we celebrate quietly. We have an active volcano called Barren Island, and I sometimes joke and say, ‘That’s our fire temple.’ Because that’s the purest form of fire and the real Atash Behram.”
Captain Of Her Soul
On why she prefers the islands, Tanaz says, “If I visit the mainland for more than a month, I turn into that same evil — not evil — but aggressive, angsty, shouting person, who is always getting into fights. But, when I’m here, I’m relaxed, lazy, I laugh much more. We have no access to internet, so it’s not about fake socialising. When you want to say hi to somebody, you don’t Facebook them, you ring the doorbell.”