The school estimates that it will be required to spend Rs 2 lakh per head for boarding, lodging and educating each student and has sought donations from both Parsis living in India as well as abroad, apart from corporates and organisations.
In November, the city’s only school dedicated to training Parsi priests will complete a hundred years since its founding. Yet, just last month, it placed an appeal in the Parsi Times, a weekly newspaper, seeking funds to stay afloat.
The call for donations said, “The success and survival of our Zoroastrian community is directly linked to our religion and our priests (Mobeds). Training and introducing new Mobeds into the mainstream is very vital, for without erudite Mobeds, we only face the bleak future of the end of our religion and, consequently, our community.”
The Dadar Athornan Institute, as the school is called, currently has a batch of 25 students from classes I to X. The school estimates that it will be required to spend Rs 2 lakh per head for boarding, lodging and educating each student and has sought donations from both Parsis living in India as well as abroad, apart from corporates and organisations.
The institute, which is located in the leafy Parsi Colony in Dadar East, became operational on November 9, 1919, with the aim of imparting religious, scriptural and secular education to Parsi children and train them to become priests, free-of-cost. It was shut for a year between 1965 and 1966 when funds dried up, before the new management revived it.
On average, the Institute ordains three priests every year. However, after graduating, students first opt for a five-year-long formal college education and then take the decision of either becoming full-time priests at a fire temple, or following a different career path. “In the last 60-65 years, 20-25 per cent of our students have become full-time priests,” said Ramiyar Karanjia, who has been the institute’s principal for 25 years.
The institute provides its students with free education, food and housing and mainly relies on public donations to survive. “Our donations range from between Rs 10 and Rs 10 lakh,” said Karanjia. While admitting boys, the institute only requires that they shouldn’t be older than 9-10 years. “Many of our previous students came from villages in Gujarat, but incomes of families have steadily increased and most Parsi parents living in rural areas can now afford better schools,” said Karanjia, adding that the number of students has been dwindling.
But the institute has adapted to these changing times by relaxing its rules. Where students were once required to wake up at 5.30 am, classes now begin for older students later in the morning, and in the afternoon for the younger ones. Students are also taken on outings, allowed to meet their parents more often and socialise more.
Vada Dasturji Dr. Kaikhusroo Minocher JamaspAsa, High Priest of Zarthoshti Anjumanna Atash Behram, Mumbai has left for his heavenly abode. He passed away in London on 19th May. He was 87 years of age. In his passing away, the Parsee community has lost a renowned scholar, a religious leader and a friend.
He was born in Mumbai on 11th March 1932. He undertook his under graduate and graduate studies in Avesta and Pahlavi from St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai and thereafter, in 1966, he obtained his Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Bombay.
He was installed as the High Priest of the Zarthoshti Anjumanna Atash Behram on 3rd October 1956 and continued to hold this position till his passing away. He comes from a long line of illustrious scholar priests, with his great grandfather, Dasturji Dr. Jamaspji M. JamaspAsa, who consecrated and installed the Anjuman Atash Behram. Soon after, he held the position of Honorary Professor of Iranian Studies at St. Xavier’s College for over 3 decades. Concurrently, he also became Principal of the Sir J. J. Zarthoshti Madressa for 10 years and served as the Senior Lecturer of the Mulla Firoz Madressa, in Mumbai, as well.
Dasturji was fluent in German and French due to his orientation in European scholarship in his chosen field of Iranian studies. he also served as a Visiting Professor at the Asia Institute of Pahlavi University in Shiraz.
Dasturji has many scholarly books to his name. His most important publications are on ‘The Pahlavi – Pazend Text of the Aogemadaeca:The Vaetha Nask; and the Pursishniha’. He has written a number of learned articles in renowned international academic journals.
Under his hand, hundreds of boys from priestly families have undergone their Navar and Maratab ceremonies. Under his religious authority, over 200 Nirangdins and other higher liturgical ceremonies have been performed.
During the many years that he was a Vada Dasturji of the Zarthoshti Anjumanna Atash Behram, he steered the community onto the path of tradition and has upheld the beliefs and practices of the Zoroastrian faith. He has constantly advocated the need for the community to adhere to the time tested belief and practices of our religion. Dasturji firmly believed that the only way to ensure the survival of the faith in the times to come was to maintain the socio-religious laws of the community fused to the religion, in order to safeguard the religious institutions such as the Fire Temples, Dakhmas and other religious bodies.
Dasturji is survived by his wife Dr. Bakhtavar, son Jamasp and daughter Shirin.
We extend our heartfelt condolence to his family in this their hour of loss. May his immortal soul gain the divine protection of Sarosh Yazad and may he progress from Tanasakh to Tanpasin at the earliest.
At the recent meeting of GWG held on May 05, 2019 at Orlando, USA, one of the issues discussed was the importance of making Mobedi, a financially viable profession to enable our respected Mobeds to lead a comfortable life and for survival of our community.
In this context, it was felt necessary to extend financial support to young full time practising Mobeds.
Full time, practising Mobeds, under 60 years of age, earning less than Rs.6,00,000/- per annum, and interested in receiving financial support to augment their incomes, are requested to submit their name, age and address latest by June 15, 2019, after which they will be sent a form to be filled in.
The data collected will be forwarded to a prospective donor (a Multi National Corporation) for consideration. If approved it is expected that support should commence from the quarter, January/March 2020.
Mobeds selected under this initiative should note that they will be required to submit every six months, a certificate from the Atashbehram / Agiary / Dadgah to which they are attached, signed by the Trustees or Mobed in charge of the institution, confirming that the recipient of the support continues to profess Mobedi as a full time profession.
Community members in general and Mobeds in particular are aware that since January 2019, Global Working Group (GWG) has initiated a welfare scheme for full time Mobeds aged 60 years and above, and widows of elderly full time Mobeds, under which 114 Mobeds and 31 widows of Mobeds are given quarterly sum of Rs.19,500 & Rs.13,500 respectively.
This initiative fructified, thanks to the tireless efforts of Mr. Neville Shroff, Chairman GWG, having made a recommendation to a Multi National entity based in Hong Kong, who accepted the same and remitted funds through Zoroastrian Charity Funds of Hong Kong, Canton & Macao to WZO Trust Funds.
Those Mobeds under 60 years of age and earning less than Rs. 6,00,000/- per annum interested in availing of the proposed new scheme under consideration, may write to:
For Elderly Mobed couples and Elderly Widows of Mobeds residing in India
An overseas institution has expressed intent to extend financial support to economically challenged Mobeds who are either:
Ø Elderly married Mobed couples, above age 65, who do not have children and whose annual income including benefits received from Trusts and Individuals is below Rs 6,00,000 per annum
Ø Elderly Widows above age 65 of Mobeds, who do not have children and whose annual income including benefits received from Trusts and Individuals is below Rs 3,00,000 per annum.
The WZO Trust Funds have been requested to compile and make available to them a Pan India list for their consideration.
Mobeds and Widows of Mobeds who fit the above description and who would be interested in receiving financial support are requested to fill in an application form, available at our office, giving complete details that would establish their being eligible for support under the proposed scheme and mail it to us by September 30, 2018.
Applicants will need to make available two passport size photographs and copies of bank pass books and any other relevant documents for verification. Applicants are also required to provide at least one reference known to them but not related to them.
It is to be made clear that WZO Trust Funds have only agreed to act as facilitators for receiving and disbursing the amounts received. All decisions on beneficiaries selected, amounts sanctioned, frequency of support etc, shall be at the sole discretion of the donors.
Talk given at the 11th World Zoroastrian Congress in Perth, Australia, June 2, 2018 by Maneck Nawroji Bhujwala
Importance of Priesthood
Why do we need priests?
We all have two aspects – the physical and the spiritual. This is also reflected in the Fravahar symbol. For meeting our physical needs, we have professionals like doctors, engineers, accountants, businessmen, etc. And, for our spiritual needs we have priests.
Zarathushti priests have faithfully preserved the teachings of Asho Zarathushtra and his followers, and the ritual ceremonies and prayers through good and bad times for thousands of years. They have passed on their knowledge to the community at large by teaching prayers to children before their formal initiation (Navjote) and through lectures and books of scholar priests. They have performed prayer ceremonies on various occasions, including initiation, marriage, funerals, seasonal festivals (Ghahambars). They are an integral part of the Zarathushti religion and culture, and therefore it is essential to support the priesthood in order to preserve our religion for future generations.
Problems facing Priesthood
Today, we face the reality of a growing shortage of priests, both in India and globally. Even though many children of priests have undergone some level of training in order to be formally classified as Ervads, a large number of them have decided to pursue other professions or businesses which offer a much more lucrative future. As a result, there are a growing number of instances where priests are not available when needed to perform ceremonies. Even some of our consecrated temples in India are having difficulty hiring priests. In order to get priests from out of town, private families have to spend more money for transportation and lodging for the priests. This growing non-availability of local priests and the resulting reduction in Jashans performed at private homes, takes away the opportunity for children and youth to experience them, and may eventually cause community members to do without traditional prayers and ceremonies altogether.
Efforts to overcome Problems
Plans to create amelioration funds to provide better compensation for priests have not succeeded in attracting enough of the younger generation to pursue priesthood. Members of the non-priestly community are not allowed to become Ervads. A few programs for training members of the community to perform basic ritual prayers like Jashans for different occasions, with titles of Paramobeds, Mobedyars, or Behdin Pasban have faced resistance from some practicing Ervads who fear competition to their business. Considering the fact that practicing Ervads outside India have other careers and only do priestly work on an as needed part-time basis, it is hard to understand their concern. And, some of the handful of qualified Mobedyars continue to face restrictions, exclusion, and lack of adequate recognition for their volunteering and service, which can discourage future generations of interested individuals from opting for such training and service.
What Needs to be done
We need to pursue a holistic approach, which includes improved education, compensation, and respect for full-time practicing Ervads in India, education of the Zarathushti community about the past history of priests in Iran which included qualified Behdins, and welcoming acceptance and equal respect for members of non-priestly families who wish to become priests and serve the community as a calling rather than just as a career.
For a compensation scheme that would be sufficient and continuously available to attract full time priests, we should create an endowment fund. Our High Priests and managers of our temples can help to arrive at the amount needed to be raised. One or more fund raising events should be held, at which the rich members of our community are invited, educated about the urgent need for this fund, and motivated to pledge generously.
For better education of practicing priests, which is critical for their earning the respect of our community, it should be made a requirement for ordainment of future priests, and refresher courses should be given to current priests. Collaboration between Athornan Madressas, Zoroastrian Studies, and Zarathushti scholars would help draw up the curricula and commitment of teachers.
For education of the community about the past history of priests in Iran, to justify opening up priesthood to individuals from non-priestly families who are drawn to it as a calling, there should be organized a series of lectures, articles in Parsi newspapers, magazines, and on the internet, referencing books like “The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees” by Ervad, Shams-ul-Ulema, Dr. Sir, Jivanji Jamshedji Modi.
Denial about the growing shortage of practicing priests globally, and its consequences of growing difficulty for community members to get ritual prayers performed when needed for private and community events, and eventual loss of the tradition of ritual prayers over time, is contrary to our religious teachings. Asho Zarathushtra emphasized rational thinking, keeping the core values in mind, to make informed decisions about what is right and wrong. Reluctance to face changes in today’s society, is unbecoming of a progressive community that in the past has survived through adaptation to new situations. We have to be proactive before it is too late, with effective and innovative approaches to preserve Zarathushti priesthood and religion. Our community and religious leaders need to bravely put the good of the community’s future before narrow individual and group interests.