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.”
A new treatment for an incurable form of leukaemia has been hailed by experts after it left patients without a trace of the disease.
The patients were treated with a faster acting version of CAR-T therapy, in which the body’s immune system is used against the malignant cells.
The trial at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London was carried out with the aim of reducing the side-effects of treatment for the patients, most of whom are children.
The treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) sees the patient’s own immune cells genetically modified and then used to target cancer.
During the trial, 14 patients with a previously incurable strain of ALL were given the therapy and 12 saw the disease cleared after three months. Five of those patients remain leukaemia free.
Professor Persis Amrolia, the study’s chief investigator, said: “CAR-T therapy is a fantastic example of using the power of the immune system to specifically target cancer cells.
“While it doesn’t work for everyone, it can offer hope for those children who have run out of all other options.
“We’re just at the beginning of this new treatment and over the next few years, I hope we can refine it further to make it safer and more effective.
“The side-effects of CAR-T therapies can be severe, so we hope that this new technology can reduce the risk for patients.”
Austin Sweeney, 10, was diagnosed with ALL when he was two and was subsequently invited to take part in the trial after he had exhausted all other treatment options.
His father, Scott Sweeney, said Austin was “so fortunate” to have been able to participate.
“He had the cells at Great Ormond Street Hospital in October 2016 and we found out on his birthday at the end of that month that the cells were doing exactly what we needed them to do,” Mr Sweeney said.
“Two-and-a-half years later, Austin is doing so well. He is more physical than he has ever been. It is lovely to see him full of energy.”
ALL affects around 400 children in the UK each year, according to the hospital, and while most patients can be cured with standard treatments including chemotherapy and transplant, some relapse.
Survival for children suffering from ALL increased from under 10 per cent in the 1960s to 90 per cent in 2015, though the survival rate is lower for babies.
The hospital said the research, which was published in the Nature Medicine journal on Monday, offers great hope to those with relapsed ALL, which is the most common cause of child cancer death in the UK.
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.
Global Civil Society Representatives Adopt Outcome and Youth Climate Compact
(Salt Lake City, 28 August 2019)
At a first-of-its-kind UN gathering in the western United States, representatives of non-governmental organizations, faith-based organizations, educators, students and individual activists from Utah and around the world today adopted an outcome document outlining a global vision to achieve inclusive and sustainable cities and communities by 2030. Youth themselves drafted and adopted a stand-alone climate compact.
President of the United Nations General Assembly María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés addressed participants at the closing plenary session, remarking, “In our increasingly interdependent world, where shocks in one country can affect the lives and livelihoods of people across the globe, it seems clear that we need more cooperation, not less. It is a great honour to be the first President of the General Assembly to receive a UN Civil Society Conference outcome document. And you can count on me to be your advocate.”
The conference was a milestone moment to build momentum leading up to the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit, and the high-level week of the UN General Assembly in September, where the status of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals will also be a focus.
Conference Chair Maruxa Cardama, Secretary-General of the Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transportation (SLoCAT) said, “Safe and sustainable cities and communities are not a dream but wholly within our grasp if we work together as a global community and empower civil society. There is no contradiction between embracing global goals to promote prosperity for all and protect our planet and maintaining local traditions and national sovereignty. The Outcomes of this conference demonstrate the resolve of civil society across the world to play an active role in achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 in their vision for government and private sector accountability, and concrete suggestions for individual action.”
The 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference theme, “Building Inclusive and Sustainable Cities and Communities” reflects the fact that over half of the world’s population, some 55 per cent, now live in urban areas, with that figure expected to rise to 68 per cent by 2050. The track record of Salt Lake City on inclusion and sustainability, as well as its experience hosting international events, were factors in support of bringing the conference here.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said, “Salt Lake City’s track record for defending individual human rights, taking action to address the global climate emergency and protect the health of our people and our environment is undeniable. I am so grateful that the world has come to Salt Lake City for this important conversation and I am honored at the opportunity to highlight our achievements on an international stage. As Mayor, I offer you my unwavering commitment to the ongoing work of our vibrant civil society and to the inspiring youth who play a central role in mitigating the effects of climate change and building a sustainable world.”
Dozens of representatives from civil society organizations based in New York, Utah and elsewhere came together to plan and organize this massive endeavor in partnership with the United Nations. NGO
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.
During the recent 10 day farvandian/muktad days I posted some observations on social media. Below is a compilation of all the posts. Many of the images were in black and white, but a lot of people requested I also post the color images. So in those cases I have posted both.
Batliwala Agiary, Tardeo, Mumbai
The muktad prayer days mean a lot of things to all Parsis. It’s the time to remember our dear departed, but also a time to treasure what we have with those we love and are around us.
To me, visiting my agiary for the prayers is like going back in time. The earliest memories of this beautiful agiary are of going there every morning with my mom to pray for my mamaijis muktad. Buying flowers for the vase and being allowed to go to the upper floor, I remember being awe struck at the beauty and Majesty of the space. A dozen and more priests praying, sandalwood fragrant in the air, flowers in beautiful vases all lined up on table after table made me realize that this was a once a year special time.
Today when I return to this place, not much has changed. It’s still the safe place it always was. The same familiar faces, many of them friends who I grew up with, praying as priests today, and everyone collectively sitting waiting for the prayers of their dear departed. But also sharing together the collective commonality that while we all grieve for those who have passed away we also acknowledge the spirit of those who we never knew but now do, as a vase with beautiful flowers on a marble table.
So as we seek blessings of our own loved ones we also are fortunate to receive the blessings of all the loved ones this agiary was home to, and are being prayed for these Muktad days.
Anjuman Atashbehram, Near Princess Street, Mumbai
One of the four #Atashbehram in #Mumbai, the Anjuman Atashbehram comes alive during Muktad. The entire upper floor is full of row upon row of muktad tables. The hum of priests praying and devotees joining in with their own prayers, makes for a fantastic aural experience. The scent of flowers and of sandalwood and loban (incense) makes one’s non visual senses come alive.
I’ve always wondered as to how our prayer ceremonies are not only visual in experience, but encompass all our senses. The prayers soothe the ears, the sandalwood smoke the nasal passage, the touch of the sandalwood to our fingers ….all of these make it a complete experience. Without any one of these, it would not be complete. The next time you go for Muktad prayers, notice for yourself.
Vaccha Gandhi Agiary, Hughes Road, Mumbai
Agiaries that are adjacent to or within Parsi colonies get more footfall than those that are not. It was the vision of our forefathers to build infrastructure in that manner. A classic example is the Vatcha Gandhi Agiary opposite the Kharegat Colony at Hughes Road in #Mumbai
Run by two generations and counting of the Dadachanji family, the agiary during Muktad is a beehive of activity. With just about standing room only you see a master class in choreographed movement as a senior Mobed through actions…a mere nod, a pointing of a finger in a direction or a slight tap on the shoulder of a devotee sets in motion a series of prayers. Hardly a word is spoken. The only thing one hears is the hum of prayers. And the touch of sandalwood. And the smell of flowers and loban.
These choreographed actions are honed over decades of practise and adaptation. The priests and the devotees seem to know their own roles and perform them to perfection.
And this differs from Agiary to Agiary. No two agaires do it the same way. But they all seem to do the same thing.
The fluidity of ritual practise has to be seen and observed to be appreciated.
And it cannot just be transplanted. As our faith spreads in the world to new lands and new diaspora emerge from the faithful of the old world settling in new places, these are the type of rituals that need to transcend oceans and continents.
Religion cannot be practised and sustained in a vacuum where prayers are the only thing. Traditions, practises, rituals…or as we call it Reeti Rivaaj are as integral as are the buildings that sustain and nurture them and make them possible. Nowhere so you see this orchestra play better and with more pomp than in Mumbai.
I feel blessed to be an active audience and participant in this year after year. May all these traditions far outlive me and the generations that follow.
Atha Jamyat Yatha Afrinami.
Continue reading this post by Arzan Wadia – on Parsi Khabar – Click Here
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.”