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The incredible history of the traditional Parsi Gara sari

From the quirky motifs hidden in the sari to its genesis, Ashdeen Lilaowala breaks down the nuances of a traditional Parsi Gara

Gara-Emroidery-Feature

The timeless elegance of a traditional Parsi Gara is undeniable. Embroidered to life with photorealistic precision, the Gara sari is a unique member in the exhaustive variety of crafts found in the country. Predominantly worn by the Parsi community during weddings and special occasions, the exquisite Gara sari deserves not to be stashed away just for those big days. Vogue spoke to Ashdeen Lilaowala—one of the few creative minds carrying the legacy of the Gara forward—about the history of the embroidery, its evolution and the lesser known facts.

Tell us about the origins of Gara

Gara embroidery came into our design lexicon at a time when the Parsis from India would travel to China for trade. They carried opium and cotton with them from India, which was bartered for tea in China. Tea as a commodity was gaining a lot of popularity in Europe and the British wanted to sell more tea in Europe. The Parsis quickly became rich trading with the British.

When they came back on their ships, they also brought back ceramics and various other antiques that were available in China. Legend says that one of the traders brought back a new kind of artistic embroidery, which was very realistic in its depiction of flora and fauna and was targeted to the European market. Eventually, it was commissioned as a five-and-a-half-metre sari for the traders from India. Earlier, the pieces that came in were fully embroidered, corner to corner, but then slowly the women started travelling to China too, and they edited them to have borders, blank spaces for tucking in, etc. The Parsi community had newly settled in Bombay, become quite rich, and now wanted a certain new look—and they adopted the Gara saris as their signature.

One of the famous designs was ‘Cheena Cheeni’, which depicts a Chinese man and a Chinese woman against a landscape of pagodas, bridges, plantations and people doing daily chores in China, carrying lanterns and other knick knacks—but these were things so exotic and unseen in India, that the design became a prized possession. They also brought back narrow borders that are called as ‘Kor’, and clothes for the children—the tunics were called ‘Jhablas’ and pants were called ‘Ghicha’. These were some of the different products that were coming via the trade.

Can you tell us a little more about other popular Gara designs?

We have quirky names for motifs. Apart from ‘Cheena Cheeni’, there is a polka-dotted motif is called ‘kaanda papeta’, which stands for onion potato. Polka dots were so common at one point, that they were jestingly compared to onions and potatoes for how readily available they were. Then there is a spin wheel motif, which the Parsis call a ‘Karoliya’, or a spider. We have a ‘Marga Margi’, which is a rooster and a hen and there’s a ‘Chakla Chakli’ too, which is a male and female sparrow.

During a research exercise, we found that there is a kind of rock formation on the sari that usually comes with a peacock perched on it—the motif is called ‘The Divine Fungus’. But when you tell a Parsi woman that there’s fungus on your sari, they (naturally!) don’t take it well. And we have seen borders with exquisitely embroidered bats as well. Indians are not fond of bats, and for Parsis, bats are equivalent to death—I’ve actually had customers tell me they’re not wearing the pieces again once I confirmed the embroidery denotes a bat, and not a butterfly, as they originally thought. We also have a sari in our recent collection called ‘Morning Glory’—it has a sun and a huge spread of birds, flora and fauna, so it is like a whole narrative about the sun being the element that manifests this abundance of flora.

How long does it take to make a Gara sari?

Depending on the density of the work, it can take anything from three weeks to two months. And when I say two months, I mean six to eight people working on one sari together.

What is the base fabric of the sari?

Even though the sari is covered in silk thread embroidery all over, it has a nice flow to it and can be draped well. The original fabric was called ‘Sali Ghaj’, which has very thin lines running through it.

Garas went out of fashion in the ’30s and were only revived in the ’80s. In Mumbai, they started using this thick fabric—Shamu satin and thick Crepe d Chine back then. Presently, we largely use crepe, but not georgette or chiffon—because the silk thread is hand-embroidered and these fabrics can’t take the weight of the embroidery.

Click Here for the full interview – https://www.vogue.in/content/parsi-gara-embroidery-saree-history/

A Russian’s decade-old love for Parsi dialect

The scholar, Anton Zykov, worked for the Russian Embassy between 2011 and 2013, but in November 2017, he started working on a unique three-year project of recording and analysing the Parsi dialect (Parsi Gujarati or simply Parsi in India and Zoroastrian Dari or Gavruni in Iran).

A Parsi wedding in Navsari

THIS RUSSIAN scholar’s ‘Parsi connect’ dates back a decade, when he chose Zoroastrianism as his thesis subject as an MPhil student at Oxford. The scholar, Anton Zykov, worked for the Russian Embassy between 2011 and 2013, but in November 2017, he started working on a unique three-year project of recording and analysing the Parsi dialect (Parsi Gujarati or simply Parsi in India and Zoroastrian Dari or Gavruni in Iran).Advertising

“The focus is on contemporary spoken Parsi (also known as Parsi Gujarati). I am looking forward to document the language as it is spoken. So I try to record the conversations which Parsis have with each other in Parsi Gujarati. It’s just an attempt to give an objective picture of the language,” said Zykov.

Anton Zykov

The scholar works by collecting video and audio samples of the Parsi speech from various places, among Parsis of various ages, professional and socio-economic background. These samples are processed, annotated and analyzed to understand syntax, lexicon, morphology and semantics used among the different varieties of the Parsi speech.

Many in the community have become his friends and collaborators on the project, like the family of Rohin and Frazin Kanga from Navsari, who hosted him for three months while he was based there gathering language material, he said. Recalling some interesting interactions with the community, he said, “Once I was making a recording at a dar-e-mehr (Fire temple) in Navsari. When I was changing my camera’s battery, the person whom I was recording asked me if I was married. I said “no” and asked the reason for his curiosity. He told me that he heard from someone that I was married to a Parsi girl. So there are some Parsis who suspect a hidden agenda in my research,” said Zykov.

The Russian scholar aspires to complete the project by publishing a grammar book and dictionary of the Parsi language and successfully archiving it with Endangered Languages Archive of SOAS University of London, which has funded the project.Advertising

“I wish to draw the community’s attention to its rich linguistic heritage like the munajats (Parsi popular devotional songs), kahavaten (proverbs) and even galliyan (cuss words) are a source of unique Parsi linguistic treasure. All this will be lost if linguistic shift towards English keeps on increasing among the Parsis and Parsi Gujarati continues to have a low social prestige. I hope my work can be used among the Parsi diaspora to learn Parsi Gujarati and maintain their identity and tradition,” he added.


Written by Abha Goradia |Mumbai |Published: January 14, 2019

https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/a-russians-decade-old-love-for-parsi-dialect-5536750/

Zarthusti Women’s Herstories | Department of Family Practice

Zarthusti Women’s Herstories | Department of Family Practice


Faravahar Atashkadeh Yazd (The Faravahar is the part-human part-bird image that Zarthustis often use to identify ourselves)

The ZXX study was created as a tribute to Zarthusti women and as a way to celebrate their lives. Our aim was to interview Zarthusti women about their lives in order to gain insight and contribute to the gap in literature surrounding this topic. We also wanted to create an insider participatory action project. Most scholarly literature about the Zarthusti community is written by outsiders but this project is community based and community driven. ZXX refers to Zarthusti women, as the genetic symbol for females is XX.

It is the brainchild of Dr Farah Shroff, who started the first version of this study, ZXX 1.0, as a series of interviews with Zarthusti women which were transcribed and audio recorded. ZXX 2.0 is a video recorded oral herstory project. Inspired by the love of her family and community, this project is dedicated to the wonderfully warm, eccentric and inspiring Zarthusti community.

While Zarathustrianism is considered the world’s first monotheistic religion, not much is known about the individual members of the religion or the community as most scholarly work has been of a theological nature. Many people are surprised to learn that living members of the community exist at all. Furthermore, many studies conducted about Zarathustrianism have been undertaken by scholars outside the community. This study is unique in that the majority of the researchers and authors are Zoroastrian women. Two of the researchers were also participants in the study.

In the study, Zarthusti women ranging in age were video interviewed by Dr. Farah Shroff. Topics such as childhood, school life, and religious identity were explored through the interviews. We hope you enjoy watching the videos and reading our study!

https://zxxresearch.med.ubc.ca/

Ava Irani – Support her kickstarter campaign

I am an 8th grader at a middle school in the USA. I have been very fortunate to experience the wonders of traveling to other countries, and meeting other children around the world. Each time I come back home, I find that other people also love to explore and learn about exotic destinations, but not everyone is able to experience them firsthand.

I thought about other ways to help children learn more about the world, while having fun at the same time. Based on  this idea, I created Travel Explore Discover.

Check out the board game and support this Kickstarter campaign.

Zoroastrian Return To Roots Kicks Off 5th Trip to India

The 5th edition of the Zoroastrian Return To Roots Program began in Mumbai, India today on December 19, 2018.

22 Zarathushti youth from USA, Canada, Pakistan, New Zealand and India gathered in Mumbai at the Cusrow Baug Pavilion to kick off the program.

Aban Marker-Kabraji, Co-Chair of RTR Program welcomed the RTR Fellows and briefed them about the history of the program and the ethos and principles on which the program is based. She emphasized the diversity of the program and thanked the institutional and individual donors who have put their faith in this program. Arzan Sam Wadia, Program Director of RTR briefed everyone about the upcoming daily program details over the next 15 days.

The group were given a brief history of the Cusrow Baug, Mumbai’s premier Zoroastrian housing colony by Hoshang Jal, the Secretary of Cusrow Baug Pavilion.

Homi Gandhi, President of FEZANA spoke of FEZANA’s commitment as a MoU partner in supporting RTR as an institutional partner.

The participants then made their way to the legendary Britannia for a scrumptious Parsi meal and a personal meeting with its equally legendary owner Boman Kohinoor.

Later in the afternoon, RTR Fellows were welcomed at Madison World, India’s premier advertising and marketing agency headed by the dynamic father-daughter duo of Sam Balsara and Lara Balsara. Here the Fellows got a masterclass in entrepreneurship, media, advertising and a detailed deep-dive in the story behind the hugely successful ad campaign for Jiyo Parsi.

Over the next two weeks Fellows will travel to Pune, Nargol, Sanjan, Udvada, Navsari and Surat before returning to Mumbai for the return leg.

As is customary, all the pre-planning leading up to this day and the daily logistics of the trip is run by RTR Alumni who come back year on year, to continue the program. Zubin Gheesta and Sheherazad Pavri from Mumbai, Kayras Irani from Auckland, Tanya Hoshi from Toronto and Cyrus Karanjia from Karachi are the alumni who will be assisting with the running of the program 

Trail Blazers India, as RTR’s logistics partners since inception were represented by Hutokshi Marker, CEO and Kurush Charna, CTO who will travel with the group for the entire duration.

If you would like to get real-time updates follow RTR on Facebook and Instagram

https://parsikhabar.net/news/zoroastrian-return-to-roots-kicks-off-5th-trip-to-india/19114/

AZA Newsletter Manashni – December 2018

Dear Community

Attached is the December 2018 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.
The AZA Managing Committee wishes the Community Merry Christmas and a very Happy and Blessed 2019.Best Wishes.

Kind regards

Hilla Tantra

Honorary Secretary – AZA – 2018 -2019
On behalf of the AZA Managing Committee


Handbook Cover Art Contest at the United Nations

Calling All Designers!  Have your artwork prominently featured at the largest annual NGO Forum held at the United Nations.

We are gearing up for the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women in 2019!

  • Held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 11-22 March, 2019
  • Thousands of representatives from Governments, NGOs and Women’s Organizations worldwide
  • All working to advance Human Rights for Women and Girls.
Click here to learn more about the NGO CSW63 Forum Your artwork should incorporate the CSW63 Priority Theme: Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Visit UN Women website here for more information. Deadline For Submissions: 14 January, 2019

Homai Vyarawalla and her iconic pics

Little did everyone know that a young and zealous Parsi girl would go on to become India’s first female photojournalist, and perhaps even the best one till this day.

Homai Vyarawalla was born on 9 December 1913 in Gujarat. She moved to Mumbai, then Bombay, to pursue a diploma at St Xavier’s college, after which she joined the J J Schools of Arts, where she, luckily for all of us, picked up a camera and began to study photography.

Homai with her wooden  Speed Graphic Pacemaker camera
Homai with her wooden Speed Graphic Pacemaker camera

It was at J J school that she met Manekshaw Vyarawalla, a freelance photographer who introduced her to the art form. She would later go on to marry him.

Her first assignment at college, to photograph a picnic, was published by Bombay Chronicle, a local newspaper, after which she regularly picked up more freelance assignments, including work for The Illustrated Weekly Magazine of India.

Click Here for the full story and some amazing pics – https://www.thequint.com/photos/iconic-images-homai-vyarawalla-india-first-woman-photojournalist

Indira Gandhi with Rajiv and Sanjay at the first Asian Games at the National Stadium. Delhi, 1951
(Photo courtesy: HV Archive/ The Alkazi Collection of Photography)

https://yourshot.nationalgeographic.com/photos/13156794/

https://yourshot.nationalgeographic.com/photos/1771427/

https://yourshot.nationalgeographic.com/photos/11179592/

Ship owners dispel rumours and tell the real tale behind heroic evacuation of 722 Indians

People who have grudges against a feature film react variously. They petition the Censor Board, approach courts, tear off the film’s posters or stage dharnas. Hanif Modak whose father late Capt. I H Modak

 and now Australia-based Capt. V R Kekobad co-owned cargo ship

 MV Safeer, are responding to some of the alleged “lies” portrayed in 2016 film Airlift and setting the records straight with their documentary ‘Mission Safeer:37 Days to Freedom.’ MV Safeer’s heroic evacuation of 722 Indians from wartorn Kuwait in 1990 had hit global headlines. The film Airlift doesn’t directly name M V Safeer or its owners or the Captain who, in the film, is shown accepting bribes to allow the desperate evacuees on board the ship. “Yes, MV Safeer has not been named anywhere but by implication we have been shown to be heartless and it is an insult to the heroic joint efforts of seafarers, agencies and individuals who helped bring 722 Indians to safety in Dubai. We want to tell the real story behind the evacuation through this documentary,” says Captain Kekobad.

Seated in his DN Road office, Hanif shows documents, including M V Safeer’s original log book and newspaper clippings. With a cargo of bagged rice, and 26 crew members, MV Safeer left Kandla Port in Gujarat on July 24, 1990, docking at Shuwaikh Port in Kuwait on July 31, 1990. Trouble began on August 2 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The ship’s s log book entry of August 2, 1990 reads: “No activity whatsoever in the port. Heard news on radio that Iraq had invaded Kuwait. Sounds of gunfire and shelling could be heard on the vessel and fire and smoke could be seen all over from the bridge…”

“Neither Captain Zain Abidin Juvale nor I or anyone else demanded money from anyone. All the required permissions to carry 722 Indians were secured by the owners. Once Captain Juvale met the then foreign minister I.K. Gujral in Kuwait, we prepared the ship for embarkation of the passengers. We made 20 temporary toilets on the main deck,” MV Safeer’s first officer Captain Nazir Mulla now settled in Mumbai. MV Safeer left Kuwait for Dubai on September 4, thirty-six anxious days after berthing and days of negotiations by officials, including senior Indian embassy official in Kuwait S M Mathur, MEA official K P Fabian, Dr M A Patankar in Mumbai. “Dr Patankar provided us the first breakthrough when he arranged our meeting with Iraqi attaché in Mumbai. We subsequently got permission for an embassy staff to visit the ship and ensure safety of our crew who were detained by the Iraqi army,” said Hanif.

Out of the 722 Indians rescued, 250 were from the Konkan region alone. Hashmat Kapdi, a jeweller in Kuwait, from Kasba village in Ratnagiri, was among them. “All the crew were very helpful and compassionate. There were doctors (6) and nurses (10) who travelled with us,” recalled Kapdi.

In an earlier interview to TOI Captain Juvale had said many wealthy passengers wanted to gift their expensive cars to the crew which the crew declined. “On reaching Dubai, Captain Modak, his daughter Sadika Modak, our staff and I welcomed the evacuees,” said Captain Kekobad. Hanif added the documentary is also a homage to his father’s memories.

At a recent screening in Delhi, viewers, including some of the officials now retired, involved with the rescue mission by M V Safeer, toasted the gigantic efforts. A letter from K P Fabian, now a prized possession of Capt. Kekobad, reads: “This is to confirm that Government of India did not pay your company any amount towards evacuation of Indian nationals…”

https://m.timesofindia.com/city/mumbai/ship-owners-dispel-rumours-and-tell-the-real-tale-behind-heroic-evacuation-of-722-indians/amp_articleshow/66902375.cms

Tower of Silence For Parsi Funerals Can Be Built in Texas

Traditional Zoroastrian funerals require stone structures called Dakhmas — “Towers of Silence” — on which corpses are eaten by buzzards, because the Zoroastrian holy text bans other funeral methods.

Excarnatory funeral practices are classified as criminal “Abuse of Corpse” by many state statutes and constitute a misdemeanor to felony offense, thus making traditional Zoroastrian funerals illegal for the 11,000 Zoroastrians in the U.S.

The illegality forces Zoroastrian-Americans to transport their dead overseas which can be prohibitively expensive or to have funerals against their religious mandate.

In a recent scholarly legal article published in the Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion — titled: “Buried, Cremated, Defleshed by Buzzards?” — I analogized the Supreme Court case Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, noting that Zoroastrianism and the Santeria religion both mandate practices involving dead bodies of people and animals. Employing the decision in that case, I argued that traditional Zoroastrian funerals should be legal through a 1st Amendment Freedom of Religion Free Exercise Clause exemption.

Of the three tests courts could apply to a Zoroastrian funeral case, I advocated that courts use the test where an exemption would be granted unless the government could demonstrate a compelling reason not to.

Based on the government’s arguments in Hialeah, I predicted that the government in a Zoroastrian funeral case would argue that it has a compelling interest 1) in protecting public health, safety, and welfare; 2) in preventing the emotional injury that is likely to result from witnessing a religiously motivated excarnatory funeral; 3) in protecting the dead from desecration; and 4) in restrictive zoning.

The government’s interest in public health, safety, and welfare is not compelling because the government’s interest is limited to the degree of risk human corpses pose which is negligible according to the World Health Organization and the American Journal of Disaster Medicine. Further, Zoroastrian custom requires tying corpses down thus mitigating concerns about buzzards carrying off corpses. Moreover, several states have ‘body farm’ facilities which involve exposure of corpses to the elements and scavenging of corpses by animals, so differential treatment of ‘body farms’ and religiously-motivated excarnatory funerals would weaken the government’s argument.

The government’s interest in preventing the emotional injury that is likely to result from witnessing a religiously motivated excarnatory funeral is not compelling because the mourners of deceased Zoroastrians will not suffer emotional injury because they do not enter the Dakhma. Moreover, the excarnation does not occur within view of anyone, and it is a culturally accepted practice in the community.

Similarly, the government’s interest in protecting the dead from desecration is not compelling because whoever desires a traditional Zoroastrian funeral can say so in their Last Will and Testament.

However, the government’s interest in restrictive zoning is compelling, but only to the point of on par regulation with similarly situated enterprises such as body farms.

Given the need for buzzards to consume the corpse, the need to sun-bleach the bones after excarnation has occurred, and the state’s likely desire to zone Dahkmas far away from residential and commercial areas, a promising state to build a Dakhma in is Texas.

This is because the Forensic Anthropology Center or the body farm at Texas State University is well-established. Moreover, the local vulture population has already been used to study the effects of vulture scavenging on human decomposition as would occur in a Zoroastrian funeral.

Khushbu Solanki

Rutgers Law School graduate

https://www.indiawest.com/letters_to_editor/tower-of-silence-for-parsi-funerals-can-be-built-in/article_a4d37006-f432-11e8-b909-d7d7ffaa6d8b.html

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