Category Archives: Religion
Attached is the song on Dasturji Kukadaru composed by Kersi P. MIstry.
Dasturji Kukadaru’s death anniversary is on Roz Behram Mah farvardin 5th
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.
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.
At ZTFE UK, A Life Well Lived – A Marathon 8 hour Workshop on Zoroastrianism
By Bapsy Dastur
Khojeste P. 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 visitor.
His recent 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.
Known for 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’ .
Mistree’s 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.
Like a 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.
He stressed 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.
Khojeste 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.”
The topics 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.
As they 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.
The religion founded by Iranian Prophet Zarathushtra (Zoroaster as called by Greek philosophers like Plato) over five thousand years ago, as described in his five Gathas (songs), give us the basic guidelines that are mostly timeless.
His followers added rituals, prayers and traditions that serve as tools which can help to structure our lives according to the guidelines. Just as we constantly improve tools that we use with the latest technologies, these tools which help us to apply the general guidelines may be modified if and as needed to be relevant for the time and society in which we live.
Understanding the connection of all creations of God, Zarathushtra proclaims that true happiness comes to them who create happiness for others (Y.43).When we are not content with our honestly obtained wealth, position, status, etc., we are tempted to resort to unethical means to gain more than we have. With this realization, Zarathushtra tells us that Contentment is the greatest virtue.
Practice of Zarathushtra’s Teachings in the Present Times Ultra-Conservative PracticesLike in other religions, some individuals follow the teaching of the founder more closely than others, and there are groups like orthodox, reformists, and mainstream who follow their preferred practices in a group setting.As the focus of Zarathushtra’s teachings is on ethical living in this world that would promote peace and happiness for all creations on earth, we should examine if we are following and prioritizing his ethical guidelines in our practice of religion.
Among the Zarathushtis from India and Pakistan, we have a small but vocal population of ultra-conservative and a much smaller group of ultra-reformist individuals. The majority of Zarathushtis are not rigid in their religious beliefs and observances.
Most ultra-conservatives, especially from India/Pakistan, emphasize racial and ritual purity and do not think it important or necessary to learn the meanings of the prayers.
They believe that prayers in Avesta and Pahalavi were composed in a special way and have intrinsic beneficial effects from the vibrations emanating during their recital, and that there are many different translations of the prayers resulting in difficulty to know which one if any, is the correct translation. Their focus is on performing the rituals according to traditional rule as suggested by their Guru, a nineteenth century Zarathushti who claimed to have been given the knowledge by spiritual masters who live in the mountains in Iran.
Comparing this belief to Zarathushtra’s teachings, we can observe that it does not appear to be in agreement with his teaching that each person should use his/her good mind and freedom of choice gifted by Ahuramazda, to think and freely choose what is right. The ultra-conservative belief that Zarathushtra’s religion is restricted to the Persian race is also contrary to his Gatha verses in which he mentions the soul of the world asking God for a Savior and Ahuramazda choosing him for that role.
Most ultra-conservatives believe that women during their menstrual period should be isolated at home and should not enter prayer areas. They believe that even a male person who is bleeding cannot enter prayer areas. This belief is not supported by Gatha teachings leading us to think whether under the availability of current hygiene practice and products this rule is still necessary.
The ultra-conservative belief in a rigid class system (similar to the Hindu caste system) separating priest class (Athravans) from non-priest class (Behdins), and not allowing Behdins to serve as priests (called Mobedyars), is also against Zarathushtra’s teachings of equality of all human beings. While the Iranian community is not against Mobedyars, the Parsi priests resisted training of Mobedyars until some open-minded priests were convinced of the need to break the roadblock for Behdins, considering the growing shortage of practicing priests.
Not accepting people who voluntarily choose to learn and adopt the teachings of Zarathushtra, without evaluating each case, is another practice of ultra-conservatives, that is against Zarathushtra’s teachings of equality.
Most ultra-reformists claim to restrict their prayers and beliefs to the Gathas only, but even some of them interpret what is written in the Gathas without questioning, thinking independently, and understanding in the proper context.Some ultra-reformists justify their choice without thinking about the rightness of their choice, claiming that there is no specific restriction related to their choice in the Gathas.
For example, choosing not to cover the head and remove shoes in the prayer room of a community center in violation of posted rules would be wrong in the spirit of the Gathas, if done without questioning and understanding that the rule helps retain cleanliness by preventing loose hair falling and dirt from shoes worn outside.
The largest populations of Zarathushtis are generally flexible and more open-minded about racial and ritual purity. However, not having adequate knowledge about Zarathusthtra’s teachings in the Gathas, historical practices of the religion in Iran, they often tend to go along in public, with the opinions of the vocal ultra-conservatives or ultra-reformists in order to avoid controversy and ostracism.
Even those from priestly families who were trained in ritual performances as children (due to the wishes of the parents), and decide to practice priesthood, usually tend to go along with the preferences of whoever is in power socially or of giving compensation for their services. Due to poor compensation and lack of benefits for most priests, only those who lack adequate education and opportunity to pursue lucrative careers become practicing priests and that too part-time with a second job outside. Last year, two new Daremehers were inaugurated, and Mobedyars were not invited to sit with the Ervads (from priest families) to perform Groundbreaking Jashan and Inauguration Jashan rituals, and the mainstream community kept quiet about it.
This is against the teachings of Zarathushtra about speaking up against injustice and blind faith. Training of priests in India/Pakistan has been limited to some basic religious education and memorization and recital of ritual prayers without understanding the meanings of the prayers. Most recently there has been some additional information being offered to priests called EmpoweringMobeds in the form of seminars. There are only a handful of priests who have learned Avesta and Pahlavi languages and appointed as High Priests of Atashbehrams in India/Pakistan. Not knowing the meaning of what one is reciting in prayers goes against Zarathushtra’s teachings of gaining a thorough understanding of his teachings.
Zarathushtis have generally retained basic ethics of honesty and charity that have earned them high respect and trust from the people in India, Pakistan and Iran. There is a general belief in good thoughts, good words, and good deeds that is carried forward to the children, and a continued observance of festival days like Nowruz, Ghahambars, etc. that brings the community together on those occasions. Involvement in interfaith organizations and events is helping educate other communities about our faith.
In order to motivate our youth to continue the practice of the Zarathushti religion, we need to teach our history, so that they know that we are not some small cult but inheritors of one of the world’s oldest monotheistic faiths that once was the majority religion of Iran. We also need to welcome Mobedyars (Behdin Pasbans as known in India) and encourage anyone (man or woman) who wishes to serve the community as priests. We need to develop scholars who study Avesta, Pahlavi, and share their knowledge with the community via periodic lectures. We need to develop pastoral service by priests who can provide religion based counseling to individuals experiencing high stress situations.
And, we need to accept non-Zarathushtis who come to us and wish to learn about our religion and wish to practice our religion, after some screening.
Maneck Bhujwala was born in Bombay, India, to Navroji and Meherbai. He got his Bachelor in Engineering from India, and M.S. and M.B.A. in USA. He co-founded the Zoroastrian Association of California in Los Angeles in 1974, and Zarthushti Anjuman of Northern California in 1980. He currently works as a licensed real estate consultant, serves the community as a priest, and is President of the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council.Maneck has contributed articles in FEZANA Journal and WZO’s Hamazor magazine, and coordinated religion classes for adults. He also transliterates and translates the Shahnameh to English poetry form and distributes a page a month on the internet with Persian, Gujerati and English versions. Maneck lives in Huntington Beach.
Posted 8th December 2018 by California Zoroastrian Center
Published in Chehrehnama 188
The University of Bergen and SOAS in London offer this autumn a short course in Zoroastrianism. In Rome!
Zoroastrianism is a living religious tradition with historical roots in ancient Iran and Central Asia. Once the dominant religion in pre-Islamic Iran, the main contemporary Zoroastrian communities can be found in India, Iran, and a range of other countries such as Britain, Canada, the US and Sweden.
Courses on Zoroastrianism are few and far between. The University of Bergen (Norway) and the Shapoorji Pallonji Institute of Zoroastrian Studies at SOAS, University of London have joined forces to offer international students a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the study of this religion with its rich history.
The course is co-taught by well-known scholars in the field.
This year, Sarah Stewart (SOAS, author of Voices of Zoroastrian Iran) and Michael Stausberg (Bergen, co-editor of The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Zoroastrianism) will be joined by Jenny Rose (Claremont, author of Zoroastrianism: a guide for the perplexed).
This year’s topic is “Zoroastrianism in modern and contemporary Iran”, where Zoroastrianism exists as a recognized religious minority. The course will address matters such as lived religious praxis, gender and community organizations, social, religious and ritual change, memory and visions of history, nationalist ideologies and minority rights.
We are offering an intensive learning experience. The course requires prior reading and class presentations. The course is held in English, so a good working knowledge of English is required. The course will be held in the beautiful surroundings of the Norwegian Institute in Rome.
The summer school is free of charge. A limited number of bursaries to cover travel and living costs will be awarded on merit. Applicants will get further information.
You are invited to the following event:
When: 06 Apr 2019 1:00 PM, EDT
Where: INNIS TOWN HALL, 2 SUSSEX AVENUE, TORONTO, ON, M5S 1J5
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF PROFESSOR EHSAN YARSHATER (1920-2018)
Date: April 6, 2019
Venue: INNIS TOWN HALL, 2 SUSSEX AVENUE, TORONTO, ON, M5S 1J5
Dr. Jehan Bagli, Timothy Harrison & Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi
1:50–2:25 ZOROASTRIANISM IN THE ACHAEMENID PERIOD
Maria Brosius, University of Toronto
2:25–3:00 PURE BODY: THE BARŠNŪM CEREMONY THROUGHOUT HISTORY
Miguel Angel Andres Toledo, University of Salamanca
3:00–3:35 THE EPIC OF SAMAK-E `AYYAR: A LITERARY COMPANION TO MITHRAIC MYTHOLOGY, ETHICS, AND SOCIAL PRAXIS
Parvaneh Pourshariati, New York City College of Technology
4:10–4:45 DANTE AND WIRAZ: TWO OTHERWORLDLY TRAVELLERS
Enrico Raffaelli, University of Toronto
4:45–5:20 PARSI TRADERS AND TRAVELLERS: GLOBAL ZOROASTRIANS IN THE AGE OF EMPIRE
Jesse Palsetia, University of Guelph
5:20–6:00 ZOROASTRIANISM AND THE PROBLEM OF UNIVERSAL RELIGION IN THE EARLY MODERN ISLAMIC WORLD
Dan Sheffield, Princeton University
UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO
DEPARTMENT OF NEAR AND MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES
TORONTO INITIATIVE FOR IRANIAN STUDIES
THE FEDERATION OF ZOROASTRIAN ASSOCIATIONS OF NORTH AMERICA,
ONTARIO ZOROASTRIAN COMMUNITY FOUNDATION,
AND ZOROASTRIAN SOCIETY OF ONTARIO
Click HERE for the Flyer
Hamaysht ceremony in Surat Atash Behram Saheb
Attached here is a brief explanation of the Hamayasht ceremony being performed in Surat. This ceremony has not been performed for several years and those who can go across to Surat or are the local residents there can consider themselves fortunate to witness such a one-off kriya.
The Hamayasht ceremony is a long-winded ceremony in the Zoroastrian religion similar to the “Mahayagna” of the Hindus. There are 2 types of Hamayasht ceremonies, the “Motti” Hamayasht and “Nani” Hamayasht. On enquiries with High priests and scholars it has been observed that this ceremony has not been performed in India since the past several years. This ceremony comprises of the Yazashne, Vendidad, Baaj and Afringan in reverence of the following Yazatas.
Teshtar Tir Yazad.
Avan Ardivisur Banu.
Farokh Farvardin.(Arda Fravash).
The Surat D. N. Modi Atashbehram is a prominent fire temple for most Pav Mahal ceremonies. Just as the Iranshah Atashbehram at Udwada is popular as the King of fires, and Navsari is termed as “Dharam ni tekri” or Mantle of religion, so also Surat is the preferred place for all Pav Mahal ceremonies. With due permission of the High priest of Surat, Dastur Noshirwan Manchershah the “Motti” Hamayasht ceremony has already commenced on Shenshahi Roj Adar, Mah Dey, i.e. 26th May 2003.
As per the information collected from senior mobed sahebs of the Atashbehram, the “Nani” Hamayasht ceremony had been performed 40 years ago in the memory of Daulatbanoo Jehangirji Gheewala. The “Motti” Hamayasht which is now being performed will comprise of 144 Yazashne, 144 Vendidad, 144 Afringan and 144 Baaj with the kshnuman of each of the 12 fareshtas (Yazatas) listed above. The expenditure for this will run into lakhs of Rupees. This ceremony is being conducted by a chust Bombay based Zarathushtri by the name of Hoshang Bengali in memory of his dear departed wife Homai. This ceremony will last for 70 days ! The Hamayasht requires 5 pairs of Yaozdathregar mobeds with proper Bareshnum Nahn.
The Mobeds selected for this gigantic task are Ervad Farokh B. Turel, Ervad Noshir B. Turel, Ervad Nairyosang J. Turel, Ervad Faredun J. Turel, Ervad Harvespa A. Sanjana, Ervad Adil A. Sanjana, Ervad Dara J. Bharda, Ervad Zubin P. Rabadi, Ervad Burjor F. Aibara, Ervad Kobad J. Bharda, and Ervad Porus S. Zarolia. These mobeds will perform for 70 days continuously with all tarikats of purity.
We hope and are confident that with the performance of this gigantic religious ceremony our Parsi Zarathushtri brothers and sisters will once again live in happiness, peace, unity and unflinching faith towards our deen and wish that the blessings of all the fareshtas descend on us in plenty to eradicate ahrimanic influences now prevalent with the help of the strong manthravani that emanate from this ceremony.
The trustees of the Modi Atashbehram, Vada Dasturji Saheb of Surat, Naib Dasturji Saheb and the 10 yaozdathregar mobed sahibs performing the ceremony cordially invite one and all humdin of Surat and outside towns, cities, countries to witness this kriya and be fortunate enough to receive the blessings of all the fareshtas and Pak Dadar Ahuramazda.
What is the meaning of the word ‘Sadra’ and why is it so called? Er. Dr. Ramiyar Karanjia explains:
• The word sadra or sudreh is derived from two Persian words sud “beneficial” and reh/rah “path”. Thus, sudreh means “a beneficial path”.
• The sadra is the road map that leads a Zoroastrian towards his duties and obligations of life. These duties and obligations are:
i. To be good
ii. To be responsible
iii. To be mindful of the two forces – good and evil – and work towards increasing the former and decreasing the latter.
iv. To be mindful of the two worlds – the physical and spiritual.
v. To look after the three main creations – plants, animals and minerals.
• These duties are symbolically enshrined in the nine seams (called saandhas in Gujarati) which make up the sadra – 1 gireban, 1 girdo, 2 sleeves, 2 sides and 3 tiris.