Hijacking of Religion

An article in today’s Indian Express speaks about a new universal temple of worship for Zoroastrians, not necessarily Parsis.

This is as close as it gets to the bastardization of religion and the hijacking of culture for personal needs and gains.

For centuries the words Parsis and Zoroastrians were synonymous. But apparently not so. Zoroastrians that fled Islamic persecution in Persia and settled in India became the Parsis. Besides bringing their religion, they also brought their culture and ethnicity. Over the centuries, a lot of that ethnicity mixed with Indian traditions and became a unique mix, different from what it was in ancient Persia, but at the same time not totally Indian.

TImes have changed and the issues facing us Parsis today are manifold. But the solution to those issues is not to disband what has been our culture and ethnicity for 1400 years.

As society changes, people move on and do their own thing. I am of the firm belief that if someone disagrees with tradition and customs and religion, they have a right to go forth and do their own bidding. But that does not mean that they destroy what has been.

The article has some factual errors, especially regarding the dates when Parsis landed on the shores of India.

I rest my case……but only for now !!

ps….the Wadias mentioned in the article bear no relation to me whatsoever…thank God for that.

UPDATE:

08.26.2005 06:20 PM DesiPundit refers to this post in their daily round-up

08.26.2005 1:19 PM Sepia Mutiny blogs on this topic here

Read the article…

On Prophet’s birthday, new fire temple shakes 500 years of exclusivity

In a Colaba flat, a ‘universal agiary’ is thrown open to all faiths by reformist Parsis. This is no fire temple, only a cult movement: Traditionalists

Farah Baria Mumbai, August 25:

As far as birthday celebrations go, the event was pretty irreverent, but the timing couldn’t be better.

On Khordad Sal, Prophet Zarathustra’s birthday, a group of Parsis quietly inaugurated a new ‘‘universal agiary’’ or Fire Temple in a Colaba apartment.

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It was for the first time in the community’s history a temple was thrown open to non-Parsis.

Almost a hundred people, both Parsis and non-Parsis, turned up for the agiary’s jashan and the humbandagi—traditional prayers recited strictly for and by Parsis.

And supporting the move were script writer Sooni Taraporevala and Smita Godrej Crishna, sister of industrialist Jamshyd Godrej.

The “blasphemous” move has shaken over 500 years of self-imposed ethnic exclusivity.

Zoroastrian emigres from Persia who arrived here over six centuries ago, the Parsi community has always been fiercely opposed to cultural integration, preferring to preserve its ‘‘racial purity’’ by prohibiting mixed marriages.

The prophet encouraged conversion, but Parsi women who marry outside the fold are pariahs, debarred from fire temples, from converting their families.

But dwindling numbers—the census recorded 69,601 at last count—have prompted progressive Parsis to adopt a more practical approach, says Kerssie Wadia, a trustee of the radical Association for Revival of Zoroastrianism (ARZ), which spearheaded the universal agiary.

‘‘While the Parsi race could die out in a few decades, we cannot allow our great religion to do the same,’’ says his brother Vispy, also an ARZ trustee.

The solution: Admit non-Parsi spouses and children of community members into the clan. Already, half a dozen Parsi priests have started offering clandestine ritual services at Navjots, marriages and funerals for a sizeable number of ostracised clients.

Now the Wadias hope the new agiary will voice the unspoken aspirations of 40 per cent of Parsis who married outside the clan.

The brothers—both businessmen—insist their movement has no personal agenda: All six trustees of the ARZ are married to true-blue Parsis. ‘‘Its a welcome and long overdue event’’ says Jehangir Patel, ‘‘reformist’’ editor of Parsiana, the community’s moderate journal.

Crishna, a founder member of the Association of Intermarried Zoroastrians (AIMZ), says: ‘‘Zarathustra wanted his devotees to spread his gospel to the four corners of the Earth. Now, at last, our religion will be followed as the prophet preached.’’

Predictably, not everyone is happy. ‘‘To begin with, the term fire-temple is a misnomer for what can, at best, only be a prayer hall,’’ says Zoroastrian scholar Khojeste Mistree.

He explains that an agiary can only be consecrated by the highest echelons of the clergy, after three weeks of rituals. ‘‘Needless to say, a group of renegade priests officiating in a cult movement certainly don’t qualify.’’

‘‘Our race has always been synonymous with our religion,’’ argues Adi Doctor, editor of the right-wing Parsi Voice. ‘‘Unfortunately, our so-called liberals want to have their cake and eat it too.’’

13 Comments

  1. arZan August 25, 2005

    raven

    The situation in karachi is very different from the one in Bombay. Well let me backtrack..it is and it is not !!

    There is a sizeable population in Bombay…55,000+. I think the population in Karachi is in the few thousands if at all.

    I dont have a solution. I am equally frustrated and confused by the scenario. But I know for sure that changing things just because someone wants it is not the solution.

    All throughout history, people who tended to differ from the religious and cultural practises from the current at that time, went their own way and started their version of religion. Hence we have a dozen or more sects of Christianity, Judaism and even Islam.

    In the case of Parsis, the numbers are small and hence that is a negative. The people who want to make the changes, do not want to go all out and set up their own infrastructure…fire temples et al. They want to take what is existing and change it, just because they dont agree to it.

    That is my gripe. If they really believe in what they want, who stops them from going out and starting on their own.

    Actually come to think of it, this universal temple may be the first step in that direction. The Parsis will rid themselves of peole who dont agree with the customs and rituals of the current times, and those who remain will make the faith stronger.

    Historically the Parsis have never exceeded 125,000 in India. In the 1980 census, if i am not mistaken, the numbers were 85000, and now they are 69000, hence I wouldnt raise too many alarm bells about it. We have always been a small community and we are happy with it. Its not the numbers that matter, its what those numbers do…that is important.

  2. raven August 25, 2005

    What is the solution then? The large Parsi community in Karachi faces similar problems: choosing between faith and marriage outside the community. What’s your view?

  3. Sakshi August 26, 2005

    Arzan,

    Cant argue with what you say…cause you know better about your religion.

    Though i have one question :

    Why are WOMEN who marry Parsis men NOT excepted as a part of the Parsi religion? I mean if the women is ready to convert to Zoroastrianism…then whats the problem ??

    In todays world…when more and more inter-caste marriages are taking place..dont you think some adjustments need to be made ???

    Just image the poor women’s plight…tomm when her kids marry in the fire temple…she would not be allowed there cause she is her is a NON-PARSI !!!

  4. arZan August 26, 2005

    Sakshi

    There is no conversion within Parsis. You can only be born one. I agree that there is a certain hypocrisy, that children of Parsi fathers are considered Parsi, but not of Parsi mothers.

    Also wedding generally dont happen inside the fire temple. Where did u hear that one? They happen in the open and anyone and everyone cann see and participate.

  5. Sakshi August 26, 2005

    Oppps ! i made a mistake there.

    But what about when the family visits the Fire Temple during birthdays..etc…the non-parsi women who is now married to a Parsi man is expected to stay out of the temple.

    I just dont understand the sense of it !!!

  6. arZan August 26, 2005

    Yes thats the hypocrisy I am referring to. I dont agree with it.

  7. vish September 11, 2005

    Has anyone considered a sort of a compact, that would encourage all traditional parsis to have more children (for eg. three-five children per couple)?

    A religion/sect whose adult members believe that children are an inconvenience/liability (by their actions if not words), why do you think it deserves to exist?

    One commenter/poster said something like: It is OK if Zoroastrians don’t exist, but ZOroastrianism must live on!

    That will be impossible. If Zoroastrians don’t exist:
    1. Many of the traditions will die off or be modified beyond recognition.
    2. Zoroastrianism will become an ossified ex-religion, with rules and rituals but no practitioners.
    3. Zoroastrianism will have no defenders with any personal stake. In effect, if a pseudo-scholar on Zoroastrianism determines that all its religious practices were the “delusions of a sex-starved prophet”, it will become accepted fact, 25 yrs after the slander.

    But, why should all this matter anyway? How does it matter to Zoroastrians if their religion’s glories are never spoken of again, if they don’t have children to speak its glories?

  8. arZan September 12, 2005

    Vish

    There is infact a scheme in place where Parsis with three or more kids are given an allowance of about 1000 Rs per child per month, by the Bombay Parsi Panchayat.

  9. Siloo Kapadia October 7, 2005

    Reading the above article and many of the opinions I am shocked to see that such backward, antiquated thinking still exists in the community. Really, you people are worse than Al Qaida! At least the Muslim fundamentlaists welcome everybody. More like Naziism to me.

    Simple fact: change or dye out.

  10. arZan October 7, 2005

    Siloo

    Read the article again.

    If you want to change, go your own way !! No one is stopping you.

    And it would have been great if you could at least put forth a legitimate arguement, instead of a very cliched line asking me to change or “dye” ??? out

  11. Devraj Manik March 18, 2006

    Zoroastrinism is the oldest monothestic religion it influenced many religion in the world and it is also the most scientific religion in the world and I think that you people should spread the message of Zoroastrinism because if you dont I am sorry your people most scientific religion would be extinct and I also have so many friends who want to convert to zoroatrinism and in India there is a freedom of faith religion expression

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