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The rationalization of rites

  1. Keep aside the fears that the pav mahal (higher liturgical) ceremonies may cease to be performed in the future; there are now doubts whether even the routine boi ceremony, mandated five times a day at each adarian and atash behram, will continue. 
  2. The editors of the traditionalist, online The Parsee Voice alleged that when they visited the Dadysett Atash Behram at Fanaswadi at 12.40 a.m. on April 30, 2024 they found "to our utter dismay no boiwalla turned up to perform the mandatory boi ritual” where wood is fed to the consecrated fire with requisite prayers. They visited again on May 1: "This time again no show till 1.30 a.m… So far we had only read about these lapses occurring in certain agiaries but this was a personal experience and that too at an atash behram.”
  3. Dadysett Charity Trust trustee Behram Ardeshir responded angrily online stating he was "most distressed at the manner in which this matter was presented on social media.” At our request he sent Parsiana a copy of the letter signed by four boiwallas of the Atash Behram which "adequately explains the situation.” The priests stated, "We unanimously would like to clarify that the Ushahin gah (boi)…as per the practice is conducted between 1.30 a.m.-2.30 a.m. (and the concerned boiwalla) was wide awake at 1.30 and was getting ready for the farajyat (the basic prayers recited before performing the boi ceremony).” The preparations and the ceremony combined for each boi can take on an average anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour depending on the dedication and speed with which the priest recites the Atash Nyaish and the number of times the prayer is repeated.
  4. There is a dearth of mobeds to service the 50 plus agiaries in Bombay and possibly 100 elsewhere. In some fire temples there may be only one priest employed. Can one expect him to be on duty 24 hours a day, performing five boi ceremonies at an interval of four to five hours each, 365 days of the year? If, in addition, he has to perform the chahram prayers on the final day of funerary ceremonies which start around 3.30 a.m how would he cope? Even the bereaved family, having put aside their domestic, commercial and professional commitments in the preceding days to attend to the time consuming prayer schedule, have to face the fourth day, with all their pending chores and responsibilities, groggy and fatigued. 
  5. At the Langrana Agiary in the Fort area, an allegation was levied that a behdin pasbaan — a lay person trained in the rudiments of priestly duties — had performed a boi ceremony. Amongst the objections raised was this should not have occurred in Bombay where mobeds could have been engaged. The Ranji Agiary at Falkland Road has reportedly temporarily shut its doors to devotees as there is no priest or assistant (chasniwalla) present (see "Ranji’s survival,” pg 26). Priests from the Cama Baug Agiary visit to perform the boi ceremony. 
  6. In Lonavala, the panthaky expired and his mobed son manages the two fires housed there. Can one expect him to perform 10 boi ceremonies a day? He and the trustees are in search of an assistant priest. Will they find one?
  7. A priest commutes between Bharuch and Ankleshwar to perform the boi ceremony at both places. In Bharuch, some time ago, a single priest serviced four agiaries engaging an autorickshaw from place to place. Could he possibly perform 20 bois a day? 
  8. What will happen when the number of practicing priests further declines due to age, illness, death or the disinclination of the next generation to take up the profession? To expect priests to perform ceremonies day and night is not only impractical but also inhuman. 
  9. People who are employed in offices, factories, homes, hospitals or other institutions and professions may work round the clock in an emergency or if a deadline is to be met. But certainly not 365 days of the year! The Shops and Establishments Act, the Factories Act, all specify the number of hours a person may be required to work. A weekly off is mandatory. Minimum wages and overtime hours and rates are specified. The employee is entitled to an annual increment. If a specific number of people are employed, provident fund, medical insurance, pension, gratuity are prescribed by law. The more enlightened employers will extend the maximum benefits to ensure the employees remain with the concern.
  10. Priests receive almost none of these statutory benefits. They are almost on par with domestics or gig (temporary) workers as far as any rights or privileges are concerned. No doubt the priesthood is defined as a calling but it is one to which fewer and fewer people are answering. When The Federation of the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India started the paramobed scheme to instruct lay people in priestly duties around 40 years ago, the response was tepid. How many recruits the current behdin pasbaan program attracts is to be ascertained.
  11. Lay people talk of enticing newcomers to mobedi and retaining the old by dangling monetary incentives, which may, or sadly may not, materialize. Few talk of making the profession more meaningful, interesting, challenging or worthwhile. A priest employed in a fire temple may spend a good part of the day alone or with an assistant at most. If he is lucky, two or three devotees may stop by at odd times. For the Dadysett incident, the party that had commissioned a maachi at the time of boi was reportedly not present. Such absence may be demotivating and disheartening to the priest who ordinarily also has to cope with a minuscule, and often disinterested assembly. At religious ceremonies, attendees chatting amongst themselves or scrolling through mobile phones is the norm. 
  12. How does one change this dismal scenario? Firstly, the priests have to ensure their existing athornan bodies are more active in furthering their cause. Most priestly organizations are moribund. Allowing for the shrinking community numbers, the priests should specify which ceremonies and prayers, if any, need to be modified and streamlined. And then they need to engage with the laity as to why these changes are necessary. A consensus is necessary if both the priests and the rituals are to survive. 

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I wish to convey my heartiest congrtulations to the Editor of Parsiana for a beautifully crafted and articulated editorial in the issue dated May 21 - June 6.
Most of our jounals emphasise the glorious past. What we need is a discussion on the preent crisis and ways and means to overcome it. This editorial focuses on one of the issues facing the community today.
I would like to read of many such comments in the future. We need discussion and above all else a clear direction to follow.
I shall be pleased to read editorial comments on, for example; mixed marriages - why are they on the increas?,navjotes of the offspring of such unions, why are we so gainst them?Conversion/adoption. Even after ALL head priests at the time of the trial of the Navjote of the FRench wife of Rattan Tata, observed that conversion is an essential part of our religion, why are so many against it, over a hundred years after this event? And mny more such matters
- Yezad Kapadia
- 01-Jun-2024


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