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Preserve or perish

Traditions can either tug us back into the past or pave our way into the future. The fire temple is a prime example of such duality. From ancient times Zoroastrianism instructs us to create fire temples near where we reside. Thus we have agiaries and dadgahs in cities, towns and even villages where Zoroastrians stay or once stayed. Zoroastrian associations in the West have managed with much effort and ingenuity to create centers of worship as close as possible to their abodes. They do not have or need full-time priests. Volunteers fill in as required. The priests have a source of income outside the priesthood. Thus they are not dependent on the community.

Similar to India, the devotees are few and far between. People visit and pray when they feel like doing so. In Singapore, Zoroastrians can swipe a card to open the quaint prayer hall in the heritage district of the city, light a fire/divo, pray and depart. This year, for the first time ever, muktad prayers were held as the Parsi Zoroastrian Association of Singapore has made this service possible.

Aside from prayers, the community centers abroad are used for get-togethers, religious classes, social events, navjotes, weddings and funerary prayers. All are welcome although in the room where the afargan is placed entry may be restricted to Zoroastrians. At the Seventh World Zoroastrian Youth Congress (see "We cannot stand still," pg 22) inclusion was praised, the topic of same-sex marriages and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer community were spoken of as acceptable. The chair of the Congress, Parshan Khosravi, spoke at the inauguration about "realizing the need for our community to uplift and empower each other, about accepting that love is love no matter who it is that we love...about realizing that we as a community are stronger when our women lead."

The trustees/managing committees of the associations ensure the community centers are utilized to the maximum. At the inauguration of the Bhandara Atash Kadeh in Houston on March 21, 2019 the Udvada High Priest, Dastur Khurshed Dastoor, exhorted the gathering "Use the Atash Kadeh more and more every day. Do jashans on every Behram roz and maachis on every occasion" (see "Hail Houston," Parsiana April 21-May 6, 2019).

In India, there is a desire to preserve religious institutions, fire temples, dakhmas, aramgah lands, but not necessarily the same degree of effort is expended to enhance their utilization.

The news that the Supreme Court of India had permitted the trustees of the Doongaji Agiary in Bharuch to shift the adarian fire to the recently constructed agiary in New Bombay should have been a cause for celebration. Instead of languishing without devotees in an inaccessible nook of Bharuch, the fire would now be worshipped by the growing Parsi population in New Bombay, around 25 km from Bombay. The dadgah fire would continue to burn in Bharuch.

But instead of cheer there was dismay amongst the traditionalists. Blogger Jehangir Bisney wrote, "Once the precedent is set, fires from different adarian sahebs will be shifted like pieces of furniture." Hanoz Mistry, one of the editors of the traditionalist The Parsee Voice electronic newsletter, stated that "while shifting the fire in a vehicle the ground contact is lost...For this reason a metal chain is attached which drags along the ground... By doing this we are bringing the passerby in direct contact with the atash padshah saheb... And remember on the streets the passerby may be a juddin, a woman in period, etc."

As for the shifting of the Iranshah from place to place in former centuries, Mistry stated the fire "was not consecrated like other atashs. It was brought down directly from the Ninth Heaven (and) the journey from Sanjan, Bahrot to Vansda was carried out through an underground tunnel by foot."

One of the litigants opposing the shift of the fire from Bharuch, Percy Hansotia, claimed when the Iranshah was shifted from Navsari to Valsad, the flooded Par River parted "making a pathway for the mobeds to walk through" while the fire "miraculously floated in air."

When it was announced that the Boyce Dhunapatel Agiary in Tardeo would not permit electricity in the premises, even via solar panels, the traditionalists rejoiced. That the elderly, disabled and nearsighted would thereby hesitate to go to the fire temple to avoid grievous falls was of lesser concern.

Traditionalists prefer to have fire temples bereft of devotees rather than see them defiled by interfaith married Parsi Zoroastrian women and their offspring. They would prefer to let dakhmas and the surrounding lands lie unused rather than permit burial on the plot. That sentiment could be understood if all such institutions could be maintained. But as remarked Ahmedabad Parsi Panchayat chairman Brig Jahangir Anklesaria (retd) at The Federation of the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjumans of India meeting in Ahmedabad on July 20 and 21, 2019 when referring to the nearly eight-acre doongerwadi plot in Khambat, it is "used for everything that is illegal or dirty or unofficial (see ‘Who governs? – II,’ pg 26)."

In the case of the Doongaji fire and the Metro tunnel under a portion of the H. B. Wadia Atash Behram, the courts ruled in favor of shifting the fire and permitting the tunnel. But could not the correct, common sense decision in the greater interests of the temple and the city have been taken by the community and not the courts? Around eight to 10 people die daily while commuting on the existing suburban railway network. The Doongaji Agiary is reportedly not even frequented once a year by devotees. Did anyone opposing the shift arrange a pilgrimage to the place? Was a bus hired to take traditionalists to the out of the way agiary across a treacherous, uneven walking path? Why hold onto what you cannot utilize or spend precious community funds to maintain unused and unusable assets? Why block development of assets that can be put to better use such as the decaying Parsi Lying-In Hospital or the vacant grounds of The B. D. Petit Parsee General Hospital?

With our shrinking population and limited resources, we need to reassess our priorities and salvage what little we can.



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This editorial should be reprinted, along with a Gujarati translation and distributed to every Parsi household in the country and diaspora. It is an excellent yet brief and over-polite summary of what ails our community, and should hopefully enlighten the individuals to see the fallacy of these "traditionalist" arguments and myths!<br>"the flooded Par River parted "making a pathway for the mobeds to walk through" while the fire 'miraculously floated in air.'" I wonder who played the role of parting that river?
- Yezdyar Kaoosji
- 21-Aug-2019

 

Villoo Poonawalla