Rayomand Coins

Mirza’s mantle

The refusal by the new, additional high priest of Udvada, Dastur Tehemton Mirza to either grant an interview to Parsiana or answer in writing an emailed questionnaire, is disturbing and disappointing. At a time when the priesthood is going through a crisis, bold leadership is critical for its survival. He could have helped shed light on how the priesthood can navigate the many obstacles and adversities it faces. As a hands-on priest who serves on the managing committee of the Udvada Athornan and Samast Anjumans, he could possibly offer innovative ideas and solutions. The 43-year-old shares the priestly post with the more experienced and worldly wise Dastur Khurshed Dastoor.
While refusing a face-to-face interview, Mirza had initially agreed to respond to questions in writing. Parsiana drew up a list of 22 questions which we believed would accurately gauge his views on crucial issues facing both the community and the clergy. These included: Will you try and create a forum to bring all the dasturs together? If dasturs give differing opinions, how will these be resolved? You took up secular jobs before becoming a full-time priest. What made you opt for the priesthood? Do you have any regrets about taking up mobedi? Would you counsel/advise youngsters to take up mobedi? Why are youngsters from athornan families not taking up mobedi? What is lacking? What are your views on women becoming mobedyars in Iran and North America? Should women be permitted to become mobedyars in India? If not, why not? Should the marriage blessings be conferred on interfaith couples? Around 15% of Parsi corpses in Bombay are cremated. Should their funeral prayers be recited in fire temples? Should non-Parsis be permitted to attend a jashan or a gahanbar, funeral ceremonies, etc.
But after receiving the questions, Mirza shied away from answering them. No doubt the queries raised are a veritable landmine for even a seasoned high priest to tackle. For a neophyte, inexperienced high priest they would be daunting. 
 Normally high priests are reticent to speak to the Press. This is understandable. They are always worried their words may be twisted to discredit them or to espouse a particular cause. But a written question and answer format leaves less room for manipulation, misinterpretation, half-truths and lies to be disseminated.
Perhaps Mirza sought counsel and was advised against voicing his views on controversial subjects. Whatever the reason, he forsook an opportunity to provide leadership and guidance when it is most needed.
He, however, did tell the daily mid-day of February 12, 2024 that he sees his "responsibility” as high priest as an opportunity "to serve Iranshah and our Udvada Anjuman by managing its affairs as per its constitution.” Perhaps he envisions his new position mainly as a titular, ceremonial, liturgical and spiritual one, above the day-to-day controversies and frays. Whether he restricts his parish to Udvada is to be seen. His counterpart, Dastoor, addresses audiences all over the world and is a much sought after speaker. That Mirza spoke to mid-day is a sign that he is not averse to reaching out to a larger audience.
Perhaps fearing Mirza may waver from the traditionalist path, the editors of the orthodox, online, erratically published The Parsee Voice had sent him a congratulatory message, noting, "It is our fervent prayer and hope that you continue on the same path of protecting and preserving our deen (religion) and its holy institutions as your forefathers have before you.” 
But how much of the deen is left to preserve? Our fire temples are bereft of worshippers, 50% of Parsi marriages in Bombay are outside the faith, a dearth of priests plagues the community, community funds are drying up (the Bombay Parsi Punchayet is unable to pay subsidies to priests). It would have been beneficial to get Mirza’s perspective on these and other crucial subjects. 
His silence was all the more disheartening following the expectations raised at the conclave held last October 8 when leading priests and some concerned lay people discussed threadbare the crisis facing the priesthood (see "Let us start,” Parsiana, December 7-20, 2023). Extracts from the half-day Sunday morning session were posted on YouTube by Mazda Multimedia for all to see. It was a historic event. For the first time the community was afforded an opportunity to view the clergy enunciating their difficulties, thoughts and approaches. 
Over the years, Parsiana has had an ambivalent relationship with the high priests. We have criticized them when they disparaged the children of interfaith marriages or their parents. We have decried their refusal to permit prayers for those who opt for alternative means to dakhmenashini for disposal of the dead. We have labeled some of their outlooks bigoted, racist and sexist. But our personal relations for the most part have remained cordial.  
Dastur (Dr) Kaikhusroo JamaspAsa assisted Parsiana gratis in mid-1978 when we decided to bring out a book of Iranian names. Dastur (Dr) Hormazdyar Mirza and Ervads Jamshed Katrak (the latter compiled the names) and (Dr) Peshotan Peer assisted. Dastur (Dr) Firoze Kotwal shares his considerable knowledge on Zoroastrianism and the priesthood every time Parsiana approaches him and refuses any payment for his valuable inputs. Dastoor also enlightens us on various issues when approached. Other priests too respond favorably, not least among them being Ervad (Dr) Ramiyar Karanjia, principal of the Dadar Athornan Institute.
Perhaps in the months and years to come and before it is too late Tehemton Mirza may emerge from the shadows and assert his presence. Till then all we can do is book a maachi at Iranshah and wait. 


Villoo Poonawalla