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What does it mean to me to be a Zarathushti?[i]


















At the off set I am neither a good writer, an orator nor a scholar on religious matters including our Zarathushti Deen.  However, like every individual, I too am having my views, opinions, suggestions etc., and I take the liberty of expressing them.

Whatever I am about to express are my own views and some of the views of others with whom I have been agreeing from time to time.

Born in a Zarathushti family, means a lot to me as it would to any Zarathushti. My grandparents from both sides, paternal and maternal were pious minded, simple people.  Thus I was brought up in a very peace loving and lovable atmosphere.   During child hood, I was attracted towards our deen was mainly to have the Navjote Ceremony performed with whatever pomp affordable by my family. Because on that day one got to wear beautiful dress, new shoes, etc., a band playing and all dinned and enjoying.  I am sure we all as Z-children felt this way. Learning to pray for the initiation day was equally exciting as in those days, Mobed came home to teach us (sister and me).

However, the seeds of utmost love for the Z-Deen were sowed in my school life, a boarding school in a picturesque place called Panchagani!  Our Principals whom we addressed as Mummaji and Pappaji[ii] who were Zoroastrianism personified! In school we prayed 6 times a day.  During Muktad our Mummaji read some paragraphs from the Avasta book were repeated by us.  She would then translate the meaning of what we prayed in Gujarati sometimes with good examples or stories.  Her personality was so enchanting and attracting that I too felt like emulating her. Thus during entire schooling for 7 years, from Standard I to VII (later regarded as IV to XII) I eulogized and dreamt about becoming a Zarthosthrian Nun or Jogan if the religion so permitted. I began asking questions why Parsi ladies couldn’t renounce their worldly lives and lead a life of seclusion and pray to God all the time?

Thus without fully knowing or understanding the depth of the religion I loved it.  As I later found out that it is in my nature to love all religions and admire every deity!  No sooner I was out of the school, which was a very protective life, I was thrown to the open world of College, commuting alone in buses and trains!  I was scared to death.  I would wait at the bus stop for hours but would not venture to board it for fear of being pushed or abused. And my mom would scream at me! She told me to be bold and to learn the knack of getting around such situations. At that very innocent and raw age I met my life-partner.  Well I was fully aware of the norm that Parsis could not and should not marry non-Parsis.  I was also aware that my parents and all relatives would be dead against if I thought on such a line.  Hence, I did keep my self away from thinking in that direction.  BUT with malice towards none, during that impressive age and enveloped in the thought of pious, undiluted love, I was always put off by the behavior and language of our Parsi lads!  I was not used to listening to such abusive language! Well you may debate that all communities use abusive language too! True, that may be, but I did not come across such non-Z lads who misbehaved or spoke abusive words! And on meeting this non-Z lad with polite behavior and respect towards all lady members, we became friendly and friendship began to blossom into love and he enquired if I too was so inclined?  At that time, I told him my views that in our religion we are not allowed to even think about any alliance with non-Z boys and I cannot commit anything.  To that he explained to me that our meeting often even as friends was not right especially for me as I was a female! Moving around without definite purpose and calling each other just friends would not be taken in the right sense by the world!  So he told me that we should part company and ONLY if I decided otherwise should we continue meeting.  A week passed without meeting each other and at that time I kept on thinking what I should do. I had begun to like him very much and he was not the only person I had met. There were other friends, I was a member of the Parsee Youth Collegian Association and went to various functions including picnics etc. with Z-boys who were quite nice too. But my mind and heart kept going back to my non-Z friend and a great tussle went on in my mind. Should I commit myself to him or not? I wanted to have the cake and eat it too!  The idea of his entering into relationship with another girl of his community tormented me. I did not want to give him up.  Finally, I took solace in prayers and guidance from Daadar Ahuramazda! “Please God tell me what I should do?”  Because I knew myself that if I gave word to someone I would keep it.  I had a very stubborn streak in me. I recollected stories of Parsi girls marrying non-Parsi boys and what had happened to them, some marriages had broken-up, some were successful and may be one or two led to suicide! I also compared him with other Parsi lads and somehow he came out successful.  So I approached him and we both decided to go along thick and thin no matter what happened.  He trusted my decision because if I changed my mind he would land in trouble as he could be taken to court or jailed etc. The rest is history.  After a long courtship of 10 years we finally got married with the blessings of my dear departed ‘Bapaiji’ (father’s mother)!        Sometimes, old orthodox people have more sense! One of the conditions, in fact, the only condition from my side was that I would not discard my religious symbol of Sudre-Kushti, and I’ll say my prayers and go to the Fire Temple where he, my partner could not accompany me ever!  He consented and said,” but you are invited and welcomed to our ‘Mandir’ as and when you wish.” When children came, my mother and me taught them Z-prayers such as, Yatha Ahu…. Ashem Vohu.., 101 names, etc. They were religiously praying morning and evening as my husband liked to light diya (divo) twice in a day i.e. morning before going to work and evening before dinner. We all assembled near the pooja area where the picture frame of Zarthosht Saheb and Sai Baba and mini statues of other Gods and Goddesses were decorated. Children were taught to respect all religions and to bow as and when they saw any firetemples, mandirs, masjids, etc.

I thought life was too good. We all prayed together and stayed together. My children developed too much love for Z-religion and they too like me began to dream of Navjote !  In  this matter although I secretly craved for them to be initiated into Zarathushti Deen I did not lift up my head as in those days early 70s I  was not aware of such initiation taking place.  My husband was quiet on the subject too so I let it pass.  However, when my children were born, I took all my new born to fire temple after the regular ritual of completing 40 days and taking ‘nahan’ given by family dastoorji at home. I placed the babies before Atash Ked and rubbed little ‘rakhia’ (white ash) on their foreheads.  I do not know whether I committed a sin by doing this but I felt that just like the children of Parsi couple who till the age of 7 or 8 were allowed to be taken to the fire-temple before initiating in the deen, I  too felt that my children, who too were  till that  age,  were pure of mind and body there was no harm in taking them to see and understand the rites and rituals of our  deen.  The same we did by taking them to other places of worship too!

Here came the turning point in the life of my children.  One day I was praying with my youngest child (7 year old son), sitting in front of the Atash as my son always liked to sit on the carpet and feel closeness of the Atash and watch its flames, I was praying from the book and he was repeating after me.  Suddenly, my son got up  and I thought that he was going to fetch a book too or something like that, and did  not  turn round to see.  But after several minutes passed and he had not returned I got up to look for him. I asked my mom who too was present but sitting on a bench and praying.  She too did not know where he had gone.  Then we began to look for him in the entire premises of Agiyari but could not find him.  I sent one of my nephews to go home and see in case he had a sudden nature’s call!  Yes, he had gone home but not for the reason I thought of.  He was crying and when I asked him the reason he told me that he will never enter a fire-temple and that he hated  this religion and that the priests were very  rude and cruel.  I learnt, that one of the priests signaled him out and told him to “get out” and never to enter  the fire temple as he was not Zarathushti! It took me some time to calm him down and explain him not to hate any religion just because someone was rude or insulting.

Luckily, my children love Zarathushtra Saheb so much that they always have round their neck pendent of Asho Frovhar and also Zarathushtra. And whenever they start any work or have to appear for exams or interviews, they say” Khashnothra Ahuromazda”!

The above feelings are my YESTERDAY’S views and thoughts.

From 7th February 2005 my thinking about practicing our religion has undergone a little change, no, do not read me wrong I have not lost faith or devotion but am able to pray with more concentration and in place of praying a lot without concentration I have limited  my time and prayers to the shortest period but with utmost devotion.  Before, I got up in-between for some pretext or other. My mind wandered and only at the end of the prayers when I had to ask dua I was all attention and had a big list!!!!  But my dua also included “please Daadar Ahuramazda help my friends, well-wishers, neighbors, colleagues, countrymen, citizen, relatives and people of the world” “let there be joy and peace on earth, let there be no floods, no fights, no wars no draughts nor killings.

The sudden change and concentration I acquired after attending the 10 days Vipassana course where one learns the technique of practicing the truth in its entirety!!  So far I, as a Zarthoshti, was basking in the laurel of our tenets “Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds” which in itself are the most comprehensive and beautiful words given to the people of the world and which have been repeated or propagated by the religions that followed sooth.  But how to practice the Good Thoughts??  Since the thoughts are generated in the mind, one has to control the mind, which in its turn would enable us to have good thoughts free from aversions or cravings or desires!!  In short   I saw the futility of praying without concentration. Now I have begun reciting one verse from the Gathas daily.  Thus I read one verse with its meaning as given in a book sent to me by Mrs. Marukh Shroff from Mumbai.  This way I understand what I am praying and I am   also able to concentrate on that small piece of prayer.  Thereafter, I wish for every being to share in my Peace, Love, Harmony, etc. This meditation enables us to remove layers of hatred, cravings or desires accumulated in the body since our birth.  It is going to  take time but that is the aim of meditation, i.e. to liberate one self from the bondage of suffering, misery, etc.

I too once belonged to the traditional thinkers since I was brought up in that community. As I said before except to learn to pray and perform the Navjote ceremony I had no in-depth knowledge of the Deen.[iii]  I would have died in that belief had it not been my good fortune to go on the Internet and be a member of the CreatingAwareness Zoroastrian alias, where I read views and suggestions of the eminent members of the List.  I realized that it was not Zarthushtra who had drawn line over accepting outsiders into the Deen but it was a man made, say the Priest made rule!! I read Farida Bamji’s poems which cried out loud and clear that ours is a religion of choice and those who chose to become Zarthoshti were welcomed!! Later I read the views of scholars like Dr. Jafarey,[iv]  Dina McIntyre,[v] including the newly initiated Ron DeLaVega,[vi] etc. In fact, every member had something intelligent to say. Thus I became involved and began to put in my thoughts however naďve they may be.  I realized the folly of being adamant on the idea of non-acceptance of other human beings into our faith.  I wish many more realize their follies too!! The other inspiring list members are, Mr. Mehr Amalsad,[vii] Mr. Shariari Shariari,[viii] Mr. Behram Pastakia, Mrs. Aban Rustomji,[ix] Mrs. Magdalena Rustomji[x] and the most silent but eloquent, Mr. Virasp Mehta through his Ushao emailed newsletter posted monthly contains wealth of excellent topics, stories, etc.  Please do not mistake me if few names are left out because all members are good in their own views and suggestions and hats off to all.

This I would say is “what does it mean to be a Zarthoshti” to me. But NOW   I love to be known as a good human being,  first because I too,  like some of my friends believe that Religions are nothing but divisible forces! Within ones own religion also there are divisions, e.g., traditionalists and modernists, Parsis and Iranis, Shias and Sunnis, Brahimins and the untouchables!!!!!!   If Zarthosht Saheb or any other Prophet were to learn about such division, I am sure they would have abstained from preaching or propagating their beliefs to human beings. People also believe that in the name of the religion (dharma) one can kill others and yet attain Heavenly abode!!!! Thus it is better to be called a Good human being, a Good citizen of the world and not of a particular place or country or religion!!  I too at first was averse towards any (era-gera) joining our faith.  But now I do not think so.  From the List I have read about the initiation of scores of Brazilians due to the efforts of few dedicated but true followers of Zarthosht’s teachings!! Truly these are the true sons of God!!  This brings us to the recently debated questions. “ Is there God? Is there life after death?”  I think there has to be some supernatural power, some force which runs this universe and the planets etc.  Otherwise, why do we cry out in joy or pain, “thank you God for protecting me from such an such situation,” or “ Oh!  God! , only you could have performed such a miracle” etc. As for life after death, each one to his or her belief.  It depends on what we have read, heard, etc. We have to pay for our deeds and how we do not know.

If, as a lay person, I am allowed to give a piece of advise, I would say let us live in peace and harmony no matter to what faith we belong by choice or force.  Let us all be compassionate towards all fellow-beings no matter what colour or creed. Apart from religion, there is one other reason for dividing people and that is the language! I read somewhere that if the language of a place or country is common it helps in steadying the thoughts and actions of the people. As an example, the State of Kerala was sited where all speak Malayalam language.  Whether people of the State are Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. There are no hundred percent claims to this fact but partly it’s a palatable thought.

“ I have had an avalanche of emails from different sources and with different opinions. The ones who are very strongly opposed to conversion and the others bent on spreading our religion by conversions.  I do my part in educating others about Zoroastrian religion just as a matter of interest.  When I got married I made it very clear to my in-laws that I will not convert to another religion.   By following their own faiths, couples can enlighten each other discussing the messages given by their own individual prophets.  All religions lead to same one God and Unity, why then this turmoil? If one is not faithful to one's birth religion what makes people so sure that they would remain faithful to their adopted (via conversion) religion?  Again, I believe, it is always beneficial to learn about all religions as a matter of interest and education so we can understand and respect every faith.

World's history shows that more wars have been caused because of religions or people's intolerance of matters pertaining to religions.  This is not what the prophets teach us and I am sure this is not Lord Ahuramazda wants His children to do.  Parsis in India have always been perceived as peaceful and pleasant people.  Now all of a sudden there are great divisions within our own precious community over religion, because those who have become westernized want to exercise their will on breaking traditions of our community, and those who feel strongly that purity of bloodline of Parsis/Zoroastrians should not be diluted through intermarriages or conversions.   I am sure all parties have good intentions and all speak from their own experiences.

Yes, it hurts when I go to India and I can't go to the fire temple or attend a friend's funeral sitting with other women inside at dungarwadi.  But that's the choice I  made when I married outside the religion.  It is my choice also to respect the traditions of our community in India.

And Zarathushtra gave us the freedom to choose but with it also comes the responsibility and consequences.  Is it fair that men get different preferences than women in our community? For example, children of mixed marriages, where father is a Parsi, can be initiated in our religion (e.g. Tata family) but a woman choosing a mate outside of our faith is considered to be almost an outcast and her children are not allowed to be Zoroastrians, by tradition.  No, it is not fair, but in patriarchal societies that is the norm and instead of getting all stressed out, I just stay out of the commotion, do my meditations, say my prayers, and live a healthy life doing what I can to follow the teachings of our Prophet Zoroaster.  I get as much peace and connection with God praying in my home, on a beach, in the mountains and all religious dwellings, as I used to when I went to Agiyaris, Ateshbehrams and yes, even Iranshah.  On judgment day I want to stand tall and be able to say I tried my best in thinking good thoughts, speaking good words and doing good deeds and if I made mistakes or sinned then I hope through repentance I am forgiven. 

Finally, it all comes down to karmic burdens we carry throughout life times.  It's the principle of cause and effect.  What we sow we will reap then why not keep it simple and concentrate on our own lives and live in peace.”

The above paragraphs under the quotation marks are the views expressed by a friend who wishes to remain anonymous. Since she has put the thoughts in such lucid language I have with her permission copied here to incorporate in my write-up as the same are after my heart.