Saturday, February 4, 2012

Response to the speech delivered by Ms. Shahin Bakhradnia

From: Pervin Mistry
Sent: Wednesday, February 01, 2012 6:06 AM
Subject: Re: Response to the speech delivered by Ms. Shahin Bakhradnia

Dear Friends,

Recently, the Association of Intermarried Zoroastrians (AIMZ) and WZO-UK invited a guest speaker, Ms. Shahin Bekhradnia of UK to give a speech on the religious differences between Iran and India. Of course there are differences because in Iran there is no religious freedom and our community has to give in to political pressures and also suffer absolutely unimaginable inhumane persecution since the time of the Arab conquest! This is recorded by many scholars who visited Iran including Prof. Jackson. It is remarkable that our religion survived in Iran throgh the centuries under such trying circumstances. It survived only because our ancestors staunchly followed the mandated tenets which saved our religion and community from many holocausts and destruction of our sacred scriptures! However, it is sad that during the last part of the 20th century our Irani brothers and sisters wished to depart from the age-old customs, traditions, rituals, etc. to please the Muslim oppressors and become more like them in order to be accepted as equals! This attitude has brought about a loss of many valuable traditions, customs and rituals, to preserve which, their own ancestors sealed their fate in blood and some left Iran for other more tolerent countries.

It is to be mentioned again and again that it was only and only in India that the Parsi/Irani immigrants survived as a living, practicing religious community! The other groups who left Iran and went to Europe and the East (China) perished as religious communities because they did not obey the closed door policy and were absorbed into the host cultures and religions! These groups preserved only some social customs but not the religion which was changed to suit their diaspora outside of Iran and which was therefore soon forgotten because altered time and again to suit the changing societal needs. This is a warning to the new diaspora around the world that IF we, as a microscopic community, will not stanuchly adhere to our revealed and mandated rituals, customs, traditions and scriptures we will also become history and follow the fate of the other groups outside of Iran and India remaining "Parsi-Irani Zarathushtis" only in name!

It is very important that our youth do not get carried away by such speeches but know the truth first and then make up their mind. There is no freedom without responsibility and if one generation gives up a ritual or tradition the next does not follow but forgets the particular ritual, custom which was discarded. So please read the response given in purple and do pass it on.

Please do not destroy what we have preserved through countless centuries, through obedience and faith! We do not know the working of the unseen spiritual world and its effects on us and our physical world. We do not commune with Ahura Mazda and have not yet perfected our senses, leave alone our mind which is bound by the two opposing mentalities and is not yet spiritually "enlightened". Therefore, it is not for us to destroy what we do not know! Please stand up and protect your religion from those who wish to change it for the sake of change alone, for modernity! These people do not realize that our religion is already very modern and in keeping with the greatest discoveries of science! The reply is long but the explanation has to be given, from history and from the scriptures!

Thank you all for your patience.

Sincerely,

Pervin J. Mistry

SOME DIFFERENCES IN PRACTICE AND BELIEFS BETWEEN ZARTOSHTIES OF IRAN AND PARSEES.
by Shahin Bekhradnia

Below is the copy of a speech given by Shahin Bekhradnia, President WZO, at a function organized by AIMZ on Wednesday 21st December 2011 in Mumbai.

Mrs. Mistry's rebuttal to this speech is in BLUE.

I would like to start by thanking my kind hosts for inviting me here to address you and for making this forum available for the open but civilized exchange of views. I would like to make it clear from the outset that I am not against rituals – indeed far from it as I adore the pomp, ceremony and pageant of ritual. However, it makes it so much more interesting and effective if they are meaningful to us.

Our rituals are indeed very interesting and meaningful. Many of our Dasturjis know their meaning and many of us listen to their explanations. I am reminded of the saying, "seek and ye shall find". Are today's youth interested in learning about the religion or are most of them intoxicated with the freedom of choice and their rights to do what they think is correct? We need to encourage the youth to attend religious classes and learn the scriptures as well as our history.

Wearing white or green head covers on religious occasions is expected by Zartoshties from Iran and the choice of black hats that many Parsee men don we find contrary to our principles of colour symbolism. Black has always been seen as the colour of Islam and of negative forces so we feel that is is totally inappropriate when men cover their heads with black caps. Similarly it is a matter of some concern in terms of hygiene when we find pious Parsees, undoubtedly full of good intentions, covering their heads with handkerchiefs they fish out of their pockets which are either previously or later seen to be used for their intended nasal functions. No less perplexing is the sight of people covering their heads with their hands, sheets of paper etc. While we realise that these acts are attempts to communicate their religiosity, we do not believe that Ahura Mazda will think of us as lesser humans if we show our respect for the occasion in other ways, even with open heads if we have forgotten our scarves and hats.

At our temples, our doors are open for all who wish to come there. Admittedly there may be some who come with evil intent, but even in these recent years where our community have been particularly vulnerable there have been few reasons to regret this policy. The same goes for the attendance at our All Souls memorial services of Farvardigan just after Novruz and also the gahambar period just before Novruz. Our respect for the souls of the dead is not a selfish closed matter. We empathise with all who have lost their loved ones and we welcome all who with their own free choice have embraced the same way of thinking as ourselves.

In Iran, there are certain restrictions against juddins entering our temples! There is a special door and room set up for juddins who wish to enter the Yazd 'Atash-Behram'! This was so constructed when Queen Farah wanted to go inside! Please note that in Iran there is no freedom of religion as we Parsis know of in India! Not only was this special entrance created but also a special thick red colored glass window was put up from which a juddin, including the Royal family, may gaze at the fire! All this was done at Yazd to protect the direct gaze of a juddin falling upon our fire, as is the custom. For the Zarathushtis, there is another entrance where they may stand and pray close to the kebla directly in front of the fire, as in India!

There are other places too near Yazd, where, if juddins come, they see the fire and go away but the real fire is safe from prying eyes! In Iran, the Parsis cannot do much except to comply with the wish of the Muslim intruder because of persecution! In every temple, there is a photo of Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran's President on either side of the portrait of Asho Zarathushtra. Why not ask the Parsis of India to do the same? Would Miss Bekhradnia? In Iran, there are rules which still discriminate against the 'Zoroastrians'! Hence, to make a blank statement comparing Iran and India is absurd. However, things are changing and these days many Muslims in Iran respect the Zarathushtis and respect our religion too. They respect us for our policy of non-conversion; they do not tolerate the Bahii's because they proselyte the Muslims.

There are temples in India where the Hindus do not permit entry to non-Hindus but also to those who are intermarried! There are mosques wherein the Shi'is and Sunnis do not permit each other to enter and the same with the orthodox and reformist Jews regarding entry into their synagogues! Areas within the Vatican's St. Peter's are also banned to those not designated to enter! We are not unique in not permitting juddins to enter our consecrated places of worship. We have our religious rules and many of us obey these age-old customs and rules.

In the temples we do not prostrate ourselves and kiss the step leading to the Afrignuni nor do we kiss the railings around it. This is considered as an irrational and alien way to behave, customs adopted from other cultures which surround us. Similarly placing a dab of ash on the forehead is simply not an Iranian practice, but undoubtedly echoes the Tila which has been adopted from Hindu practice.

We all know that at our initiation ceremonies we are given the sedreh and koshti to wear as the distinct emblems of belonging to our faith group. The sedreh pushi ceremony known to Parsees as Navjote is an important rite of passage and a significant milestone for a person, whenever it may be undertaken. However Iranian Zoroastrians do not suddenly lose their validity just because their parents may never have arranged the ceremony or because they may choose not to wear these emblems of their faith all the time after they have had their ceremony. It is a fact that the vast majority of Iranian Zoroastrians both in Iran as well as outside, do not wear the sedreh/koshti as faithfully as Parsees. My priestly grandfather did not regard these symbols as issues which would make or break the community's identity and indeed he was right. We may not be renewing our spiritual strength as some priests would maintain but that is to our detriment and does not affect anyone else.

Of course, if the mandated discipline of wearing sudreh-kusti is willy-nilly discarded, it is not only detrimental to the one discarding it, as Ms. Bhekhradnia agrees, but it also affects the community as well – in a very detrimental way! This is a religious issue and not a personal issue. It is not for us to choose which religious disciplines are to be discarded and which ones should be followed! Unlike democracy, religion is revealed; it is not for an individual to choose and alter what one likes or dislikes. If we could choose only wisely and progressively, there would have been spiritual progress and peace all over the world and no need for the Almighty to send His Appointed Prophets to show the Path of Religion to humanity! We do not always choose wisely because the mind is bound by the two opposing mentalities, the good and the bad! Doctors do not prescribe the same medication to one and all and we do not challenge or disobey the doctor for physical ailments; similarly, the reason why we are born to a specific religion and why certain spiritual disciplines vary in different religions is best known to the Almighty and to our immortal, therefore omniscient soul who obeys the Divine Will and is born into a specific religion with specific mandated disciplines which best suits its spiritual needs.
Sudreh and kusti are not mere symbols. These are worn by the Spiritual Beings as well, as revealed in the Holy Avesta.

Our community numbers have continued to grow and our identity has not weakened just because we do not all wear these symbolic garments. We are not shocked nor do we judge a person's worth or authenticity by whether or not they are wearing these outwards symbols. I stress this because I and a number of Iranian Zoroastrian friends were denied access to some temples in India some years ago merely because we could not persuade the doorkeeper that we were true Zoroastrians. The only thing which would have convinced him was the production of a sedreh and koshti which he demanded to see and which none of us was wearing. It may not have occurred to him that anyone could quite simply put these on and produce them for his inspection, whereas it would have been a lot more difficult for someone to learn the Avesta which we recited fluently without any success in convincing the doorman that we had every entitlement to enter the temple. Nor did our ability to converse in Dari have any effect whereas an Iranian Zoroastrian knows well that Dari is the spoken language of Yazdi and Kermani Zoroastrians.

If you join a certain group, say the girl guides, you will have to wear the uniform to belong to this group, to attend their meetings and any other dress will not be allowed. If you join an army, you cannot go into any battle or into the army camp without the specific uniform! Sudreh-kusti are our uniform that identify us as the soldiers in Ahura Mazda's army fighting to defeat 'angre-mainyu' and usher in Frashogard. Also, how is veneration to the sacred fire possible without first performing the kusti ritual? Please, do read the scriptures and the Pahlavi Texts written in Iran between the 9th and the 11th centuries AD when the times were really bad for our community in Iran! Yet, the Din-Dasturs of Iran have mandated that one is committing a sin if one does not wear the sudreh-kusti all the time. Even food was 'haram' if these sacred vestures were not put on! Our ancestors in Iran gave their lives because they were identified due to wearing sudreh-kusti. It is sad that when our brethren in Iran were persecuted inhumanely, they did not give up sudreh-kusti or the performance of Yasna but only in the last century when religious tolerance was accepted to some degree, the community, to please the Muslims and appear to be like them, started giving up our mandated rituals, traditions including the wearing of sudreh-kusti! Even then, due to being persecuted, the members of our community did NOT enter the fire temples without first donning the sudreh-kusti; they put on these sacred garments when they entered the fire temples as these were left at the door for the devotees to put on, do the kusti ritual and only then enter in the presence of the sacred fire! However, the danger is that if one generation does not follow a religious discipline, the next never takes to the forgotten but essential discipline and this way, what is requisite loses its religious importance and significance. These are facts!

We all know that our religion is enlightened from many perspectives, one of which is the pride we take in the equal treatment of men and women which is demonstrated in the Gathas wherein the text addresses both genders. This approach establishing women as the partners and equals of men in furthering good deeds and making the earth more bountiful was practised in domestic and political life so that we had Zoroastrian queens when there were no male heirs and sometimes women ran the household even when their men folk were not absent (as evidenced in the Herbedstan). In Iran Zoroastrian girls were the first females to attend schools, go to university, become professionals and maintain a high level of literacy among women in a country where this was far from the norm.

In keeping with this tradition it should come as no surprise although when the news broke it may have shocked the more conservative participants to learn that women used to and continue to fulfil priestly functions in the absence of adequate men. This is a living tradition and in London our recently arrived Mobed from Iran is helped by his wife when performing ceremonies. The authenticity of this tradition is confirmed by lines in the Herbedestan text in which a question is asked which makes it clear that it was quite well established that both women and men might attend priestly college. And yet there are Parsees who find the thought of a female undertaking priestly duties revolting – so much for enlightened thinking and traditions supported by historical literary sources. (at the time of writing this article recently 8 female Mobedyars were confirmed in Iran)

Of course, "women used to and continue to fulfill some priestly functions in the absence of adequate men". But it a misleading statement because the Arabs had killed most of the priests as well as learned men! Therefore, due to such dire circumstances, the Pahlavi Text, Shayast-la Shayast, states that women were compelled to perform certain basic ceremonies such as sudreh-pushi (navjote) and obsequies. However, it has never been proven or accepted (due to the stringent rules of purity) that women ever performed the Pav Mahal or the Higher Rituals such as the Ijeshne, Vendidad, Nirangdin ceremonies, or were initiated as navar and maretab to become mobeds in Iran even when there were not many mobeds and men left alive. Even today, in Iran, women do tend the fires of atash-gahs, but these are not consecrated atash and there is no "bui" ceremony performed in these atash-gahs. They are similar to the hearth fires Zarathushtis kept perpetually burning in their homes even in India in not too distant past! The ladies as well as the men of the household tended these fires.
"Sad Dar", volume 24 of the Sacred Books of the East (pg. 297), clearly defines a mobed: "as to that person, also, who performs the Bareshnum for mankind, it is necessary that he be a man." If women were mobeds in ancient Iran, "man" would not have been specified! If women were ordained as mobeds in ancient Iran, as some would have us believe, would not Havovi or Pouruchisty have been ordained by Asho Zarathushtra? How many female disciples do we come across in the Gathas? The male disciples, each one, by name, are identified and were inducted into the Magha Brotherhood. But not a single female is mentioned by name who was an athravan/ mobed in those days. Nor is there any proof, any evidence of a woman being ordained as a mobed through the initiation rituals of navar-maretab, ever, throughout the long and chequered history of our religion spanning millennia upon millennia! It is reported that only in the last century, in the early nineties, Mr. Ali Akbar Jafarey initiated Ms. Shahin Bhekhradnia as a "Mobed", in London! Women are definitely equal to men in dignity and respect but not in conducting rituals due to the stringent rules of purity! Other religions also do not allow women to conduct rituals, such as Christianity (except some Protestants), Judaism, Islam and Hinduism. The Book of Manu, Bible, Leviticus, etc. express the same concepts as the Vendidad and due to the purity rules, do not accept women as "priests" who conduct rituals! This is a fact. And definitely, both men as well as women undergo the ritual of navjote, learn about the religion and as mentioned, women were Queens ruling over Iran when the rest of the world was far less civilized! Gordafrid, a woman was a warrior too who fought Sohrab, Rustom's son as far back during the Kiyanian era! But mobeds, no, we have no record of a single woman mobed in Iran or India due to the stringent rules of purity!

Notwithstanding all oppression suffered since the Arab conquest of Iran from 632 AD, ours has always been an optimistic and joyous community which has celebrated life, the wonders of nature and the goodness of humankind. We have therefore found every opportunity to make music and dance, drink and eat together. Our festivals have always allowed our communities to laugh and have fun together and the most joyous of all festivals is our spring celebration of Novruz. Among peoples of Iranian origin is understood as meaning a New Day or New Year. Yet it seems more faithfully celebrated and understood elsewhere outside Iran than among Parsees and this is both surprising and saddening. Why is it that the people of Tajikistan still prepare a Haft sheen/Haftsin table, as do the Azaris and the Kurds but our Parsee co-religionists not only do not prepare a special table in a celebration of Ahura Mazda's bounty, but fail to celebrate the significance of the arrival of spring. How could it be that that the spring equinox holds no special meaning beyond yet another visit to the temple and maybe sending cards out while they celebrate something akin to Novruz in the middle of summer.? Where is the merry making, the genuine joy and the pleasure of seeing God's good creation renewing itself through the laws of nature, of Asha when the planets are so aligned that the life of plants, birds and animals wakes up again.
Parsis do celebrate Navroze! They do not set up the Haftsin table but they go to the agiaries/atash-behrams to pay their respect to the Creator Ahura Mazda and as usual, celebrate with good food and "merrymaking"! Families visit each other and at many Parsi baugs and colonies, the Gahambar is also celebrated! We celebrate more religiously, while unfortunately, in Iran, these festivals may be celebrated more socially under the watchful eyes of the Muslims! The regions surrounding Iran may still celebrate with the Haftsin table but this is because these regions were ruled by Iran for centuries and although they have retained the social customs and Dari (as in some parts of Afghanistan), they forgot the religious aspects because they followed either Islam or Christianity in these regions.

Weddings are another example of things done differently. Our wedding celebration does not consist of much reciting of prayers in a language that is pretty much incomprehensible to most Farsi/Dari speaking Zoroastrians. Of course the preservation of the ritual language has its place but it is not interminable. Instead the majority of time is spent by the celebrant of the wedding giving prescribed advice (andarz) to the young couple in an intelligible language so that their lives may be lived according to true Zoroastrian values and principles. It is a truly inspiring liturgy which is lost on those who cannot understand the language and therefore it has now been translated noy just into Farsi but also into English and French and is used for ceremonies where the couples (usually living in Britain or North America) no longer speak Farsi as fluently as they do English or for mixed weddings.
Parsis have retained praying the Doa-I Paiman or "ashirvad", i.e. the wedding benediction, as has been prayed for millennia to continue the lineage and tradition! We still pray in the Avestan language the same prayers our Paigambar Saheb prayed in! We pray Yasna 54 also during the wedding ritual. We do not have to please those who choose to depart from the fundamental principles of our religion; we try and please Ahura Mazda and our Paigambar Saheb by praying in the spiritual language, referred to as the sacred manthra! Manthra Spenta is the Soul of Ahura Mazda as declared in the Farvardin Yasht and therefore, we attune with His Soul when we pray in His Spiritual Language! Marriage is a religious ritual and not a social celebration alone! Marriage is a holy sacrament, a union of two souls who follow the same religion and pledge to hold Ratu Asho Zarathushtra as their Prophet and Ahura Mazda as their Ahu or Lord Almighty! It is absolutely a spiritual, religious ritual and not just a social merrymaking event! Most Parsis in India do not transform anything spiritual into mundane!

There is nothing reprehensible about updating the liturgy so that it can be really meaningful and communicate an important message as it was intended to do. We do not see it as a cardinal principle to remain entrenched in the past and not change. Our religion is supposed to be based on rational enlightened thinking and we need to take sensible steps to ensure that the dynamic message of the Gathas is not lost through sticking to languages and practices that were developed for different times and different conditions. After all much of the Avesta that we recite is actually merely a translation or commentary on an older language – eg in our koshti prayer. Humata hukhta hvaresta, meneshni govenshni koneshni but here the second triad is merely a translation of the older first triad, and then we have tani ravani giti mainyu where the first pair are the more modern version of the second
Ms. Bhekhradnia states that "We do not see it as a cardinal principle to remain entrenched in the past and not change." About the societal change as opposed to the Immutable Laws of Asha, the Pahlavi Text Dadistan-i-Dinik (SBE, Vol.18 pg. 109, Footnote 1) written during the worst times we faced in Iran, states that "heterodoxy, 'the most mischievous weapon' of the fiend, must fail in the end, because, like other revolutions, it relies on constant change, which implies want of permanency." Our religion is based on Divine Revelation, on Asha's Immutable Truth! Truth does not change! Truth is not based on societal fads which change constantly! Truth, if it changes, is no Truth to begin with; Asho Zarathushtra declares that Asha's (Nature's) Laws are Immutable. These Laws do not change for mankind but mankind's thinking changes according to its evolutionary progress! Truth is the only Constant in the Universe as is the Almighty! Moreover, our religion is NOT based on rational thinking alone because none of us have perfected our so-called rational thinking. If we had "enlightened" our minds, would the world be in such a sorry state on the brink of destruction as it is right now? And if we could all think rationally or correctly, would there have been any need of Religions or Prophets to come down and show us the Path? No! None of us are spiritually perfected yet; our physical senses are also not as yet perfected! It is only because our thinking is not always in keeping with the Right Path that the Almighty has sent us different Religions and Prophets to show us the Path of Spiritual Progress! In the Gathas, Asho Zarathushtra emphasizes the fact that he has prescribed certain spiritual disciplines and those who do not follow, or obey his revelation, for them the end will be full of woe (Y. 30.11 and 45.3)! We are admonished that we are free to choose our actions in life and the inevitable ensuing reward or punishment is meted out according to the choice made between the two paths of good and evil, "akem akai vanguhim ashim vanghaove" (Y. 43.5). To be taught, to be admonished to obey is far from granting the so-called "reflective thinking" and the "freedom of choice" to do as one pleases! Please do consider that it is contradictory to maintain that obedience is synonymous with the freedom to do as desired! The only freedom of choice is between the two paths (of good and evil), with ensuing results. The choice comes with immutable moral responsibilities (Y. 32.15, 43.5, 45.7 and throughout the Gathic stanzas). There is absolutely no freedom of unlimited choice in any of the Gathic stanzas and certainly no choice is offered between "choosing" religions. In fact, ha 32.3 specifically mentions that the army of Akoman (whose leader is Angre-mainyu), has spread on all the 7 regions of the Earth and we are mandated to convert this army of Akoman to goodness, to Spenta-Mainyu! Every man is free to choose his actions but ample warning is given with regard to consequential reward and punishment.
It is ONLY because we have NOT changed our mandated religious tenets that we have survived for countless millennia through inhumane persecutions and repeated destructions of our scriptures. It is ONLY due to ORAL traditions and the memory of our priests who learnt by rote the complete Avesta that we have survived as practicing Parsi-Irani Zarathushtis!
The pair and the triad mentioned above by the author are hugely misunderstood! There are certain portions recited in Pazend in the Holy Avesta which are given to us by Dasturan-e Dastur Adarbad Maraspand who proved his Dasturi by going through the 'test of Fire' by pouring burning molten metal over his chest without getting a single burn on his body. Of course, some renegades have indulged in maligning this pious Dastur by calling him a "trickster"! It is incumbent that we MUST recite our Holy Avesta in the spiritual language based on 'staot,' the divine cosmic resonances / frequencies caused in Nature by the utterance of the Ahunavar at the dawn of creation! When we recite Yasna 54 we do pray to attune ourselves with the Laws of 'Staot', the primordial 'sound' uttered by Ahura Mazda's First Word, Ahunavar, at the beginning of creation! So, there is much wisdom in following our prescribed mandates and praying in the spiritual language of 'light' and 'sound', the language of the Spirit also referred to mystically in the Bundahishn (Chapter XIX, pg. to, SBE, vol. 5), as the language of the "birds", indicating the Divine Fravashi which resembles a bird with wings! When manthra is recited, the sound takes precedence over its meaning because sound has the potency to induce spiritual insight by quietening the mind and consequentially creating "fields" around the reciter; e.g. when we pray "ahumin vairim tanum paiti" we admit that the recitation of manthra protects the body!
The meaning of Humata, Hukhta, Huvreshta is given in detail in Yasna 19, which is the Avestan commentary on the Ahunavar Manthra! Please do read it! "tani ravani geti minoani" teaches us that our physical body, "tanu" and "ravan" are interlinked as are the physical world "geti" and the spiritual "minoi" world. At frashogard the physical "tanu" will merge with the spiritual "ravan", and the physical world "geti" will merge with the spiritual "minoi". It is for this reason that the Sacred Manthra of Ahunavar is divided into 3 lines of 7 words each; the 3 lines refer each to the spiritual world, the semi-spiritual world and the physical world. Similarly, our constitution is also divided into 3 components, spiritual, semi-spiritual and physical. Till we are spiritually and morally perfected, wisdom teaches us to follow what is divinely revealed and not give in arbitrarily to what the imperfect mind bound by the two dualities prompts us to discard, follow and choose!

Another example of difference is minor but some may find it interesting to know that in Iranian weddings we don't sprinkle rice upon or hold a coconut over the couple but a green scented herb similar to oregano – obshan - which conveys the concepts of fertility, health sustaining and fragrant happiness. We do have in common the symbolism of tying the thread but we represent it differently and so on. We certainly do not ever use the SEJ(?) tray.
The Iranis in Iran may not use the 'ses' tray but they DO put the triangle shaped green 'paro' (pyramid) filled with sugar on the table next to the couple when they get married in Iran! In addition to this "paro" and which is similar to what the Iranis still do, the Parsis also include a divo or a small burning fire (Fire as Ahura Mazda's Son is present at all our rituals), plus the vase-like container of rosewater "golabas" or "pigani" for sprinkling perfumed water on the couple! "Pigani" is used in Iran as well! Because we add these things we organize all this into a tray we call 'ses'! The only thing missing in Iran is the tray or "ses" as we call it. In Iran instead of the garland of flowers, cypress twig(s) is used. Other objects added to the ses such as coconut, red kanku and egg, etc. may be a custom evolved in India. Basically, we are more in touch with religion in India which this speech sadly portrays the Irani Zarathushtis as having moved away from! Hopefully, the situation in Iran is not as religiously detrimental as it is made out to be.

The principle of dynamic evolution can also be seen at work in discussing the use of dakhma and cremation. In Iran the use of dakhma or the Tower of Silence was given up as a result of social change in the late first half of the 20th century. As cremation became available, many Iranians opted for this sort of disposal rather than purification within the earth which was seen as un –Zoroastrian since the earth was provided to give forth life-sustaining crops and flowers etc. There was no question of defilement of fire as nothing can defile something which is inherently self purifying by its very nature. However where cremation is not an option, then burial has to be the alternative.
The Towers of Silence or dakhmas were not "given up as a result of social change" in the late half of the 20th century! It is reported through very authentic sources that the dakhmas HAD to be closed down, first in Tehran, because the Muslims used to throw pieces of putrid animal flesh inside the dakhma at Tehran and also sprinkle animal blood on the walls! It was only and only through political pressure brought upon the Zarathushtis that the dakhma in Tehran was first closed! The helpless Zarathushtis of Yazd still followed the practice of dakhmenashini as per our millennia old customs, scriptures and rituals for nearly 15 or 20 years more but HAD to give in to political pressure from Tehran's Anjuman! This is a fact! Also, the Zarathushtis of Yazd were so traumatized to close their dakhma and start an aram-gah (coffins built of stone with sand underneath to prevent the earth from getting contaminated – and definitely not cremation) that they have written to the Parsis of India about their helplessness and spiritual loss! They have urged the Parsis NOT to give up the dakhmas where they exist! The letter written by the Yazd Anjuman was sent to the Irani Anjuman and Mr. Kaikhushru Fitter who was the then Prez of this Irani Anjuman in Bombay had this letter published in a booklet form! Many Parsis would have saved this letter/booklet; I have! And I will scan and post it someday soon!
In Iran, there is NO cremation for Zarathushtis! Only aram-gahs exist! Cremation may be preferred in the western countries out of helplessness and not as an option! Additionally, the important fact is that Iran is under Islamic rule and there is no freedom of religion granted as it is in India! The Constitution of India grants us the freedom to practice our religion the way it has been for millennia without any interference from the Government! In fact, the Govt. of India assures protection for our religious rights! And so, when these statements were made, it is hoped that any legal professional attending this speech in Bombay corrected the speaker informing her of the political differences between Iran and India where religious practices are concerned!

The change from dakhma to other forms of funerary rite was not resisted by the majority of the population and clearly did not cause major traumas for the community.
(I have referred to the trauma of the Zarathushtis from Yazd and the setting up of aram-gahs! In fact, Sheheryar, the caretaker of the aram-gah near Yazd, at Khairabad, still wears –at least till 2003 when I met him last - the brown turban and sash to indicate the persecutions the Zarathushtis faced in Iran. In the old days, the brown sash and turban was mandated to be worn by Zarathushtis to identify them to the Muslims. If one reads the reports of ornithologists, one learns that the vultures can never carry anything in their beaks or talons.)
There was/is no condemnation of the use of cremation rather than burial, and certainly no comments that failing to use the dakhmeh as the means of disposal, will consign one to hell as we have heard said apparently from the mouths of so called scholars. This is in contrast with the continuing Parsee practise of Dakhma disposal even though the Dakhma in Bombay and other towns is now dangerously close to if not in the midst of urban populations and regularly gives rise to embarrassing incidents of body parts dropping onto nearby residents' properties. It is clear that what may have been appropriate for past times, can no longer be relevant in a changed social context. Please remember that Dakhma disposal was designed for and applied in an arid desert climate that Iran has, not for a monsoon humid climate such as that of Bombay.

Iranians do not get very excited about whether the fire in their temples is fed by natural gas or sandalwood and recognise that if there is shortage of one material, then a sensible rational solution must be sought through a new channel of thinking. Indeed judging by the large logs of sandal wood I have seen here ready for the holy fire, I would think the environmentalists among us would have plenty to worry about, although the natural gas solution also poses its own environmental issues. Replacement planting at the ratio of 1:10 cut down trees would be a way forward of course. Meanwhile, there are no messages being put out by any Iranian priests or sages to the effect that we will be condemned to hell for not using sandalwood again as I have heard claimed by some Parsee scholars?
We offer sandalwood to the fires in India because it is so stated in the Atash Niyayesh that one should only feed dry and perfumed wood to the fire! It is available in India and many Parsi pilgrims to Iran do leave behind a good amount of sandalwood to offer to the fires later on, by those tending the fires!

Some Parsees appear to be very passionate about the use of Nirang, or consecrated bulls urine whose use in Iran was referred to in the Rivayat texts about which I will speak shortly.. In fact it was still in use at the time of my grandfather and even my mother's childhood. So there was no loss of tradition during the downtrodden period of our history. . There was however a re-thinking of its real function ( which at a certain époque acted as a disinfectant) and it was agreed that it was not perhaps no longer as essential in keeping the religion alive. Some priests now use pomegranate juice instead for ritual symbolic purposes.

It is sad that the holy Nirang and the life-giving Hom juice are banned in Iran as impure substances. Asho Zarathushtra maintains in the Gathas that there can be no immortality and no Frashogard without the performance of Yasna or Hom, "yasna ameretatem" (ha 34.1). We have written information that Ijeshne, the ritual of pounding the sacred Hom juice, was practiced in Iran from time immemorial till the last half of the 20th century; also, havani-lala are excavated from Suza as well as Peresepolis and displayed in the Museums at Tehran and on the site at Persepolis as well.

And the question of the segregation of menstruating women had an equally practical reason which no longer applies today – women are no longer in need of a well deserved break from the heavy lifting and carrying work they used to do in the villages of Iran (e.g carrying pitchers of water up dozens of steps, carrying heavy wood, iron implements and cooking vessels, sweeping and cleaning etc ), nor are they likely to experience embarrassing situations in a public space. I do not say that some people do not still observe the custom of not entering sanctified areas at a certain time of month but on questioning my friends, family and acquaintances, I can say that it is rare.

The practice of segregating women in their biological cycle is not due to any embarrassment or due to carrying heavy loads by women! There is a very good sanitary reason as well as a good spiritual reason for segregating women during this cycle!

The goal of rituals is to unite the physical with the spiritual. If women are allowed to perform sacred rituals during their biological cycle, inevitably, adverse effects will be the outcome of these improper, deceptive rituals as the presence of the excreted blood would not affect the union of any impure physical condition to the Divine Spirit which is pure. Can there be ritual purity in the midst of bodily impurities? No! No communion with the Divine can be established through blood, "druj-e nassu"; but, in sorcery, blood is one of the essential requirements to fortify and unite with the dark forces of Nature. Centuries ago, cults of priestesses existed, mostly in Europe. These were replaced by revealed religions. Human and other sacrifices are banned in all revealed religions since the ensuing blood attracts the negative influences of the lower elementals or nature spirits. Sorcery and witchcraft are effectually solemnized through blood which is the magnetic agent to attract the dark forces of nature.
Even when we are alive, any blood and excretion that is severed from the vital circulation within the body, immediately becomes impure and injurious to the health of others. The excreted blood pollutes not only the surrounding air but also the aura of every individual within a certain radius. This is because blood contains iron which is magnetically charged. Aura is also magnetic. The magnetic emanations from the aura and more specifically from the eyes and the fingertips of a woman in menses are so potent that they penetrate and influence the electro-magnetic auras of individuals within a certain radius. Justifiably, the ancients considered a woman in her biological cycle as "contaminated" because there is a magnetic link established between individuals during close proximity, touch, or in the act of any giving and taking. The Bible mentions an episode wherein a woman who was haemorrhaging touched the hem of Lord Jesus' robe which made him exclaim, "who touched me, my glory is gone"! Meaning, his spiritual aura became contaminated and spiritual glory or 'vision' was temporarily gone. The reason for the biological cycle to commence is because no life was created. As soon as an embryo begins life in the womb, the biological cycle stops. It is an issue of Life versus non-Life, and our religion teaches Life to be a Divine Creation. Life is sustained by light, heat, energy and vitality; whereas non-life is the outcome of the dark forces by which decomposition begins.
In most religions women are forbidden to attend religious events or come in contact with sacred objects when they are in their biological cycle. The laws of purity have been mentioned in the Book of Manu and in the Islamic as well as Jewish Codes of Purity as well. Purity is the pivot around which our religious doctrines are established. Ritual purity is one of the most essential and fundamental of our doctrines as stated in the Vendidad and in the Gathas. "Purity is the Best Virtue from birth" (Y. 48.5); indicating Purity is Godliness! Besides, a woman is unable to maintain bareshnoom due to the biological cycle. That the rules of bareshnoom were observed in Iran is evident from the Epistles of Manushchihr. It is very, very fervently wished that Ms. Bekhradnia would first read, study the scriptures and then inform others of the correct facts. Some people can get carried away sometimes due to not being educated religiously (scientifically as well) but not all the time and all Parsis cannot be so religiously illiterate as to be carried away by what is stated by Ms. Bekhradnia! If she has her right to say what she thinks is correct I also have my rights to defend my religion according to the revelation in the scriptures and not as per my individual thinking/opinion! Religion also has rights; the right to be followed as per our millennia old traditions, customs, rituals and scriptures! I will defend my religion as long as I live and I am sure many will join me in echoing these convictions!

The point is that such matters were not spelt out in the Gathas, but became the obsession of a priestly caste that wished to keep the people in its thrall, ironically exactly what Zartosht himself denounced in the Gathas when Karapans (priests) were using their powers to get a hold over people How do we know what is or was the message of our founding prophet? Well, apart from oral transmission and handing down of tradition through families, some texts were secretly preserved. These were usually among priestly families such as my own which yielded a chest full of faithfully copied manuscripts, saved despite the many public burnings in front of the priests' eyes in Islamic Iran. Textual specialists have translated both the oral and written texts. Having spoken with some Parsee priests, I was informed that in their madressa training, they did not study the meanings of the texts but were merely taught the correct recitals and rituals pertaining to them. Interestingly, the primacy of the Gathic texts were not discussed either. Now this is a critical matter because any serious student of Zoroastrianism is well aware that the Gathas constitute the fundamental core of Zoroastrian philosophy. They are admittedly difficult for several reasons : language, content, dating. Nevertheless the maybe 20 different translations (among which Stanley Insler's is considered the most authoritative and from which Dastur Kotwal has quoted - on account of his outstanding linguistic competence and his deep empathy with Zoroastrian values), all reveal consistently that Zoroaster believes he must spread the message he has had revealed to him by Ahura Mazda. His mission is therefore to extend the community of Ashavan ie those who want to become happy by making others happy – propagating good and overcoming negative energies – encapsulated in the Ashem Vohu prayer.
The ONLY conversion mentioned in the Gathas is the MORAL conversion of converting vices to virtues! It is so stated specifically in the Ahunavad Gatha (ha 32.3) that the army of Akoman (vices) whose leader is Angre-mainyu, has spread on all the 7 regions of the Earth and it is this army we are asked to convert to virtues, to the Good Mind, Spenta-mainyu! Asho Zarathushtra did NOT teach conversion meaning proselytism because according to his revelation of Yasna 19, which is the Avestan Commentary on the Ahunavar, he teaches that the 5 major religions and the 5 Appointed Prophets are Willed by Ahura Mazda Himself! Do read this translation of ha 19 because it also teaches what Humata, Hukhta and Huvreshta means!
Talking about linguistic competence, Professor Humbach was asked if conversion, meaning proselytism is taught in our religion, specifically in the Gathas and he categorically maintained that only MORAL conversion is taught! Many Parsi scholars have maintained, to name one, I.J.S. Taraporewalla, that "the fullness of this Eternal Message shall be known only when we ourselves reach the heights of Spiritual Illumination to which HE had attained" (The Religion of Zarathushtra, pg. 85). Ervad Kavasji Edulji Kanga, whose translations of the Vendidad, Yasna, Visperad, Yashts and the Khordeh Avesta are held to be reliable, writes, "Some European Zend scholars have at various times attempted it [translation of the Gathas], but they themselves are aware of the great difficulty they had to encounter in rendering a correct and intelligible translation of them. The writings of the Gathas being highly poetical and full of deep meaning, containing prayers, hymns and other subjects pregnant with philosophical and abstract ideas, ripe scholarship and patient investigation, added to a critical knowledge of the Avesta, are requisite to interpret them correctly and intelligibly." (Gatha-Ba-Maani, Preface to the First Edition, p ix.) While translating the Sacred Text of the Gathas, many a times Kangaji declares that his own translation is not satisfactory. There are several instances written by Kangaji in Gatha-Ba-Maani where, according to him, the translations of certain verses by scholars such as Rev. Mills, Dr. Spiegel and Prof. Darmesteter are also doubtful. This proves that it is futile to try and decipher the Sacred Texts and especially the sacred manthra by an only scholastic approach. Professor Stanley Insler, whom Ms. Bhekhradnia mentions, has also declared that the Gathas are so mystic they are bound by 7 seals! Do we know which 7 'seals' reveal our scriptures? There are in fact many more than 20 translations of the Gathas alone, each one being different because no one knows the 7 'seals' or the translation of "mathra" which are spiritual and based on 'staot', which is not a spoken language! Spiritual scriptures are to be applied through Faith and Obedience which are the faculties of the spiritual soul.

The Videvdat which developed the purity laws and which was the precursor of the Vendidad only appeared towards the end of the fist millennium about one thousand years after the divine revelation of our prophet. Later, at the time of the fall of the Sassanian dynasty (closely associated with the priesthood), there was certainly an unhealthy concern among priests about retaining the power they wielded through the further imposition of a whole host of religious dogma and ritual introduced by Kartir a couple of centuries earlier. Among the many theories for the success of Islam in Iran, is one that states that many people gladly gave up the overbearing ritual requirements made on the laity by the priests which involved economic demands , and sadly there are still some similar ego obsessed priests in our midst even today who impose their views on the laity as to what is or is not correct practice and belief.
None of the scholars have set a definite date for our Paigambar Saheb. Therefore, how can it be maintained that the Vendidad "appeared towards the end of the fist millennium about one thousand years after the divine revelation of our prophet"? Asho Zarathushtra lived during the Kiyani Dynasty, in such antiquity, that history is unable to chronicle its factual existence and therefore, considers this era to be "mythical"! In which case, ascribing a date is mere speculation! The Avestan language is so archaic that even during the Achaemenian era, it had become a liturgical language that was preserved orally through chanting the scriptures while the script alone, has undergone subsequent changes. Consequentially, till the date of Asho Zarathushtra and the existence of the Kiyani Dynasty are established, it is a fallacy to maintain about the one thousand year period when our Paigambar Saheb, Asho Zarathushtra, described as a Yazad in the Yasna has 3 and 7 and elsewhere many times over in the sacred Avesta, lived and taught his spiritually manthric Avesta, including the Vendidad! And, we lost Iran to the Arabs because the Arabs were united while we were a nation struggling to keep peace within our own religion and kingdom. Not because, according to "theory", as stated by Ms. Bekhradnia, "there were overbearing requirements made on the laity by the priests". There was fratricide, patricide, treason and heresy spread against our religion in the kingdom. "There was tragic chaos in the royal family particularly after the death of Khusro II. Intrigue, deception, and lust for power and other dangerous vices were rampant. The princes instigated and actively supported by their mothers of foreign extraction and foreign faith played havoc in the royal family, in aristocracy and in state affairs. The kings and queens were proclaimed and most of them were deposed or murdered in quick succession. In the short period of four years (628-632), ten monarchs ruled over Iran, and most of them fell victims to court intrigue and fraud due to internecine strife. In such deplorable conditions and disastrous circumstances the last Sasanian Emperor ascended the throne." (Dasturji Hormazdyar Kayoji Mirza, Outlines of Parsi History, pg. 164.) Our downfall was swift and it was mainly due to intermarriage from within the nobility! The priests and wise advisors of the Kings such as Vazorgmithra tried to keep the Empire and Religion safe from the heretics and those born of a foreign faith during the most trying days since Khusro I, Anosharavan (531-579) came to the throne of Iran.

It may be a little known fact to most Zoroastrians that with the passing of several centuries after their arrival in India, the Parsees had lost a lot of their knowledge about the practice and beliefs within the religion. It is nevertheless a fact that cannot be challenged. Furthermore there is good written evidence of all of this in documents known as the Rivayats which are accessible to all of us translated into English in 1932 by B N Dhabhar. The Parsee communities of Surat and of Navsari sent envoys to Iran to ask for guidance because they had lost confidence. They first sent out a brave Parsee named Nariman Hoshang over to Iran twice in 1478 and 1487 to seek advice on the correctness or otherwise of a number of issues.
It should be noted that the mobeds of Iran sent their sons to learn mobedi from the Madressas, Dasturs and Mobeds of India till recently and some still continue to do so. This is a fact! This was done because the religion was being forgotten in Iran due to doing away with the Yasna ceremony and other mandated rituals! If these were not considered necessary by Irani mobeds they would not have sent their sons to India to be initiated as "navar" and "maretab" according to the requisite rituals – rituals which are not followed in Iran in recent times! India has retained its Pav Mahal and barshnoom-gahs which Iran has lost!

The questions asked on behalf of the Parsee community included the right to recognition of Zoroastrians who had converted into the faith or who have been forced to espouse Islam but want to return. The responses from the Iranian priests on these occasions and all future exchanges right up till the last visit in the late 18th century constantly confirm the views of the Zoroastrian clergy of Iran that it is right, proper and meritorious and fully in the spirit of the message of Zoroaster that our faith should welcome those who have chosen of their own free will to heed the message of our religion.

"If slave-boys and girls have faith in the Good Religion, then it is proper that kusti should be (given to them to be) tied [that is, they should be converted to Zoroastrianism], and when they become intelligent, attentive to religion and steadfast, they should give them barashnum and it is also proper and allowable to eat anything out of their hands"!
The Parsis in India never kept juddin boys and girls as as "slaves"! Even in ancient Iran, the Ganj-namah records the payment to every single worker who was employed to build Persepolis, Suza, Bahistun and any other monument because as in Egypt or other countries, we never employed "slave" labor! There is no historical or oral record of the Parsis keeping slaves as laborers or servants in ancient Iran or in India. Cooking of food is mentioned to indicate that the Parsis in India, even as late as the middle of the last century did NOT eat any food prepared by juddins and some, especially from the athornan families, still do not keep juddin servants and still do not eat food prepared by juddins! This is a fact! There are many families at Udvada, Navsari, Surat and other villages, in Bombay too, who still staunchly follow this practice due to the rules of purity! How can the Irani mobeds reply to this question in the Rivayat because in Iran, it would have been unheard of to keep any Muslim as a "slave" or a "servant" in any Zarathushti household! The custom of keeping juddin servants and slaves was definitely unknown to the Irani Zarathushtis who tried to reply to the question in the Rivayat! So the above quote from the Rivayat is dubious. Besides, the Rivayats are not scriptures or sacred texts. Rivayat means the exchange of "reet-reevaj", or customs. There was NO custom of keeping Muslim (juddin) "slaves" and servants by the Zarathushtis in Iran and thus the answer is unreliable, to say the least. There were some wealthy Parsi families who employed poor Parsis to work for them, cook food for them but these were never treated as "slaves" or servants! Perhaps the Irani writers understood that these Parsis should be made to wear sudreh-kusti if due to poverty their navjote was not performed.

Besides, if the Parsis wrote to the Irani Zarathushtis of Iran regarding the customs and traditions they had forgotten; if the Parsis of India were ignorant of their own scriptures, tenets, customs and traditions how could they presume to make the new converts knowledgeable of the religion they themselves were not sure of! Friends, please think and make up your mind! Around the same time as the Rivayats, a Nask, called the Vaetha Nask also surfaced to promote conversion of juddins in India! This Nask was proven to be a forged Nask by several learned scholars including Dasturji Hormazdyar Kayoji Mirza, Prof. Hennings, Prof. Mary Boyce and others. In Iran of course there was never a question of converting any Muslim to our religion due to religious persecutions during the 17th and 18th centuries, prior to these dates and even after the 18th century and till today! In fact, it is stated in the Rivayats: 1) Shapur Bharuchi, 1597 (Dhabar, p. 275): "If a person (of a foreign faith) exercises tyranny over a man of the good religion and tells him to turn Musalman with his family, then out of helplessness he should commit suicide (should take poison), but he should not turn Musalman". 2) Kamdin Shapur, 1559 (Dhabar, p. 275): "..in this quarter the Atash Behram and all the Behdins are distracted and distressed…". 3) Faridun Marzban, 17th century (Dhabhar, p. 621): "Be it known that the affairs of the country of Iran are in great distraction and disquietude, and the dearth, and scarcity of food, and oppression and tyranny are such that its commentary cannot be comprised in this letter." (Dasturji Hormazdyar K. Mirza, Outlines of Parsi History, pg. 213.) Therefore, it is a logical progression of thought that these Rivayats were written by our Irani brothers under great duress, distraction and distress; their opinions are vague generalizations and the authors of the Rivayats were also completely unfamiliar with the customs and situation in India. Wisely, as precaution, they mention that "no harm should be done to the religion and to the community" thereby casting doubts regarding the conversion of juddin "slaves" and "servants"! As opposed to the Rivayats, the Avestan scriptures are divinely revealed and authentic!

They went further by expressing disapproval of the hypocritical Parsee tendency to treat their servants as if of the faith when it suited them and to deny them appropriate funerary rites. We also have the 1599 Kaus Mahyar Rivayat whose question includes categories from even lower-deemed persons:

"Can a grave-digger, a corpse-burner and a darvand become Behdins (i.e. be converted to the Mazdayasnian religion)?" gives as an answer: "If they observe the rules of religion steadfastly and (keep) connection with the religion, and if no harm comes on the Behdins (thereby), it is proper and allowable"!

In the past, in India too, there were times when in the villages, the poor Parsis were compelled to dig graves (from this profession the surname "Ghorkhodu" has come about) and this shameful treatment was not done by Parsis to the poor Parsis but by juddin oppressors to the poor Parsis; poor Parsis may also have been compelled to burn corpses by the oppressors who ruled in the different states of India. Or, due to illiteracy and religious ignorance, these acts may have been committed by some behdins because the Vendidad mentions the punishment of religious sins committed through ignorance or through proper knowledge of the same. The word "dravand" is explained jointly by the three Dasturjis, late Dasturji Dr. H. K. Mirza, Dasturji Dr. K. M. JamaspAsa, Dasturji Dr. F. M. Kotwal, in the booklet, "Conversion in Zoroastrianism, A Myth Exploded" (reprinted from Jam-e issues of 9th and 10yth June, 1983). The word "dravand" does not refer to the juddins (to be converted) but to any Parsi as well who moves away from the tenets of the religion of his birth! We respect all juddins who follow their own religions. Therefore, there is no hint of conversion in the above two quotations from the Rivayats. It is meritorious to bring back a Parsi "behdin" who has strayed away from the tenets of the religion (i.e. become a "dravand") through compulsion or uneducated choice.

The final quote I wish to bring to your attention comes from the last rivayat exchange known as the Ittoter Rivayat of 1773 Mulla Kaus was sent from India and asked 78 questions among them: "Concerning the acquisition of young men and women who are juddins as servants, the mobeds and behdins must first of all show care for their own religion, for their own rituals, for their personal property, and for their own soul so as not to face losses. TEACHING THE AVESTA TO THE SONS OF THE JUDDINS WHO HAVE BEEN ACQUIRED AND CONVERTING THEM TO THE DIN-I VEH-I MAZDAYASNAN EARNS ONE GREAT MERIT"

It is apparent when today comparing the varying complexions of Parsees, that some interbreeding with local indigenous people certainly did take place, since there were few women accompanying the courageous pioneers immortalized in the Qissa Sanjan and even as late as the 18th century since the question was posed then, it is evident that it was going on. The message is that all our welcome within our community, provided they have had proper instruction.

The fact that the Parsee community continued to send envoys to Iran over 3 centuries to seek guidance is adequate indication that they must have accepted the Iranian tradition as both correct and acceptable.

Knowing about this long background of toleration helps explain how Iranian Zoroastrians have kept this true Gathic spirit alive throughout the centuries. Thus it should come as no surprise to learn that our late High Priest, Mobed Ardeshir Azargoshasb whose erudition and authority as Head of the Iranian Mobed's council is indisputable despite efforts to undermine our High Priests' learning and knowledge, published a newspaper statement in 1991 in Parsiana (despite the evident dangers of doing so) "WE MUST PERSEVERE TO PROPAGATE OUR RELIGION AND ACCEPT PERSONS WHO WANT TO EMBRACE IT."

Naturally he could not say this in Iran, and today because of the prevailing circumstances our mobeds still cannot publicly condone this stance officially. Interestingly this Iranian perspective was shared by Parsee mobeds as recently as in the 20th century when a number of eminent Parsee dasturs (Ervads Bharucha, Modi and Kangaji) who held a similar view, stated publicly and unambiguously that our initiation ceremony contains a declaration of faith including the statement that Zartosht came for the propagation of God's message. Other eminent Parsee Dasturs who shared the same view were Dasturs Framroze Bode, Anklesaria and Kaikhosro Jamaspji.

The choice to propagate the religious message of Asho Zartosht has continued even despite the severe hardships which have been the unfortunate experience of Iranian Zoroastrians to undergo in the years following the Islamic revolution. Working with the Home Office and Immigration Appellate in the UK I have been surprised and impressed by the Zoroastrians who have had to flee Iran because they have chosen to continue the tradition of propagating our religion to those who seek information. They have chosen this path despite the obvious personal danger they put themselves into because they are clear about the several explicit verses in the Gathas which exhort followers to undertake this mission which can be found explicitly in Yasna 31.3 and 47.6.

Most Parsis from India or Iran have immigrated to the western countries because of "greener" pockets. The intention of the recent immigrants to other diaspora is not for the preservation of our religion and religious community as was the reason for the first immigration out of Iran to India in the 7 century AD and thereafter. The reason for the new immigration is not religion but to live a life of luxury and seek acceptance into the social and cultural norms of the Westerners. Moving away from the traditions, rituals and scriptures where preserving the religion is not the prime motive is easier because religion takes second place to a better lifestyle and acceptance into the new culture of the diaspora.
Many Irani Zarathushtis have moved away from Iran due to many other reasons as well. The Irani Zarathushtis moved away due to persecution by the Islamic regime in Iran. The laws are against us for doing business without having a Muslim partner; if someone in the family converts to Islam then all the property and wealth belongs to only that individual, and there are several other reasons which induce the Irani Zarathushtis to immigrate to the western world but not for "converting" other westerners to our religion! It is already mentioned that only the moral conversion is stated in the Gathas, and is so confirmed by the Dasturjis and by none other than Professor Humbach too that conversion, meaning to proselyte, is alien to our religion!

This Gathic message was echoed in the inscriptions of both Darius and Xerxes with clear indications that they both felt a compulsion to spread the religion, even by force if need be, by eliminating competing religions in the lands they conquered. The same attitude was practised by a number of Sassanian monarchs and well attested. This willingness to spread the religion whenever possible is a consistent approach which has continued unabated within the Iranian Zoroastrian tradition when opportunities have arisen.

Darius and Xerxes never converted any subjects of any nations they conquered and definitely never ever by force! Darius the Great has also proudly inscribed his Parsi lineage at Naqsh-e Rostam. He was proud of his unbroken Parsi lineage which would not have been so evident had he practiced converting others from other religions! Mention must also be made that Cyrus the Great liberated the Jews from the Babylonian captivity; rebuilt the Temple of Soloman from his own treasury; gave complete religious freedom to all his subjects without converting them to his own Zarathushti religion; even let the other nations and subjects under his rule follow their own gods and idol worshipping. He gave the world the First Charter of Human Rights giving all under his rule the freedom of worship! The Sassanians also gave religious freedom without converting others. King Yazdgard I (399-420) was so favorably disposed with the Jews and Christians and also lenient in his religious policies towards them that they in turn took undue advantage and burnt down the Great Fire Temple at Ctesiphon. Yazdgard took stern measures and put down the religious feuds. Therefore, it is not correct to say that a number of Sassanian monarchs "felt a compulsion to spread the religion, even by force if need be, by eliminating competing religions in the lands they conquered." The Sassanian monarchs, by and large, were tolerant of other religions to a fault!

In keeping with the Zoroastrian Iranian authorities referred to earlier which in turn have their reference from the Gathas, we have always welcomed into our community a spouse from a different background and naturally the children of such unions. A similarly welcoming approach applies to children who are adopted of non-zoroastrian birth and who are raised within a Zoroastrian household to go on to marry within the community. Our priests have never had a difficulty with this matter and have only refused to conduct such marriages if it is evident that problems will arise from such a union – a view voiced back in 1599 in the Mahyar Kaus Rivayat. We certainly find it quite inhumane and unnatural that some Parsees are so dogmatic as to prefer to reject their own children and grandchildren by cutting off relations with them rather than using the Zoroastrian qualities of wise thinking to accommodate them into the community. And what is worse, to differentiate in the acceptance of offspring between sons and daughters.

In ignoring our history reflected in textual sources, and by reference simply to what has been done in living memory, and by failing to bring clarity of rational thinking to the debates, and instead relying on mindless dogma, certain priests do us all a disservice in misrepresenting our beautiful forward thinking philosophy which uplifts the soul and offers a way forward with gender equality, environmental concern and positive philanthropic messages for all humanity. How then could we justify restricting it only to those who think they have some superior genetic/racial composition? They are the backward thinking benighted souls of our community and yet their voices have held sway and bullied us just as they did in Sassanian times, and even recently, much to our shame, they have resorted to violence as we read and hear. . They should not be allowed to prevail as they corrupt the really radical optimism of our religion.

So Mahyar Kaus did oppose intermarriage in 1599 in his Rivayat! Our religion does not differentiate between a man and a woman who marry out. Both are condemned. With reference to proselytism, those who think that only they and their religion is superior and therefore everyone should convert to their religion and only then be accepted as equals, are the greatest bullies and perhaps backward in their thinking! Not the other way round. Non-conversion does not mean discrimination; it means self-preservation and avoiding the religious wars, crusades, jihads, which are caused due to proselytism. Parsis in India and Iran are safe due to the policy of non-conversion. Christians, Muslims and others are slaughtered because they proselyte the Hindus in India! Remember Rudaki Samadi who was murdered in Tadjikistan just a couple of years ago because he publicly professed he was a "Zarathushti"? In Iran, can any Muslim claim he is converted to our religion? No! He will be publicly hanged! Correct me if I am wrong. Our religion is not radical or militant; we are taught to follow Universal Brotherhood! We respect all religions, prophets and their followers. This is why we are still surviving, are respected and held as model citizens wherever we live.


KHSHNAOTHRE AHURAHE MAZDAO


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